Maria Holland

Belated Understanding

In Uncategorized on July 16, 2015 at 9:15 pm

This morning, Cheng helped me buy my Beijing-Xiamen and Wuhan-Changchun plane tickets.  These were the last pieces I needed to complete my Beijing-Xiamen-Wuhan-Changchun-Tumen-Changchun-Beijing route, and just like in the game Ticket to Ride, you don’t get any points if the route isn’t complete . . . so, I’m relieved to have that done.  I don’t have an online bank account in China, but Cheng makes an excellent banker – she pays for things online, and I pay her in cash.  Much better customer service than any Chinese bank I’ve used before, too!

At lunch, the guys tried to teach me Cantonese.  And Chongqing dialect.  I learned one Cantonese phrase (where are you?), and then forgot it.

At dinner, I asked the guys I was with for the name of the guy I had been talking about board games with.  GuoYang, they answered.  I looked at one of them, questioningly.  Isn’t he GuoYang, I asked?  GuoYang, GuoYang, they said.  Clearly there is some difference, but I was not hearing it.  Once we sat down, I handed one guy my phone and asked him to type this second name.  The one I know well is 国洋, and this other one is 郭洋.  GuóYáng and GuōYáng, respectively.

UUUUGGGGH I couldn’t believe it.  (It was right around this time that I taught them “wtf”.)  After a little more thought, though, I realized that this explains SO MUCH.  The second GuoYang isn’t in the circle I socialize with the most, but he’s still around a lot.  I’ve slowly been learning the names of more peripheral people, but his continued to elude me.  Turns out it wasn’t just that no one ever talked about him, it was just that when I heard his name I figured they were talking about the first GuoYang.  

We continued speaking of names.  They are fascinated by the fact that I call my advisor by her first name, Ellen.  They like to repeat their advisor’s names, as just the idea of calling Prof. Cao “Yan-Ping” is hilarious to them.  I knew that the professor-student heirarchy can be pretty strict, but until today I have no idea that the heirarchy among students is so important.  I thought everyone called everyone else 师兄弟姐妹 (lab brother or sister), but actually they use it to address older students.  The very idea of this made me laugh for several straight minutes, it’s just so far from the American way of thinking.  As fourth-year PhD students, Zhao Yan and I are the oldest – the others told me that calling me by my name (马利亚) is actually uncomfortable for them!  I told them that they’re free to call me 师姐 (lab sister) or 马姐 (sister Ma, because “Ma” is my “last name”), but there’s absolutely no guarantee that I’ll respond.  

As I was writing this, I came to another realization, about why I had such a hard time learning Zhao Yan’s name.  He always ate lunch with me, but I only tried to learn two names each meal and somehow never got to him until it was waaay past the point when I felt awkward asking.  Eventually I looked at the names on the door of his office and, by process of elimination, guessed that he was Zhao Yan.  I tried it out one day with 程 and it worked, so that’s how I learned his name.  It was hard, though, because I’d never heard anyone say this name before!  I didn’t know how this was possible, but now I do.  As he’s the oldest student, only the postdocs or the people who just graduated would have called him by his name, and I guess I never witnessed that.  Everyone else calls him 师兄 (lab brother), which never registered to me as a name.  

Before dinner, when GuoYang (the first!) was helping me with [another] computer problem, he saw the 24 pages of LaTeX derivations I’ve been working on.  They all use Microsoft Equation Editor (just threw up a little bit in my mouth) so they were in awe of how nice the LaTeX looks.  They kept repeating, You’re so great at this!, although if I were really that great I would have these derivations done . . .

On the way too and from dinner, GuoYang peppered me with questions – is it free?  How did I learn?  Can you write papers in it?  I love LaTeX – I basically see LaTeX code when I think about math – so I was advocating pretty hard.  After dinner, he asked me to help him get started.  I helped him download MiKTeX and TeXmaker, install them, and create his first document (“hello world”, naturally).  Then I helped Cheng, too.  It took about an hour, but I was really happy to be able to help them with something for once.  I can’t help be needy in most situations here, but it’s nice to have something to give back to them.

Today I learned: So much.  Seriously.  Belated epiphanies, but better late than never, right?

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