Saturday, November 8, 2014

There Be Learnin' Here

     Since this is a study abroad, one can safely assume that I am, in fact, attending classes—for, sadly, it’s not all baozi and bijiu here. As previously alluded to, I’m taking Buddhism, in which we becoming enlightened about the nuances of the aforementioned religion. My other classes consist of Chinese Language, Contemporary China, Western China, Calligraphy, and Kung-Fu. As part of the Pacific Lutheran University program, I teach English to high-school students once a week. Since I didn’t have enough to do, I also help teach the on-campus English class with my Chinese Language teacher, Karo. 
     Every day, I have Chinese class from 8:30 to 12. The first hour and a half is the comprehensive class, which is not taught by Karo, but by Deng Laoshi—for future reference, laoshi is “teacher” in Chinese, and Deng is her family name. She’s barely two inches taller than I, which puts her at about 5’1”. Her shiny black hair brushes her shoulders, and she wears thin-framed glasses. I couldn’t have asked for a better teacher—her patience with our incessant questions and occasional brain malfunctions is infinite. I have yet to see her lose her calm and cheerful attitude. 
Deng Laoshi, sans glasses, and part of that day's lessons on the board.
     Deng Laoshi’s knowledge of English is very good, which, upon reflection, shouldn’t be surprising. Despite the fact that the number of native English speakers in our class is just five in our class, English is the common language that everyone knows a little of—at least enough to convey grammar rules and word definitions. The more Chinese we learn, however, the less English we use. I remember the day when I had a full conversation with Ha, who is from Vietnam and speaks virtually no English (do I need to add that I don’t speak Vietnamese?); we spoke completely in Chinese, and we actually understood each other. I could tell he was a pleased as I was. It was one of the finer moments here. 
      As I’ve been implying, my language class is diverse (all of them are, actually), and it’s great. In one day, I get to talk to my friend Yangchen, from Bhutan, about Korean dramas; discuss the different social norms of China with Frank, a postgrad from Spain, and August, from Sweden; and admire the artistry of Sichuan brocade with Aslan, a surgeon from India. Sometimes we speak English, sometimes we speak Chinese, and, when that fails us, we speak Chinglish. It works pretty well for us.

My tongxue Yangchen looking fabulous, as usual.

Phil from Canada, and Kyle from Scotland.

Anika from Germany, and David from South Africa.
     I digress—back to the language classes. At 10, we bid goodbye to Deng Laoshi, and we have a thirty minute break during which we can stretch our legs or grab snacks from the nearby stores. 

The corner store, AKA the supplier of sustenance and happiness.

    At 10:30, Karo invades. He teaches our listening and teaching class, which involves us practicing the different consonant and vowel sounds, as well as the four tones. Depending on the day, I’m excellent at this class or I’m an utter failure. For example:
    “Chloe,” Karo called. I looked up from my textbook. He had written zh and j on the whiteboard. “I’ll point to one and you say.”
   I nodded, and he pointed to zh. I filled my lungs, opened my mouth, and tried. Karo tilted his head to the side, and something flicked across his face. A vague feeling of apprehension filled my stomach—did I do it wrong? He pointed to the j. Again, I spoke. By this point, I knew I was messing up. Karo tried to keep a blank expression, but his dimple always appears when he’s amused about something, and he was definitely laughing inwardly then.
  "Listen," he said, then he demonstrated those accursed consonants. The difference between the two syllables was acutely apparent when he spoke.
    A few, rather panicked, attempts later, and I finally his approval. The moment I uttered the correct syllable, he grinned and said, with exaggerated relief, “Good! Remember this feeling next time.” 

Technically, we're supposed to call him Li Laoshi, but he prefers Karo. "Li Laoshi" is too formal, he says. 

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