Good news: I’ve survived another week! Barely.
But more seriously, week two proved to be a new challenge in itself. While I wouldn’t necessarily admit I experienced a wave of culture shock, the simplest tasks still seem overwhelmingly difficult to manage using only my limited vocabulary. In particular, ordering meals at restaurants, the dining halls and at street vendors’ booths has been a nearly insurmountable task, especially because there is no Chinese version of: “just sound it out!” So far I’ve been able to actualize my gustatory preferences by pointing to already prepared meals or pictures on menus followed by either the Chinese for “that!” or “the same as theirs,” but never without the accompanying humiliation. But every setback just serves as inspiration for a new language goal to blog about wanting to achieve. For now, the surprise factor has been a source of excitement and a bit of a game, trying new dishes first and then translating the name afterwards. I like to believe this way is fundamentally better and is conducive to being adventurous in adding new tastes my pallet I wouldn’t have tried otherwise.
The strangest feeling arose when this past weekend while a few of us visited the Beijing Zoo where we watched a toddler, who could probably count the months he has been alive on his fingers and toes, rattle off names of animals and topics more advanced than I could understand. Similar experiences occurred at the Forbidden City, in the Houhai neighborhood and elsewhere. Usually followed by a picture or a comment about a foreigner from a local.
As if to alleviate the extremely narrow range of ideas I can express in Chinese, our textbook was designed to introduce us to the topics that would be most useful to one living in China, as we are temporarily. Strangely enough, I am glad to see the increasingly complex topics in our vocabulary because discussing the double-sided effects of the mandated One Child Policy in Chinese makes me feel more worthy of studying in China’s most esteemed university, while learning to introduce myself makes me feel like a three year old. Speaking of the One Child Policy, I feel that if you would like to have an opinion on the matter, you should be forced to visit China before commenting. Maybe I am only experiencing the strains of living in the world’s third largest city, but witnessing traffic patterns and the sheer volumes of people at nearly every location made me reevaluate my automatically negative opinion of the policy for a much more balanced perspective.