Crash Course in Chinese Culture, Orientation and Opening Ceremony

It is hard to believe that I have been in Nanchang for a week already!  Time really does fly!

During my first week here I have received many lessons in and had many experiences of the Chinese culture.  The first of these experiences that required some adjustments was the climate.

Nanchang has a humid, subtropical, monsoon climate that brings four distinct seasons – spring, summer, autumn and winter.  I arrived during the summer season that runs from June until October. During the summer months the temperature ranges from as 25 degrees overnight and up to 40 degrees during the day. This sounds like a nice change from the minus 8 degrees that I left behind in Canberra!  However, the humidity levels reach as high as 81%!  During my first few days in Nanchang my clothes were a constant sweaty mess stuck on my skin and I frequently wondered why I bothered to take a shower!

My next experience of Chinese culture came when I went to go to the student support office to register myself as an exchange student of JUFE.  All of the documentation that I had received from JUFE before I left for exchange stated that student registration was from 1 September to 3 September. So when I arrived at the office on 2 September to find it closed to say I was puzzled would be an understatement!

I discovered that the student support office was closed due to a public holiday that was arranged at the last minute to commemorate the end of World War II in China. With the office closed for three days, it meant that there were no English speaking volunteers to help us with basic tasks such as shopping, ordering food and exchanging money as in Nanchang all of the signage is in Chinese and the locals do not speaking English! And so began my next Chinese cultural experience!

For the next few days we stared hopefully at labels on products in supermarkets attempting to decipher the Chinese characters they were covered with before throwing the product in the trolley and hoping what you brought was in fact shampoo!  Each meal came with various questions such as “What do you think this is?” “Is it chicken?” “Perhaps fish” and then pointing at some random Chinese characters on the menu and hoping for the best and out lack of skill with the eating utensils made way for some innovative ways of using chop sticks! Nanchang is noted for its GAN cuisine which is characterised with a mixture of spicy and salt tastes which created another cultural experience of its own as we began to hedge bets as to who could eat the most dishes before their face flushed red, coughing commenced and tears welled in their eyes……..affectionately now known as “Chilli Face”!

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After three days of feeling as though we were living on another planet, the student support office opened just in time for orientation day. As all exchange students gathered in the lobby to be escorted to orientation, several Chinese organisers were dashing around and looking at us with puzzled faces. The one of the organisers asked “Why are you not wearing you foreign student t shirts”?  It was now our turn to start back at the organisers with equally puzzled glances! What t shirts??  It turned out that each exchange student was to receive a souvenir JUFE shirt to be worn for orientation and the JUFE opening ceremony however due to the impromptu holiday the organisers had forgot to give them out! So 158 students crammed back into the elevators as we made our way back to our dorms to change into our shirts and then back down to the lobby again, which was really funny.  Fortunately this process ran a lot more smoothly on the day of the opening ceremony as the organisers have now taken to installing a notice board near the elevators to post important information!

The opening ceremony officially marked the start of the Fall Academic Calendar at JUFE and was attend by all freshmen, international exchange and graduating students.  As part of their university program, all freshmen students are required to undertake compulsory military training and as such we were greeted by hundreds of students dress in military outfits, we really looked a sight amongst them in our blue student shirts!

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Classes start next week which I am sure will bring with them a whole new set of experiences and lessons!

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