My dorm, my school, my home.
07.07.2008 28 °C
The Beijing Institute of Education consists of four buildings. When you stand at the gate, you see the East Building on your left, the Middle Building, and then the West Building on the right. Behind these three buildings is the South Building and CET cafeteria.
The Beijing Institute of Education from the street. You can only see the Middle Building, the Gate Keeper’s box, and three of my friends – Stephen, Victoria, and Sophia.
Big Brother is watching you. There are cameras all over campus. Often there are two Gate Keepers/Security Guards, one inside the box and the other outside.
In addition to this gate security, the East and West Buildings each have two Shifu (pronounced Shurr-Foo). A Shifu is a respected elder or teacher, but in my context a Shifu is something of caretaker, landlord, and father. His office is the first room upon entering the building.
If we return after curfew (12 midnight on weekdays, 1 a.m. on weekends), we must ring a bell and wake the Shifu so that he can let us in our building, which is locked and chained shut after curfew. Depending on which Shifu is on duty, waking the Shifu can incur a long Chinese scolding. Curfew on normal Chinese campuses is earlier (11 p.m. on weeknights and 12 midnight on weekends) and inflexible.
The balcony that connects the Middle Building to the West Building. The West Building is mostly dorm rooms, but it also houses the CET Office, the Activity Room (for watching movies), the Reading Room, a kitchen, refrigerator room, and laundry room. Most of the office staff also lives in the West Building.
This is after walking under that balcony and looking to my left. On the left is the Middle Building, and on the right is the South Building, which only has classrooms and lecture halls.
The potted plants lining our campus are common everywhere in Beijing. Although I never see anyone gardening, flourishing plants are everywhere.
The building with the number 3 sign is the CET cafeteria, where there is mediocre Chinese food, free filtered water, and no air conditioning. CET provides lunches Monday through Friday. They also claim not to use MSG.
We can check out basketballs from the Shifu in the East Building (which is on the left in this photo).
After turning left next to the basketball court, you see the balcony that connects the Middle Building to the East Building (and mirrors the one on the other side). The Middle Building has more offices, a library, and in the basement, a gym and a yoga room. The East Building houses more dorms, classrooms, offices, and some French middle school students who are here with another program. All of my classes are on the fourth floor of the East Building.
The first floor of the West Building, where my dorm is. The activity boards and our student boxes line the hall.
The second floor of the West Building. My dorm room on the left side, the second from the window at the end of the hall.
Me and my roommate’s door! My Chinese name is Peng (pronounced Pung, as in “hung”) Dan, but people call me Dan Dan, and my roommate is called Yao Yao (pronounced Yow Yow, like Lil’ Bow Wow).
Unlike most of my classmates, my Chinese name is a very Chinese name. The meaning of “Dan” is red, which is a lucky color for Chinese people. Most foreigners use Chinese words to phonetically reproduce their English names, but my Chinese teacher at UGA said that was “lame.”
Yao Yao’s side of the room.
My side of the room. CET provided each of us with a giant thermos (on the top shelf of my desk hutch) for hot water, which we can get from the machine in the shower room. Yao Yao drinks hot water throughout the day, and I sometimes use it to make instant noodles. But tap water in China is filled with different chemicals, so I buy bottled, as recommended by CET.
The water can fluctuate from boiling hot to freezing cold if multiple people are showering or using the restroom. Some weeks the water seems especially dirty. The girls complain about not feeling as clean, or their makeup not washing off, or their hair being oilier. (And by “girls” I mean me.)
Sometimes when I walk into the shower room I see naked Chinese roommates. Yao Yao told me that at her dorm the girls would not only shower together, but also help wash each other.
The bathroom has three Western style toilets and one Chinese style toilet. The rule of thumb in China is BYOTP – Bring Your Own Toilet Paper, even in the dorms.
The balcony connecting the West Building to the Middle Building.
As far as academics go, CET's Beijing Language program consists of four and a half hours of class Monday through Thursday, and a two and a half hour test on Friday. There is also a full-time language pledge, which is enforced in public and often disregarded in private. That means all courses are taught in Mandarin Chinese, and students should only speak Mandarin Chinese. Every night we have homework from the day's lesson, homework to prepare us for tomorrow's lesson, at least 50 characters to memorize, and several grammar patterns to review. Although I tested into a higher level course, I panicked the first day and dropped to an easier one, so I am usually painfully bored in class.
In the words of our Academic Director, Liu Fang, “You need to practice Chinese, not enjoy life.” After about three weeks of cursing this language, where “mai” can mean to buy or to sell and every other word sounds the same, I’m finally overcoming my culture shock and enjoying the language. The enjoyment comes from having the confidence to make mistakes and converse with a person in a different language. If I leave a taxi knowing what the driver does in his spare time, where he grew up, and what his older brother does for a living, then that is a great day.