你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do,
Between the articulations of idioms a Chinese class beneath the Grade 4/5 office, I could hear the distant sound of Wham. “Last year I gave you my heart…” and this was odd. The neighbouring kindergarten (nursery school) seemed to be ploughing through Christmas songs faster than a sleigh whizzing around the world, carrying a fat bloke delivering presents and gifts.
Christmas, this year, was and remains far more visible than the previous two years. The local malls (shopping centres), cafes, bars, even small shops have all gone all out. Even my apartment complex has invested in a huge tree and many decorations. Seeing and hearing Christmas, as an embraced addition, an imported tradition doesn’t even seem purely commercial. There is joy with it. As part of the Christmas movement, I attended two Christmas parties at Speaker Training Centre (Hengli) and another Christmas themed afternoon in Dongguan City 17th Sunshine Primary School. At Dongguan (东莞) Shi (市Market or City) Nánchéng (南城south town) Qu YángGuāng (阳光sunshine) diqi (第七17th) Xiǎo Xué (小学primary school), I was reunited with Bright once again. A friend since the first day I arrived at Dao Ming. We picked up like we had last met yesterday.
Christmas weekend was spent in Hengli, walking, talking, eating and cycling. Sky, Mark, Maria and their team had welcomed me many times before. The Speaker Family training centre is a hearty place, focused on making students young and old confident to conquer English and master the art of public speeches. They are a passionate bunch, surrounded by family in Maria’s case and full of zest for learning. It is infectious. I like their business model very much. So, I attended many classes and Christmas game activities, sang Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes with several four year-olds and went to many great meals. On Christmas Day, Maria, Mark, Maria’s father, Maria’s step-father, Obama (Maria’s brother and a very talented cook), Jonhson (the spelling is right, I think… as it is on his ID card; an American) and I went to a very standard-looking Chinese restaurant and ate. We had tofu, chicken (the whole thing, heads, eyes, the lot), and many other delicious foods. Alongside, some Chinese medicinal drink, good for the kidneys. In Chinese medicine, your sexual mojo, stems from your kidneys. Our recycling machines are reportedly the body’s yin and yang. The seed of energy. Good diets make for good balance. Good balance makes for good kidneys. In turn, a good sexual function and reproduction. We drank a drink, medicinal alcohol, a kind of wine with elements of nuts, ginseng, pollen, spores, leeks, ling zhi (Reishi mushrooms, 灵芝) [possibly dried shrimps and oysters]. The sceptic in me was beaten back the next day. I awoke having had a great night’s sleep. I hadn’t been told that the drink was good for anything, other than my kidneys, the night before, but I can safely say there is a strong aphrodisiac quality in it, one that blasts your dreams into the foreground of the mind. Traditional Chinese Medicine may be a controversial area, often slammed for historic links to poaching and continued killing of animals. Some have been derived from the human body. However, the current 13,000 medicinals (it used to be 100,000!) are mostly plant and farmed animal sourced. Some are controversial, some have side-effects. I guess, like all commercially obtained pharmoceuticals (again some are derived from endangered animals and animal extracts), we must look at them on a case by case merit. Anyway, back to Christmas. It was a most wonderful weekend. Maria gave me some chocolates. Her family also gifted me a meal and Speaker Family treated me to a further meal. Chinese culture is heavily evolved around celebrations and meals. As Jonhson put it, “The more you eat and drink, the more you celebrate!”
Apples (苹果 Píngguǒ) are given because the word sounds like Ping’an (平安). Ping’an Ye 平安夜 is silent night. Someone cashed in on it and now it is a tradition. I have had many apples from teachers and students. I’ve eaten one apple a day for a week now. I now have 15 apples left. I don’t have an oven to make a crumble! I will have to rehome these apples.
To be this far from home, is tough, I won’t lie. To be so far from family at a time, traditionally and wholeheartedly for family, is tougher. This week has been the most homesick I have been, since arriving in China. This February will mark three years away from the U.K. (only, less the 13 weeks I have spent in China, across two summers).
“You have no authority. None.” The harsh grasp of M’s words in recent James Bond flick, Spectre. That’s how I feel right now with one of my colleagues. Analisa is an American. I think I don’t bond well with Americans. Perhaps, I try to hard in teamwork or perhaps I come across as authoritive. I’m no expert but I do have experience. I try to nurture and push. I don’t lead as such, I just influence and try to ensure the team are equal and steering the ship in the right direction. Otherwise, we will be powerless and grounded. Maybe it is just me? Maybe, I am a poor teammate? I doubt my value as a leader if I cannot guide, lead or be worked with. I think deep down in my heart, I am a farmer, looking for a simple life, but one who has been forced from his comfort zone into an unfamiliar land. An adventurer in a world where all adventures seem to be have been had. The deep ocean and space remain. And I’m too early in technological advancements to take those voyages!
The phrase “two cultures separated by a common language” is banded around quite freely now. American English seems to have usurped [British] English, and using phrases and idioms of everyday usage back home tend to fall by the wayside. Lost in translation? Or unheard? For the umpteeth time, I’ve been asked to compare the two languages. It was like watching paint dry. I feel like some people ask just to take the mickey. But, they’re not. Many of my Chinese colleagues and friends are very direct in how they speak. They simply avoid discretion and courtesy as it isn’t something learnt so freely. Our cultures are different. Turns of phrase are too much for most. Even trying to simplify my phrases is a problem at times. What gets me, is when a Nigerian accent or deep-south American accent is understood far clearer than my own voice. That said I get why those, who listen, around those speakers, with those accents, follow clearly. Your ears titrate. It takes time to understand people’s speaking styles and accents. Also, maybe I am guilty of being followed so well, that I slip back into a normal speaking style. However, I won’t be condescending and assume non-native speakers’ levels of English are not good enough to understand me. Non-native speakers, learners of a new language learn to communicate and better themselves. I won’t add water to a lake. I won’t remove the bones of the turkey, pulp it up and create a jelly. For me, if the learners spot the differences and ask questions, they are learning that proper [British] English is as peculiar as it comes. He most diverse language on Earth with more and more words and phrases being coined over time. It helps others to help me help you. I’ll adapt my tones, phrases and words to the scenario I face. Communication is key, clear or unclear, questions can always be asked.
So, my journey into learning Chinese is creaking. I am struggling, grasping at every loose rock on an upward climb to a peak far away. I’ll get there. It just takes time. I am trying to study the grammar, speak as native speakers do, and think in Chinese. I have been recording my spoken Chinese and playing it back to myself. Comparisons of the inflections reveal, I am near tone deaf. I can’t differeniate the four tones at times. Partly because of the varied accents around me and partly because I’m learning Mandarin, slap bang in Cantonese language territory. I do have the advantage of natural speakers galore around me. I just need to prod them to make them speak Chinese with me and not English. I don’t care if I make mistakes or lose face. I will learn from these instances. I want to use formal and informal phrases, so making mistakes or cultural faux pas from times to time will assist me. There are co many cultural rules and habits, and these can differ from town to town, region to region and so on. My Chinese notepad is bulging. Soon, I may need to have to expand it!
(wǒ yǒngyuǎn bú huì fàngqì
[I will never give up!].
再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye