Yesterday evening, I was asked to look over an essay written by a Chinese friend of mine. She’s applying for graduate schools in the UK and is working on her personal statement. Her grammar isn’t perfect but it’s pretty good, so although I had to make some technical corrections, they were relatively easy. Instead, I was flummoxed by sentences such as these:
I am proud of being basked in the nurturing environment.
Study brings me much pleasure. I highlight efficiency.
As an emerging market, China is striding forward to its brightness.
I just . . . don’t know how to translate them. There’s almost not an English equivalent because no native English-speaker would say things like that. They’re such very Chinese sentences, despite being composed of English words.
Last night I was also visited by a Chinese girl that I had met a few months ago and hadn’t seen since. She said she needed my advice, so I told her to come up to my room. She spoke English, but as in the above case, I could tell her thoughts were being translated from Chinese words into English words while remaining essentially Chinese, which makes it hard to understand. From what I got, she’s having the typical college experience of questioning what she wants to do with her life. I didn’t have the answers, unfortunately – haven’t even quite figured them out for myself – but I tried to help her as best as I could.
She ended up leaving happy, though, because she discovered a new life goal: introducing me to a Chinese boyfriend. I tried telling her I don’t need or want a Chinese boyfriend, but she seemed to take these protests to mean that I’m just really picky about who I would date. She says that I’m pretty and “it will be a waste” if I don’t have a Chinese boyfriend. She started listing characteristics that he would have to have: taller than me, definitely, and handsome and rich. I can’t tell if she thinks I’m that shallow or if that’s what Chinese girls look for! I’m not sure if we ended up coming to a consensus on her not playing matchmaker . . . I guess I’ll figure it out if there’s a guy there next time we have dinner together.
This morning was good. I woke up feeling pretty good and decided to take charge of my own Chinese education. It is a little silly of me to expect for my teachers to open my brain and insert knowledge – I mean, I’ve never waited for that to happen in America – and anyway, if they were to do so, they probably wouldn’t give me the knowledge I’m most interested in. I haven’t gotten through the entire Mass today, so I tackled the Nicene Creed. I made pretty good progress, although I stumbled over 般雀比拉多. The dictionary had no entry for this word, and it wasn’t until I read it out loud several times – banquebiladuo – that I realized it was the name Pontius Pilate. Duh! The most interesting thing I’ve noticed thus far is the special pronoun that is used for God. ‘He’ (他) and ‘she’ (她) have the same element on the right hand side, but have the ‘person’ and ‘female’ radicals, respectively, on the left. Unlike English, though, God’s pronoun is not ‘he’ (他). Instead, His pronoun is different – 祂 – using the same right-hand element but a different radical (礻) meaning something along the lines of divine. Interesting!
On the health front, I had two important victories. I ate lunch, putting me on track to eat two meals for the first time in several days, and I had my first solid bowel movement! (I realize this may be TMI – too much information – for all of you. It’s just habit though . . . last summer when I was living in China we were 16 people sharing two bathrooms, and our digestive systems were a constant source of discussion. It was mainly out of necessity, although the fact that my project involved the handling and disposal of animal and human waste might have had something to do with it, I guess. One nice thing about learning a new language is that you have new vocabulary that allow you to deal with unpleasant situations in a new way. For instance, 拉肚子 doesn’t have nearly the embarrassing connotation as ‘diarrhea’, so maybe I’ll just use that from now on. And just in case you forget – or want to know the meaning or pronunciation of any word I type in Chinese – you can easily look it up at www.nciku.com.)
I was feeling good enough to go to class, and that’s when it started to go downhill. Oral class can be so frustrating sometimes because of the way our teacher tries to get us to talk. An example from today: “What kind of guests do you like to have?” After the first two students answer using our new vocab words (“polite guests” and “guests that bring presents”), what else is there to say, really? So we sit there in awkward silence as she rephrases the question over and over because she thinks we don’t understand.
Then there was Listening class. The last few classes had been approaching tolerable, but today was abysmally bad. The exercises today were particularly hard, so instead of writing correctly and finishing quickly, I was left staring at chunks of several unknown characters. The Witch was in fine form today, too, and this didn’t escape her attention. She told me that I was 越来越不好了, or getting more and more bad. It’s probably more and more accurate to say that I 越来越 hate her or 越来越 don’t care about this class, but whatever. Anyway, I think it’s a bad sign that my listening skills, instead of getting better, are actually deteriorating!
To add insult to injury, I am growing convinced that the most beautiful sunsets occur, without fail, on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons when I’m in Listening class. I can just glimpse the sunset out the windows as I sit there in Hell, and have started to take a quick break to run into the hallway for a better look. Today’s sunset, from what I saw, was breathtaking – a hole in the clouds, allowing brilliant red and orange rays of sunshine to shower down on the school. Of course, I had to return to Hell until 6:00, when complete darkness had already descended. Have I mentioned that I hate 听力?
I ran into some American friends after class and we went to dinner together. I got a hug and some good conversation from them and was feeling better emotionally, but – just like my listening comprehension – my stomach was 越来越不好 (worse and worse). Our dinner ended with me almost sprinting back to my dorm and up the stairs to my bathroom.
As if it isn’t enough to be feeling unwell, I also have to deal with [probably] well-meaning Chinese friends who are concerned that I’m feeling unwell. Yesterday two guys called to say they were coming over – not bothering to ask if I would like visitors. Today I spent 10 minutes arguing with a guy who wanted to bring me fruit. I guess it’s a nice gesture, but something I would appreciate from an old friend – and despite him saying we are, we’re not. Now I’m in a bad mood. After a long and frustrating phone call, he sent me a text message saying he left the fruit at the desk downstairs. Not only does he now have guanxi (basically, I owe him something), but I also had to send a text message in response thanking him for the fruit, when all I really wanted to do was remind him that I hadn’t wanted his fruit in the first place. I realize that I’m probably overreacting to this, but in my defense: 1) I’m not feeling well, 2) everyone knows oranges are bad for upset stomachs, and 3) I don’t really trust 29-year-old men who have clip-art monkeys as their profile pictures on instant messenger. Go ahead and judge me.
To end on a slightly better note: The weather is changing around here! It all started yesterday, when I had to come back to my room to grab a jacket; today I closed the windows because of the cold coming in. The high for today was around 75, making it possibly the first day we haven’t reached 80. It’s also very windy, which I love. Strong wind reminds me of two of my favorite places in the world – Tulsa and the farm*. The cold weather and wind may just be a front, but it feels like the inevitable advancement of winter. The rest of Xiamen seems to be feeling it too, because I saw blankets and slippers for sale for the first time today.
* I have written a lot more on the About Me page, so if you would like to know more about my previous trips to China, you should check it out. It should help explain what I mean when I say ‘the farm’, and why I was working with the handling and disposal of manure while I was there.