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Archive for November, 2008

The Sports Meeting

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The engineers were the big winners last weekend at Yangzhou Tech’s first annual inter-college Olympics.

The event, which my students described as “The Sports Meeting,” featured an extremely long list of sporting events spread out over two days. These ranged from traditional track and field events to the sort of contests you would expect to find at a family barbecue.

The competitors were all students at our school, with each department fielding a team. The engineering department finished first, and sported some very cool orange construction helmets for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies (apparently the helmets are a symbol for engineering, a student tells me).

Our department, which includes students majoring in English, French, accounting, and business management, finished sixth. But we still got two snazzy banners (below), which look exactly the same as the winner’s banner to someone who can’t read the words “sixth-place finisher” in Mandarin.

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The bulk of the action was on the track, where there were a few competitive races sandwiched between things like the girls’ shot put, which involved about a dozen 90-pound girls in Yangzhou Tech track suits trying to toss a shot put as their friends cheered them on.

There were also a series of bizarre events, like a contest over who could ride a bicycle the slowest. The entire roster of events, which I foolishly attempted to leaf through to find the two I was meant to participate in, was roughly the size of a short screenplay. It was also written entirely in Chinese characters, which is why I ended up participating in just one event, which ended up being a race across the basketball court while balancing a ping-pong ball on a ping-pong paddle.

But the whole thing was taken quite seriously by most of the students, and it was quite a thing to watch.

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I spent much of the weekend playing pick-up basketball games with students and some of the younger faculty. At one point, the school’s president came by, and we watched proudly as he attempted to make a short jump shot. He missed a half-dozen or so times before giving it up and moving on to something else, but the faculty was buzzing long after he left about how wonderful it was that the president was out playing basketball, just like everyone else.

It was like our very own presidential-candidate-serves-food-at-the-diner moment.

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Here’s Shadow, one of my students, in her Yangzhou Tech track suit. Shadow was one of the competitors in the girls’ shot-put, and she also tried her hand in the long jump.

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The faculty foot races were particularly comical. The guy on the left is actually one of my former students from my faculty English class last semester. Sadly, he lost to the very athletic bespectacled gentleman in lane three.

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And since no event is complete without someone wearing a completely inappropriate T-shirt with something ridiculous written across the chest in English, we have a student in the long jump competition sporting a striped shirt that says “Dsquared Fucking” on it.

Hard to believe I was the only person there who thought it might not be the best idea to have the word “Fucking” prominently displayed on one’s shirt during an inter-college long jump competition, but no one seemed to think anything of it. I may have to do a unit on profanity at some point.

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And here is the engineering department, rocking their helmets at the Closing Ceremony. The flag-bearer, by the way, has to be the tallest 19-year-old in Jiangsu Province.

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1. He’s black.

2. His half-brother lives in Shenzhen. (This was major news in the national press here)

3. He just won the presidential election in America.

4. He beat Hillary Clinton.

Almost no one at the school has heard of John McCain, but there are quite a few students here who are still bummed out about Hillary losing in the primaries.

5. This means Bush isn’t the president of America anymore.

Most people are too polite to say it directly, but the students I’ve talked to seem pretty excited about this.

The students here seem pretty pleased that Obama was elected. One student, who knew I had planned to vote for Obama, came up to me the day after the election with a big smile and yelled, “Obama won the game!”

But there was some confusion about the historical significance of the Obama victory. There is general agreement among the students that Obama is black, and that it’s pretty rare for a black man to be elected president of the United States. But they aren’t quite sure if this is the first time it has happened.

One student asked me if Obama was, in fact, the first black man to be elected president in America. I told him he was, but the student wasn’t quite convinced.

“What about Lincoln?” he asked.

“No,” I said. “Lincoln was white.”

“Oh.”

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