This afternoon I went to my new oral and listening classes for the first time. I like all three of my teachers, which is a good portend for the semester to come,and we’re using a new series of textbooks that is much better written than before. I was a little concerned about oral because, even before class, I read through the text without any problems and understood it, but now that I think about it maybe it will just be a better opportunity to focus on speaking well what I already know. The teacher is very enthusiastic and made us talk a lot, which is pretty much the most important thing in 口语 anyway.
The listening teacher went a little bit too slow, but sped up even through the first class. We did half of one lesson and then watched an animated video about the origin of the Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival. Apparently there was this monster who terrorized a village one winter until he was run off by the only three things he’s afraid of: fire, loud sounds, and the color red. Xiamen’s Spring Festival lacked the fireworks that dominate the celebration in most of China, so fire and loud sounds were somewhat lacking, but there’s still no way the monster would come anywhere near . . . The Chinese do love the color red!
I went over to the hospital twice today and spent an hour in the Overseas Education Office trying to help Lester with some issues he’s facing right now. He picked a really bad time to get sick, as his insurance expired on Sunday and his residence permit needs to be renewed by March 10th.
It’s meant some extra work for me and a little less sleep than I would have liked, but I’m really glad that Lester called me on Saturday. I really do like to help others, but I’m not one of those people who always knows what to do without being asked. When I heard he was sick, I told him to call me and he did, so I’m happy to help out.
I mainly offered because I know he’s only been studying for a semester and, like most of us who aren’t fluent, tends to agree when he doesn’t understand. It’s fine in most situations, but I think urgent hospital visits are not “most situations”. My Chinese might not even be enough, but I’m at least able to get honest answers from him when the nurse asks if he has 大便 (pooped) instead of him just absentmindedly nodding.
While there are a lot of us foreigners here at XiaDa studying Chinese, there are also a lot who are taking masters degrees in English. The lucky ones, like Leinira, got the Chinese government to cover an additional year for Chinese language study, but the unlucky ones, like Deni, just plunge right into their studies. Yeah, their classes may be taught in English, but Lester’s experience in the hospital has shown me how important it is to have basic language skills relevant to your country of residence. Lester is practically fluent in comparison to some people I know who can barely count; what happens when one of them ends up in a hospital – where, unlike their classes, the language of importance is CHINESE? I think they should either finance a year of language study for all students or hire a fluent translator whose services are free. It’s just ridiculous to expect us to negotiate the 麻烦 of this country without adequate language skills.
We’re lucky that Chinese hospitals are so liberal in their visitation rules. It’s probably less luck, actually, and more necessity. In addition to IV-watching duty, visitors are also sometimes charged with menial tasks around the hospital. I’ve had to run paperwork between different floors, and one of Lester’s friends has to pick up his blood sample in the morning and take it over to the other hospital in Xiamen. Can you imagine that happening in America?
As I stopped to pick up some bread for Lester (who may be able to start eating tomorrow!) I met a new student from Spain and we made plans to meet tomorrow for lunch. I wanted to invite Carlos, so I decided to challenge myself and write the text message in Spanish. All I wanted to say was: “I just met a guy from Spain; do you want to have lunch together tomorrow?” The Chinese translation is easy enough that it almost doesn’t require thought: “我刚刚认识的歌西班牙人，你明天想跟我们一起去吃午饭吗?”, but the Spanish translation was quite slow in coming:
Hmmm, how do you say 刚刚 in Spanish? ‘Acabo’? Then I think you have to add a ‘de’ . . . ‘Encontrar’ is pretty easy because the Chinese word, 遇到, hasn’t really taken root in my mind yet. I’m not actually sure how to say ‘Spaniard’ - is it ‘Espanolo’? That doesn’t sound right. I’ll just say ‘a student from Spain’, which is ‘estudiante de espanol’, right?? Wait, that’s means a person who studies Spanish – it should be ‘estudiante de espana’. I have no idea where times and locations go in Spanish sentences anymore, so I’ll just stick ‘manana’ at the beginning. Thankfully, I still remember how to conjugate ‘querer’ in the second person! Totally coming up blank on ‘together’, though; all I can think of is 一起, which is definitely not Spanish . . . I know, I’ll just ask if he wants to have lunch ‘with us’ (‘con nosotros’). My mind automatically fills in the rest of the sentence: ‘manana quieres con nosotros 吃饭?’ But then I remember not only how to say ‘eat’, but the actual verb for ‘to eat lunch’ – ‘almorzar’! Victory is mine!! Don’t add a 吗 at the end; they don’t use those in Spanish. Now, send!
Apparently I didn’t mess up too bad because Carlos said yes. His response did, however, cause me a moment of panic as I wavered on the meaning of ‘once’. I figured it out though, and managed to text back that we should meet at ‘once y media’ (instead of ‘once 半’).
Can we please have a moment of silence for my Spanish skills, who are lamentably no longer with us? They’d been fading since the summer of 2008, but for a while it was possible that they could yet recover and even maybe learn to speak again. But then came the events of of March 2nd, 2009, a blow they could never overcome. Yes, exactly one year ago, I found out that I had been chosen by TU to receive a scholarship from the China Scholarship Council for a year of study in China. And my Spanish skills didn’t stand a chance . . .