I have not yet mentioned this, at least I don’t think so, but last week we had a High Table dinner and all the students at the college that I am living at were dressed according to a certain dress code and we had a night which was inspired by western dining and table manners.
The whole idea of it is for students to be able to learn more of western culture, which also includes eating western food and use fork and knife when eating, among other things.
I had real trouble finding a dress which would match the standards, but was finally (just a few days before the whole thing went down) able to get one at Marks & Spencer which just happened to match the college’s theme color (purple). Along with that, a pair of high heels and fancy jewelry, and I was all set to join!
Before I go on and talk about the dinner itself, I have to give you some thoughts about the whole thing. Although I found the whole idea a bit weird, being a westerner and all, I was still looking forward to it because I wanted to see how eastern culture perceives us in the West. Because no matter how interested you are or well informed about another culture, it still will never be the same if you try to copy it from one place to another.
Before the big day, the college had a workshop were students who had not yet attended a dinner, was able to practice the different cultural behaviors before having to show them off during the dinner itself. I had to attend, not that I felt I needed it, but I wanted to see what they would talk about. They had a powerpoint with slides, going through everything from standing up from your chair and place yourself to the left of it, without making any noise (difficult since the chairs are really bulky and loud), how to toast the proper way (honestly, I have never seen that type of toast in my whole life. It was sort of an upward raising with the glass toward the middle of the table) with chants which consisted of cheering for things that are about education and our college. The workshop also covered how to place your fork and knife if you are leaving your seat but are not finished with your meal, and how to place them if you are finished and want the waitress to remove your plate. We also practiced some type of prayer in both Mandarin and Cantonese (so so so hard).
To sum it up, it was very odd, but still interesting and funny. I noticed people looked at me when they wanted to try different techniques because they seemed to believe that all of these things were ordinary manners of all westerners and that we eat like this on a regular basis.
Now, let us go straight back to the actual dinner. So, I was dressed from head to toe and was nervous to trip in my high high heels, but it went fine. For us who are exchange students, we were asked to attend to a certain room where the honorary guests were having a drink before going to the actual dinner. We arrived there and were able to have a talk with the professors and other people who would attend the dinner.
After that, we made our way to the actual dining hall which was full of well dressed students. I found my place right next to my buddy (a student assigned to be my go-to person and also friend while I study here).
This is what it looked like, before we had the food served. It was a really nice break from chopsticks, haha. I forgot to mention that part of the workshop was also to be able to place the cutlery in the right “order” and to know what you start off with first.
Luckily, we did not have to place any of them out on our own.
This is my buddy, Chloe. Such a sweetheart. We are different in many ways, but it feels nice to be able to get to know a person and be close without it feeling weird. It is expected of us to have a good friendship even after I return. I think that is sweet.
When the honorary guests had also found their seats at a special table which was put on a stage, the master of our college introduced them all, and proceeded to introduce all of the exchange students, one by one. We were asked to stand up and wave to everyone while the whole room applauded. Very odd but also a bit amusing.
Then there was a 25-30 minute speech about the political relationships between China and other powerful countries such as the US. The whole speech was in Chinese, so I had very little insight.
After that, our food started being served and we were able to enjoy a three course dinner; soup, chicken with potatoes, and tiramisu.
Some of the other guests that were placed at our part of the table.
From the left is Ethan, a local student who is originally from Canada; Lamine which is also an exchange student from Paris; Jason which I also think is a local, or maybe international student from mainland China; and Pierre who is also an exchange student from Paris.
I love how stylish everyone was this evening!
After a few hours of eating, applauding, cheering in weird movements over the tables, standing up and sitting down a lot, listening to music and trying to act well behaved, it was suddenly all over, and I kid you not, it was like someone just released all the tension in about 1,5 seconds. Everyone starting cheering, high five-ing and taking a million selfies. We did not want to be worse, so we took a couple of pictures together with Anthony who is in the background. He works at the College so he is not a student. The girl next to Chloe is her roommate and also a wonderful piano player.
Well, this was a great night in many ways. It was fun to see how the college gathers students together through different events such as this one, in order to “prepare them for the real world”.
After this picture, my feet were hurting in a way I do not think I have ever experienced before. High heels are the work of the devil.