For me, learning Chinese is a no-brainer. I live in Wuhan where English is a minority, and Wuhanese is the key to not only survival, but it’s also vital in order to enjoy this fine city.
I came here with the good intention of engulfing myself into the four hours of Chinese class offered by my school, but after the first few days of living here, I realized I don’t need to spend hours inside the classroom jamming my brain full of memorizations.
I’m in Chinese class already. Everyday is Chinese class when I open my ears, unplug my ipod, and put my phone away.
China is my teacher. And because of that, learning the language is easy.
With that being said, no. I’m not a fluent speaker now.
I know, I was also hoping to be capable of near-native Mandarin speak within the first four months of my life here, but sadly, I am not as superhuman as I’d like to be. Chinese is still Chinese. It’s just as intelligent, logical, and complex as the people who live here.
Here’s some simple reasons why learning the impossible tongue is difficult even when I immerse myself, but also why it’s easy and fun.
- I don’t know. That magical but dooming phrase that enables me to communicate, and yet stops me from learning the words that would make me know. Wǒ bù zhīdao.
Last night, I stopped at “Southern Garden Stuff” to buy some green beans and dragon fruit. Hurried bodies shoved past me as I waited in the nonexistent line, letting myself get frustrated with my inability to tell off the woman who had blatantly ignored my position at the counter and had instead zapped in front of me as if I were not real. By the time I got to the check-out lady, I knew I looked pissed, exhausted, and overall not the type of person that anyone would want to talk to. The check-out gal, defences blaring because she too had probably already worked for eight hours, and was probably also tired of all the shoving, pulling, mean-mugging, and what-not happening on her end as well as in the market, had already checked out of the conversation before I put down my ripping bag of pear apple things.
So I checked out too.
She muttered something to me, and I was so tired and frustrated, that I said those four deadly characters.
And then she gave up on me too.
Which brings me to the second reason of why learning Chinese is hard.
2. I’m tired. Which makes me lazy. Which isn’t healthy. Which makes me angry. Which makes me mean. Which makes me want to give up. On everything. Which is why…
3. I need or want to sleep. In order to fully open my mind to the beauty of every moment where the words will slip into me like baby oil into my pores, I should have a rest in order to make more sense and stop rhyming. Because my mind won’t stop ticking and when it ticks it’s hard to hear the noises around me. The noises are Chinese, most of the time.
Shut my ears, open my mind, and listen with my whole self.
During Dragon Boat Festival, I took a trip to Alice’s hometown. We rode into the small countryside on an old white bus that creaked over every bump as if the parts were ready to give up and die. We left around seven in the morning, and the sticky sweet and sour ride was hot as hell in a furnace.
After a while, Alice and I were too 累 to practice speaking Chinese on the bus so we quit trying to make the ride a lesson and instead we started listening to some of her music.
Which is why…
4. Coarse toilet paper. Because while I was listening to the music, and drifting between consciousness and a calm sedation of REM, I heard “dòu zhǐ dao” which, translated literally, could mean something along the lines of “Coarse toilet paper knife.” What I should have heard was,
5. Everyone knows. Everyone knows I’m a foreigner in China, and because of that I get the opportunity to speak Chinese to every person I meet.
This is good but also hard when trying to learn Chinese because…
6. I can try. Speaking sometimes overwhelms me because my head is always too full of thoughts to focus on what I already know in Chinese. My busy mind makes me forget my abilities to speak in all languages, and I rush, and I hurry, and I forget to slow down, and just 试一试.
But trying to speak makes me happier than when I don’t try to speak. I love having Chinglish conversations with the students I meet on the buses, and the trains, and the walks to class. I love the mistakes I make when trying to order something 健 to eat, and I love the laughs I get when I fail. Which is often.
On Sunday morning, I was on my way to class when one of my little three year old students called out
7. Lǎo shī! Teacher!
And these are why…