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Month: March 2018

Adventures with the HSK

Adventures with the HSK

Spring has arrived in Nanjing! It is glorious. The many flowering trees around town are starting to bloom and the towering sycamores are beginning to grow leaves again. Outside my window and around campus, the birds are chattering away and it is so pleasant to listen to. I always forget how quiet winter is, and feel so much happier when spring comes and the birds return. Nanjingers keep warning me, “春天太短了!” which means, “spring is too short!” Spring is apparently only a month long and summer here is infamous: 40 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit), 100% humidity and frequent rainstorms. Luckily, the worst of the weather doesn’t hit Nanjing until July and I am planning to make my exit in June so I am disregarding their warnings. My students, when asked about their summer activies, happily look forward to staying inside and eating watermelon (西瓜) to stay cool. Their favorite summer activity is to do nothing at all. And in 100% humidity, I would likely do the same.

We started classes again two weeks ago. This early in the semester, I still feel like I have yet to find my rhythm, but I am excited to be teaching literature courses to most of same students. I feel so much more confident than I did in September it is almost laughable.

Additionally, I am thrilled to report that I have picked up my Chinese classes again. I am now studying for HSK level 3 (the HSK is the most common test of Chinese language proficiency) and hoping/praying/studying to pass by June. I am posting this publicly as a method of encouraging myself to study. My reading speed is slowly, slowly increasing so I can understand more of the test questions. These questions have proven a surprisingly interesting way to learn about China. For example, one recent prompt dealt with 春节 (Spring Festival, AKA Chinese New Year) and the usual activities. It read, “春节是中国最重要的节日,这一节日在中国有很长历史了。以前,春节那天,大家都在家里,和家人在一起。近年来,人们在春节里有了新的选择—出门旅游。” This roughly translates to, “Spring Festival is China’s most important festival, this festival has a long and continuing history in China. In the past, on that day, everyone would go home, all the families would be together. Recently, some people have a new choice during Spring Festival: to go traveling.” This description, of everyone returning home, fits my observations during Spring Festival. The streets of Nanjing were empty for the day of the start of the festival and much of the next two weeks. However, it also makes sense that in the context of China’s growing wealth, more people (likely young people) have another option, to travel for leisure. It really is an interesting time to be in China, as the country grows so quickly.

Another prompt on this week’s assignment read, “‘日久见人心’ has this meaning, if you know someone for a short time, you cannot understand much about them, only when you have known each other for a long time, are you able to understand who they are.” Chinese has many short phrases like “日久见人心,” another common one is 好久不见 which means something like “long time no see!” Additionally, this view of friendship also seems to be a common one here. Anecdotally, I have noticed that friendships tend to be very long term and to be very deep. My students live in room of four people each and seem to sit with their roommates in class and to take most of the same classes as their roommates. Students are also divided into larger cohorts and take most of the same courses with this cohort of about 20, along with hanging out outside of class. Whereas at Wellesley, I rarely had the same person in more than one class at a time.

Since I can learn some more cultural concepts from the HSK questions, I think I am more motivated to understand. Usually textbook examples are fairly uninteresting: “Martha went to the store yesterday. Martha will go to the store tomorrow.” But when I translate these prompts, I feel like I am learning more than just some new vocabulary, but also more about this culture, which is very cool.