Alas, I am sorry to disappoint some of you. My camera does not have the necessary USB cable to connect with the computer, and my camera's memory card is not compatible with my laptop. So you all will have to make do with my descriptive powers until I can upload pictures. Sorry!
As the title of this post suggests, today was the first day of classes at the Chinese Language Center at National Chengchi University. One of the main reasons I studied abroad was to learn in a classroom with people who were completely different from me, and my wish was certainly granted. I was the only American, and the youngest person in the class. My classmates include: a middle-aged Canadian woman currently living in Taiwan with her husband and two children; a recent university graduate from London; a half Taiwanese, half Italian model; a Korean woman; and two Japanese women. Both of the Japanese girls are graduates from vocational school and have worked for several years. One of the girls is learning Chinese in hopes of communicating with future clientèle at a clothing store she wishes to open one day; the other is learning for the heck of it. In her words, "why not?"
My professor, Teacher Zhang, is lovely. She is extremely attractive, with eyelashes that curl as delicately as butterfly antennae over a pair of mahogany eyes. She told us she always wanted to be a teacher, though she added parenthetically she had not anticipated teaching foreigners Chinese. She had married at twenty-eight and had had two children, a daughter of six and a son of two and a half. The daughter has just enrolled at the elementary school next to my dormitory. Teacher Zhang is thirty-five years old this year. I was shocked when she told us her age. Her smooth, well-defined cheekbones, easy smile and youthful style would have suggested her to be in her mid- to late twenties.
Even more surprising to me was the general relaxed nature of the class. I anticipated drills on characters I was supposed to have known but long forgotten; reading aloud a soporific text followed by an equally mind-numbing question-and-answer session; and a pile of homework that would have taken me two and half hours to complete when I got home. None of these things happened. Instead, Teacher Zhang prepared questions we had to answer on dry-erase boards in Chinese. Some of the questions were a little bland, like "My friend has good grades but no money for college, what should he do?" but everyone came up with creative answers and a lively discussion ensued.
The model, Dani, and I agreed on a few points. The best way to learn a language quickly and well is to acquire a significant other who is a native speaker of that language. A good method to cure shallow men is to provide them with a girlfriend as beautiful as the moon but is otherwise useless. She seemed rather worldly, too: she knew by looking at my face that I was of Latin descent, which impressed me greatly, because to most people here I am just a foreigner. Dani is from Rome and speaks six languages, flashes a beaming smile and has a terrific sense of humor. She's far from the high strung, self-absorbed dimwit I had made most models out to be. Nor is she stick thin. I'll make a point of asking her where her favorite places are to eat.
After class was a brief welcoming reception for all the international students. I met people from Hungary, the Netherlands, Ireland, and Swaziland. There are also quite a few students from Central and South America here as well. It's very interesting to be in Taiwan and to hear so much Spanish spoken.
Scott, the British university graduate, accompanied me to the bookstore after the welcome party to the bookstore and walked me back to my dorm. He is quite British, quite gay, and quite chummy. He teased me good-naturedly about my being the baby of the class. He was equally surprised as I was at how friendly our teacher is, because we're both accustomed to Beijing teachers who only reveal a drop or two of personal information after months of acquaintance and all but shriek if you get one word wrong in a sentence. Could it be that this kind of guanxi (relationship) between teacher and student is not the best way to learn a language? Whatever the answer is, I know that I am not in China anymore.