Thursday, July 14, 2011

So long, Min Yuan

participating in the Sports Day Parade, 2008

There are many things that I hate about Min Zu Da Xue here in Xining. If I get overwhelmed by the pressures of culture and differences all around me then I often indulge in complaining and whining about them. It's one of my favorite pass times.

Thursday was my last class at Min Da. I had been going to the school to study Mandarin off and on for over 5 years. This landmark on Brett Gitzel Highway is proudly hoisted and planted, and through all of the frustrations and anomalies I can't help but feel a sort of fondness towards that place. The people, the buildings, the changes over the years all give me a sense of belonging. If you've been a student at Min Da (or Min Yuan as we all call it) then you would agree with me on a few things:

The smell of the bathrooms waifing into the classrooms.

There's nothing quite like it. Sitting there, trying to figure something out in those white-washed walled caves. Suddenly, the stench of death arrives. The strange thing is that, after 5 years, it doesn't bother me at all anymore. In fact, the smell of other peoples crap and urine actually brings back fond classroom memories. It makes me think back to that first semester with Chris, Rachel, Alicia, and Tyler. We all thought that it was the strangest and grossest thing. I have heard that smells had the ability to trigger memories, I just never thought that this would be one of them.

Like most students, we have had some great times with our teachers.

I love the teachers. All of them. I've said it before, but I accidentally punched one in the face, causing swelling and a black eye, and she still interacts with me! What a great/forgiving person.

They have all been great. Comedy runs naked and wild in the classroom. It's nice to know that humor speaks many different languages.

I remember have one semester where it was just me in the listening class. The teacher was a lot like my grandma Derman. She was in her 50's but grew up on the campus. She was full of stories and liked listening to mine.

Bai Lao Shi has been a true friend to the family. She was our first teacher when we arrived on the scene in 2006. Yesterday, we all took her out for lunch. Great bookends to a 5 year run.

Presenting Bai Lao Shi with an orange I drew on, 2007

The sacred grounds of Min Yuan.

Many students would remember the large, brown dirt field that sat behind the library. It just sat there. There might have even been poop on it.

I remember playing baseball on that field and running for my life when a ground ball came my way. The ball would be hopping like a bunny rabbit. I remember when someone hit the ball into a yard and smashed some bricks. No big deal.

These days, the field has been replaced by 100 yards of cement, trees and bushes, and a giant rock in the middle. There is also an elaborate fountain system that they never turn on. Because of a lack of benches and tall trees, the place lays deserted most of the time. As I have found out, it is also illegal to ride your bike on the cement. In fact, it is a downright crime against the Great Wall itself.

All around the campus, there are beautiful grassy areas. The local students, who mostly grew up on the grasslands of Tibet, are not allowed to sit on the grass. The foreigner who is typing right now was verbally assaulted for going on the grass. The grass is God at Min Da. No one knows why, it was just that why when they got there.

The Foreign Student's Office

There are some great people that work in the Wai Ban. Mr. Bai is one of them. We've known him for over 6 years now and he is always helpful, friendly, reasonable, and caring.

An example. The last apartment that we lived in before this one was owned by one of the presidents of the school. We never saw the guy. He was busy. Never ever met him. Mr. Bai was the go-between. Anytime we needed to pay rent or if we had a question we would ask Mr. Bai and then he would relay the message on to "The Man".

Last year, about 2 months before we were going to leave to go to Kona for 6 months, we asked Mr. Bai if he could ask the landlord if we could extend the lease. We wanted to stay there and we wanted to figure it out because our current lease would be running out while we were away. Mr. Bai got back to us with a "He's thinking about it." About a month later we heard that he thinks that we might be able to work something out, but he's still not sure. We told him that we needed to know soon so that we would have time to find a new place and move our stuff. Well, 2 weeks before we were leaving and the guy tells Mr. Bai that we cannot extend the lease. Miraculously, we found a new place.

The worst thing was that, while we were away, people like Dustin and Morgan had to do a bunch of stuff to the apartment to make it acceptable to the landlord; repainting it and putting in a bathtub were just some of the things that these guys needed to do and repainting and putting a tub in are some of the things that foreign guys like us hate to do. It was great they helped us out, but I was kind of annoyed at the landlord, especially because we paid so much money make the place livable when we moved in. He got all of that for free and on top of it he wanted us to pay for painters and a tub? I am annoyed.

Well, fast forward to this last Christmas. We were at the school Christmas party. I was chatting with Mr. Bai as he was pouring me a glass of wine. He comes out of nowhere and says, "Listen, Brett, I just want to apologize for all of the trouble that you had to go through with the old apartment. It was not fair to you." I told him it was no big deal and that communication is always a problem. But that was beside of the point. The point is that I had never had an person in his position apologize to me. The other point is that it wasn't his fault. Just an example of the kind of guy Mr. Bai is.

There are others in the office. They all work hard for the students, though I will say that some of them don't really know how to relate to foreigners very well. This can make for some frustrating communication problems. I have heard of verbal arguments between some of the students and staff. This is not a good thing.

My opinion is that the school would do well to hire a foreigner who would relate and communicate with the 130 foreigner students that are registered with the school. This person would also work closely with the staff to make everyone happy with the foreign student's role in participating in school events. It seems that the school has high aspirations for the foreign students and it also seems that none of the foreign students have any interest in achieving these heights. We just want to learn.

That being said, this is a different country and they do things differently here, so there could probably be a compromise somewhere in there. It just needs to be toned down a bit. It's at the point now where the staff are recruiting any white person to represent the school by dancing and singing in traditional minority people group clothing. The contest is in Beijing. I don't know about you, but I don't really have the time, desire, or skills to learn a dance, sing a song, and travel across the country to pretend that what I am doing is a true representation of the kind of people we have at our school. That being said, maybe someone else is into that kind of thing. Good luck to you.

In any event, I will mostly have good things to say about the school. I'm sure that I will miss it some time down the road. The Brett Gitzel Highway. Next stop... studying with a tutor, which I am sure will usher in a brand new flavor of interestingness.


jeff said...

mr. bai is the only chinese person who ever said "qing yuan liang wo" to me. amazing on multiple levels.

Lois said...

YOU would be a good foreigner to mediate between the foreign students and the staff at your beloved alma mater! Maybe you should apply to create and fill the position! xo Mom

Brett Gitzel 英 明 said...

no way jose.