Booking a Train Ticket in Chinese!
At the start of the third week of the program at Beijing, I contacted my employer at Shandong University of Technology to plan when I am to travel from Beijing to Zibo City. This is my next destination where I will begin my first “real” job, to teach English to Chinese university students.
It was decided that I was to go to Zibo on July 28, the day before the rest of the Bloomsburg student group returned to America. As written in a previous blog, I would take the fast train from Beijing South Station to get to Zibo. This means I would have to book a train ticket, and luckily, I was able to book my ticket on campus.
Dr. Jing Luo told me to go to the Shaoyuan building on campus where they have the ticket office. I wanted to put my newly improved Chinese language skills to the test, so I decided to book the ticket on my own. Before I booked the train ticket, I was a little nervous because I had never booked anything in another language other than English, and it was absolutely imperative that I booked the ticket for the correct date and during a reasonable, early afternoon arrival time.
Before I booked my ticket, I reviewed in my head my ticket booking dialogues from last week’s classes while I munched on a mix of rice, spicy cauliflower, and bok choi at Yan Nan, one of my favorite canteens on campus.
Then I accidently went to Shaoyuan dorm that had a restaurant and a few shops. I had been there before, so I thought that maybe this was the correct Shaoyuan building with the ticket- booking office. I asked the security guard if I could book train tickets here. He spoke very quickly, but his response indicated that I had to go to the zhong xin (central building) to find the ticket office.
The zhong xin building was where we had our placement test, and it was basically right next to the dorm building.
I then found the ticket office, and began the booking process. The Chinese conversation came much more naturally than I thought it would, and the booking clerk was fairly easy to understand. I could tell that she was used to assisting foreign students with train ticket-booking because she reviewed my desired locations, dates, and departure/arrival times. I ended up making my departure time be 11:25 a.m., which means I would arrive in Zibo at 2:55 p.m.
After all of the details for my ticket were confirmed, I paid for my ticket (only 165 RMB), and the clerk told me to pick the ticket up at the office the following afternoon. I left the Shaoyuan building feeling quite accomplished; I had completed my first major task speaking in only Chinese!! My classes and previous language experiences are definitely paying off, and the successful ticket-booking was proof of noticeable progress.
Climbing the Great Wall in the Rain
We climbed the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall during a rainstorm. In the shaded areas, it felt like I was navigating through a rainforest due to the intense rain and humidity. The views were not nearly as good as they could have been on a sunny day, but the climb itself was still an adventure.
All of the foreign students in the short-term language programs went to climb the wall at the same time, so I was able to see my friends from my Chinese class as well as those I know from other classes. I also saw my Korean friends, so I decided to join them for the climb the wall with them for most of the way.
We spoke Chinese all the way up, and by now, our exchanges in Chinese have become much more natural. We all took pictures together at the top of the section of the wall before I had to find the rest of my group. It really was a good time despite the rainy weather.
I climbed down the with my Bloomsburg friends. I also bargained for a small stuffed panda bear on the way down the mountain. I managed to buy it for 25 RMB brought down from 125 RMB. There are so many vendors there are on the way up the Great Wall and throughout all of the other tourist places we have visited during the past month.
The Mutianyu section of the Great Wall was a different part that we climbed from last year’s trip, so it was a nice change of scenery. The main difference was that there were several stairs in a forest area leading up to the wall itself instead of climbing many steep, vertical stairs that span through the other section of the wall that we climbed last summer. All in all, this was a good day, and I was able to climb one of the world’s seven wonders for the second time.
Taking Chinese Teachers Out to Dinner
We had to take our Chinese teachers out to dinner for our final ethnic meal. All of the Bloomsburg students from each class had to take their respective class teachers out, so I was the only Bloomsburg student to invite the class four teachers.
When asking the teachers out to dinner, we had to use Chinese. I knew what to say, but I was still a little nervous because I had never asked a teacher out to eat back in America or anywhere else for that matter. This scenario usually does not happen in American classrooms unless some grand celebration is in order on the teacher or students’ behalf.
Both of my teachers were thankful that I had invited them to dinner, and they said that Bloomsburg students were very polite.
Since I was new to Beijing, my teachers chose the restaurant. The one they picked was close to campus, just beyond the southwest gate. When we arrived, I wasn’t sure what to expect because I had never coordinated a dinner arrangement in China, yet alone with my teachers.
