Fascination

It’s strange how fast time is passing here. I’m not that busy, it’s just faster than I would like. A week is a surprise, and now I’m two months in. I’m already thinking about what will happen at the end of my year here. I’m not even fully settled and I’m already looking for more. I can’t wait to be finished with college. I want to really get started on learning Mandarin, but too much energy goes into other things.

My nephew is already a month old. It’s surprising. It won’t be long before I have to decide what I’m really going to do with my life. I was looking to travel a while, and I’ll continue, but I wonder if I will be able to stay out here forever. I wonder what the world will continue to hold for me. I know there is always more to learn, but I’m not rich enough to do this without working, and I wonder if I’ll be able to be a teacher forever. It’s a question of possibility, and opportunity. I still want to look into sociolinguistics, see if I can find a life outside the classroom. Maybe even a retirement plan.

The more I study Mandarin the more fascinated I become with the way languages are built and how they express meaning. How the patterns seem to be so similar, what we want and need to express. The self, the other, verbs, adjectives, nouns. With what the world is, and who we are, it’s not a surprise that language starts to look similar after you start studying more than two of them.

I remember the Russian talking about how fascinated she was when she found a similarity between extremely different languages, like Russian and Chinese. Not much, just a word that was shared in the past and some similarity has remained. I wonder if the same kind of things can be found in ancient languages, a bit of Egyptian in Greek, perhaps. I wouldn’t be surprised.

We do it all the time in English. That’s part of our problem. If we don’t have a word for something, we just take the native word for it and butcher the accent. A Germanic language with Greek and Latin roots, massive French influences, all jammed into a ruleset that no native really uses. If a language is our history, English speakers had a rough childhood.

I think part of it that helps is that I really like my Mandarin teacher. He reminds me of Sifu Kenneth Chun in San Francisco. He’s good, he’s focused, and it seems to physically hurt him when I make really bad mistakes. I know a lot more than I thought I would, and Rosetta Stone has really helped me build up my vocabulary and listening comprehension, but it doesn’t really work with pronunciation of a tonal language. It worked better with the Spanish.

In a lot of ways I wish I had the time and money to simply focus on learning the language and not have to teach and finish school. Even just being able to order food in Mandarin would be a good start. I’m getting better, but I wish I could do so much more.

That’s what life is though, the fight between what is and what should be, or what could be. The dreams and lies we tell ourselves against the reality that life is already awesome. When we forget how awesome it is, it begins to become the nightmare that we fear. I spent a long time in that world, in the safety of the mundane. I found it was so much better to just abandon ship, in a measured and careful way.

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