Maria Holland

My Soul Proclaims the Greatness of the Lord

In Uncategorized on February 24, 2010 at 1:33 am

Summer’s here; it’s official.  The first Chinese strolling with sun umbrellas were spotted, and the scarf shop has a small selection of the summer good on the front table.  I stopped by to stock up on gifts for friends back home because their scarf supply is running low . . .

Speaking of umbrellas, there’s a word in Chinese for sun umbrellas.  I hate it when people ask me the English word for things like that, because there isn’t really one.  ‘Sun umbrella’ is about as close as it gets, because they certainly aren’t parasols.  (As a matter of fact, I can’t tell the difference but they very particularly use two different words for umbrellas depending on their purpose of sun or rain.)  Another word in this category is “filial”.  I mean, the word exists, but can you think of an appropriate time to tell someone that they’re “a very filial daughter”?  It just doesn’t happen in English.  And this, folks, demonstrates how languages are not 1-to-1 correlations.

Caiqingjie, the restaurant on campus, finally opened today.  I went with a big group of friends (only half Dutch today), and it was just like old times last semester.  You know, we went around noon and had ordered within ten minutes but then got to enjoy an hour of conversation before the first dish was served.  The 炭烧茄子, the best eggplant dish in all of China, was very disappointing today.  I hope they get their act together soon!

After lunch I went for a walk across campus, around the lake, and down to the beach.  It was a sunny, fairly warm day, and the water even seemed especially blue, which was nice for a change.  Sometimes the air is so hazy in Xiamen that it’s impossible to tell where the water ends and the sea begins – and I don’t mean that there’s an everlasting stretch of brilliant blue!  It seems more like a vast concrete wall inches from your face.  There’s land not too far from the beach at Baicheng – I know, I’ve seen it a few times – but it hasn’t been visible recently.  Sometimes I wonder what China would look like if the air were perfectly clean.  I imagine it would be much more colorful. 

I spent a few hours this afternoon/evening starting to learn the Magnificat in Chinese.  (The Magnificat is Mary’s prayer in praise of God: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior…”)  Several hours, and I’ve only just begun.  I wrote it out by hand, which took a good half hour, and then went through each character, painstakingly looking up the ones I didn’t know.  Even with an electronic dictionary with handwriting recognition, this isn’t an easy task.  Next step – memorize. 

Chinese isn’t very easy.  Forget the grammar or the vocabulary or even tones – it’s hard even besides all that.  There’s just something about it that seems downright hostile to aspiring students.  Sitting at my desk, struggling to be able to read a simple prayer, I wonder how I came to choose Chinese.  I love to read passionately; even when I grew disillusioned with Spanish classes, I occasionally read in Spanish.  But then I chose Chinese, a language in which I can only hope to become barely functional?  Signs, menus, directions – yes.  Prayers, hymns, the Bible – only by relying on my memory of the English counterparts.  Newspapers – maybe a headline.  A novel for pleasure – kill me now. 

I might sound somewhat despairing, but actually I’m surprisingly okay with everything I just wrote.  I’m like a frog that was placed in cool water that has slowly been brought to a boil; there were a lot of places in the past where I maybe should have got out while I could, but I didn’t and here I am, studying Chinese and living in China.  Stuff happened, and I know that I’m here doing this for a reason. 

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