I can’t believe it’s already the second semester here in China! Time is really flying by. This semester, we’ve stopped learning Chinese from our textbook everyday. Instead, we’ve been preparing for the HSK, which we’ll take on May 16 in Nanjing. All of the foreign students at our school will take at least HSK 5 (out of 6 levels) and take the HSK Oral Exam. To prepare, we’ve been taking at least one practice test per week, then going over all the questions together, and looking up all the characters we don’t know (which are a lot). There are 2500 words on HSK 5!! It’s been hard work, but I can definitely say I’m making progress.
This semester I’ve really come to appreciate what we Changzhou AFSers call “random restaurants”. These are basically the family run hole-in-the-wall style restaurants you can find along the street, but they have the best Chinese food made from scratch. Guaranteed no one there speaks English; they’ve probably never even served foreigners before. And the prices are awesome. My favorite random restaurant in Changzhou serves fantastic tomato & egg soup along with homemade dumplings that only cost 6元 (= $1), noodles, & fried rice. With 10 people inside, the restaurant seems full. Even in Beijing we sought out random restaurants, and we’re delighted with tasty baozi and fried noodles. These kind of restaurants, not glitzy & glamorous, are popular with the locals, pretty much unknown (mostly even unnamed), and little rough around the edges, but a treasure to find. We generally leave school every day at 11 now to attend culture classes (see below!), so we stop by these restaurants for lunch!
This term we’ve begun to have 文化课 (culture classes) every afternoon! All the AFS students in Changzhou have class all together. Every week we attend different high schools around the city (省常中，一中，二中，三中，五中，and 外国语学校), and we learn a new aspect of Chinese culture at each school. Last week, we learned Kung Fu at the No. 2 High School (二中), and this week we’re learning Chinese art and paper cutting at our school (省常中). It’s pretty fun so far, and I love seeing the CZ AFSers everyday! In the future I think we’ll have classes like calligraphy and cooking!
I got to celebrate my 19th birthday in China! To my delight, my birthday celebrations stretched on for two days. The first day, my actual birthday, my classmates at school took me to a Korean restaurant to eat lunch, where we were met by some of our other friends from different schools.
They got a cake for me in typical Chinese style – with fruit all along the top. I received flowers, chocolate, and other presents as well! Our teacher even let us return late for our afternoon classes so we could meet up with other friends at a coffee shop for a while. After afternoon class, we spent some time in Hongmei Park, since the weather these days is in the upper 60s, and the flowers are starting to bloom. For dinner, we went to an all you can eat seafood buffet restaurant. The next day, my host family celebrated my birthday, since it was easier for them to celebrate it on a Friday. They took me to a big dinner with all the family (aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents) at a fancy hotpot restaurant. It was a typical Chinese restaurant at a circle table with food in the middle, but everyone had their own hotpot soup next to them heated through the table. Dinner was really good, and really fun. They made me wear a birthday crown and insisted on singing “Happy Birthday” to me in English, although they hardly know how to say 3 English words in total. Everyone was taking pictures and videos, and the aunts even brought me presents! All in all, I had a lot of fun celebrating my birthday in China!!