严师出高徒( yán shī chū gāo tú)
– Good pupils are to be brought up by strict teachers.
After looking through my blog to remind myself of all that we’ve done and gone through within the almost two months(!) of living here, I realise that I have omitted the most important and time-consuming part of my life in Beijing – university. However, we’ve just completed our first set of monthly exams, so now seems like a good time to introduce my life at Peking.
Studying at Peking University has been an interesting experience so far, as it’s home to the brightest and best students of a country of 1.3 billion people. The students are incredibly hard working, and finding a seat in the library can be counted as an achievement. It’s also the oldest university in China, and has played a seminal part in changing modern society through the New Culture and May Fourth movements of the 20th century. The institution is particularly proud of the Boya Pagoda that overlooks Wei Ming Hu (No Name Lake), and the Khoo Teck Puat Gymnasium, which hosted Ping-Pong at the Beijing 2008 Olympics. We have joined this gym, which has caused many a funny/awkward moment, but I’ll save those for another post.
I’d like to introduce a few observations on the Chinese university system with some examples of my experiences. A fundamental difference is that university is much stricter than in the UK; class attendance is crucial, and points are taken off your final score depending on the legitimacy of your absence. I’m proud to say I’m still on 100% attendance (I need all the points I can get), but if I’m ill without a doctor’s note, I’ll lose 0.5% for every class I don’t attend. Providing a doctor’s note allows you to miss class without losing points, so the trick seems to be going to the doctors for every illness you encounter, or sucking it up and going to class regardless of your snotty nose or chesty cough. Even ‘compassionate leave’ takes 0.5% off your grade, and the worst-case scenario (missing a class without informing your teacher in advance) leaves you with a deficit of 1%.
Moreover, classes in China start very early in the day– I have four 8am starts every week, and 20 hours a week of tuition. I am only thankful that my latest lesson finishes at 5pm, as the timetable allows for lessons until 8pm. A further observation is that the teachers are under massive pressure to perform and ensure that their respective class gets the best grades in the monthly exams. We discovered this as we struggled with a testing grammar point, when our exasperated teacher told us the stress of how the teachers are ranked according to their students’ exam results. We all tried a little harder after this slight guilt-trip, and eventually got our heads around the sentence structure.
Finally, while the academic side of life can be intense (we’re given 100+ new characters to learn each week) and stressful (monthly tests), it is balanced by the availability of delicious and wonderfully cheap canteen food. We each have campus cards that we top up and scan in one of the many canteens on campus, and a bowl of my favourite spicy noodles will set me back 3.5 yuan (35p). Coffee from the cafés is more expensive, but scrumptious coffee milkshakes and Snickers are available from little stalls around campus, and are a perfect pick-me up between the 5th and 6th hours of lessons.
If you have any questions or comments about university life in China, please comment below or send me an email and I’ll be happy to get back to you. My next post will return to my previous theme of gallivanting around China as I detail our recent Sunday spent in Tianjin, but until then I’d like to leave you with this wonderful Snickers ad that is taking China by storm. Enjoy!