Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Shi Jie Yin Hang

If you read any of my previous posts, you might have gotten a sense of my excitement for learning Chinese. In some ways, Chinese is actually less difficult than French or German. Instead of spending a week learning the irregular ways to modify a verb and say something in the past perfect or future perfect tense, you instead just learn a verb and apply the right words to modify it into those different tenses. But if you are now thinking learning Chinese is a cake walk, let me tell you about this conversation I overheard today between a student and his teacher:

Peng Bo (Paul): Wooo Zai Shi Jie Yin Hang
Laoshi (teacher): ?
Peng Bo: Wo Zai Shi Jie Ying Hang!
Laoshi: ?
Peng Bo: Ah! Wo Zai Shi Jie Ying Hang Gongzuo.
Laoshi: Good, but what is Shi Jie Yin Hang?
Peng Bo: World Bank!
Laoshi: Ah, OK. But say Shi Jie Yin Hang...

Seriously, a word for lesson 1 and we still can't pronounce it in a way that the teacher will actually know what we mean if we use it out of context.

Oh dear, wish us luck!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Clean Up Time: Someone's Trash is Someone's Treasure

Today a friend stopped by to pick up some Dutch books for his daughter. Well, he might have gotten more than he bargained for, because he left the house with two big bags full of books, a bunch of plastic toys, a Nijntje stuffed animal, Nijntje plate & silverware, a small stack of swim diapers (unspoiled :-) ), and a wooden cart for learning how to walk. It's so funny, because all these things were very dear to me once (well, perhaps all except the plastic toys), and now we really can do very well without. Simon and Thomas are too old for them, and while I was keeping some items for either sentimental reasons (the Nijntje plate), because they sometimes still used them (the plastic toys), or general laziness (the diapers), there is no point in shipping them to China. (Or "back" to China, as probably is the case for a lot of these items!)

Nijntje thinks about ChinaWell, this was just the beginning. A lot more has to go. I spent all evening cleaning up the boys' clothes and put together some packages for friends and for general "recycling" of the clothes. Let me know if there is anything you need from our house... I'd be happy to get rid of it!

P.S. Don't know who Nijntje is? Visit www.nijntje.nl. Everyone in Holland grew up with this lovely rabbit who is known also as Miffie in the U.S. See the picture on the right, which I believe is titled, "Nijntje thinks about China."

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Yeah, vaccinations

Today the whole family went on a field trip... to the World Bank's health clinic. Simon had a day off from school (it is DC Emancipation Day) and we decided to make the most of the fact that we were all four down town.

It was amazingly efficient. We walked in just before 4pm on a Friday afternoon, and an hour later we were several vaccinations, lollipops, and "I am a super patient" stickers richer. I was the absolute winner, with four vaccinations -- Typhoid, Polio, Hepatitis A&B, and Tetanus/Diphtheria -- and five stickers (thank you Thomas). Most of these vaccinations were kind of "adult booster shots". Paul, Simon and Thomas tied for second place, with just one shot for Typhoid. But Paul also got his blood tested to check for previous exposures or vaccinations, and may have to come back for a round 2.

Simon and Thomas' school also recommends getting vaccinations for Rabies and Japanese Encephalitis. For Rabies, we'll have to visit a travel clinic somewhere else in the city, and the Encephalitis was not so strongly recommended by our doctor yesterday. Paul will probably still get it because he might be traveling in different areas, while his family stays "safe" in Beijing.

After the round of vaccinations, we went to the Brazilian store to get some ingredients for a dinner party tomorrow night with some friends of us (who are all parents of Simon's class mates). While there, we also got over ten bags of Brazilian pao de queijo that we'll make for International night at Simon's school in a couple weeks. I guess we have our foot (or at least our mouth) in a lot of different cultures. I hope the East Asia endemic diseases don't mix in with ours.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Welcome to Beijing Sing-a-long

Unbelievable, they must have known we were coming, already in 2008. I found this clip today and while of course You Tube tells me I am number 60,960 watching it, I loved it and thought it was just forme. I hope these cute guys are still around singing on the streets when I get to Beijing :-) Characters for the first few lines are below, if you want to sing along.

