好久不见, I know I haven’t been as good about keeping this thing up as I originally intended, hopefully I’ll get my act together more at some point in this semester. Today’s story is rather entertaining, though. Last week, 博哥and I were dragged by another friend to a party held at 中华女子学院: “Chinese Women’s University.” As 博哥’s friend explained it, the women’s university threw parties every once in a while, and the students who had male friends in Beijing would badger them to bring as many additional male friends as they could to even out the ratio. Now, before any of you get any ideas: “party at the women’s university” may have a certain ring to it in the American context, the Chinese version doesn’t have quite the same meaning.
The Women’s university, Wikipedia informs me, was founded in 1949 and has an undergrad body of around 3,000—all female, except, I am told, a special major for future news broadcasters and television hosts which admits around twenty male students. We probed our female hosts for information about these lucky few, but they appeared to be quite mysterious characters who our hosts didn’t know well. Our hosts were from the accounting major—like Beida and other Chinese universities, departments are much more tight-knit, with all of the students from one major living together, taking most of their classes together, and, apparently, throwing parties together.
The party in question started at 4 in the afternoon; the three of us showed up by bus at the gate, where we were heavily scrutinized by the university security guards until our female escorts emerged and signed us in, leaving their meal cards as collateral. Beida does have its own version of border patrol, and sometimes requires students to flash an ID card before going in, but nothing nearly as severe: apparently male visitors without an enrolled student as escort are forbidden. We were led through the campus, the entirety of which looked as if it had been built within a month from the same sterile while tile, and into a large room on the third floor of a building, where two rows of chairs were arranged in a semi-circle around a stage. Before entering, each of us was obliged to draw a small folded slip of paper from a plastic bag. The number on the paper, we were soon informed, was our seating assignment; each male guest of honor was partnered with a girl from the accounting department. We would soon discover that our randomly selected female partner was to be our teammate in the various games to be played that afternoon. The start of the festivities was first delayed a half hour, as the last batch of male students arrived late. I was partnered with a short, wide-eyed girl from Xinjiang 新疆 province (ethnically Han, though), who at first seemed utterly flabbergasted at being paired with the only foreigner in the room, and could only be coaxed into talking to me with some effort.
The event started off with a dance performance—suddenly, the lights in the room dimmed and a tangled maze of spotlights and those
spinning rainbow disco balls, heretofore unnoticed, burst into life. Four or five girls nervously walked into the middle of the semicircle and nervously pantomimed some dance moves to a short mash-up of “Bad Romance,” “I Kissed a Girl and I Liked It,” and that Britney Spears song “Circus.” Following the dance number’s hesitant conclusion another couple of girls approached the middle—my partner informed me, the best singers in the class—and sang a Chinese pop song that I didn’t recognize. Then followed the games—all thought up, I was told, by the party’s planning committee. First was a contest to see which male partner could blow up and pop as many balloons in a time limit, while their female partners stood by and handed them more balloons. Next was a game where the male partner stood and spun in a circle while bouncing a ping-pong ball on a paddle, following which their female partner would try to guess a number written on the ping-pong ball in Sharpie marker. If the girl guessed wrong, the guy would have to complete the ritual until she guessed right. My partner guessed my number on the first try. There was also a three-legged race (which , despite our considerable height difference, my partner and I cleaned up on), and something like twenty questions, where the female partner stood facing away from a Powerpoint slide showing successive images of animals, Chinese popstars, or capital cities, which the male partner then tried to make them guess through clues. With each of these games, the losing teams was accorded a “punishment”—usually, to sing a karaoke duet in front of the group, or sometimes to act out a pre-written script where both sides confessed their love to one another. The game that by far elicited the most excitement from the Chinese students, though, was the last, where the blindfolded female student would attempt to put lipstick on the male partner—the team with the most neatly applied lipstick was spared from punishment. The party ended with another dance performance and a karaoke song.
博哥 informs me that this is without a doubt the most “Chinese” party he has taken me to—apparently most Chinese universities, not just the particularly sheltered ones like Women’s University, frequently throw parties like this, which from an American standpoint would look less out of place in a middle school than among college-age kids. Figuring out the social lives of Chinese university students has been one of the most puzzling experiences of this year so far. This post is already way longer than, I’ve been told, a blog post is supposed to be, so I’m gonna leave it at that for now, but expect more on this, because I’m still a long way from figuring this out…