Saturday, May 31, 2008

Learning to Learn

Because the Chinese language is so different from our own, it's extraordinarily difficult for the native speaker of English. The Chinese begin their English studies early and take it all through school.
Nevertheless, I'm making progress. The Chinese are gracious to foreigners to begin with; they are even more gracious to those who would learn their language.Some of the restauranteurs and cab drivers actually understand my monosyllabic statements these days, and the other day, I actually followed directions given in Chinese. The people
in my apartment house try out their limited English vocabulary on me, and I try out my limited Chinese on them.
I walk around with a notebook and attempt to copy characters off walls. Bonnie (above) is a most tolerant teacher. She is helping me learn to use the Chinese software on my computer. The chalkboard writing in school is very useful to me at this stage.

Here is my Chinese name, Gan Mei

Bargainer's Art

My student, Dylan Scandlyn, taught at the Oxford Academy for a few weeks. As an East Tennesseen, Dylan is not a great believer in bargaining. But Chinese business is all about negotiation. On his final day in China, Dylan found a wall hanging he liked near the Kongzi Academy. The vendor wanted 280 yuan for it. Dylan is very
polite. "That's OK," he said, "It's nice but I don't have the money." He started walking away. The merchant called him back. Asked how much Dylan would give for it. Very politely, Dylan said he could pay 100. The man laughed. I thought Dylan should maybe offer 150, but Dylan said no; 100 was all he could pay. Several times, he attempted to walk away, but the shop owner always called him back, and they eventually let him have the hanging for 100. I don't even think he was even trying to bargain. But he's a natural at it. Probably even as good as many Chinese.

Photos: Dylan's feat as a bargainer; a gilded tree by the Kongzi Academy.

National Pride

I've never been much for crowds. Even when I was young and lived in New York, I seldom went to Times Square New Years Eve. But last week, along with what seemed like most of Nanjing, I turned out for the Olympic torch parade. The crowd was thick, and while the People's Army and People's Police were on hand, they did little more than smile benignly. Their American counterparts would have been more active in
crowd control. But in a nation of 1.3 billion, people know how to behave in a crowd, and I saw no problems. Didn't see the torch either, but the spirit of hope and national pride was amazing.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Language study

This is my fourth visit to China, and I can get around pretty easily. Now, it is possible to attend to the business of learning Chinese. One of Barry’s staff works with me two hours a day. We will be meeting at the recently renovated Kongzi (Confucius) Academy (See photo). Meanwhile, I ask lots of questions and try to use my (very limited) vocabulary. I also copy lots of Chinese off walls, drink containers, and monuments. It is so much easier than learning a language in a classroom.


The Chinese like to say that those they are close with are relatives. People often call me “aunty” or “grandmother.” Dylan Scanlon, one of my students, is teaching at the Oxford English Academy this summer. I tell his students I am their grandmother.

Visit the Colonel in China, Y’all

The Chinese love our exported fast food: you’ll find KFC, Starbucks, Burger King and MacDonald’s all over this country. Young people frequent such places on dates I actually don’t WANT to go to these places. I think we have too many of them in America, and I have no idea why the Chinese want to copy our bad eating habits.

Of course, the Colonel is flexible in his menu. I don’t recall his offering congee in Johnson City, Tennessee.

Young people enjoying KFC.

My breakfast: Congee at the Colonel’s.

Sir Barry Jowett and his assistant, Bonnie, enjoying KFC.

What does tomorrow mean? It is 5:30 pm here, but at home it’s 5:00 in the morning. I leave Weihai tomorrow and make a stop in Beijing. ...