No, I’m not expecting death to knock on my door this week, but I am expecting to be freed from Chinese classes after the dreaded final exams. For two of my classmates, they will be relatively easy tests, but for the rest of us poor souls, they will be a form of cruel and unusual punishment. Of course, being a diligent student helps, but I think natural ability is an important factor too.
Surprisingly enough, the last full week of classes has come. It has been a long, tiring semester, but now the end is near. At first, attendance was high for the first couple of weeks. But gradually, students began to drop by the wayside until only a faithful few came to the eight o’clock class. Ivan, Tae-woo, and I. Ivan and Tae-woo are motivated and gifted students who have advanced quite rapidly in Chinese. On the other hand, I am motivated enough to show up for class, but I must have lost my linguistic ability on the flight over to China. I know how to express common greetings and basic actions, like cooking food, driving a car, buying groceries, and asking directions. Beyond that, my brain has encountered an impenetrable barrier that prevents me from progressing to the next level of Chinese. At times, I think I exasperate my teachers, but quite frankly, I’m just as frustrated as they are. Language revolves around communication, and when you can’t communicate, you feel like a clueless kid in physics class.
Besides this being my last full week of classes, I will also finish being a Chinese student. I still have a Master’s degree to complete back home, but my foreign student status will be over soon. Although I feel like I haven’t grasped much of the Chinese language, it has been helpful studying the language in the home country. Otherwise it would feel less relevant and practical to study a foreign language in America. Life as a student has been eventful. My Russian friends have helped me learn basic Russian words (pushnyashka, cidi, kasha), and my Chinese friends have exposed me to their unique culture too. I’ve also unexpectedly fulfilled people’s desires to see a foreigner before they die and endured many surprise photo shoots. It’s nice to be a celebrity for a week. After that, the luster is gone, and it becomes a bit of a drudgery. I guess I should be thankful I live in a city rather than a village where most of the residents have never seen a foreigner before.
Today marks the eventual end of my daily bus ride into Qingdao. There will be no lost love between me and the bus. While I am thankful for a cheap ride into the city, I haven’t enjoyed the ninety-minute transit or the crowded masses crammed inside. At least I had my MP3 player and Nook with me to while away the time. At first, I used to take three different buses to Qingdao, but after deciding to save 1 kuai, I stopped taking the third bus. Since then, I’ve become intimately familiar with a cross-section of the city. The bustling bus station, the food vendors, the street hawkers with their bright red tents, the food alley with foods galore, greasy bike shops, and old men surrounding poker tables on their mini stools. The odors may not always be the most pleasant, but the people essentially define the city. Without them, my daily walk to school would be a dull, monotonous chore.
As all things have their beginning, so they must have their end. And I hope that my experience in China will end well. I will treasure the friendships made here but probably not the final grades on my exams. I will recall many of the good times in China through my pictures and reflections on this blog. As this school year ends, a new one will soon begin to perpetuate the cycle. Perhaps I will return to China and pursue a teaching position or another vocation. Whatever will happen in the future, I know that this year has been a good one, even though it is the beginning of the end.