Three years ago, when I came here to study, I was one of the few international students that my department took in. I was also the only 'non-Chinese' student. Some might wonder what the Chinese are doing in sociology? Well, there's demography...and...well, there's demography. But the department made sure that students don't swim their way across either choosing just theory courses or methods courses -- some were mandatory. So whether they liked it or not, they had to take some theory courses and I often happened to be the only non-White student who spoke decent English.
A couple of them became good friends and they felt comfortable to discuss the readings with me (especially when they had to do presentations). Because it was their first year, their English was very hard to understand and making them understand what I was saying didn't seem any easier. Something that I cannot forget about those 2-3 hour conversations is the ensuing headache. It's not so much their accent or my frustration with "explaining things", it's the prolonged state of heightened concentration to hear every word (then match it with a word that made the best sense in that context and so forth). Any activity that requires you to have that kind of concentration for that kind of time is bound to have a bad side effect. Zoning out, like I used to do in schools and colleges, was not an option because it's a conversation that requires you to say more than "hmm, interesting", "that's so cool", "really? neat!" etc.
Anyway, eventually I was done with my coursework, they got better at their English and we moved on. I was more than relieved that the episode(s) was over.
When it's too cold to play anything outside, I just sit home and play chess, online. But I easily get suckered in those egomaniacal marathons that before you know, the room is no longer bright with sunlight. By now you've been staring into black and white squares and moving little pieces with absolute precision (at least as far as the physical motion is concerned) for hours together in a CRT monitor. This is the kind of thing that makes you wear glasses. But it has other effects on me as well: starting with the proverbial headache and then the annoying "I want to throw up" feeling. After all, it is one of "those" activities.
One of "those" days: it was last Saturday and I had been playing chess for at least 4 hours without moving an inch. I finally gather some "courage" and decide to break the cycle. I wanted to expose my eyes to wider boundaries and let my pupils relax. I tell myself, "ok, this is the last game. Get up even if you lose in 20 moves, I cannot take it anymore". Just then I hear someone knocking my door. I simply resign the game, get up and open the door. Wow, great! It's my new Chinese friend.