As I emerge back into the blogging world, I find it hard to believe that I have been in China for a week now. The week has been filled with a range of emotions as I fought jet lag, tried catch up on a weeks worth of Mandarin lessons, and plan a 45minute practice teaching session. I will try to give you glimpse of what the week has been like in a few posts.
On Monday morning I woke up to hazy sun shining through my curtains. Taking my time to shower and unpack, I bit into a peach I had bought at the local fruit market as I closed my dorm door and made my way downstairs. Walking across the Nanjing Normal University Campus, the air was cool but sticky, with not a glimpse of blue sky to be seen. When I found the correct building that my morning Mandarin class was taking place in, I stepped through the doors and onto a glossy, white linoleum floor, immediately felt guilty of my muddy sandals. Following the echoing voices, I entered the classroom to a dozen eyes and a young, lanky Chinese fellow at the front of the room. Introducing himself as the teacher, Mr. Wou ushered me to an open seat at the back of the room, handed me booklet, and instructed that I try to catch on. The next 3 hours of class was excruciatingly painful as the class launched into review of the past 5 lessons. Not having any knowledge of Chinese characters, vocabulary, or even pronunciation, my heart sank with frustration. My head was spinning–How am I supposed to learn this language by skipping the basics? I can’t even pick out what the words sound like! Can I really do this? To make it even more frustrating, it turns out all of the students (except Arnold and a man from United Kingdom) were all from Germany. So going to the canteen for lunch, I sat quietly working with my chopsticks while the others spoke in their native tongue. Needless to say, my break time consisted of the release of tears and a nap.
I was encouraged later that afternoon as I met with a personal tutor. Expressing my frustrations, Coleen immediately started me back at the beginning, pronunciation. Chinese characters can be adapted alphabetically, called pinyin. This consists of both pronunciation and tones, that is voice inflection.
Needless to say, each day in class plus time with my tutor has given me enough confidence to know that I can learn Mandarin, it will just take some time. Pronunciation is becoming more intuitive, while the tones are still a bit difficult. My vocabulary is limited and I will have to be diligent in speaking and listening throughout this experience to learn and improve.
Unlike being in India, most Chinese people do not speak English comfortably, nor is English on street signs most of the time. And even if you can speak Chinese, menus and street signs are normally written in Chinese characters. So either need to know how to speak it to ask people how to get around, or know how to read it so you can find your way in a city. Of course, both is preferred :) In other words, it is pretty impossible to get around Nanjing or order off a menu without a translator. Once again, I am blessed to have Arnold with me, my Global Mission Fellow partner, who knows Chinese pretty well!Path to Class Morning haze from my bedroom window
I hold in my heart Psalm 131…
My heart is not proud, Oh Lord, and my eyes are not haughty. I do not concern myself with great maters or things too wonderful for me. But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me. Oh Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forever.