Friday, September 25, 2009

Steiny Road to China: Steps 4 & 5

While Americans believe the number 13 is unlucky—as in Friday the 13th, the Chinese believe the number 4 sì is unlucky because it sounds similar to the word for death sǐ. However, the number 4 must be "sung" with the fourth or descending tone and the word death is intoned with the rollercoaster of the third tone that goes down and then up. So for this post, Changdi (a.k.a. the Steiny Road Poet) has paired 4 with 5 because the Chinese say that good things come in pairs.

Last week, I had the experience of thinking in Chinese. My laoshi (teacher) was going to each student and asking for a response to a question she would pose to that person on the spot. She was asking, "Are you the teacher" (Ni shi laoshi ma?) or "Are you the student?" (Ni shi xuesheng ma?). She expected us to answer "No, I'm not the teacher" (Bu. Wo bu shi laoshi.) or "Yes, I am the student." (Dui. Wo shi xuesheng.) I was feeling anxious because my brain was bouncing around trying to keep track of how to say I instead of you and yes instead no. The words for teacher and student I had down cold. So when she asked me in Chinese if I was the teacher, I responded, "No, I am the student." (Bu. Wo shi xuesheng.) I certainly hadn't planned what I was going to say. It just popped out without any conscious effort. It also surprised the teacher and she stopped to ask the class if they heard what I answered.

This week the drill is to learn how to write the Chinese characters for five countries and a few assorted words like student, teacher and friend. Last week we needed to learn how to write characters for 1-10 as well as the pinyin. Our first quiz is next week. So far, I cannot hear the tone differences very well. Tone one, the flat sound to infinity, isn't so bad and neither is tone four which descends but the rollercoaster and rising tones are hard for me to hear unless the words are said very slowly.

Basically, my teacher thinks the answer to our student anxiety can be covered by this: ke kou ke le. This is the Chinese interpretation of coca cola and in Chinese, ke with the rollercoaster third tone means permit and le, pronounced with the descending fourth tone, means happiness. So, drink ke le (coke) and permit the mouth to rejoice!


No comments: