It’s amazing how much you can learn from computers and a random mix of teachers over the years. My newest teacher is Old Style. When I first met him I mispronounced the word for teacher and it came out as “old style” instead. He doesn’t like it. I think it fits. He is an excellent teacher. Focused, but lighthearted. He still gives me that pained look when I make a big mistake, but he gives it to himself as well when he does something like forgetting to switch pen colors when highlighting accent marks.
It’s amazing to me to see the way people move and act, the culture that is embodied in a person. It’s easy to see why the older Chinese are seen as gruff, impatient, and angry. The way the language is formed, it translates directly to a form of English that is aggressive, or sarcastic. “You want what?” It’s a direct translation, by the grammar and word, but in English it loses any gentleness. The language is simple, and direct, which leaves it to the culture to create subtlety.
I think that’s where the indirect communication comes in. You never complain to someone, you send the message through three other people. Like the chain of command, the only way to do things that doesn’t cause problems is to take the time and go through every step.
They can seem gruff at first, and continue to when you get to know them at times. There is an older lady who seems to run the lunch place I go to, Grandma. I think she makes fun of me at times, but it’s hard for me to keep up with the speed of natural born speakers. The last time I was there they gave me my food before she came out. When she saw me there, she tried to give me more food, and seemed upset that they hadn’t already. I managed to keep them from doing it, telling them I had to work. If I ate too much I would go to sleep. The real problem is I am an American, and leaving any food on my plate is difficult. She is a wonderful person, but she will probably always seem gruff to foreign eyes.
It’s amazing how the little things are the problem sometimes. I managed to order my first meal completely in Mandarin today, but I ran out of words when it came to whether I wanted it here or to go. My brain keeps filling in the gaps with Spanish, which will get more annoying as time goes on. Little words like “with” and “and” are the first to come out. I’m not good with those in Mandarin yet, so Spanish it is. It’s funny how the brain is smart enough to speak multiple languages, have a variety of ways to describe the world around it, and still think “fuck it,” when it comes to the details. Sometimes I just think it’s an elaborate trick, like teaching a dog to go to the store and buy beer. There is no real understanding, just repetition and reward.
I spent most of my life teaching my brain that English will get it food and security, then another year telling it that Spanish was now the way. Now I’ve switched again. I’m sure it must get aggravating from the other side too. I imagine my brain sitting there cursing like I do when my computer doesn’t work right. “What do you mean Spanish doesn’t work? It got us all those tacos and now, suddenly, there are no tacos? What idiot put us in this tacoless nightmare? I hope whoever did that dies in a random hole in the concrete. What do you mean there’s no random holes in the concrete? Where the hell are we?”
It’s strange to imagine that in a year I will probably be able to hold a basic conversation. If I move South for another year I should be able to pick up a lot more. I wonder what the cost of all of it will be, if I even want to stay that long. Then I look back home and realize I don’t really want to be there either. Too much to see, too much to do. But I wonder how much there really is to find.