Between my not speaking the language fluently and China's culture of last-minute plan-changes, I'm kept on my toes here. I have my backpack ready to go at a moments notice; between surprise trips to the countryside and school on days you wouldn't expect, that preparedness has come in handy.
I definitely lucked out with my host family. It's hard to spend time with Yidan, my host sister, because she's so busy, but we always have fun when she has the time. My host dad, who goes by James, is an engineer who I originally thought was very shy. It turns out, he's just shy in English- I've learned that when in doubt, Chenglish is the way to communicate with him. I spend the most time with my host mother, Catherine. She's wonderful, and not one for formalities- she doesn't hesitate to correct my Chinese, and we spend a lot of time laughing at our mistakes in each others' native language. She cooks like no other, and we sing Chinese pop and "You are My Sunshine" during family car rides.
We started school the 29th of August; I don't feel that there's anything I could write to truly express the shock of getting used to a 13 hour school day (yup, 7 am to 8 pm)- but believe it or not, we did get used to it (full disclosure though, the first week was pretty rough).
Besides the length of the school day, two other things struck me as pretty extreme: 1) the number of books students are expected to transport to and from school, and 2) the rules on dating. By rules, I mean students are completely forbidden from dating. "Falling in love" is lumped right in with public drunkenness and drug use on the list of notorious deeds not to do. I was, however, reassured that Chinese juniors and seniors sometimes have secret boyfriends and girlfriends. As for the books, my desk-mate counted 51 workbooks she's expected to use this semester.
Half our day is spent with the Chinese students in their classroom, the other half is spent with Li Lao Shi, our Mandarin teacher. Considering the fact that it's hard to enjoy most things done for 13 hours at a time, I've really been enjoying school. Li Lao Shi is a fantastic language teacher, the cafeteria is a three-level monster-building with every food imaginable, we basically have a 45 minute recess every day, and my class of Chinese students is absolutely delightful.
A word on Chinese high schools- during their three years of high school, Chinese students remain in the same classroom while their teachers change for each class. These students spend every day together, share every class, and many students even live together in the dorms. By the end of their first year together, classes get very, very close.
Although my own classmates were a bit shy at first, they've really made me feel at home. They even asked me to sing "We are Family" in front of the class to recognize how I'd become a part of their community (who says some light hazing isn't a good thing?). They're all a few years younger than I, but we get along well, with some intense games of volleyball bridging the language barrier during our gym period.
Anyways, I hope to write again soon- we'll be celebrating National Day soon. Happy mid-autumn festival, everyone!