I didn’t feel like adventuring all the way out to church yesterday, so I went this morning. The weather was better – overwhelmingly gray but surprisingly warm and mostly dry. This was my first time going to English Mass on Gulangyu in several months, and it felt really weird. For instance, instead of carrying a huge bag containing dictionary, Bible, two songbooks, and the Order of the Mass, I just took my wallet and daily necessities.
On the way over, I met up with some other XiaDa students who were going to Mass. A number of people greeted me before and after Mass, even asking me to do the first reading. I found this interesting because the lack of any sort of welcome was one of the reasons I figured I might as well go to Chinese Mass. How would things be different now if someone had greeted me when I first came?
So there were some nice things about English Mass on Gulangyu, but I am not about to make that my usual weekend Mass. In the intervening months since I last went, I’d explained to so many people my choice to go to Chinese Mass that I began to question if my memory wasn’t deceiving me. Is it really that hard to understand? Answer: yes; I honestly understand more of the Chinese Mass by now (if I have a missal!), and am able to sing along almost as well. Is Gulangyu really that repulsive on Sunday mornings? Answer: absolutely yes. Even on a day like today, when the weather could only be considered tolerable in comparison to the misery of yesterday, the ferry was packed with tourists and I got stuck behind at least four tour groups on my way to church. During the service, you can hear tour guides yelling “And here we have a Catholic church!” in various languages through bullhorns. People who describe Gulangyu as a quiet escape from China are crazy high on drugs. Yeah, I realize that they don’t allow cars but at some point the volume of a few thousand tourists > the volume of a few hundred humming engines. I would rather live on (or go to Mass at) Disneyland, I think.
Back on ‘my’ island (Xiamen), I met up with some friends for lunch at the dumpling restaurant. I had just been informed that the 老板 (boss) was back after his months-long absence, which definitely called for a visit. A big plate of 炸饺子 (fried dumplings) and 珍珠奶茶 (pearl milk tea) from the place next door was the perfect lunch. The best dumplings contain pork, so it (along with my dinner of kungpao chicken) was a much-appreciated Sunday indulgence :)
And now, a dumping of my thoughts:
I may have thought of another way to tell if someone studied a language in a classroom or in-country, but it only works for Chinese. How many ways can you say “Chinese”, as in the language? You may learn two ways in class (汉语 and 中文) but once you come to China you will more often hear other ways to say it (普通话，中国话, 国语) that you were never taught in class. Also, if you know the name of any dialect (Cantonese included), that’s probably a good indication that you lived in China.
In my time here in Xiamen, being surrounded by foreigners studying Chinese, I’ve had an interesting international experience. I am a more familiar with other foreigners’ accents, but actually more so in Chinese than English. Even though I have a really hard time distinguishing them by appearance, I can usually figure out if someone is Korean, Japanese, Thai, or Filipino once they start speaking Chinese. Russians are also quite distinctive.
Sometimes I hurt my brain by trying to think about how I sound in Chinese. Like, try to envision a comparable accent, vocabulary, and grammar in English. When I speak Chinese, do I sound like XuLei speaking English, or June, or (I wish) like Wang Pu?
I’m also quite tickled every now and then when I realize that I can read pinyin. It’s way easier than characters obviously, but still – I remember a time when I would look at a word like ‘lvyou’ or ‘nvren’ and have no idea where to even start, or when I would try to make ‘shi’, ‘si’, and ‘sui’ rhyme. It reminds me of a friend’s shirt that said “You know you’re from St. Louis when . . . you know how to pronounce Loughborough”.
I got to experience one of the most elusive simple pleasures of learning Chinese the other day. We were walking back from the shoe repair shop when a sign caught my attention. It said 不锈铁 – 不 as in ‘not’ and 铁 as in ‘metal’ and 锈 as in ‘a character I hadn’t studied yet’. Despite never having seen that character before, I immediately and instinctively knew its meaning – ‘rust’, making the entire phrase “stainless steel”. I figured it out only partly based on the connotation; what actually helped was the composition of the character and the verbal Chinese I learned back on the farm. The left part of the 锈 character is a radical that means metal (金), the right side is phonetic based on the character 锈 (pronounced ‘xiu’), and I remembered at one point learning that ‘rust’ was pronounced ‘xiu’. Put the clues together and it’s quite obvious that the character and pinyin were one and the same! How fortuitous that I didn’t learn characters that summer, as it made yesterday’s joy possible. We just learned another character in class that is just as obvious – 驴, which is pronounced lǘ and means ‘donkey’. The left half of the character is the horse radical (马) while the right side is a phonetic based on the character 户 (pronounced ‘hu’). Delightfully simple, although I didn’t have the pleasure of figuring it out myself.
At the party that the Dutch guys hosted last night, they introduced me to one of their Chinese friends. I said, “Hi, my name is Maria”, to which he immediately responded “Holland?” I was really surprised/creeped out that he knew my last name . . . until I realized he was guessing at my nationality. I stammered for a few seconds before being able to tell him that I am American. I do think it’s super cool, though, that both my first and last names have official Chinese transliterations: 马利亚·荷兰.
There was an article last week on the Union of Catholic Asian News that hit close to home – literally. The title, “Fujian Priest Detained Over Youth Camp” caught my attention pretty quickly, because I live in Fujian. It was in another diocese, and a priest of the underground church, but the idea that there is religious persecution and suppression going on now, in the same country as me, is very sobering.
In other Google Reader news (seriously, it’s a lifesaver), I am now subscribed to the world’s most popular blog. 韩寒, a Chinese racecar driver, singer, author, and hearthrob (I know, right?) has a blog that has received over 330 million views. It’s the first Chinese blog that I’ve subscribed to, but seems like a good choice because of its popularity and the possibility of controversy.