Maria Holland

Bejing’s Four Seasons

In Uncategorized on March 16, 2010 at 1:07 am

We’re finishing up our first lesson in the main Chinese course.  Next up is a dialogue titled 北京的四季, or “Beijing’s Four Seasons”.  Of course.  Approximately one-half of the texts and dialogues in our courses concern the four seasons of Beijing; sometimes for variety the four seasons of Beijing are contrasted with the four seasons in other Chinese cities, but that’s about as exciting as it gets. 

In spring they have peonies.  In summer they climb the Great Wall and go rowboating.  In fall they look at red leaves.  In winter they eat jiaozi.  There, you have now learned an entire year’s worth of Chinese culture.  This is all you will ever need to know about China, or at least that’s the impression we get from our classes.  It certainly doesn’t leave a good taste in my individualist American mouth.  I don’t buy into the Red Scare, but the texts do conjure up images of 1.3 billion Chinese robots glancing at the calendar, noticing that September has come, and automatically heading to the hills to collect red leaves; and there they stay until December, when they return to their homes with one accord to eat jiaozi for the next three months. 

Scary?  I think so.  At least depressing.  It also makes me run from the mere idea of reading an entire Chinese novel, because I don’t think I could stand a description of spring flowers that lasted for a quarter of a book which, based on my exposure to Chinese literature thus far, is what it would undoubtedly consist of.

This afternoon I went to my very first optional class.  I’m taking a preparatory class for the HSK (Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi or Chinese Level Test), the standard exam for foreign Chinese-learners.  I’m pretty militantly anti-test prep classes, but I’m making an allowance for this one because a) it’s free and b) I’m hoping to at least be able to understand the basic directions before test day. 

This week is American Music Week over on Gulangyu, and Andreea picked up tickets for tonight’s performance.  Tonight’s guest was William DeVan, a solo pianist from Alabama who played some Beethoven, Chopin, and Debussy.  I don’t necessarily think of classical music when I think of American music, but that’s certainly more understandable than the fact that half of the week’s performers were Greek – as in born and raised, not Greek-Americans. 

The concert was nice but I have a hard time relaxing so completely.  I like to always be doing things – reading, writing, knitting, etc. – and listening to music does not count.  With nothing else at hand, I read and reread the program and learned some musical words in Chinese: flat (降), sharp (升), major scale (大调), minor scale (小调), allegro (快板), adagio (慢板), etude (练习曲), and opus (作品).

On the ferry ride back, Andreea and I had a good conversation about our futures.  She’s really looking forward to going home this summer before returning for another year or two in China, and each day I get more and more excited to return to my life back home.  I can’t tell you how relieved and happy I am that I feel this way.  A lot of people (okay, Tanner) told me that I was going to get sucked into studying Chinese and would never finish my ME degree.  I didn’t think that would happen, but really what do I know?  At times, I wondered if the only reason I ever studied engineering was because this crazy circuitous route my life has followed was the only way God could get me to consider Chinese.  With just over four months to go, though, I can say that it’s not the case.  I’ve greatly enjoyed this random amazing opportunity that I’ve had this year, and I still am deeply unsure about what will happen next, but I know that I can’t wait to get back to the logic of math and science instead of the memorization and guessing of Chinese. 

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