Classes have begun, affording to us at least a shadow of a routine. We study Chinese for 3.5 hours every morning-- from 8-12, with a half hour break at 10. During the first period we focus on Yufa (grammar structures) and shengci (vocabulary.) During the second period we focus on kouyu (spoken Chinese.) Lisa was in my class for the first day, but she was in Beijing last semester studying and found the subject matter too easy. Today, Sophie moved up from the level below me to try out something harder, but was struggling a bit. I could very well end up with my own class, which would be intense. I was placed in level D, out of A-F, which was a nice ego boost given how many of the people above me have lived in China for some amount of time-- actually, now that I think about it, it's all of them. I've been enjoying kouyu the most, because we have to speak for five minutes every day in front of the class about something, and I've discovered that I can discuss more sophisticated topics and ideas than I thought. Yesterday I was able to explain the smoggy mountain concept from my Argus article. Today I talked about approaching Chinese strangers at Salvadore's last night (I had to ask Chinese people about their opinions on something for homework, they were actually quite nice about it and we ended up exchanging phone numbers.)
During the break between classes, the program has found a Taiji master to teach us, and we go out and make fools of ourselves in the bright blue morning. We learn the slow,fluid movements as well as some more martial-arts flavored routines on a plaza in the middle of campus where University students are free to come gawk and laugh (and they do.) It's only been a few days, but we're already getting better, and the Taiji is a great way to relax between classes. Makes my knees hurt a little, although that could also be the walking up 6 flights of stairs 3 times a day (elevators are a rarity here.)
In the afternoons we do something cultural or education-related. Yesterday we walked to the Minority People's University and met English major students there. One of them is from a village near Xishuangbanna where three different minorities live--I can't help but think how interesting it might be to study how they interact and live together. Today we watched a fairly interminable movie all about modern Chinese history, called "The Mao Years." It was fairly interesting, I learned a lot about the Cultural Revolution and Great Leap Forward that I didn't know before, but the movie was so long and I've been getting little sleep, and I ended up napping against my will.
Tomorrow we get a reprieve from classes-- we will visit the Western Hills of Kunming (a place I have actually already been) and hear a lecture about Buddhism, then get to explore the Daoist temples hewn into the rock. We won't get a reprieve like this every week, though: this newly established routine will last for another three weeks before our five-day "Yunnan Exploration Project" (where we choose a place to go in a small group and are responsible for getting there, finding places to stay, eating, and then writing a paper about it. We can go wherever we want and the program will pay for everything except airfare. How psyched am I???) After the project, we will continue with classes during a two-week homestay. The routine seems like it might get a little suffocating, but it's only 5 weeks, and nothing, at least in my experience, can stay boring in China.