I keep dreaming of home. Last night, I was in Shotton with my mum, parking up round the back of Iceland. That morning, I couldn’t decide what to wear for school. I’d felt tired, lethargic, woeful, that nothing in my wardrobe was good enough for school, and so with a heavy heart, I decided to skive. Then I realised that I had left school many years ago; they probably wouldn’t mind if I didn’t turn up. In Shotton with my Ma, I rode a scooter to the railway bridge to buy some pot plants, but then realised I only had Chinese notes in my purse, so I couldn’t buy anything. This is one of those dreams that don’t make sense, but is filled with lots of familiar people and places. I woke up feeling a bit sad, feeling as though that’s all in the past, and this present is irreversible. Of course I’ll be going home eventually, and Shotton will still be standing (I assume). But in some ways, it is irreversible. Time doesn’t stand still, and the people, and probably I, wont be the same when I go home.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not regretting this one bit. I love it here. But I am wondering what’s going on at home. I’m one of those people who constantly finds themselves looking for the greener grass. But, as a wise man once said, ‘The colour green alone doth not maketh a rainbow’.
There’s no wise man. I made him up.
On a lighter note, I had my first (and last) Chinese lesson yesterday! The student who was teaching me was a little expensive wouldn’t budge on the price, even though she’s never taught before and was trying to charge me what they do in Beijing. Although I really enjoyed the lesson, I need to think seriously about saving money for travelling. There’re 2 actual months of nothingness after Christmas. Most schools close for about a month for Spring Festival, but as it’s so cold here, the uni closes for much longer to save on heating bills. So unless I save up a little bit of cash, I’ll be spending January and Febuary watching Netflix and eating the cakes I’ve been home-freezing as it blows -20c gales outside my door.
The lesson was good, it consisted basically of repeating ‘aaaaah – wooooooh – uuuuuuh – eeeeeee – ooooooh – eeeeeeeew’ (Mandarin vowel sounds, nothing weird) for an hour. The Romanised Pinyin system is obviously a lifesaver in terms of learning how to pronounce words (the written characters give no clues), but many of the letters are pronounced differently to the way we use them in English. The most difficult bit is learning new sounds that we just don’t have in English. One example is ‘Shi’ (meaning ten, is/are/to be, wet, history, stone, or time, depending on which tone you use…). You say this by basically going “shuh”, curling your tongue up, letting your lips go all loose and blowing through closed teeth. It’s difficult. But once you’ve got the pronunciation of the letters down, it’s an easy case of remembering words and tones, and bingo, you’re ordering your own Chow Mein!
I find I’ve been feeling quite etymological recently. I’m regretting not finding room for my copy of Bill Bryson’s ‘Mother Tongue’ in my rucksac, because I think that might be where my future lies. It’s super nerdy to be interested in words and their origins, but as I tell my students, when you learn a language, you learn a lot about its culture too. They’re with me until I start spouting Cockney Rhyming Slang – until you know the language very well, apples and pears will always just be apples and pears.
Anyway, that language represents a culture is very true, and is so clear to see in Chinese, particularly when studying the characters. You learn about the values, history and progression of a country through its language. For example, the character for ‘good’ is 好. This is made up of two characters – 女 is woman, 子 is son. That it is ‘good’ for a woman to give birth to a boy clearly goes back for many years in Chinese culture, so much so that it’s embedded into the language. Mandarin is full of these clues and symbols and stories. Another good one is 安 – ‘peace’. This word is made up of ‘woman’ 女, and ‘roof’ 宀. A house with a woman under its roof is at ‘peace’. Aww. However, put two women together and you get 奻 – ‘argument’!
If you’re a nerd and you find this interesting, you should definitely check out this website: http://www.chineasy.org/ – it explains the origins of the most common characters and how they’re used to make up more complex words.
English is just as fascinating. Because we use it every day, it’s easily taken for granted, but the English language is a magnificent piece of art. It chronicles the story of over a millennium of battles lost and won, of inventions and discoveries, of poets and wordsmiths, of trends, of globalisation. It’s a living, breathing thing that stretches and grows and changes. It’s a vehicle for memories and emotions and theories – abstract nouns that occupy no physical space in this world, until language makes them real, if only on a sensory level for your eyes and ears. But then, every physical thing is only so because your senses perceive it to be so.
…I had no idea I was so passionate! But seriously, words are cool and we should all appreciate them and do lots of reading and fill our heads with them.