迎接另一个晨曦 带来全新空气 
气息改变情味不变 茶香飘满情谊 
我家大门常打开 开放怀抱等你 
拥抱过就有了默契 你会爱上这里 
不管远近都是客人 请不用客气 

(By the way, this clip does tell me the Chinese have secretly been watching the European song festival for years and have completely mastered the art. China, what are you leaving for other countries to dominate the world in?)

Zaijian Beijing - I look forward to being welcomed by you soon.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The End of the World

Dear reader (all four of you), today I woke up feeling worried for the first time about my upcoming adventure. And my worry was not about Chinese culture, language, food, work, school, or any other logical thing a person might worry about, but it was entirely about our house in the suburbs. Yes, my friends, we will live in a house in the suburbs and I am nervous about that.

Of course it is not by accident that we are moving there: The school is close by, you can live in a house, and your kids can bike around a cute little neighborhood. Making friends should be relatively easy, as all your neighbors speak English and are kind of like you: Expats (short for expatriates: persons living in another country than their own) living in a tiny European-American bubble just outside Beijing.

And that is the problem: We'll be just outside Beijing in a European-American bubble. How will I practice my Chinese? How to get delicious fresh noodles within five steps from my home? How to get my hair cut by a Chinese hair dresser who doesn't know curly hair?

I am afraid to report that we have opted for easiness, a good school, and the joy of living in a house and close to the school. I am sad though it will diminish our cultural experiences. In the U.S., we've always managed more or less to do like the Americans do (get overweight, get into debt... :-) ) and now we are already setting ourselves up to be somewhat separate from Beijing and its inhabitants.

On the positive end, we should blend in nicely in our new neighborhood. (I wonder if one day they'll read this blog :-) )

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Home Sweet Home - if only I could say that in Chinese

We're getting closer to picking a house. It's kind of like buying shoes- you always end up buying the first ones you tried on. Well, we might end up renting a place in one of the first places we saw. Remember those neighborhoods for foreigners? Well, we're now closely looking at a house in one of them, in a neighborhood called Lanebridge. It would be very close to Simon and Thomas's school. Far from a busy city life, so I might try knitting or watching Chinese soap operas during the day. (OK friends, don't worry, I'll work as well, and we'll make sure to get out of our sheltered expat neighborhood for some tai chi in the park with the locals. After my Italian cooking class and cocktails with the neighbors that is :-) ).

Meanwhile, I am progressing with my Chinese classes and I am loving it. What's not to like about learning a new language? Here's some of what I like.

1. You definitely know you are learning. Just weeks ago, I couldn't speak a word, not even understand where one word ended and another began. And now I at least have some insights on how this language holds together and I can even ask for the bathroom in Chinese! (That's more important than Ni hao if you ask me.)

2. Writing is like drawing. It's of course not particularly easy to learn all the characters that you need to read or write Chinese --- and I think there are plenty of people speaking excellent Chinese without knowing the characters --- I happen to always like reading and writing, so understanding the characters is important to me. And making those little pictures is just like drawing. So instead of cartoons I draw a little picture and call it "ya" (teeth), or "zao" (early morning), or "xi" (washing). (OK, can you tell my homework (gong ke) was about getting up in the morning?

3. It's fun to think that the language you are learning is really spoken by so many. Of course there are still plenty of Chinese who use their own local languages, but still, this should be a skill that is going to help me order Chinese for a long time to come.

It's not all fun and games though. Just last night I was ready to tear my hair (tou fa) out over a listening exercise. I was supposed to hear if the tone of a word was the first (steady), second (going up), third (going down then up), or fourth (going down) tone. It reminded me of my recorder lessons as a kid, when my teacher played two keys on the piano and asked me which one was higher. How is it possible NOT to hear which one is higher? I am going to have to train my ear to hear these differences more clearly, so that I don't accidently get run over by a horse ("ma", third tone) when I am calling for my mom ("ma" first tone).

Speaking of calling, Thomas is calling from upstairs. He must be on Chinese time...