Thursday, November 25, 2010

In the Interim

I suddenly find myself with a lot of time on my hands. The first thing I'm concentrating on is getting back in touch with the people I've semi-ignored during the past 5+ weeks of intensive debate prep (I'm sorry!); my next project will be bringing the blog up to date.

In the meantime, for those of you who can read Chinese, those of you who are willing to take the time to use Google Translate, or those of you who just think it's pretty cool to look at a news item in Chinese knowing that it's about yours truly (I fall into this latter category):
 - "An Eyewitness Account of the 2010 Beijing Foreign Exchange Students' Chinese Debate Tournament"
 - 27-second news clip from the Beijing nightly news about the finals. I look rather dumb in every single shot.
 - "2010 Beijing Higher Education Foreign Exchange Students' Chinese Debate Tournament A Success" (includes a few photos)

I hope we can put a video up at some point. I have the recording of the first round and would like to put that up some day in the early morning when the internet is running at a reasonable speed - but the one I really want is from the 3rd round (semi-finals), when we all (self included) performed quite well and beat out what was probably the strongest team in the tournament. The second and final rounds are both too embarrassing to share.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Bad News: We Lost

And while I wasn't the only reason, I definitely played a big part: wasted a chunk of time during free debate, and crashed and burned at the end of my conclusion. "I tried really hard" sounds lame and our coaches just looked so disappointed as the debate was wrapping up... But it's done with, and I can't go back and fix it.

The good news:
1. It's over.
2. It's over.
3. When you think about it, second place out of 15 schools ain't half bad.
4. Plus, let's not forget, I learned a lot.
5. I now have this sweet little MP3 player/e-book reader (kind of like a Chinese wannabe Kindle or iPad) and accompanying freestanding speakers. If I buy an SD card it'll have space for a bunch of movies as well.
6. We're all going to see Harry Potter together next weekend.
7. France, Vietnam and Malaysia all sent ~vice-ambassadors. Fortunately nobody from the American Foreign Service came to watch the two of us fail; I would like to think that over at the American embassy they have more important things to do.
8. The president of the College of International Education told the three of us ACC students that if in the future we apply to Minzu's graduate program, we're guaranteed full scholarships. I did not mishear that.
9. It's over.

Now time for the home stretch - the final draft of the "independent report" we've (supposedly?) been working on all semester, and preparation of what's basically thesis defense of said report. Starting Wednesday afternoon, though, it should be smooth sailing; and ACC is even putting together some kind of Thanksgiving activity involving turkey, I hear!

And with that, adieu. Condolences to Yale for once again failing to win the Game; I suddenly feel a distinct spiritual connection with our football team. And there's this: next year it'll be on our turf, plus I'll be there... so I think we've got it in the bag.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Today and Next Week


1. Epiphany: I know what I want to do this summer if I don't get the State Department internship in Taipei (or don't pass the security clearance). I've already prepared the money I need to live for a summer in Taipei - since the most State Dept will do is provide housing, if that - but if I don't get it, I'm just going to take a plane back to the mainland and have absolutely no responsibility for a full three months. Nowadays I'm always complaining, if not to everyone in earshot then at least inside my own head, that the main barrier to my Chinese now is the fact that I have to attend class; what I really need is time. Time to review, time to watch TV, time to talk to Chinese people, time to read the articles I'm interested in and thereby learn the vocabulary I'll need to understand and discuss what I care about. So why don't I make that time for myself? Going to ICLP is one way to do that; in fact, a principal reason why I'm attending ICLP starting in January is that it's easy, and given that Light doesn't provide for a semester of self-study it's still the closest I can get. An even better way would be to actually throw out the idea that I need to be doing something structured every week of the year. I mean, I already have plenty of ideas on how I would want to self-study Chinese; the dorm I'm living is both wonderful and reasonably inexpensive if shared with a roommate; and the biggest library in China is almost literally right next door. And if I find a better place, so be it; it's not set in stone that I have to return to MinDa, or even Beijing, to do this.

2. Resolve: If we lose the final round of this debate, it won't be my fault. It will, rather, be the fault of the 8,000 people who are trying to interfere with our preparation and training. I felt like today we not only wasted three hours, but actually took a few steps back in the process of getting ready for Sunday's debate: Now people are trying to switch around our opening performance and change the answers to the questions we're likely to encounter from the opposing team, and everything's just becoming more and more of a mess. Not to mention that the Chinese speakers are having a lot of trouble remembering that what we white boys can prepare and use effectively is limited to the content that we can memorize and/or become familiar with, and that doing so takes time.

Next week:

I am going to blog like crazy. Probably starting Wednesday, when a lot of stuff is due. Debate will be done (win or lose, I'll be damn happy it's over), and I'll feel like I have so much time in my life... Anyway, there are a lot of thoughts and stories I've been meaning to share, or at least get down in writing, for quite a while now. Not the least of which is the elusive half-written travel blog...

