I mean, I’m not the most adept when it comes to language-learning in general – even after living in France for five months over summer I can barely sustain a conversation in French – but seriously, this stuff is HARD. It’s not just that we have to learn a whole load of new words to represent English ones, it’s the fact that there’s the characters (which are beautiful, but completely indecipherable), and then the pronunciation of pinyin (the way of writing it in the English alphabet), plus the whole grammar system is totally alien. A language without having to conjugate verbs, imagine!
I am loving it though; I struggle on and try to force my brain to retain an overwhelming amount of information because I really want the experience of these three weeks to last beyond the month or so after I get back. And in fairness I think that progress has definitely been made. Considering that at the beginning of the course we were a class full of people parroting back Chinese sounds and laughing at the fact that there are four different ways of saying “pu” in Mandarin (because obviously we are five years old), we can now say sentences and ask questions and all sorts. (Side note: my favourite sentence that we have learnt so far has been “we don’t have class tomorrow, welcome to my room” – sometimes the translations are a bit dodgy).
It’s still difficult because the pronunciation is impenetrable: xi, ji, qi, shi, zhi, ci – all sound basically the same to me, no matter how many times the teacher shakes her head in frustration and makes us repeat them again. It also doesn’t help that you can accidentally say a completely different word by slightly altering your intonation – so you could slip up and call your mum a horse or something – butt we’re soldiering on.
The teacher tries really hard to make the lessons interesting as well, and she does it so well – answers all our stupid questions (and the intelligent ones too, of course), teaches us useful phrases such as “fuck you”, and attempts to teach us songs. A genuine highlight of my trip so far has been listening to the Beijing Olympics song circa 2008 repeatedly – I don’t know how I wasn’t aware of it at the time, it’s so catchy! I mean I only remember one line of it (and sing that to myself over and over on a daily basis) but still. Practical applications of language learning right there.
The law lectures aren’t especially thrilling, it’s hard to make the nuances of intellectual property law in China an engaging topic – but they’re only a small part of the programme so it really doesn’t matter.
Nights out here have been frequent for some, there’s plenty of bars and clubs to keep us entertained. Since KTV most of us have at least been to Banjo Bar and Phebe’s (two very different establishments). Banjo bar is a kind of live music place which was actually really cool,;there was a Chinese band playing, who did some great covers of songs, and their own stuff wasn’t bad either a though obviously the songs could have been about anything as far as we were concerned. Phebe’s was a whole different story, much more clubby with a stage for dancing and once again girls who seemed to have been hired to mechanically dance on the stage in very little clothing. It was quite a laugh though, if a bit strange – when we walked in we were greeted with a resounding “hello” from all the staff on the door, there were balloons being handed out inside, and there was a clown wandering around all night whose purpose I was unsure of. Unfortunately the drinks menu was all in Chinese, so Keir’s attempt to be adventurous by pointing at something and ordering with no prior knowledge of its contents landed him with a plate of chips instead of a drink, very amusing.
It’s very hard to find the time to write about what I’m doing because lim too busy doing it, but at some point I’ll attempt a round up of the activities thus far. But not right now.
So, míngtiānxiàwûwôméiyôukè, dàowôfángjiānláiwánba!