The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Well today, in a nutshell, sucked. But it’s the first time I’ve had both good and bad things to write about, so I’m going to write you all a nice fat blog post to make up for the past week. Hopefully. I’m in a pretty bad mood right now but feel a very strong need to write a blog post, so…here goes nothing, or rather, a lot.


We’ll start off happy, because that’s the more fun part to read and if you want you can just skip the bad  section after this one and call it a day if you so please. I think everyone would rather hear about how much fun I’m having than how bad of a school Tongshenghu is etc, so here’s your cotton candy, ladies and gents.

Chinese class this week actually hasn’t been as bad as usual…although we have a test tomorrow (and I’ll get to that later in the bad section, I assure you), we’ve generally had a much more fun class. Monday I was a few minutes late to school and decided that would be the day we had a political discussion, which I initiated, that ended up lasting all three Chinese periods (YES!). It was interesting to hear Monica’s perception of Communism and whatnot, and to hear that she knew about Tiananmen Square but just had a different view on it. I couldn’t agree with her argument, but at the same time it didn’t seem like she really did either. She knew about people being massacred but the Chinese portray it as a fight on both sides, Chinese fighting Chinese. I don’t know, I don’t really want to go into all the political things, but we talked about the political situations in all our different countries and I learned a lot, especially about Switzerland and Thailand. Monday was also May’s first time wearing gloves in her life! She tried on Karina’s pair and oh she was so cute, wiggling her fingers and clapping her hands, laughing. Her eyes lit up like a little kid. In Thailand it’s hot so no one wears gloves, apparently.

We have an ongoing joke in our class (that I made up, if I remember correctly), with the sentence “Does May have a little sister?”. In Chinese, you would say that phonetically as May you mei you mei mei? Which basically sounds like (to English speakers) “May yo may yo may may”. It’s pretty damn funny. It may not be to you readers, perhaps it’s just a Chinese class joke of sorts.

I got very excited on Tuesday when I learned the Chinese word for “bad”. I know what you’re thinking, “You’ve been in China over three months and you don’t know how to say bad?”, but I do! Usually people just use “hao” (good) or “bu hao” (not good), I’d never heard of the word ‘cha’ until Tuesday but it’s my favorite Chinese word now. To say ‘how are you’ in Chinese , one would typically say “Ni hao ma?” as in “you good?”. Because I’m me, I asked Vala later that day “Ni cha ma?” and she got very confused and was like “that’s not really Chinese, Miranda”. But whatever. My friends and Monica understand so..who cares?

I discovered an accidental cognate (sort of) on Tuesday as well. The word for motorcycle is ‘motouche’, which sounds like ‘more torture’ when said. Not joking, at all. It sounds like someone with a New York accent saying it, as well, so when Monica said it I had to laugh—not at torture, but at the sillyness of the sound. Was probably one of the highlights of that day, along with ‘wazi’ which means sock, and is so much fun to say it’s ridiculous. Like, you can make yourself sound like a crazy old Chinese lady so easily by just yelling “WAAAAAAAAA ZI!” Monica said that sometimes when she can’t find a sock in the morning, she screams wazi and waves her hands in the air…or at least that’s what it seemed like. “Wazi zai nar?!” (sock is where). Oh man, I’m sorry, I love that word. I’m going to guess that you can’t guess how to pronounce it correctly…I’d guesstimate that phonetically it would be ‘wah zih’ sort of, so, I hope that helps a tiny bit, so you can stare at your screen and yell wazi and wave your hands wildly and feel like the king or queen of something.

Monica’s class has actually been really fun this week because instead of her standing in front of us teaching like normal we’ve all sat at this large table and just sort of collectively studied and talked. She’s not the greatest teacher but is a really cool and funny person. We all like her and get along with her, she’s easy to relate to because she’s only twenty-two. Today, out of the blue I asked her if she had a boyfriend (we all know Vala does, we’ve seen him before) and she said yes, so of course I made further inquiries. [[SIDE NOTE: sorry if my English is funny at some points in this, I can’t really tell anymore because I’m around people who speak broken English so much. I caught myself writing “watch movie” instead of “watch a movie” on a flashcard today, and have been consistently dropping ‘the’ in IM conversations.]] She told us his name, and that they’ve been together seven years! Since they were fifteen, if you already forgot how old Monica is. I was like “so you were dating against the rules, secretly?” and she said “yes, but everyone know. Our teachers know, his parents know, my parents know, everyone know”. She says she calls him ‘doudou’, which apparently means ‘little bean’. They actually call each other that, especially when they hug they say it over and over again. She said he’s ugly (we were like what? You think your boyfriend is ugly?!) and that his name is ugly and not fun to write, but she loves him. She showed us a picture of him, though, and he looked cute from what I could see…it’s odd, in America with your Significant Other you’re usually saying ‘you’re beautiful,’ ‘no you’re more beautiful,’ ‘no, you’re the most beautiful,’ whereas here, Monica described her and her boyfriend as being more like, ‘you’re ugly,’ ‘you’re more ugly’. I don’t really understand, but okay. Monica also told us her nickname growing up was ‘Little Rice’, and that all her friends call her that. She was upset that no one called her that at Tongshenghu because before only her parents called her by her name…now her parents and colleagues do. She prefers to be called Little Rice so I think maybe I’ll start calling her that now, it suits her.

