Midterm Marathon

Trip Start Jul 03, 2006
Trip End Aug 21, 2006

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Friday, July 28, 2006

There are two things here in China that I consider to be my nemeses. If it weren't for these two things, life here would be completely enjoyable. Instead, I am plagued everyday by these two horrible, frustrating, and painful phenomena known to the locals as "wenzi" and "ting xie."

"Wenzi," referred to by English speakers as mosquitoes, are the bane of my existence. Unlike Western mosquitoes, which are detectable by their distinctive buzzing, Chinese mosquitoes make no sound at all. They are also invisible. This means that even if I believe I have hunted down and killed every last mosquito in my room before going to sleep, I will still wake up with at least three fresh mosquito bites. I have five on my body right now. They itch like the Dickens! I hate you, wenzi! Hate you!

The second thing that causes me daily anguish is "ting xie," translated into English as "dictation." It literally means, "listen write." Ting xie is an educational torture tool employed by the Chinese to try to make me quit studying this language. Everyday our teachers give us 40-50 new Chinese characters that we are supposed to be able to learn how to write from memory overnight. The next morning at 8 o'clock, our teacher stands at the front of the class and tauntingly reads off three sentences chock full of these words that she knows we can't write. We students do our best to scribble whatever we can down onto the paper and hand it in, humiliated.

Now, ting xie might not sound that difficult to you, but remember that Chinese characters are not phonetic. Unless you've been studying Chinese for one spillion willion years, you cannot guess how a character is written by the way it sounds. What's worse is that the smallest variation changes the meaning of the character completely. If a single stroke is too long, too short, missing, extra, or drawn at the wrong angle, the character is not only wrong, it most likely morphs into a different character that is not at all what you intended. Learning to write Chinese characters takes time, patience, and practice. Trying to make us do it overnight is the equivalent of showing someone how to swim for the first time one day and then the next morning ripping their Swimmies off and tossing them into the lake. It's too hard, and the teachers know it; nonetheless, at 8am every morning, they gleefully administer ting xie. This morning I scored a whopping 20%. One to hang on the fridge.

But enough whining about mosquitoes and ting xie. You came here to read about my weekend. Yes, Friday was a big day for us students because it marked the halfway point of the program. The reason I know that Friday was the halfway point of the program is because it was also the day of our midterm exam. The midterm was composed of two parts, a written part and an oral part. The written part was like any other test, taken in our classroom, and consisted of a lot of...how shall I say...writing. The oral part was what was interesting. It consisted of skits that we had to write, memorize, and perform ourselves. And rather than presenting them to our teachers in our classrooms, the program decided to bus us, along with all of our Chinese roommates, five hours away to a resort town on the coast called Rui An. In Rui An, they turned our oral exam into an evening of performances, including dinner and emcees. I was kind of excited to hear about the emcees until I was informed that I was chosen to be one of them. This meant that I had to prepare not only my skit, but also an evening of entertaining babble to link all of the skits together. (As if I know any of that vocabulary!) Luckily it all came together fine (they let us use note cards,) but I nearly died preparing for it. I will say, the skits were hilarious, and we all had a great laugh, which we all really needed.

On Saturday, with our midterm exam safely behind us, the program took us to a historical printing shop where China may or may not have invented printing (this depends on whether or not I correctly understood the description written on the wall about the place.) Then they took us hiking in a scenic forest with beautiful trails and waterfalls. After a few hours of hiking (and swimming,) the program herded us onto a boat and shipped us off to Nanji Island where we spent Saturday night. I will pick up with Nanji Island in the next entry.

Hoping all is well and good at home.
~Your excited and exhausted Yin Yin
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Jeff Hartnett on

Do you know of any group/school version of Ting Xie?
My son is enrolled in a Mandarin Immersion program in Portland OR; he is in 1st grade.
I thought that the idea of having the equivalent of an (English) spelling bee might be a good event to coordinate.
Any advice? Any websites you can recommend? I could sit down and write out how to do this event, but don't want to if it's all been done before.
I appreciate any help/advice you can offer.
Note: can you send a reply to my email address: hartnett2740@comcast.net

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