So, the real reason I came to Beijing wasn’t to wander around the city all day but to take a linguistics class. Today was our third day of classes and it hasn’t exactly been easy. I think I am the only one in the class who does not speak Chinese, so when they’re trying to explain something they use Chinese because it’s easier for everyone else to understand. But that tends to leave me a little clueless as to what is happening in the class. I’ve learned to sit there and keep busy while things are discussed in Chinese and wait until a break when I can ask what just happened. That happens to me a lot, especially with my “study group”.
The class is split up in groups of 3. Each study group has one Beijing University student, one student from another university in Beijing, and one student not from Beijing. Guess which one I am. So while my group members speak English, Chinese is much easier for them, so most logistical plans are made in Chinese. I’ll be involved and then all of a sudden one says something in Chinese to the other and they go off chattering while I am sitting there utterly confused and waiting until they’re done. Usually they forget to tell me what has just happened so most of the time I have to ask. But I’m getting by, mostly by trying to speak slowly and pointing at things. And this way most decisions are made for me, which is rather nice considering I’ve only scratched the surface of this city. And one of them introduced himself, saying “My name is [insert a very Chinese name] but you can call me Larry.” It took all of my energy not to laugh.
The number of things I can say and understand has vastly improved. I can now say: Hello, how are you?, 10 bucks, numbers 1-4, the name of my bus stop, thank you, Starbucks (very important), no, and the name for the Chinese dollar. I can understand the name of my school’s bus stop (it’s far too long to say), the Old Summer Palace, and the Summer Palace. Of course all of this took a week to learn and I’ve only got 3.5 weeks left. So maybe by then I’ll be able to have a very short conversation, talk about the weather or money or something. My favorite translation of an English word into a conglomeration of Chinese words is the word for cell phone: literally it’s “hand machine”. And the word for Starbucks is the Chinese word for star + what sounds like “bucks”.
Well, I shall try to post again soon (and maybe add some pictures…), but now I have to go read 100 pages about phonology and do some homework. This class definitely will not be easy…