The Last Few Weeks

While I feel like I’ve actually managed to update my blog fairly regularly since arriving in China (no one is more surprised than me), it’s been a little while since I updated everyone on what I’ve been getting up to. The most recent posts seem to have been more specialised but I promise I have been getting up to lots of different bits and pieces in the meantime!

One of the things I was really keen to find as soon as I arrived here was some sports to participate in. It was hard to begin with as there doesn’t seem to be as much of a sports club culture as there is in the UK where your sports team can be a massive part of your university experience. I know it is for me – big love to my Queens, miss you EUSWPC! To tide me through until I found a club, literally any club, to join, I started going swimming with one of my friends and still go two or three times a week. I really look forward to it and while it is definitively good exercise, swimming outside of a club setting has always felt quite meditative to me too.

But in good news, I did find a club! There are a few clubs around campus that we discovered at a very small activities fair and the one that seemed most appealing was the badminton club. I’ve only gone to one session so far, which is two hours on a Saturday morning, because there’s been a few weeks without it because of competitions or events. However I have taken to just hiring out a couple of courts for a couple of hours with a group of friends which is great fun!

Another club I found and joined as a result of the small activities fair was the Languages Society. I went along to the first language salon of the year a few weeks ago where there were international students from all over, almost all of whom are there to improve their Chinese, and Chinese students, who are almost universally there to practise English. We did a variety of activities in small groups, a mix of international and Chinese students in each, using both English and Chinese at various points. It was great fun, they are every two weeks and while I wasn’t able to go to the last one I’m already looking forward to the next one!

I mentioned in a previous post that I was having a bit of trouble finding some Chinese friends, which is a great way to practise Chinese. Through the language society I met some great people who want to practise their English and can help with my Chinese. Their English is pretty much all way better than my Chinese but they put up with my constant mistakes and fumbling through, which I’m thankful for. Right now, I think it is more important to me just to be speaking and chatting in Chinese, regardless of whether or not I’m saying it correctly. Once my confidence goes up some more (it already has a lot!), I can start looking more at the mistakes I’m making.

Spot me in the middle!

There’s something I love about being able to seamlessly switch from one language to another and then back and have everyone understand. It’s what ends up happening in my conversations with Chinese friends, when one or other of us doesn’t know how to say a word in the language we’re learning or maybe because one language has the exact right word for what you want to express.

I have this with some of my other friends too. There are a few Venezuelan guys on my Chinese course and we mostly speak in Spanish but occasionally it’s easier to express something in Chinese or Chinese has taken over my brain after a long morning of class. I also have some friends from another university who are Moroccan and we’ve had conversations that included English, French, Spanish and even the odd Chinese word thrown in – the dream!

It would be so easy to stay in the little bubble that is DUT, tucked away in the south west corner of Dalian as we are, but I’ve been trying to make sure I get out of this comfort zone now and then. It’s easy to forget that with just ten minutes on a bus you can go to a gorgeous park right next to the sea with a gorgeous beach, all backed up by skyscrapers. A nicer mix than I thought it would be.

One place I’ve been intrigued by since I got here and first heard about it is Dalian’s ‘fake Venice’ (威尼斯水城). It cost £500 million to create 4km of canals in a strongly European style, complete with gondoliers (on motorised gondolas). This kind of phenomenon has been called ‘duplitecture’ and Dalian’s Venice is not the only instance of it in China – Guandong province has recreated an entire Austrian town, Hangzhou has an Eiffel Tower and Suzhou recreated Tower bridge!

It was interesting to walk around, very pretty but it definitely felt like walking around a film set or Legoland or something (I can’t explain it, that’s just the vibe I got), especially considering all the buildings were empty!

To continue the Italian vibe that day, we finished up with some amazingly authentic pizza, absolutely delicious. One of my friends I went with also happened to know of a bar nearby that she said she had to take me to after we ate and it was because it was owned by a Scottish man! He was lovely, an older guy from South Ayrshire whose accent was a breath of fresh air and who actually lent me an Ian Rankin book to read!

This week we had our first set of exams. Midterms were on Thursday and Friday and I had three in total. Thursday was my speaking exam and I probably most nervous about this one but I was super pleased with how it went! The same was true with the two that I had on Friday, comprehension and listening. I’d been working pretty hard through the week to prepare for these so I decided to celebrate… by having a night in.

On Saturday though, me and one of my Chinese friends went hiking! We went to an area of Dalian called Heishijiao (黑石礁), the next area over from where I live, and climbed this hill that gave us a beautiful view over Dalian. From the top of the hill you look out onto the bridge that spans part of southern coast of Dalian and you can see over to Xinghai Park and Xinghai Square, some of my favourite places in the city.

We decided that we would only speak Chinese on the way up and then English on the way down and if someone broke the rule they had to take a picture making a stupid face. So this happened…

I’m sorry…

So now what’s next? Midterms were the short-term hurdle in this insanely long semester but the light at the end of the tunnel (a.k.a the bleak light of the 10th of January) is still a long way away. Some friends and I are planning a little trip out of Dalian in the next few weeks to a town called Dandong (丹东) which is on the border with North Korea and features the most eastern part of the Great Wall, among other things. In the bigger picture, I’m starting to think about where I want to go during my long holiday through January and February which is exciting!

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