The road to the HSK test
As I awaited the boat departure, I noticed safety information about China. It was quite telling that everyday in China, an average of 304 people die because of pollution. Only 300 die because of car accidents (I would have expected more!) Especially on this trip, I saw more accidents than graduation week in Boston. Check out the burnt out bus below (in front of the South gate of Jinan University, where I took the HSK test Sunday). They had a strange translation of a propaganda slogan into English: "A stumble may prevent a fall."
I arrived in Guangzhou on Saturday morning. The bus actually stopped at Fangcun Passenger Station, which was not anywhere close to where I wanted to be. I had to use the subway to go all the way to the opposite corner of Guangzhou. Then I tried finding a bus to the University – only to be told the wrong one. I had a list of bus numbers, but the numbers supposedly going to the Uni apparently did not go to the Uni. I took a different bus which supposedly went to Jinan University, but it went to a different campus that was not hosting the HSK test. The bus actually went in exactly the wrong direction, so I used my basic sense of direction to walk to where I would find the correct campus. Upon doing so, I ran into some classmates by luck who could not make sense of the directions to Jinan University. They had been looking since the night before.
At the last HSK examination, one of the students from my Uni failed to get to the correct HSK testing centre on time. I bet it had to do with these terrible directions.
In any case, I ended up having the right sense, and found the place to register for the HSK. Since Hainan does not have an HSK testing centre, there is a special process for students wanting to take it from Hainan.
Upon completing registration, I went on a journey to find a place to crash overnight. The recommended hotel was full, another nearby was 200RMB. I walked around the campus, running across a Ramada Plaza which was even more expensive. Next door was another hotel, and they offered a room for 158RMB. I decided to take it.
My room number was 417. Like Chinese people, I do my best to avoid the unlucky number 4. Since I had a 4 in my room number, I expected trouble. I took a nap, only to be woken up by a call from the front desk. They wanted to know if I could switch rooms, since they had a new arrival that wanted two separate beds. I agreed to move, and handed over the card in exchange for a different room. However, the new room not smelled moldy, but it also was situated directly between the elevator and the noisy street traffic. I said I wanted the old room back, this new one was unacceptable for study. The original room’s new occupants already left, and there were not any other open rooms in the hotel to move me to. To make a long story short, I got the highest level manager in the hotel, and seeing that I wasn’t satisfied, eventually relented and refunded my money. They then took me by taxi to a different hotel.
The new hotel was 23 minutes further away on foot from the University, and the price was 180RMB for the room. However, this new room had two 8s in the room number (very lucky!), was quiet, had clean air, and had a selection of business strategy magazines that had vocabulary relevant to the HSK. Perhaps I should study the magazines rather than the textbook – the vocabulary is relevant, and the content interesting.
Further from the testing site, but closer to everything else. I found a wonderful Uyghur restaurant for dinner. There was also a fruit market nearby that had Durian for only 4.5RMB/jin (a jin is half a kilo, or a little more than a pound). I bought the durian for testing day breakfast, knewing it would provide me with constant energy and would not make me want to use the loo (there is no break time during the HSK!).
At the hotel, I watched some TV. There were lots of English stations (unlike Haikou). They even had MTV, playing music videos – though these being the worst of mainland Chinese pop videos, the music-unrelated programming that dominates english MTV these days would have been preferred. I found more interesting programming, with some Chinese subtitles to boot. I saw a program called "Hell’s Kitchen". Was amusing to see people under pressure in a kitchen environment competing against each other. Alas, when there was profanity, not only was the sound censored, but there was no indication of what was said in the Chinese subtitle. I had to read the mouth movements.
I slept well, and took a nice calm walk to the testing site in the morning. I was the first person to arrive for my particular room. I sat in front. I was the only westerner – every other single person seemed to be Korean (not only by appearance, but by passport colour). There were a number of Korean kids sitting the exam. They kicked the desks every so often, having trouble staying put for the over 2 hours they had to stay while taking the exam. The tape was muffled and the walls only made the listening even more difficult, but because of so many complaints, the proctors played the tape again at the tail end of the exam to redo certain listening questions. Other than the listening, I think I did quite well. At least muffled tape quality is the standard in China, so everybody has the same handicap. Definitely way better than the first time I sat the exam in Kunming, at which time the example problems given in the instructions were difficult for me to understand. The exam went smoothly, and maybe I hit my goal of a level 6 on the HSK I set two years ago when I began studying Chinese in China. I will have to wait a couple of months to find out…