Friday, July 07, 2006

China Stories, Pt. 15: Back to School (Sort of)

I was back at Bei Da, and back in class, which was nice. I settled into a routine of going to class, and studying. For a while.

Basically, here's how my days went.

7:00 am - wake up; walk down the hall to take a shower; shave (optional).

7:15 - make coffee (NOT optional); eat Muesli with local yogurt.

8:00 - class (I can't remember - grammar? listening comprehension?)

9:30 - some other class

12:00 - lunch

1:00 - do homework back in dorm room.

1:30 - take nap (they cleaned the hallways with kerosene, and the fumes made taking a nap seem like a good idea)

3:00 - study

7:00 - dinner

My roommate Chad had shown a decided lack of interest in scholarly pursuits. While Bob and I had gone to Sichuan for Spring Festival, Chad went even further, to Xinjiang. Because it's farther away, he had left early. This meant missing classes, which the program supervisor discouraged. Nevertheless, off Chad went to Urumqi and Kashgar, cities closer to Kabul than to Beijing. Even though he had left early, he had returned late, again, missing classes. He had decided this was not so much a problem for him. He was not even getting college credit for this program, so he reasoned that if he thought that the opportunity to go to Xinjiang was too good to pass up, he would go to Xinjiang.

I didn't object. I had to admit it sounded like a pretty cool trip. Besides, I enjoyed having the room to myself.


Routine was nice, but it didn't last long.

Emperor Hirohito died in late January, and President Bush planned to visit China after attending Hirohito's funeral. CBS News was planning extensive coverage of the President's visit to China. As a result, they were in need of some temporary employees. I signed on, even though it meant missing classes. How could I pass up a chance to be part of a Presidential visit to China?

Besides, they would pay us $100 a day, and give us a per diem of about $25, to allow us to eat in the hotel. $100 seemed like a lot, and after eating noodles in the cafeteria, I hardly knew how I would spend $25 a day on food. (I figured it out.)

The visit itself I don't remember much, but the experience was tremendous. CBS News took over a whole floor of a five-star hotel. They rented a couple rooms at other hotels, which I had the run of for two nights. I went to the breakfast buffet everyday.

My friend Randy and I spent most of our time on one task: managing a car pool. That meant, essentially, babysitting 20 Beijing taxi drivers until the CBS folks decided to go somewhere. Randy and I enjoyed being with them for the most part. We had nicknames for them - one was Roy, because he looked like country singer Roy Clark. Another one we called Bluto since he looked (and acted) like John Belushi's character in "Animal House." One we called Sleepy because he looked like one of the seven dwarfs. So we had conversations like this.

"Bruce Morton wants to go to the Friendship Store - who shall we send, Roy?"

"No, let's get Bluto out of here. He's clipping his toenails and it's disgusting."

"Okay. Let's send Roy too. All he's done is complain about the food for two days."

I can't imagine learning as much Chinese in a classroom as I did sitting around a hotel room watching TV with a bunch of Beijing cabbies. If you can understand a roomful of cabdrivers talking with each other, you're starting to get some significant language comprehension.

It probably wasn't the healthiest way to learn, since the cabbies smoked their way through every waking hour.

I was happy - I learned a lot, made $500, and made numerous trips to the omelette station.

Best of all, CBS told us they would hire us again in April, for Gorbachev's visit to China.


At 3:10 PM, Anonymous frazzeeee said...

i have a ton of questions!

- was it a bad thing that you missed classes?
- was it competitive to be selected as a temp. employee for CBS? (i would think lots of people would be signing up)
- what were other people/students being employed to do?
- what did the cabbies think of you?
- was the food different? american? why was Roy complaining about it?

(sorry, just curious!)


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