Maria Holland

Saturday at Work

In Uncategorized on July 25, 2015 at 10:49 am

I went to work today.  On a weekend.  Everyone commented on it.  I thought you don’t work on weekends back in America?  Well, sometimes I do, but not 9-to-5-as-a-rule, more like as-needed.  

I feel like there’s so much left that I want to do at work . . . and so little that I want to do in the rest of Beijing.  Yes, Beijing is a huge city with a lot going on, but some of it doesn’t interest me much and anything outside is just not appealing at all right now.  There are several parks I’d like to go to, if it were under 90 degrees and I didn’t have to wear a mask, but neither or those are true so I might as well be in the lab if the alternative is the hotel.

On the way to lunch, I told Zhao Yan something like 我刚刚到了 (I just got to the office).  He said that I use this 了 too much, and I don’t need it in this case.  了, a particle used to indicate tense, is the hardest part of Chinese grammar, in my opinion, and I freely admit that 80% of the time I have no idea what I’m doing and I just put it where it feels right.  Apparently my intuition is not so good, because he gave like five examples of when I’ve used it wrong (generally, where I’ve used it when not necessary).  国洋 joined the conversation as we ate, and tried to argue against my assertion that 了 is confusing.  It’s used for things that are completed, he said.  Only, one of their examples of when to use it was 我马上毕业了, or I’m about to graduate.  That hasn’t been completed yet, I said.  Yes, GuoYang responded, but it will be completed in the future.  Haha.  I think pretty much every action in the world falls into either the category of ‘already completed’, or the category of ‘will be completed’, right??  I’ve had this conversation with Chinese people before.  It’s easy, they say, 了 means something has happened . . . or is happening right now . . . or will happen . . . Yes, I nod, very easy.  It’s not like tenses are a cake walk in English or other languages, but they’re hard in a different way.  In Spanish, I might not know how to conjugate the specific verb I want to use in the tense I need, but I know which tense it is that I need.  In Chinese, the ‘how’ is exceedingly easy, but the ‘when/where’ part still eludes me.

No one was in my office when I got there.  So today I learned that we do have an air conditioner that usually makes the temperature just bearable, because in its absence the temperature was not.  I didn’t know how to turn it on, so I was happy when Huang Chong came in the afternoon, commented on how hot it was, and pressed the magic button to make it cool.  

Li Bo came by the office in the afternoon and asked me if I was free for dinner.  We were joined by his wife for dinner, and I was reminded of the extent of Chinese generosity, which always seems to me to be more generous than American generosity, but hopefully is just different.  We ordered roast duck, chicken, shrimp, eggplant, cabbage, and mushroom dishes, plus a sort of jelly crepe thing (that I saw and inquired about, and next thing I knew was on our table).  I’m pretty sure we got about the same amount of food for the three of us that we had ordered last night for 8 or 9 Americans.  There was food left on the table, which is a necessity in Chinese custom but always bothers me a little bit.  

I’m taking some friends to lunch tomorrow, friends who treated me to lunch the first few weeks I was here, so I was studying my hosts’ actions tonight.  Anything the guest expresses interest in, should be ordered.  My usual rule of thumb is one dish per person, but when treating perhaps double that.  Definitely get drinks.  Offer to order more at the end of the meal, even though there is still plenty of food left and everyone is clearly stuffed.

The most interesting part of the dinner conversation tonight (other than when I asked his wife if she was also from Hunan, and she said, Yes, I am also from Hulan) was when I tried to describe duck syndrome.  Things like that or work-life balance just seem to be impossible to translate; the combined language and cultural barriers are just too much.  I don’t think there are ducks at Tsinghua.  More like horses.  

Some of my labmates had talked about playing Catan again tonight, but they bailed.  (Lame, I said, and then had to try to explain what I meant.  You’re no fun, I’m disappointed in you?)  So I went home, on the way stopping to play with some puppies and talk to their owners.  

IMG 2384

This guy’s name was David.  I think he’s American.  The other one (I think his name was Twelve?) was not so into me; he mostly stood at a distance and yipped.  Fun Saturday night!

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