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Month: May 2019

Linguistic Adventures

Linguistic Adventures

I have recently started reading a new book, When in French by Lauren Collins. Collins is currently a New York Times columnist based in Paris. In this memoir, she catalogues her move New York to London, London to Geneva. She meanwhile has married a Frenchman and is attempting to learn French.

As a fellow language learner, I both laugh aloud and cringe when she lists her linguistic mishaps. These including telling her mother-in-law that she has birthed a coffee maker. Though I have no mother-in-law at present, I have shared many a mishap with Ms. Collins and feel inspired to document some recent ones, before I depart China in July.

With a little more than a month to go, I have taken the liberty of packing away my winter clothes.

At the start of a recent massage, the masseuse asked which part of my body hurt. I replied enthusiastically “wǒ de bēizi!” He snorted: I tried to say “my back,” (which is actually bèi) but instead told him that my cup ached.

At the gym recently, the instructor of the class asked if I could speak Chinese. I said “wǒ kěyǐ,” trying to say that I can. However, Chinese has two similar verbs. One means “I have the ability or skill to.” Which would have been the correct verb. I said the other one. Basically, I said, “I physically can form speech,” but not “I can speak Chinese.” So in protesting my ability, I proved myself to be lying.

I got into the back of the Chinese equivalent of Lyft and the driver asked my cell phone number, which is how you are identified. I told him and we set off. He began chatting, very fast and very much not in standard Mandarin. I panicked, and answered by “hmmph” for a while. This soon became an inappropriate way to respond and he finally craned his neck around. He was shocked and said, “What! You are foreign!” Apparently he at first did not look and assumed from my recitation of four digits that I was Chinese. Then, mercifully, he slowed down his speech to a crawl and we continued the conversation.

Lastly, on Monday I tried to refill my metro card. The card did not refill, but they charged me. So I gathered myself and went to the counter to remedy the matter. I explained (I think) in Chinese that the transaction was not successful, that I would like a refund. The woman behind the counter looked me dead in the eye and without blinking, raised her walkie talkie. She radioed, “Hi, do you speak English? There is a foreigner here.” I responded, “Hi, I can speak Chinese.” She said, “Fine, go to this other counter.” Needless to say, this encounter made me feel confident of my prowess.

Though I did learn the happy news yesterday that I passed my latest HSK exam (汉语水平考试), it is clear that I have a long ways to go on this project! Luckily, I have Lauren Collins’s book for company.

May day

May day

Happy May!

Spring continues to rush by and now we hit May. Nanjing continues to heat up: it is reliably in the 80s now. The flowers have been replaced by abundant green leaves. The sky has been lovely and blue lately, which is delightful.

It is Sunday and I completed my first make-up days ever today. In China, when there is a public holiday, work is not cancelled. It is moved around. May 1st is International Workers’ Day, so there was a public holiday from May 1 to May 4. Wednesday classes were cancelled but Thursday and Friday classes had to be made up over the weekend. I did feel bad for the students, inside on such a perfect day, but I am sure the pleasure and joy of learning was worth the disappointment!

Last weekend and at the start of the week, my flatmates and I dashed off to Malaysia. You may be wondering, why did we go before the holiday? Because the dates of the holiday were recently changed. We purchased our tickets months ago to save money and therefore also accidentally beat the rush of tourists who left for the actual holiday.

Kuala Lumpur is a wonderful city: filled with parks and greenery. We walked mostly and also used Grab, the regional competitor to Uber. KL itself is actually just a few (large) neighborhoods, but it is surrounded by development. These developments used to be separate but grew into Kuala Lumpur. We spent the most time to the southwest of the center, in Petaling Jaya.

While in KL, I greatly enjoyed the chance to learn. I did not know much about Malaysian history or culture and am no expert now, but did learn lots. My flatmates and I went to two wonderful museums: the Islamic Arts Museum and the Textile Museum. We also went to the bird park and a botanical garden, along with a tin factory and several Hindu temples. The most beautiful was just north of the city in the Batu Caves. I will include a photo below.

The food in Kuala Lumpur is a mix of Malay, Indian, and Chinese. Nesi lamak is one of the “national dishes.” It is comprised of coconut rice, dried sardines, peanuts and a pepper sauce. Proteins such as fried chicken are optional. Malaysian coffee is also excellent and very sweet, similar to that iced coffee that I tried in Vietnam. I think both use condensed milk.

Interestingly, KL also a vibrant burger scene. One afternoon I convinced my very patient flatmates to venture to Petaling Jaya with me, to find a burger truck called Jackson’s. I had one address, though the truck of course moves, and we set off. As we drove through the neighborhood, someone spotted the truck in a front yard. We called out, alarming the Grab driver who then stopped. The burgers were excellent! Photos below. Afterwards, we had to walk for miles looking for transport but I think it was very much worth it.

This burger included cucumber!

This was the last of our international voyages and it was a wonderful end. With two months left in China, I know the time will fly!