Um, let’s see, other good things…I honestly don’t really remember what I wrote about last time and I can’t look at wordpress to check. OH! It was that dance, wasn’t it? It was stupid and embarrassing and there were a lot of people…but it’s over now. Oh well. Saturday we all went to Walking Street (well not everyone, me, Pauline, Karina, Sangmin, May and Moritz) where we had Subway and I bought a wig for fun. If you haven’t already, you should go look at the pictures on flickr, fun stuff. I’m dying my hair tomorrow actually at Karina’s house during lunch, hopefully the color I chose is close to my natural color. Technically the box says “chestnut black” but my bleached hair is pretty light so…yeah. The color code on the box looks right. We’ll see. Tomorrow night Karina and I are going to the Harry Potter midnight premiere, hopefully. You can’t buy tickets in advance so we’re just going straight after school and hopefully we’ll be able to snag some. Oh I just used hopefully two sentences in a row, ewww.

Speaking of ew, all of us have picked up words and gestures from each other. When you have such a small group of friends, I guess that happens…Sangmin started saying ‘ew’ and ‘shut up’ because of me. All of us do large one-time-head-nods (I can’t properly describe this action, sorry) after Midori, and also use the word very more often. I think I’ve started saying ‘no!’ like Pauline. I don’t know off the top of my head, I’m running on very little sleep right now…but I don’t know, I noticed it today. We are a good group generally, really. I think our friendships will last our lifetime (I hope!). Wait…should that be singular or plural? Lifetime or lifetimes…? See what I mean about my English?

Other exciting things…well I’m going to Nanjing on Friday night, not really sure whether or not AFS has totally ‘approved’ that, but I’m going. May can’t go anymore (she just told me tonight) which is really disappointing but the show must go on. I’m excited to see Lisa and the other American students, I’m sure we’re going to have a lot of fun. Has this been a satisfactorily long of a good section as you were hoping for? It better be, dear readers, because I’m at 1,529 words right now! And that seems pretty damn good to me.


Be warned, if you hate listening to whining/complaining/annoyances/me, then I suggest you navigate off this page immediately. Or just scroll down a bit, because I don’t think you’d like reading about when I was forced to do the Happy Bear dance, which was the post before this. I apologize if this is an inconvenience to you. (I sound like a lame imitation of Lemony Snicket, I’m sorry)…but seriously, this is my big stress reliever, although writing all the good stuff put me in a better mood. I hope ranting about all this won’t reverse that.

So when I say my school is bad, I mean it. Not in the way that I complained about CHS being bad, but like really exchange students shouldn’t come to this school. Period. The schedule is horribly wrong and…man. It’s a vicious circle of not being able to do anything. That sounds sort of stupid, but here, I’ll explain.

We have three Chinese lessons a day, separate from the rest of our Chinese classmates. When we have Chinese, they have whatever class they’re supposed to have—sometimes it’s English, sometimes it’s Math, I don’t know their schedule by heart. Anyhow, they start school at seven and end at five, also having evening classes from seven to nine. This means that while we’re learning Chinese and being at home, they’re having additional classes (obviously). They also have school six and a half days a week, while we only have five. So really, we have much less school than they do. This is especially an issue with math, of which I only have two classes a week while the Chinese students have eleven, making it impossible to keep up. Tests are always on Sundays, except for ‘finals’ (which are on Friday), and we don’t go to school on Sunday so we never take any tests here. And because we don’t have to take tests and we aren’t given homework, no one pays attention in class, and even if we did (I’m not saying we as in just me, really everyone is having the same issue) we wouldn’t be able to understand because the other students are so far ahead of us. Because we aren’t tested (Vala said we chose this, when really it was inevitable), Vala is claiming that she can’t give us grades. From what she said today, it sounds like before I go home I’ll just get a piece of paper saying I took a Chinese class but my Chinese still sucks, and that’ll be it. No grades. No report cards. So basically a total waste of time.

I tried to explain this to Vala, especially because recently the school has been all “you need to be in class with the Chinese students all the time”, even though all we do is sit there. If we’re not taking tests or getting grades for anything, why are they bothering to force us to sit in class? We’re not allowed to leave on Friday afternoons anymore when we really don’t have class, we have to sit in Unsupervised Study and English class, which is basically three hours of everyone doing everything but studying. Vala always gets in a huff when we bring this up, bringing the “you could study if you wanted to” argument around, when really that is completely unrealistic. The Chinese students aren’t studying one bit, so why should we? She acts like we should just study Chinese, all the time, when really learning Chinese is not the issue at this point. Is it an issue in general (especially for me)? Yes. Has my Chinese gotten better substantially? No. I can’t really worry about that right now though, because if Vala doesn’t give me a report card of any sort…I’m really worried about having to take summer school. Extremely worried. Like, as Vala was talking to us about everything, about how “we did not promise to give you grades” I was physically shaking and almost crying. I ended up leaving the room afterwards and breaking down. Tongshenghu really just is a shitty school to be a foreigner in, I’m sorry. All of our other friends in China are having minimal school problems, when it seems like we have issues every day. Really, they make everything so much harder than it should be…Vala got all defensive and was like “well, what would you suggest then” and no one could think of any suggestions because honestly the system sucks. Hey you punk little American teenagers, you think your system sucks? Come to China, they’ll give you something to complain about. I said that when we have Chinese classes they should have classes that we don’t have, like English, Computers, Biology or History. And then when we’re there, we have classes…so that they don’t have an insane amount more of classes than us (like math, they have eleven we have two), but that can’t completely work effectively because there’s only so many classes you can do that with, along with the fact that they have one more class in the morning and three more classes in the evening than us. I suggested maybe they only have one more class than us in every subject as to even it out…but the math just didn’t add up. It’s a cycle of problems, one being caused by the next etc, and there doesn’t really seem to be a way out.

Tomorrow we have a test for Vala’s Chinese class, which today every single person (except for Midori) confidently thought they would not do well on. Fail. The teaching of Chinese at my school is the least helpful way I’ve ever been taught, and as a result I’ve learned next to nothing from it, what little I’ve learned has been mostly on my own in a useful setting, like needing to buy something or tell a taxi driver where to go. Additionally, for the past month or so I haven’t actively paid attention in class because I’m supposed to be self-studying or whatever, Vala did give me that long list of words when I first got here. And that has helped, I can write more characters off the top of my head now, and much faster. My train of thought when thinking Chinese is also easier for me to follow and more fluid…so yeah, I’ve been sitting in the back of the class doing my own thing, but I’m still expected to take the tests that I haven’t listened to or re-learned the material for. Have I learned this in the past three years? Yes. Do I remember every simplified character and tone mark and meaning? No way. If we had all traditional characters I might be a little better off (I’ve only learned traditional my whole life) but that’s irrelevant.

Just…ugh. There’s a lot that Vala/Tongshenghu asks me/us to do that’s contradictory. They want us to take the tests, but we can’t go to all the classes. I’m told to self-study, but I should know all the class material. We should be speaking more Chinese, but we’re only spoken to in English and are forced to ‘volunteer’ to teach Kindergarteners English. We should be ‘staying with our Chinese class’, when the teachers always have us do special things and go away from class. We’re supposed to be treated like everyone else, yet we have camera crews following us everywhere we go. You just can’t have it both ways, Tongshenghu.

I don’t know, I’m sorry this is so much hate to the school but…literally every day something comes up. I do not exaggerate. We were used as propaganda puppets in the Happy Bear dance, and then the school wouldn’t even let us walk less than a football field to the little fishermen’s restaurant to eat WITH A TEACHER (Max, the awesome music teacher, who thought of it in the first place because he felt so bad for us). Last week we were told we’re not allowed to leave Friday afternoons anymore. Vala told us to all study for her test, but then yesterday she gave us a huge homework assignment (first in a really long time) that took everyone 2+ hours to do, making us not have time to study…

Here is my final sob story, which basically metaphorically explains Tongshenghu life right now (but still remains true):

Monday it started raining in the afternoon. Usually we have language class on Mondays and Thursdays after school but we were told that the middle school had finals so they wouldn’t come. Normal days we get out at 4:40-ish now, and on language class days it’s more like 5:20, so I was anticipating waiting a while…because it was raining, we sort of dragged our asses down to the front of school, walking slowly because we were all going to  have a wait. The usual people were taking the bus except for Pauline, who was getting picked up by her father’s driver. When everyone else went to the bus, we stood in front of school in the drizzle, luckily the driver came quickly and we sat in the warm car for a bit, waiting for Pauline’s sister.

Then her sister came, and I got out and said goodbye, going to go stand under this tiny covering that’s over the card-scanner-admittance thing, that’s similar to those at fairs or amusement parks. The rain’s blowing at an angle and it’s quite cold, I don’t get soaked but I’m still getting wet. I’d estimate that it was around…5:05? At this point.

And so the wait began.

And continued. It went on and on.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been that kid who doesn’t get picked up from school, and watches the other people come and go, every car that’s coming down the way you hope just might be yours, convince yourself that your car is indeed that shape, when the window rolls down you take a tiny step and open your mouth as you’re about to speak but then someone else runs past you and gets in. To see taxis, both legitimate and illegal, drive past you, maybe even slow down, stay idle for a bit because you look like you need a ride. When the security guard asks you after 45 minutes if anyone is going to come get you. When after standing there for an hour in the rain, getting gradually more and more soaked, you call your sister who then asks your mom, who says she told your teacher to tell you to take a taxi home.

And then you cry as you walk down a long bridge in the rain. It’s dark now, the streetlights have been on for quite some time, and there are no more taxis. You go to a hotel that never has any guests, and they say they’ll get you a taxi. When the taxi gets there, the fare is already three times as high as it should be, and by the time you’re home it’s late and you’ve used up all your money.

And when you walk in the door, your sister laughs.

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