Wednesday, January 11, 2006

I return from a meeting extremely confused and somewhat frustrated. This was a funding meeting for the head of our group to obtain money for a two year project. The project is clearly ambitious but with some interesting possible outcomes. The reason I'm frustrated is that there was absolutely no reason for me to have been in that two hour meeting in Chinese with Chinese slides. My only participation was a passive one which included much pointing at me by both the speaker and the funding body. I was asked no questions and my opinion was never asked so I spent the whole time playing spot the 50 characters I know in the slides which got tedious after about 5 minutes. Anyway, we'll see what the outcome is but I feel a little used!

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In order to stem the burgeoning Beijing population clearly not affected by the one child policy, my gym has taken the task in hand and has installed extensions cables complete with open plug sockets through the showers in order to fix the faulty sauna. This game of shower roulette is certainly an invigorating one and it perks me up far more than caffeine shower gel ever could.

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Last night in contrast to today's meeting was great. It was the first meeting of a group that I'm sort of involved in setting up in Beijing for those passionate about books and movies. The idea is to get a load (about 20 last night) of like minded people together at someone's flat, everyone puts their photo with their favourite authors, directors, films, genres etc. on a big board. You go look at the board to see someone with similar or indeed dissimilar tastes and then mingle. Last night was very enjoyable though we were hoping there would be fewer people who were there purely to improve their English, a worthy pursuit but not the aim of the particular exercise.

Swapped a few movies and chatted with lots of new people including a Finnish guy who has made me reassess my thoughts on the difficulties of learning Chinese. Finnish seems to be one of the most grammatically complicated languages on the planet with a huge range of variations of a single word depending on circumstance. This includes morphisms for intent, hesitation, urgency...etc. As an example, the noun 'shop' has 2253 possible endings depending on where it fits in a sentence and how your neighbour may feel about said shop. Suddenly Chinese is a breeze!

Talking of language it's becoming clear that the Chinese are generally not very good at guessing. I look forward to playing mastermind with a China man (or indeed woman). I live near a place called Wudaokou. This word contains three tones which are important to define the word. However there is nowhere else in Beijing with any name similar to Wudaokou. If I get one of the tones wrong which I do about 90% of the time, the taxi driver stares at me blankly like I've just sneezed and is waiting for his directions. I repeat with all possible combinations until hitting upon the right one at which point he repeats it back volubly and with gusto as if, up until now I've been talking in tongues. If I only spoke a tonal language I might understand this but to me it just seems frustrating that they really can't extrapolate from a similar word.

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So though today's meeting was frustrating, yesterday's first reading group session seemed to go really well. Eight of us, including six students, four of whom actively participated in the session which is much more than I had imagined. If this takes off I hope that some of the other students will come to realise that it's a valuable opportunity and will join in. Anyway, I'm really pleased that I've got half the group involved and active. I've given up on trying to get them to speak English in the sessions as I know I would only have one person attending (other than me), though 'English corner' should start in a couple of weeks.

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So now I'm spending my days trying to find a problem that I have a hope of solving in a reasonable amount of time. I've got a few ideas but feel like a collaboration would be good. Will see....

3 comments:

Michelle said...

what happens when you use only the first tone with the taxi drivers?

also, when i was in hangzhou, the taxi drivers at night were often from the countryside and only understood that dialect. even perfect beijing mandarin confused them sometimes.

Jonathan Shock said...

Hi Michelle, I think I've tried that though will attempt it again next time. That would be truly frustrating without even Mandarin as a 'common' language!

Mr. Dryriser said...

Here's a problem you might solve in a reasonable time: what's the longest (English) word with four consecutive double-letter pairs?