So, in addition to getting Easter Monday off for Tomb-Sweeping Day, we also get Easter Tuesday off because of XiaDa’s 89th birthday. Sweet! We also got out of 20 minutes of class today because we spent that time talking the teacher into giving us Tuesday off. I think complaining is good practice for oral language skills, though, and is helping me along towards my goal of being able to get mad fluently in Chinese.
During the break in oral class, I asked the teacher a few questions that had been burning inside me for a while now. The answer: Chinese is crazy messed-up language.
For instance: When Chinese read long numbers aloud, they say “yao” instead of “yi” for one (1). But there is no way to write this different sound. The character 一 does not have two alternate pronunciations or anything. It is read as “yi”, but people just say “yao” instead. When I pressed the issue with the teacher, she said that if I really had to, I could use the character 幺. It took her quite a while to come up with this, though, and was obviously not happy about it.
A less severe example is the character 日 (‘ri’), used to indicate the day of a month (as in today’s date, 4月1日) but is almost always pronounced as the character 号 (‘hao’). They never say ‘ri’, and they never write ‘号’.
AND they have a sort of ditto mark that’s used for repeated characters like 谢谢 and 妈妈 instead of writing them out, but it doesn’t exist digitally so I can’t type it.
How freakin’ weird is that? China never could have produced Mark Twain. In English, the little building blocks of our language – the alphabet – can be manipulated in so many ways to express meaning and sound; thus we have “going to” and “gonna”. They mean the same thing, but one is formal and the other is more accurate in the way we speak. In Chinese, however, the connection between written language and sound is tenuous at best. Because of this, there’s no way to record these verbal idiosyncrasies and there’s no way to represent someone’s accent in written language. Xiamenites say ‘si’ instead of ‘shi’, but I can’t say that they say 四 instead of 十 because that changes both sound and meaning.
Sorry if that wasn’t clear. My mind exploded this morning.
I went to Mass this evening for Holy Thursday, the Commemoration of the Last Supper and the Washing of the Feet. There were a lot of foreigners there tonight, which made me realize another reason I’m glad I usually go to Chinese Mass: there just isn’t always English Mass. The only English service we’ve had on a non-Sunday was for Christmas; the Immaculate Conception, Annunciation, Ash Wednesday, all of Holy Week, and the Easter Vigil are all in Chinese. Also, while we’re lucky to have an English-speaking priest in Xiamen, any time you travel you’re at the mercy of the local diocese.
After Mass – the last one until the Easter Vigil on Saturday night – we formed a procession to escort the Eucharist into the conference room next door. We sang and prayed, and I heard the Hail Mary spoken in Mandarin for the very first time!
When I got home, I watched the Prince of Egypt. I’ve decided it’s going to be my new Holy Thursday tradition. I like the telling of the Passover and the message of the intrinsic dignity of human life and the reminder that we’re all called to play a part in God’s larger plan, whether we understand exactly what it is or not, whether we feel prepared or not, whether it’s saving a nation or ‘just’ loving your neighbor. And I LOVE the music.
PS – the title today is the words of consecration – “Take this, all of you, and eat: this is my body” – in Chinese.