Sunday, June 20, 2010

My Life at HBA

Assuming that Week 1 has been fairly typical, which I think it has, here's what my life at the Harvard-Beijing Academy is going to look like for the next two months.

  • 6.40 AM: Wake up. The sun's already been out for a while and it doesn't actually feel all that early.
  • Get ready for the day, and do one last round of vocab review for the day's lesson. (Each lesson is an article of a few pages long with an attached list of new vocabulary, plus explanations of new grammar and sentence patterns. We prepare each lesson (mostly the new vocab) the night before.
  • 7.30: Eat breakfast on the first floor of the Conference Center (basically on on-campus hotel, where we're all staying).
  • 8.00-12.00: Class, with roughly a 10-minute break every hour. We summarize the article during lecture (15-20 students) and go over new grammar, then split into smaller classes (4 students) to practice reading the text aloud and using the new grammar/sentence patterns.
  • 12.00-1.30: Lunch, usually in the student cafeteria - cheap, decent Chinese food. A few classmates will usually share some dishes, family-style. On Tuesdays and Fridays, we have 'Chinese table,' where the teachers will eat with us at a slightly more upscale place around campus and order a combination of foods we already know we like and foods they want us to try.
  • 1.30-3.10: 50 minutes of one-on-one class, and a nap; the order changes every day.
  • ~3.10-5.00: Something extracurricular. This past week, that mostly meant buying things I needed and exploring the campus. This coming week, the official 'extracurricular activities' will be starting, so I'll be singing my heart out in Popular Chinese Music on Mondays and doing some skill-building in Chinese Cuisine on Thursdays. Other extracurriculars of mine include watching the World Cup and Chinese soap operas (or Korean soap operas dubbed into Chinese), meeting with my tutor (3 hours/wk), and sending e-mails.
  • ~5.00-6.30: Do review homework based on the day's lesson.
  • ~6.30-7.30: Eat dinner with some classmates. Some of the fourth-year folks are a lot of fun; in particular I've been hanging out with a small group of Yale and Harvard 2013 kids.
  • ~7.30-11.00: Prepare tomorrow's lesson.
  • ~11.00-11.40: Shower and get ready for bed.
  • ~11.40: Sleep. This is, of course, the ideal, and I didn't get to sleep until much later in the first few days. I think I've pretty much adjusted at this point, though.

The weekend:
  • Friday is test day, the material being everything we've done throughout the week. The day itself consists of a 2-hour written test, a 5-minute out-loud reading, and finally oral reports based on a 700-character essay that we've had to write for homework on Wednesday night. We finish at 12:00, go to Chinese table, and then have the rest of the day to ourselves to sleep, watching TV, explore, etc.
  • Saturday is Adventure Day (TM): HBA takes us somewhere fun. Yesterday it was the Great Wall, which involved about 4 hours of bus riding (all of which I spent sleeping off Friday night; see below) and 4 hours of some really fun walking/hiking. (The Great Wall, it must be noted, is not by any means flat.)
  • Sunday is Pull-It-Together Day (also TM): Sleep off the weekend, review any weak spots from last week, wash clothes, buy essentials, and do the homework + lesson prep due Monday. My thought is that on weekends when I don't spend Saturday night out and about (also see below), Sunday can also be Explore-Beijing Day. That said, ACC (my fall program) will probably end up being much more suited to that, and I'm here for another six months so I'm not in a huge rush.
  • At night (Fri and Sat), most people go out. Some head to the 五道口 (Wudaokou) area, which is a 15-minute walk away over by China's top universities (Qinghua/Tsinghua and BeiDa/Peking University), and has a KTV (for the uninitiated: karaoke) and a few bars. Another popular destination is 三里屯 (Sanlitun), about half an hour away by taxi and the home to many a bar and club. (And thus many a foreigner: although bar/club culture is growing among the locals in places like Beijing, your average Chinese youth still won't "go out" for fun on weekends.) Instead of going right to the bars/clubs, you're actually better off doing what I've seen among the savvy in Taipei: buying at 7/11 and hanging out on the sidewalk for a while (drinks at the bars and clubs are ridiculously expensive in Chinese terms, and there's no open-container law here), then heading inside for the last drink or two and the dancing.

    Personally (and this will probably surprise you), I've had a blast going out both Friday and Saturday. On Friday, four of us did Propaganda, the Wudaokou bar that's been most popular among the HBA folks. I tried some actual bar drinks (a 'B52,' it seems, is lit on fire and then drunk with a straw. Who knew?), and we ended the night dancing together on their mini stage at the end of the dance floor. It should be noted that I was also wearing my 老外 t-shirt at the time, which is surprisingly effective even on the 北语 campus; it should also be noted that Coca Cola's World Cup promo song is apparently a staple anywhere there's a dance floor. (Ana: You win. I still don't think it really fits the World Cup, and the original version is better, but I now love it anyway.) Last night (Saturday), Harvard had an event at Vics, one of the Sanlitun clubs, and a bunch of the HBA folks went over together. I basically danced for five hours straight (feel free to exchange shocked looks with your computer screen), about two of which were spent with this fairly cute Chinese girl whose obvious shyness (her friend had brought her) I found incredibly endearing. I got her number before we went our separate ways, which may or may not have been around 3:30, but I don't really have any particularly good reason to call her, and I don't even know her name as it was so loud down there that my ears have only just recovered. So I don't really want to call, and instead am hoping she'll heed the note I scribbled suggesting that she come to Vics again next weekend. Best use of the Light Fellowship- provided notepad ever; don't leave home without it. Also, possibly the only time that knowing how to write characters has ever been really useful to me outside of my studies - the deaf guy in Taipei doesn't count because he ripped me off.
    Classic Ethan? I'll let the audience to decide.

So that's daily life. Time has been very strange here - the first few days felt like they took a month each and by Wednesday I was sure I had been here forever, but now things are speeding up and I'm already kind of sad that an eighth of the summer is over. There have been some special events, but I haven't much to say about them so I'll just summarize: meeting my 'Chinese mother,' riding with someone on the back of my bicycle for the first time (Beza, I now completely understand your bike-riding struggles), and hiking a part of the Great Wall.

That's all for now. I'll add Great Wall/etc photos later. Next time (and this is mostly to remind myself), I think I want to talk about HBA strengths and weaknesses, and also why I've taken this entire year off.

Be well,


  1. Wait... do you have scheduled nap time, or is that just what you do on your break between lunch and afternoon class?

    Glad to hear you're getting up to some trouble.

  2. Hahaha no, my nap time is self-scheduled.
    I was just thinking about you, by the way, in relation to inner monologue and that being one of the reasons why the language pledge is less effective for me.

  3. First, I like Max's question. Second, I like your clubbing stories. Please let there be more tales in the future.

  4. hey ethan, next time you pick up a cute girl at vic's with your laowai tshirt, take a picture! it'll make for good advertising next year