But similarly to the restaurants back in the US, the waiters asked how many people when we entered, and I said “san wei ren,” three people. Since I was the person to do the inviting, it was my duty to coordinate seating arrangements with the waiters as well as the ordering/paying process.
While looking at the “cai dan,” or “menu,” I was surprised that I was able to read some of the various foods. Reading food titles on a menu is very hard because the dishes all have their own names, but after studying at PKU, I can recognize specific characters that indicate whether or not the dishes have beef, chicken, tofu, vegetables, noodles, etc.
I asked the waiter what the specialty drinks and entrees were, and my teachers insisted on trying the specialty drink. The specialty drink at the restaurant we ordered was pear soup, but it was more like a thick, pear-flavored tea because it was served in a teapot.
We also ordered a few dishes to share, spicy chicken, fried tofu, a chopped mushroom dish, salad, and a cheese fish for dessert (which was more like a custard-fish). My Spoken Chinese teacher, Liu Laoshi, liked tofu, so we made sure we ordered a tofu-dish. Kong Laoshi, my Comprehensive Chinese teacher, said he liked just about everything on the menu!
Everything we ordered was delicious, and the cheese fish tasted like custard. During our time at the restaurant, my teachers and I spoke in Chinese the entire time, and they said my Chinese had improved a lot since the first day of classes.
Our conversations ranged from recent events to class material to other students. My teachers were also curious about my upcoming teaching job at SDUT and how I planned to get to Zibo City, so I tried to be as clear as possible when explaining my travel arrangements and expected duties.
I was glad that I could apply what I’ve learned in classes to the real world of Chinese culture, in a sit-down restaurant setting. I was also happy to take my teachers out to show my gratitude for all that they have taught me during the past month. E
ven though I have only spent four weeks in their classrooms, I have learned so much, and I have become so much more confident when speaking/writing in Chinese.
Studying and Playing Guitar at the Global Village Student Café
During the last week of classes, I spent some time in the evenings studying and playing guitar in the student café located in our dorm building. The atmosphere of the café is comfortable and relaxed.
It wasn’t until toward the end of the month did I finally find out that there was a guitar in one of the rooms in the café. It was nice to know this because my guitar was one thing from home that I really missed.
During a study break at the cafe, I saw the guitar in the back room, so went back to my room to retrieve my guitar pick and a few other lyrics and chord progressions. I saw Sam Haque on my way back to the café, and since he also knew how to play guitar, he decided to come along and play a few songs, too. Some of my Korean friends from classes were at the café the night I found the guitar, so we had a little audience present!
I played a few songs first, and then Sam played a few. The experience put me in such good spirits, and our audience was very happy to hear guitar music.
Playing for everyone in the café also made me realize that I’m really going to miss all of my friends I made at PKU — from Bloomsburg and from around the world. I’m not one for belaboring goodbyes, but I’ll save my goodbye for my final blog.
Goodbye, PKU. Hello Again, Zibo!
Since I was to go to Zibo City the day before my group was supposed to fly back to the US, I left with Dr. Luo and a few other students the morning of the last Saturday in PKU to take the subway to the Beijing South Station. I was a little sad to leave PKU because I will miss all of my new friends, and I have made many memories living in Beijing and studying Chinese for twenty hours a week for the past month.
However, at the same time, I was ready to move on to what was ahead. I eagerly awaited to return to Zibo because I really enjoyed my time at SDUT last summer and I have a feeling I’m really going to enjoy working there.
As I boarded the train to Zibo, I felt excited that I was taking my next step into my own life’s journey and that I had accomplished more than I originally thought I would have during the past month in Beijing. I am very happy to have the chance to work in China after my studies, to become a teacher after being a student. I thought of how much my Chinese teachers have helped me improve my Chinese, and while teaching in Zibo, I want to help my Chinese students improve their English as much as much as I can.
I arrived in Zibo City feeling a lot more secure and well-adapted to living in China since the beginning of the month, and I have had an excellent linguistic experience at PKU. For anyone currently enrolled at Bloomsburg University currently studying the Chinese language or interested in possibly seeking employment in China, I highly recommend spending a short term session or a semester Chinese language study at PKU.
Living in Beijing forces one to adapt to a fast-paced, multifaceted culture, and simultaneously learning the language in China during the adapting process makes interacting with the people so much easier. As a foreigner to the Chinese, sometimes knowing only a few words can make all the difference when communicating.
— Sarah Halter, English graduate