For now, adieu.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

We Ate Them Alive

All of the prep time finally paid off, and it was clear to see. Media University was pretty strong, particularly in the performance aspect, and might have gotten a slightly better score than us during free debate; but in the end we rocked them from both a person-to-person standpoint (at least three of our four speeches were better than Media's corresponding speeches), and we also quite clearly won the debate itself. (Resolved: 'Favorable opportunity is [the] key to success.') That "the," in the Chinese, is excellently ambiguous, and combined with a definition of "key" that I found in the Xinhua online dictionary, we were able to step back from the catfight about whether favorable opportunity or skill/preparation/hard work is more important, and simply use our examples to show that opportunity is a necessary constituent of success and thus clearly "key."

As the fourth speaker, it was my job to take that step back and make our thought process really clear. At the same time, one of our 'trainers' (the grad students who are helping us out - basically every night for hours, bless them) had written this beautiful poem about favorable opportunity that I was supposed to recite at the end of my speech (the competition requires a recitation), and they all seemed to be worried that we would lose points if I didn't do it well enough because Media's fourth speaker speaks perfect Chinese (each team is allowed one foreign student of Chinese descent) and is probably studying to be a TV host/etc. And as it turns out, last night's prep - spent in my room, reciting my speech over and over for about three hours and finally getting it down to two minutes - was time well spent. I threw in something about how the opposing team already admitted one of our points and in doing so forgot two of my lines, and I choked once, but in the end I had extra time to make the poem sound nice and overall I was pretty damn happy about our prep and my performance.

Next round, we'll be up against 北京语言大学 - Beijing Language [and Culture] University, which besides being my "alma mater" of sorts (the HBA program this summer was held at BLCU) also happens to be the winner of last year's debate competition. I really think that they're not so great, this time, and in general I wouldn't be worried at all about them, but clearly I don't completely understand the judges' standards because I thought BLCU's opponents were going to win for sure in today's match.

Because next match is the final round, this time we have two weeks to prep, so I hope I'll be able to go on a real vacation (albeit only for 2 days) when ACC lets out for its very very brief fall break. That said, we're going to need the extra prep time we can get, since by random chance we've been stuck with the worst resolution ever: "Happiness depends on wealth." Everyone was sort of blanching when they saw it, and I didn't understand why until just now, when I realized I had got the grammar wrong and completely misunderstood the topic. Now I too am feeling pretty bleak... especially because, if it's in the same form as our most recent debate, BLCU's resolution is probably "Happiness does not depend on wealth."

...I will leave you to ponder that indefensible position. If you have any ideas, feel free to leave them in a comment, below.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Reasons Why I'm Feelin' Good About Debate

1. We won this past round. This was despite an embarrassingly horrid performance on my part, which I promise will not be repeated. Anyway, I don't want THAT video ever getting out.
2. Next round will be against our strongest opponents in the field, the Media University of China. They're really good at the performance aspect, and really good at Chinese; because of this, they also have a habit of not preparing all that much. It's definitely best that we run into them now, as I think we're ready for our biggest challenge at this point, and if we're to lose then let's not drag it out.
3. Our topic is really, really conducive to debating (especially compared to last time) - our side in particular.
4. We're the affirmative side. (Not gonna lie... it took me about five minutes to find that word on Google/Wikipedia. Despite the fact that I did a few years of debate in high school. My former English ability is officially irretrievable.) This means that we get to perform first, speak first, ask questions first, and speak last. Another advantage, us.
5. Unlike last time, when I was literally editing my script the morning of the competition itself, we've just now finished bringing our ideas together and uniting behind one framework to prosecute our point. This means that I can start memorizing tomorrow, and have two nights to get everything down; that should be plenty. It also means that we have two days to spend on skill-building instead of arguing and philosophizing.
6. Also, I don't mind noting that the main point we've finally agreed on - the focus of our thrust as the affirmative - is the one I've been supporting all along; the structure is the one that the three of us ACC students brought to the table this evening after finally getting fed up at the apparent inability of anyone else to come up with a reasonable, understandable, defensible, arguable introduction and list of three main points.
7. I had a fantastic nap today. It was taken on the carpet, because that's where the sunlight was. It was glorious. I then went for an equally glorious 15-minute bike ride, during which I saw this gorgeous set of trees (saw them yesterday too but forgot to bring my camera both times... next time!) and finally found the nearby park I've heard talk about. The leaves are turning here but we've been having a warm-ish spell (i.e., fall-like, instead of the few winter-like weeks we had earlier), and when I'm not feeling allergic I really really appreciate the weather right now, both night and day. Two nights ago, I even saw a whole bunch of stars! - which is basically unheard of in Beijing.

That's all, folks.