Now, I’m not the type of student to go clubbing… unless it’s the extracurricular kind. Then I go about and fill every open slot in my schedule with clubs.
I had been a fan of after school clubs since middle school, when I was inspired by Hikaru no Go to start a go club. This exploded during my high school years when I was on a clubbing frenzy and had an after school activity every single day of the week.
Clubs were always a way of keeping me engaged, and for us high school students who didn’t have too much to do after class, it was a way to meet people, bond, and also get a free meal through the school’s programs. Even now, some of my best memories of high school were made during after school clubs (like that award-winning Science Club video…).
At Pomona, I was relatively reserved when it came to clubbing until senior year, when I decided to expand the scope of Buddhism Club and help build a Calligraphy Club. This is essentially the same genre of clubs I’ve joined in China, but I’m honestly amazed at how well they do club publicity here.
First, about a week before the club fair, existing club members go door-to-door throughout the first-year dormitories to promote the many, many clubs we have on campus. Interested students are added to a group chat, where they receive more information about the club and get to ask questions before the official club fair.
The club fair itself is an all-day affair with prizes, giveaways, and performances. The way it typically works is that the clubs will make a post on their social media of choice (in this case, QQ), and new members are asked to share the post. If a member reaches a certain number of likes/reactions on the post, they can show it for a prize at the club booth. Honestly a very smart way of getting the word out. Unfortunately, I don’t have any QQ friends, so I didn’t win anything.
As I walked through the booths, signing up and paying the minimal club dues (they ranged from $3 to 5 USD), I ended up with three clubs: guqin, calligraphy, and seal carving. Try as I might, there was no tea club. I was sorely disappointed. There was a wushu/lion dance club, but I decided to not overload myself… although I do miss lion dancing.
Of the three clubs I joined, I’m most excited for seal carving, which meets every Friday night. They also do calligraphy, and to be honest, their calligraphy is a notch higher than the official calligraphy club. I’m hoping that by learning more seal script, I’ll be able to read the bottom of tea pots and other antiques a bit better.
After signing up for three clubs and getting impatient with the unbelievably slow registration process (it was by paper, and each booth had a line because only one person could sign up at a time), I finally finished and went to my Saturday morning guqin class. I got to the classroom 90 minutes late. Fortunately, I had predicted my delay and texted my instructor earlier that morning.
“So, what clubs did you sign up for today?” he asked.
“Guqin, calligraphy, and seal-carving,” I relayed.
“Seal-carving? Interesting…” he paused. “You know, I just got recruited to be the guqin instructor for your school.”
“Oh?” I looked up from the sheet music. “That’s great!”
“Yeah,” he looked me in the eye. “You can be my TA.”
I stopped playing Fengyun hui, slightly mortified yet also excited for what’s to come.
“Sounds good,” I replied.
He looked back at his phone and typed a few things down. “I’ll tell you more later.”
The next day, I got a message from him. It was a screenshot of a conversation between him and the guqin club president.
Instructor: There’s a student at FJU named Andrew Nguy. He’ll teach the first class.
Club President: Oh, I’ve heard of him. Yeah, sounds good.
I replied to my instructor, “What am I teaching?”
He sent me a PDF outlining the points I would have to cover.
“Got it,” I replied.
“If I’m busy, you’ll have to cover other classes for me too.”
I stared at my phone, honestly mortified because some of the club members have been playing for four years already and would probably laugh at incompetence.
“??” he messaged after a few minutes.
“Okay,” I replied hurriedly.
And with that, I am now expected to assist in classes once a week. Since I’ve gotten the notice, I’ve been reviewing a lot of the earlier songs I’ve learned because although I can play them, I don’t feel like I can play them well enough to demo in front of curious eyes and keen club officers. Knowing a song is one thing, but knowing a song well enough to teach, identify mistakes, and being able to skillfully correct them is territory I’ve never entered before.
But I’m excited. Part of the Fulbright Program is for me to interact with the local community, and I honestly can’t imagine a better opportunity than this—one that pushes me to refine my guqin technique, deepen my understanding of the philosophy behind guqin, and develop teaching skills that I’ll be using for the rest of my life.