I really enjoyed class today. I think that I’m getting closer to my classmates, which is slightly unfortunate because I’m getting more restless with my class (which I think is too easy for me). We shared some good laughs today, and even an awkward moment!
While using the “不但。。。而且”(not only . . . but also) structure, one of my Korean friends said that he and his brother were both soldiers. This led to a brief discussion of the mandatory military service in Korea. Zhang laoshi asked him a question about it, and he replied with something about North Korea as the reason for the mandatory service. The teacher laughed awkwardly and then said that she had been looking for “韩国跟中国不一样”(Korea and China are not the same), which was another grammar structure we were studying. Slightly awkward . . .
Later, Zhang laoshi was using that grammar structure to describe her singing. We were all confused because it sounded like she was saying “我唱得跟麦当劳一样好” (I sing as well as McDonald’s), but after a few minutes we realized that she was saying “I sing as well as Madonna”. I think our confusion was totally understandable, as the two words only differ in one syllable: McDonald’s is 麦当劳 (màidāngláo), while Madonna is 麦当娜 (màidāngnà).
As you may be able to tell, we’re learning how to make comparisons. This is a prime example of a grammar structure that I did NOT learn last summer in Hunchun. I remember talking to Xiao Zhang, the foreman who was helping me learn Chinese, trying to figure out how to say “biggER” and “biggEST” and things like that. It’s certainly not a direct, 1-to-1 translation. My dictionary said that 更 was “more” and 最 was “most”, but Xiao Zhang said it was the other way around. I was confused by this so I kind of agreed to disagree, and just tried to never compare things (which is quite hard, by the way). Now that I am older and wiser (or at least less stupid), I’ve learned that 更 actually means “even more” – as in, I am tall, but my brother is even taller than me. So apparently Xiao Zhang’s Chinese grammar is better than mine . . . who would have thought?
Anyway, this was brought to mind very vividly yesterday, when I was talking to Zhang Lei (Xiao Zhang’s son) on QQ. I told him that we were studying 比, the Chinese comparison word, and he asked how to say it in English. I said there wasn’t a way to translate it, so he started asking for examples:
Zhang Lei: 比是什么, English (What is 比 in English?)
Maria: 英语没有。。。不一样 (English doesn’t have it . . . it’s not the same)
比。。。大 = older; 比。。。高 = taller; 比。。。漂亮 = prettier, more beautiful; 等等 (etc.)
Zhang Lei: thiner 比。。。瘦
Maria: 对 (right)
Zhang Lei: er是比。。。 (so ‘er’ is 比)
Maria: 差不多。。。 (almost . . . )
A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing! I’m practically lethal.
After class, one of the Saudi guys asked me a question about America, so we ended up talking for a little while as we walked to the West Gate together. It was really nice! He seems like a good guy. TU has a ton of Saudi students, but I don’t really think they have a very good reputation as a group. They seem to be predominantly sons of rich oil men, and they like to do as little work as possible. Also, my freshman year roommate, one of the few American females in the Saudi-male-dominated major of Petroleum Engineering, said their attitudes towards women were really hard to handle. I realize that those people were a pretty specific subset of the population, but at first I thought the Saudis in my Chinese class were going to be the same, as the four of them always sit together. They’ve only been nice in the class, though, and seem to be very intelligent and hard-working. This guy is studying Chinese for a year before starting his major – Marketing – in Chinese!
His name is 力德 (LiDe), which is ‘spelled’ in Chinese as “身体的力，德国的德”, or “The 力 of physical strength, the 德 of morality”. So cool! I ‘spelled’ my name for him as well: “The 马 of horse, the 利 of fluent, the 亚 of Asia.”
We parted ways once we were off campus and I went to mail some postcards. I have now sent postcards to everyone whose address I have. I’m still waiting on family addresses (DAD, AUNT MARY!), and I’m more than happy to add people to my mailing list – just email me or comment with your address. If you comment, I’ll take down the comment so everyone doesn’t see your address.
I got take-out from a 西北 (northwestern) restaurant near the post office. Northwestern restaurants are usually associated with Xinjiang Province, recently known for unrest between the Han Chinese and the local minority Uighurs. They’re predominantly Muslim and are known especially for their hand-pulled noodles. While I was waiting for my food, another classmate joined me and we talked for a little while. Ali and his wife, another a classmate, are from Kyrgyzstan (which I spelled correctly on my first try, by the way). The Chinese name for Kyrgyzstan is quite ridiculous – 吉尔吉斯斯坦, or Jí’ěrjísīsītǎn – at 6 syllables (compared to 3 in English). I asked him if most Chinese people know his country and he said they usually call it “什么什么stan”, which I would roughly translate as “Whatever-stan”.
Back in my room, I got a call from a lady I met on Sunday. She joined me as I was walking to Mass and was quite delighted to find another Christian. She expressed her affection for Catholics and surprised me by speaking very highly of Mary (she loved my name) and knowing the Sign of the Cross. Anyway, I didn’t totally understand the contents of the call, but I did pick up on two things: 1) she asked me to pray for her for some reason that I hope God understood, and 2) she told me that God loved me. It was kind of sweet . . . And then she called again later, asking me to move in with her. I think she’s just very lonely (as I did catch that her prayer had something to do with “家”[family] and “一个人”[alone]) and I felt bad, but I kind of distanced myself.
In the evening, I went out for a walk just to stretch my legs and see what, if anything, was going on around campus. As luck would have it, I heard music and voices issuing from a speaker by the lake and went to investigate. It was some party for teachers from West-Central China, including singing, dancing, and charades. The charades were especially fun, both when I could read the cue and knew what was going on, and when everyone laughed uproariously at something I didn’t understand.
Today is my two-month anniversary here in Xiamen! At 61 days, this is now officially my longest stay in China. (Last summer, I had a 60-day visa; I came in on day 1 and left on day 60.) I still have 8 or 9 months left, so I’m not even a quarter of the way done. I’ve been thinking, but I can’t really wrap my head around any of it. It’s kind of like when you repeat a word over and over and over again until it loses meaning and just sounds funny. There are these phrases that I say every day, and they just feel like random words strung together because they’re so far from my daily life these past two months: “我是美国人，我上厦大。在美国，我是机械工程系的学生.” (I’m an American, attending Xiamen University. In America, I’m a mechanical engineering student.)
There are a lot of things that no one here knows about me, whether because they haven’t come up or because I haven’t made the effort to translate them into Chinese, and it feels weird when I realize that no one knows that part of me. Like when I was telling Carlos about the environmental club and he said he “didn’t know I was into that sort of thing”. Or when I was in the bookstore with Hu Jing and got excited at the piano music; she asked if I could play and I remembered, a little surprised myself, that I had been the choir director and accompanist at my church for two years.
There are also some complicated aspects of my life that I’ve had to simplify, such as the concept of where exactly I’m from in America. I get asked about my home way too often for me to go into my family history as an Army brat – especially not in Chinese – so Minnesota is now officially my 老家, or hometown.
So, yeah, it has been two months since I last saw anyone that I knew two months ago. It’s also been two months since I last ate with a fork and knife, or since I drove a car, but I miss the people more.