Saturday, October 31, 2009

Steiny Road to China: Step 7

Li Changdi, a.k.a. the Steiny Road Poet, has been caught up in Chinese homework and too "mang" (busy) to post to the blog. However, instead of going to a Halloween dance party, she decided to catch up her readers on her progress and adventures in learning Chinese.

Everywhere she goes, she carries along her character chart homework. Twice she was on the DC subway busily practicing Chinese characters for such words and phrases as wan fan (dinner), zhou mo (weekend--sounds like Joe Mo) hao jiu bu jian 好久不见 (long time no see--is this hip or what?), when she looked up to see a Chinese woman watching her. The first one who turned out to be Yang Yuge, a Chinese 101 teacher at American University, asked how long Changdi had been studying Chinese. At that point, it was six weeks. "No," the stunned laoshi exclaimed. She thought what Changdi was writing was too advanced for such a short time of study.

When Changdi reported this to her teacher, Laoshi Zhang Xiaoli said she also teaches at A. U. and could she please have Yang Yuge's email which Changdi had jotted down. Furthermore, Changdi learned that Laoshi Zhang teaches advanced Chinese studies at American and Georgetown University.

Backing up a couple of weeks before she met the Chinese women who complimented Changdi's ability to write Chinese characters, she went to a Renaissance music with Chinese pipa concert a the Folger Shakespeare Library. In their Great Hall, they had an exhibition called "Imagining China: The View from Europe, 1550–1700." As she stood with a friend looking at one of the showcases, she saw the Chinese characters for pengyou (friend) and pointed them out aloud. A Caucasian women standing next to Changdi nodded her head and so Changdi asked if she spoke Chinese. She did and she thought that Changdi was doing very well for someone who had only been studying Chinese for four weeks.

In Changdi's third week, she was attending a poetry reading and met Anli Tong, a Beijing research doctor who had just come to Maryland to work at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda. To make this woman feel comfortable, Changdi said a few words in Mandarin like Wo jiao Changdi—my first name is Changdi. Ching wen, ni gui xing? (May I please know your family name?) Ni jiao shenme mingzi? (What is your first name?) It turned out that one of the poets reading that night Deborah Ager had studied Chinese in high school and in the audience was an eight-year old who had been studying Mandarin in a school in Indonesia.

The point is that in urban American cities, there are many opportunities to encounter Mandarin speakers and to see Chinese characters. Only yesterday, Changdi met two neighbors, originally from Beijing, who had brought their sons to the condominium Halloween party where Changdi lives. (Changdi was assigned the job of taking photographs and posting them to the Condo's blog.) To these neighbors and with her tongue tripping over the words, Changdi said to each woman, renshi ni hen gaoxing (so pleased to meet you).

週末快樂 - Zhou mo kuai le! Happy weekend!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Steiny Road to China: Step 6

Laoshi Zheng was absolutely stunned. The average score on the first quiz was 64%. Most of the Asian students got the worst scores. Most the newbies got scores above the average. Changdi got a 71%. A week ago on Saturday night instead of going to the Spanish Ballroom at Glen Echo, she practiced writing Japan—Zhongguo,

..............................................the United States—Meiguo,


France—Faguo, and

Japan—Riben in Chinese characters.

She also practiced the words
laoshi (teacher), xuesheng (student), and pengyou (friend). Oh, and toss Beijing. The thing she has the most trouble with is hearing the correct tone.

The quiz had four parts: 1) dictation—write the Chinese word in pinyin with the correct tone mark, 2) translation—write what the Chinese word is in English, 3) write the pinyin & tone mark for 5 countries and for teacher, friend, student as well as the Chinese character, 4) write the pinyin & tone mark for 5 family members.

So Laoshi Zheng gave the class a worksheet with 34 words/phrases to write in Chinese characters! Some are words that the class was tested on but most are new. Learning ching wen (Excuse me or May I ask) is incredibly hard and what we have to learn is the simplified character set versus the fancier traditional character set. Changdi read a comment blog and found out that some students think it is easier to learn the traditional character set versus the simplified because the former has a story thread. Also the simplified character set is used primarily in mainland China. This might be why some of the Asian students in Changdi's class didn't do well on writing characters. One other thing she learned is that pinyin has become very important because of communication through email. Changdi's teacher thinks pinyin is hard also because she is more comfortable with the Chinese characters.