China. China. The country Donald Trump will not stop blathering about. That’s where I’m bound to be in nearly 13 days. Alone. Foreign country. Practically no language experience.
Excited? Maybe. Petrified? Absolutely.
I love silence. It’s exquisite. I love silence when it’s not even quiet. A rainstorm, for instance. Or standing outside the closed door of a movie theater. It’s not inaudible– definitely not– but the air hangs differently. The air rests heavily, filling the room, yet it’s comfortably snug. This kind of silence, I treasure. You can feel it change, too. Into the center of an energetic friend group, or a packed stadium, the air clicks and clangs; almost bouncing off of everyone instead of being absorbed.
Uncomfortable silence is the kind of air that fidgets and jumps and bounds freely around people that wish to rid themselves of it. The air neither sinks nor gallops, and everyone feels unwelcome.
Silence will be forced upon me. Definitely not due to a lack of commentary (I can talk for a very long time), but simply due to a lack of Mandarin. I want philosophical discussions, candid observations, and sincere exchanges; not obligatory introductions, curt dialogues and tedious chats. Guess which ones I’ll be roped into.
My Mandarin vocabulary is rather limited, as you might have inferred. While I’m retaining most words thrown my way, my brain simply does not care about “survival Chinese” phrases. For example, word for “peach”? Got it; 桃子. Word for “music”? Easy; 音乐. Word for “bathroom”? … “Help”? … “Stop”?… If I was Chinese in a past life, I was probably a recluse.
Anyway, back to my point (you know, I’m such a Holden sometimes).
The goal of my program is to rapidly develop skills in the target language, so of course my vocabulary will expand; but what about the first few days? Arguably, the first week will be the toughest. I’ve never been away from my family for longer than five days, and during that time, I was surrounded by familiar faces… Nothing will be familiar in China.
I do not want to be that American teenage girl that stayed with a host family for one summer, only to be forgotten by August 14th. Yet, this is my fate unless I pick up on the language and connect with people. Quickly.
The language. Most people gloss over the complexity of a language. Yes, there are stupid rules and neglected phrases (You are well, not good), but do you know why every language has them? BECAUSE LANGUAGES ARE EXTREMELY COMPLICATED AND THEY’RE NECESSARY. There’s a difference between something happening yesterday vs. seven years ago. There’s a difference between “Let’s eat grandma” and “Let’s eat, grandma”. So despite the popular opinions of high school foreign language students, no one just said “hey, this is too easy. Let’s make foreigners suffer and prevent the rest of the world from wanting to communicate with us ’cause no one can speak coherently”. The point of grammar is to facilitate the reader’s understanding of a sentence/topic; not to sneak up on students and drop them a letter grade. Rules are important, and grammar is important. My grammar may not always be perfect, but as far as you know, it’s a stylistic choice.
Not only do languages have their own set of rules, but languages are vast. We don’t realize how often we speak in one day, or how many different ways we say one word. Ever look up the synonyms for a word on google (you definitely have, but I’m making a point)? Around 7 related phrases will pop up on the search bar per entered term (this varies greatly, keep in mind). This increases dramatically with cultural differences, and they can not be translated by a simple google search (for one thing, google is blocked by the Great Firewall of China, and for another, google is simply not advanced enough to implement culture into translations). For instance, we say “third wheel” when someone feels left out. In China, they say “light bulb” (thank you for that phrase, Emily). I’m sure my later posts will be loaded with instances similar to this one.
Anyway, I suppose my main message is, please talk to me while I’m away. I may not be able to converse in Mandarin, but my English skills should remain intact. Just send me an email every now and then. Tell me about your day, or something you’re planning to do, or something stupid you did. Just talk to me, so I know I’m not forgotten.
It’s nice to have something to read in your native language every now and then.