Dec 162008

Another collection of random observations I jotted down during my weeks in China:

• When Andy and I rode our bikes through the local university in Shijiazhuang, I noticed several students walking around outside in towels – despite the painfully cold winter winds. When I inquired as to the reason, he explained to me the horrific living conditions experienced by the vast majority of Chinese college students. The dorm rooms, often filthy and unmaintained, can house upwards of 8 students each. No showers are provided, so students must walk across campus to use the pay-per-use communal showers. In addition, the power cuts off at 10pm – curfew time – when the students are locked in the buildings by bikelocks placed on all the doors. If you accidentally make it back later than this, you aren’t getting in. And in an emergency – including fire – the only way out is for the guard to unlock the doors. Otherwise, too bad – you’re stuck. Absolutely insane.

• Chinese banks have really unusual (to me at least) names. In the US, we have banks like Washington Mutual, Wells Fargo, and Bank of America. In China, they have the Agricultural Bank of China, Bank of Communications, China Construction Bank, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, China Development Bank, and so forth.

• I hear they give the death penalty for everything over here – executing more people annually than the entire rest of the world combined. And it’s not a big, elaborate process like in the US. They just shoot you in the head, plain and simple. Eligible crimes include statutory rape, drugs, human trafficking, and “corruption.” And really crazy part? You can pay just a few bucks to witness an execution!

• Andy has been wonderful about helping to teach me Chinese, and especially the pronunciation. The ability to translate my character recognition from Japanese and understand so much of what I see around me has felt wonderful; however, the tones continue to baffle me. I mean, conceptually it’s quite easy: there are four distinct tones, and a given syllable is considered unique based on its tonal variation (Example: Shi2, pronounced down-to-up, means “ten.” Shi4, pronounced up-to-down, means “is.” And shi3, pronounced up-down-up, means “feces.”) Still, I just can’t seem to hear – or reliably reproduce – those differences. I guess one-on-one instruction really is necessary to get started, but it’s frustrating not just being able to sit down and study on my own like I could with Japanese – because without perfecting the tones, I just can’t say anything. I can’t even imagine tackling Cantonese…which has a staggering nine different tones (or eight…or six…depending on how you count).

• In addition to language, hanging out with Andy – and just being in China – is really teaching me a lot about how to function here. For instance, when buying train tickets you don’t just want to check how many stops occur between your origin and destination – but how many stops came before your origin. The reason is that the trains aren’t cleaned en-route, and the filth really builds up over time. Also, as more and more people get on you become far more likely to get stuck with a standing ticket. Much better to ride a train that continues past your destination than one that started before your origin.

  5 Responses to “Tones, Banks, Dorms, and Death”

  1. yeah you really have to practice vocally with mandarin and cantonese. i can speak cantonese, but i can’t read it or write it at all. you’ve got quite a task ahead of you, although i’m sure you’ll pick it up in no time. good luck!

  2. I am always glad to help…..and hope we will have more opportunities to practice. The best way to learn, however, is one-on-one with a professional teacher / native speaker. The pronunciation is soooo tough that I couldn’t imagine doing it any other way

  3. Linda: Damn, I just can’t even imagine…NINE tones. I can’t even hear the difference between Mandarin’s four. Good thing EVERYONE here in Hong Kong speaks English, hehe 😉

    Andy: And now I totally see why.

  4. hehe,i could speak Mandarin very well even taught foreigners before !!but Cantonese is like foreign language to me ;-)i could teach you Mandarin ,in return,you teach me English like slang…..?:-)))

  5. You’ve got a deal! …IF I end up back in Shanghai 😛

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