China

Giant Baby Nation

For many years reading fiction in Chinese after many attempts remained an unreachible peek for me. When you need to look up a word (or two) in every sentence, reading becomes a chore rather than pleasury. Luckily, it seems my self-confidence is going to be saved by non-fiction.

A book called ¨Giant Baby Nation¨ (巨婴国)by Wu Zhi Hong (武志红)can not be called a national bestseller due to the fact that the book, published in the end of 2016, was prohibited in Mainland China in early 2017. However, I was able to obtain an ¨illegal¨ copy thanks to one of my Chinese professors (who told us about this book in the first place), you can also still but it in HK, Macao or Taiwan.

The book that officially doesn´t exist has stirred a lively discussion online: Are Chinese people really giant babies? Does their collective development seize on the infant level? Is this the source of all social problems in China? To know the answers one will have to read the book and either agree or disagree with its author. And here is the best part. I can actually read this book in Chinese! Unlike short-stories and novels in Chinese, ¨Giant Baby Nation¨ doesn´t have complicated adjectives or verb describing a specific movement (my greetins to Mr Lu Xun), the therminology of the book is intuitive and I can enjoy reading a whole paragraph without looking anything up in the dictionary. This can actually be called reading a book.

gbn

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China, Saint Petersburg

Queen of the Desert

Yesterday we watched a rather dull bio film about Gertrude Bell, portrayed by the incredible Nicole Kidman. The film, of course, got me curious about Bell´s endeavours in the Middle East, and I think I will read her biography and her letters (available on Project Gutenberg). But, at the same time, watching Nicole Kidman head into the desert on the back of a camel made me feel weirdly guilty about my own studies of China and its language and culture.

I currently have a few ¨projects¨ connected to my study of Chinese language and culture, but I find it hard to dedicate even 30 minutes to each of them daily. Maybe I expect too much from myself, and I should just pick one thing and stick to it (lingq seems to be the perfect answer), or maybe I just don´t have enough passion for Chinese. And that´s what I feel guilty about. For not being as passionate as Gertrude Bell. Oh, well.

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China

Racism or Reality?

Today I am still angry.

 

When I first went to Taiwan, the lessons were fantastic. There was a partner rotation system – you didn´t just stay partners with one classmate the whole time; you had to change every day. Homework was graded every class – if you didn´t do it on time it affected your final grade. Students were required to make an oral presentation once a week. We talked in class, we learned grammar, we wrote letters and essays. It was a normal learning process, as confirmed later by my language courses in Germany and England…

Here, in Mainland China, I have spent 3 (three!) years in the Chinese language program of one of the best universities in the country. Sometimes I am the only one in class. Nobody takes attendance. The ¨written¨ Chinese class became a talking club for me and the teacher. She hasn´t assigned a single essay since the midterms, and even before that I was the only one who submitted them regularly. Why did I stop? Mainly because she couldn´t explain my mistakes to me. By the way, we still don´t know our midterm grades. She said she gave everyone around 90%.

This is but one example of how people in China don´t care about their jobs and just go with the flow. I am tired of complaining about things not being done properly in this country. I had to complain about another teacher, who instead of giving a class, decided to watch my (much younger) classmates engage in an arm-wrestling contest. For 20 (TWENTY) minutes. Call me a bore, I don´t care – I paid for these classes.

The hotel where we are currently staying doesn´t serve lunch at lunchtime (even though the in-room menu says room service is available from 10 am till midnight), because they are ¨too busy¨. The maid doesn´t wash the provided cups for tea unless you make an obvious hint by putting them in the sink. The cleaning lady at our previous apartment would come knock on the door and if we were in, she would go away and never come back to clean (unless you asked her specifically). They wouldn´t do this or do that, they would just literally sit at their job and do nothing until they are caught and someone complains.

Today a customer left a dirty plate at the part of the hotel buffet for drinks.  I don´t know why it was put there, but I couldn´t pour myself a cup of tea, as it was in the way. I gave the plate to the hostess. She just put it back, a little bit further. I guess, she thought it was beneath her to give it to a waitress or to take it away herself.

Is calling a majority of Chinese people lazy and irresponsible racist? Or is it just stating the obvious?

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China

Is it possible to learn Chinese?

When I was 7 years old my parents sent me to the¨Oriental Gymnasium¨ in Saint-Petersburg, a gymnasium in Russia is a school specializing in humanities. The proud title of an ¨oriental” gymnasium it received because Chinese was taught there. Back then it was the only school in St. Petersburg that taught Chinese.

Years passed. I did well in all my Chinese classes, I even took part in local Chinese language competitions, never getting very far though. I took interest in Chinese culture, I read Chinese authors (in translation), I also read extensively on Chinese mythology and religion.

The first Chinese-speaking country I visited was Taiwan, and I was quiet enchanted. Returning to Russia I started watching Taiwanese dramas and variety shows, listened to Taiwanese pop. Sadly, they all were more or less the same, I soon grew out of them, besides, German demanded my undivided attention. 4 years of no Chinese followed.

Then Shanghai happened. In Shanghai I spent two years, bewildered by how slow my progress was. Yes, I could speak and write in Chinese. But watching a movie without subtitles? Listening to a radio program? Having a conversation with an uneducated local? Hell no. It took me two years to get to this point in German. Ok, maybe two and a half.

Then three more years in Russia with no Chinese. And here I am again – in Shanghai. My level is as good as it has ever been, and it is still only B2. I still struggle when I watch a news segment, I can´t read a short story without a dictionary, I still make mistakes with my tones, leading to confusion, I can´t always understand what is being said to me (in general, I understand characters better than spoken Chinese).

Of course, I have a theory to explain why it has happened. Sometimes I think that there is a conspiracy in Mainland China to prevent foreigners getting an actual fluency in Chinese, however, it didn´t stop some of my classmates. Some. While most have forgetten 100% of our 10-year grade school course.

I am reading Mo Yan in English, struggling through a collection of short stories in Chinese, studying long Chinese articles on politics, economics and culture… And, yet, I can´t help but ask myself every now and then… Is it even possible to learn Chinese?

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