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Monday, November 27, 2006

Sports Meeting: DoublePlusGood!

I woke up early enough to catch the opening ceremonies of the Student Sports Day/School Sports Meeting/Friday Off, but just as I was about to run out the door, I remembered that it was Thanksgiving (at least, it still was back at home), and that I promised to call. So I got on my computer, Skyped home, and was able to chat to everyone, including Granny, Sherry and Craig (happy birthday, Uncle Craig), Shannon and Peter. Deirdre's slightly touched friend Mallory was even there, and it sounds like she finally got over that drooling problem! Truly, we are all thankful.

So I missed the opening ceremonies, which I hear plays host to goose-stepping freshmen and all sorts of pageantry. Oh well. After a nice long chat with "the fam" (as the kids are saying these days), I walked down to the new campus to see what this "sport" thing was all about. Little did I know the entire school was going to be there.

As I walked outside the field, around the gate and toward the main entrance, there was a huge long line of students, clubs, and other goings-on, proudly advertising their support for their peers. I took a video as I walked by. The whole thing had a real "homecoming" quality to it.

Before I could enter the sports complex, I had to wade through a bizarre collection of students in crisp white lab coats. They were staffing what looked like a low-tech infirmary: bottles of water, tape for ankles and joints and other aches and pains, big boxes with red crosses and other medical-looking things. I guessed it was for the exhausted participants, and I recalled the dramatic finish-line collapse of many a Fuling student in Hessler's River Town. Thanks, Kate.

I finally made my way into the sports complex, which was packed with students (both in the stands and in disorganized but calm queues). Out in the open air, the field glimmered a dull, hazy green, and it seemed on either end of the track - at the start and finish lines - there was a tiny, loosely-organized sea of people, judges, competitors, and well-wishers all packed together. And in the large expanse of bright orange track, there were the runners.

The whole thing was very unlike anything I've ever seen on college campuses in the states, and much more like a high school track meet that everyone in school had to attend. Granted, we don't have gym class in college back home, either. The students were divided by college, and each college, it seemed, had at least a handful of competitors. All I could make out were a few different track races: hurdles, dashes, and laps (oh my!). With so many people, there seemed to be a feeling of barely-contained chaos, as runners were lining up for a race as others were being awarded with bouquets, crossing the track seconds before a new volley of runners was launched, the crowd's attention never fully focused on the awards or the racers but somehow each college always knew when one of their own was running.

It was great to watch the (relatively unceremonious) medaling and awards. Amid the noise and chaos, winners were quietly led (by blue-suited "attendants") to the winner's podium, given their award (usually just a bouquet of flowers), and swiftly marched off. I laughed when I saw that they had to give the fake plastic bouquet back to the blue-suited girls, so that they could be handed out to the next group of winners. Don't know if they got to keep the medallions, though.

Constant chatter over the loudspeaker made if very difficult for me to understand what was going on (not like a single clear voice would have helped). So I simply wandered around, snapped some photos, and eventually found the Foreign Language College (that is to say, my students).

So when I finally found my students, I chatted with some of them, met some of Steve's and Nicki's, and got a quick bite to eat with some new "friends." It's so rewarding, easy, and fun to talk to students, because I can talk about whatever I want, and just being raised in such a different world is enough to keep any audience captivated. And all the talking, questions, and answers help them practice their English, too; the language is all over campus, but a foreign teacher has this Jedi-like mystique of respect and awe for being so helpful by just talking and listening well. Plus it's an easy way for me to sneak in some Putonghua practice.

Later that night, I went into Xia Shan, for a great food and beer festival. But, alas and alak, I'm done blogging for now.

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