Sorry to be out of touch for a while. Initially I had a few days of rest before my classes started but once things got rolling it got (and continues to be) busy.
The biggest challenge time wise has been prep for new courses and learning Chinese names. Each person has three names, none of which means anything to me. I made what I thought was good progress for one of my four classes, and then discovered each word has one of four tones. So "ma" "Mother" can mean "horse" if you get the tone wrong and "lord" can mean "pig" for the same reason. It was back to the drawing board. The process began with taking dozens of photos and cropping students' heads and shoulders and then learning the Chinese transliteration system (it renders Chinese characters into Roman letters and adds a tone). You'd think Zhang Cao Qiang (transliterated Chinese) would sound like this, but it's roughly Jen Tao Chent or the like, but it is -and don't forget the tones! I then used a voice recorder to get one student to pronounce each name while another wrote down the proper transliteration and Chinese characters. Not since I studied ancient cuneiform (Assyrian and Babylonian) 35 years ago have I had such a challenge in memorization! I came up with crazy mnemonic devices for all but the easy ones). Had I known how hard it would be I never would have committed to learning 150 students names, but now that I have, they are VERY pleased. I'm quite sure few if any foreigner teachers who, like me, don't know Chinese have done much other than butcher their names. It has taken several twelve-hour days to do just this. Redeeming aspects included learning some vocabulary (most names have a significant meaning) and rapport with students in and out of class.
I have been to both Chinese and English services in two different downtown churches. It's amazing--and inspiring--to see many hundreds at each of the several services they hold in Chinese. The English services weren't well attended by comparison. The preaching in Chinese, I'm told, is quite simple, with a lot of moralizing (focussing on action and behavior) and not much immersion in Grace. There's an imbalance one way or the other most places I guess.
I haven't been out of the city yet, but getting around it has been interesting. It takes an hour on a very modern subway to get to downtown. People are everywhere! A German colleague invited me to his home downtown, a small apartment with three lovely children and a Chinese wife who spoke German. We toured the University campus which reminded me of a Chinese Oxford, old buildings (Chinese architecture of course) and square hedged lawns.
In a few weeks, I hope to do a day trip to a beautiful neighbouring town where Hudson Taylor's grave is located in a church. A former student is minister and will open it up especially for me (us). (I have a student who knows English assigned to me. Thankfully too, I have a Chinese speaking TA in Toronto --JZ Huang--who helps me prepare quizzes and such. He has been very helpful. The students appreciate handouts and exams in their own language of course.)
I will close this for now with a few surprises or things different. No beef broccoli, or many other (yummy contrasting) dishes we associate with Chinese food; no soya sauce (ever anywhere), no drinks--only hot soup or napkins (or forks and knives of course) at mealtime. If you ask for water, they will bring you hot water and if you ask for cold they look at you like you're a polar bear or something and bring you warm (the water coolers are geared to produce only hot or room- temperature water). Electronics and most other products are no special bargain, so far as I have seen. Alongside the older and sometimes ratty stores, there are shopping malls so modern and fashion conscious that they make our best look pale by comparison.
The seminary routine has differences and similarities. Differences include 7:30 a.m. classes, no mailboxes, 10 or so courses per semester (with much less homework expected though), a patriotic flag raising ceremony to start each week, and a classroom designated for each year of students, which becomes a meeting place for fellowship groups, parties, outreach events, etc. and one or two half-hour long sermons in chapel each day!
The Christians are lovely! Many (most?) students voluntarily go to chapel (before true Chapel) at 6 a.m. every morning to pray before their seven or so hours of class each weekday. People have been very kind and so gracious with my zippola knowledge of Chinese, though I am learning some expressions.
I'll enclose only a few pictures -- otherwise the email will crash-students in class and out, in the latter case at an evening of welcome for the new students (including those dressed on stage).