Every afternoon, we all have the opportunity to take part in Chinese culture classes. These bring out our creative nature and some of the best conversations. Below are student thoughts about them, and pictures, of which, the majority are from the beginning of the trip, notice the short hair.
Calligraphy and Traditional Painting
Calligraphy class begins with Mo Zhi Laoshi and ends with despair. Everything in between consists of conversations about food and the crookedness of our lines. Somehow ink brushes and paper excite our appetites more than cooking class does. We always seem to talk about the best and worst western food we have or have not had in China. Perhaps the thought of filling our stomachs with American comfort food distracts us from the disaster before us.
Straight lines have never been so crooked under the guidance of our shaky arms. Each class we seem to forget our previous frustrations, exclaiming, “That looks easy!” as the laoshi effortlessly demonstrates his artistic expertise. Then, tragedy ensues.
Alternating every other week, we spend Mondays and Wednesdays either doing calligraphy or painting “beautiful” masterpieces. Calligraphy consists of writing a few characters, getting annoyed, and then trying something new until Mo Zhi laoshi comes over and spoils the fun. Borja will usually say something along the lines of “Laoshi, girlsss just wanna have f-un!” and then make some reference to some movie he hasn’t seen. It’s too easy to identify Mo Zhi laoshi’s demo character among ours: just look for the decent one. Mr. Wolf usually blames his brush for his ineptitude. Roy’al just goes way too fast, and Amir just has too much water on his brush, all the time. Seriously it’s amazing. How has he not figured it out by now?!?!?!
The key to a breathtaking painting, is to add as many random strokes as you can. Our first couple of painting sessions only consisted of black ink, but once we finally got to use the color palettes in our desks, we got to add gas to a fire. Mr. Wolf has unleashed a surprising but nice talent for not making his “paintings” look as terrible as the rest of us do. Every once in a while, someone will make a stroke by mistake that makes their entire painting look good, then claim to have done so on purpose. Amir doesn’t even bother because his hand shakes too much.
We end with our tears diluting our mozhi pots and our cries scaring Mo Zhi laoshi until the next class.
-Josh and Yeolim
The Kung Fu teacher is a short, fit, quick to criticize, Chinese woman with short black bangs in a classic coconut cut. At first glance she seems like a frail, innocent, sour but kind lady. In actuality, she is a cold blooded killer. With each demonstration of her kung fu prowess, she strikes fear into our hearts and urine into our pants. Even before she went with us to Yunnan, her hurtful criticisms and emasculating strength made us realize that she’s a bad ass mother-of a six yourself. We realized she’s even more of a bad ass when we met here huge, muscley, stout, sweatpants wearing, colorful Nike decking, Super white Hanes cotton shirt filling, Mercedes driving, chain cigarette smoking, after shave smelling, championship belt wearing (realtors). At the beginning of Mrs. Zhang will start off by laughing at our many shenanigans, rejecting Amir’s offer to fight, and telling us we’re too weak to ever make it in the underworld (like she has). We then do exhausting stretches that last about 5 minutes. Every class we learn about 2 different moves that are part of a full cycle of moves that we will be later tested. Being tested by her is nerve racking to say the least. If you don’t retract your punch fast enough, she’ll slap your hand and call you slow. Right now, we are learning how to use swords. Kung fu class is always the highlight of all our cultural classes and she is by far our favorite culture class teacher.
-Amir and Roy’al
Although this class was presented as cooking class, we don’t actually cook. Chef, our teacher, comes in everyday wearing his chef hat and his Lordans (fake Jordans.) When we walk into class we are all asked to dawn colorful, checkered aprons that have various animals on the front, inkling cute rabbits and dogs. Every Thursday afternoon Chef cooks classic Xianese food for us. As we stare at Chef chopping scallions we all ponder the unspoken truth; this is eating class. This was only ever acknowledged once, when we came into class to find the words, “tasting class,” printed up on the board. Some of the best dishes Chef has cooked for us so far have been the famous Biang Biang Mian and dumplings. Biang Biang noodles are fat, belt shape noodles that can be found in an even better form at the bustling streets of the Muslim Market. When we are lucky enough to participate in the making of our food, we have always experienced the repeated sensation of cold, smooth dough lingering between our fingers. Besides touching the flower, Chef also loves fondling… the dough. Chef also touches us, specifically Josh, Diego, Amir, and Boe. Let us be clear, Chef is not a pervert, Chinese culture is just different, and we find this different. Chef is relatively quiet guy, but he loves to smile. Although we talk in English with each other, we do talk to Chef in Chinese. He loves to talk about food, detailing the specific kinds of meat that need to be cooked with different kinds of oil. Besides Biang Biang and dumpling, other food Chef has made includes, bao zi (steamed buns), rou jia muo (meat sandwich), ma tuan (sesame ball with red bean paste), and more bao zi (this time with bean paste).
-Borja and Izzy
You never really know what to expect on a Friday. Chinese class in the morning might constitute a movie or a game or perhaps an impromptu discussion among all three classes about life in China (so far we’ve watched two Jackie Chan movies, one about a dancer, one about the last Emperor, one about the Gao Kao, and one about learning English). Although our schedules say we have “Independent Research Paper discussions,” we usually end up writing journals, blogs, and cleaning the classroom during American class on Fridays, and by the end of the day we have one of two Culture classes: Paper cutting or gourd painting.
In China, paper cutting is an art. In our classroom, paper cutting is a pain to clean up. The teacher stands at the front, menacingly manipulating a surprisingly sharp pair of scissors, encouraging us to make impossibly small and unbelievably intricate cuts in a precisely folded piece of paper in simple English: “very easy, very easy.” Some of us manage to make it beautiful; others end up with a tableful of minced paper and a cutout that looks more like it’s been through a shredder than carefully constructed by the delicate hands of a craftsman. As Roy’al would say: “why do we need fifty minutes to cut a piece of paper?”
And then there’s gourd painting. The rarest and most mysterious of our culture classes, gourd painting occurs only once in a blue moon—three times so far on the trip, to be precise. The first stage was doodling designs on the front: a face of a demonic-like animal in a swirly classic Chinese style, or a couple of large eyes and what is meant to resemble a mouth. Most of us ended up just copying the designs the teacher handed out on the first day. Next, we moved on to painting, which everyone found surprisingly relaxing—shades of blues and greens, oranges and reds, playing with (or more commonly against) each other on the blank face of our gourds.
-Diego and Rachel