Friday, April 11, 2008

Looking Forward to Awesomeness

I was going to write about how strange it was to think that my parents were flying to China while I was in class, but I took too long and got a call from them an hour ago saying they were in Beijing conquering jet lag now. Tomorrow morning I'll pick them up at the Chengdu airport, and then we'll have a week and a half to do fun things before they leave. I can't wait to see them.

The reason I waited until this evening to blog instead of this afternoon is because I got caught up playing cards. I rode a bus until I got tired, got off, and started looking for excitement. I found too much excitement at first when I walked down one street and saw more than five brothels in one block. I went down a different street and saw something much more to my liking: people playing cards.

I've mentioned before how fascinated I am by the three-person card game they play called Beat the Landlord. The people I found playing today were perfect. They were really friendly (they even had stools so onlookers could relax while watching), they played with low stakes (50 cents as a unit instead of a whole kuai), and they were interested in the foreigner. I watched them for quite a while. In between hands they asked me the usual questions about where I'm from and how long I've been in China.

Then I asked if I could play and they were very patient. Everybody is so fast at getting their cards organized. You get one third of the deck and you have to sort them to figure out how good your hand is. Then they expect you to make decisions lightning-fast, and I was more like the speed of sound than I was the speed of light. I expect that the more I play—or maybe the more money I spend—the better I'll get at it. I noticed that by my tenth hand I wasn't fumbling to get my cards in order as much as I was at the beginning. There's light at the end of the tunnel.

Language-wise, we've just started into our third semester's worth of Chinese. We finished our old book and are now working on a ridiculously hard book. It's frustrating to have to answer a question when you have to look up more than half of the words in the question, let alone figure out the answer. Our teacher encouraged us today by saying that she thinks once we get through this, it'll be downhill from here. I'd like that to be right. I think if I could get a feel for the hundreds of new words they slide in (literally, just in the text for this first lesson there were over fifty words that weren't on our vocab list that we hadn't seen before) I'd really know what I was doing. I'm looking forward to being really awesome at Chinese.

To show that I am making some progress, I just learned how to say "looking forward to": pan (fourth tone, for those interested, with mu as the radical and fen as the rest). But here's an interesting linguistic note: Chinese has words that get attached to verbs that tell you what happens with the verb. One of them is dao, which means "to arrive." For example, I can say that tomorrow my parents will dao Chengdu. If I'm on the phone and I can't hear you, I can say that I didn't hear dao your voice. Okay, so here's the phrase that I can't translate: pan dao. "Looking forward to something until it came true" sounds awkward, and so does "my looking forward paid off." I think the best we can do in English is to say "I was looking forward to something, and then it happened." In Chinese it only takes one clause, though. Isn't that cool?

Well, now I'm looking forward to trying out my new microphone by Skyping Dan and Mallory. My next post will have a picture with my parents in it!

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