“If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are headed.”

One month down.
One semester worth of material down
One month until I’m back in a country with normal mayonnaise.

Now that I squared away my complaint about food last week, time to move on to a new complaint:
I am way ruder than I mean to be.

Although it’s completely acceptable to trample any stranger to board the subways in China, somehow I am still not acclimated to doing so. I couldn’t tell how many times store clerks or waiters have laughed at my attempts to soften the bluntness of requests. In particular, responding with “对不起“ meaning “Sorry?” as a substitute for “excuse me?” has garnered some particularly weird faces. Talking with my professors has been mildly better in this regard, given they understand exactly the range of what I know how to express and the areas of conversation that I discuss with them I can say more delicately. Imagine that: the people paid to make sense of my crawling-paced words are the only ones that understand me.

On a more serious, positive note, the program’s Ye Laoshi commented on the improvement of my tones on the bus to Xi’an for a weekend excursion. As the part of the language that I find by far the most frustrating, I was over the moon to hear this compliment. For the unacquainted, in the Chinese language the same pronunciation can have several different meanings depending on the pitch and rising intonations with no real parallel in the English language. To make light of this crucial part of speaking Chinese, I’ll often texts friend at home things like “Ni ai ma ma ma de ma fan ma ma?” a likely grammatically incorrect sentence where the word ma can mean horse, mother, scolding, troublesome, or indicate the sentence is a question. Or to put it in perspective, almost the exact opposite of the urban legend saying the eskimos have thousands of words for “snow.” Each one Chinese word seems to have thousands of meanings. The professors make sure to iron out the problems in our tones during the daily one-on-one sessions, after the first of which the frustration of correcting my tones drove my to run a 10K immediately after to unwind. I hate running. Even after you’ve memorized the most challenging vocabulary and successfully tackled the most seemingly inverted grammar structures, if you neglect your tones your sentence is wrong and completely incomprehensible. Today I confidently answered a question in class with a remark on the implications of a global dependency on oil on the economies of the Middle East, as well as mentioning the rising tensions between China and Japan over the trivial Senkaku Islands, but in the level-voiced quick confidence left my response void of meaning.


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