Monday March 21, 2016

Suzhou Scavenger Hunt

One city. Three Americans. Little fluency in Chinese. These were the first thoughts in the heads of Ben Pendery, Jason Demeter, and myself as we were sent into Suzhou for the Student Life sponsored Suzhou Scavenger Hunt. How in the world were we supposed to navigate ourselves through a city of over 10 million inhabitants that speak a dialect completely foreign to us?  Well, that was the first pleasant surprise of our adventure: Many young Suzhou residents can speak a little English from lessons beginning in grade school and continuing through their collegiate studies. Further, thanks to brief lessons in Chinese provided through our Chinese Language and Culture class, Ben, Jason, and I were able to navigate the city, asking for directions and even being escorted places.

The best example of our triumph over the language barrier was getting a recording of the local Suzhounese dialect, a language that is only spoken in Suzhou and some of the surrounding cities. Using my loose Chinese with the utmost elementary pronunciation, I asked a woman on the Subway, “Ni shuo su zhou hua ma?” I could tell she had no idea that I had just asked her if she spoke Suzhounese simply because my pronunciation was so poor. However, to the rescue was the young man sitting across from me, asking her the same question except using the correct sounds. They spoke for a few moments, and then he turned to me and said, “No, but the woman next to her does.” Taken aback from his fluency in English, I realized that many people are, indeed, able to speak English, or at least enough English to communicate simply. Using this, we were able to find even the most elusive items on the Scavenger Hunt list.

Suzhou’s famous lazy dog was hidden on a dark side street on Pingjiang Road, and we only found it by having a Chinese student escort us there. In Eslite, a unique local shopping area, the mural of abstract Suzhou was located by asking in Chinese where it was and then receiving directions in English. No matter where we looked or what we had to find, the language barrier seemed to be nonexistent.

The most fun part about the Scavenger Hunt was by far the people that Ben, Jason, and I met looking for some of the items, especially on Pingjiang Road, an old, more traditional road located in Suzhou. The student that escorted us to the famous lazy dog was actually from Sichuan and had no idea where the dog was. She was a bystander while we were asking for directions in a side store, and she approached us, interested in helping and finding the dog for herself. “I studied at Suzhou University for four years, yet I have never heard of or seen this dog,” she said as we meticulously searched the old road. Also on Pingjiang Road, we met an older gentleman from Gansu Province who was proud to say that he had taught himself English and was quite eager to practice with three Americans. He helped us locate the pipa, a traditional Chinese string instrument popular in Suzhou opera.

I encourage this to be an ongoing event here at the China Institute, and I also implore American students to complete this task without a Chinese guide. It is so much more fun trying to break the small yet present language barrier (we still couldn’t read anything) than having someone translate for you. Plus, you meet random people that you would have never interacted with unless you were ignorant to the language. The Suzhou Scavenger Hunt is a phenomenal way to make students feel more comfortable by getting out of their comfort zone: navigating foreign territory, eating foreign food, and all of the other experiences that each student must live for themselves at the China Institute.

Jeremy Hill, Freshman, Computer Engineering

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