Sunday, April 27, 2008

What I've been Learning Recently

We just took our last midterm on Friday. We have two weeks of school left officially, but since the end of this upcoming week is a national holiday, I only have one day of language class this week, two next week, and then our final. After that Alex and I will be flying to Xinjiang (in northwest China), exploring the culture there (since the language isn't related at all to Chinese), hopefully pop into Kazakhstan (that's right, "pop into" Kazakhstan), and then circle back to Chengdu before I continue my travels. By mid-June I'll be in Beijing ready to start studying again.

A big online high-5 goes to Katie, for correctly guessing that I gave my brother a Chinese brand of cigarettes for his 18th birthday. My mom, who delivered the package, was not amused.

I'd like to share some of the things I learned to take the midterm.

There were a random collection of words. We know so few words that almost anything is helpful. A smattering of words from one recent chapter included "to stuff", "thief", "to marry", "pity", "idol", "parallel", and "so-called." We learned a word that means "to complain/blame", which I thought was interesting, since I don't know if we have a word in English that means both of those.

We also learned several measure words. Measure words in Chinese are words that specify what kind of something a noun is. For example, in English you can't say "a sunglasses", you have to say "a pair of sunglasses". You used to not be able to say "five waters", you'd have to specify what kind of waters: five cups, five glasses, five pitchers, five gallons. In Chinese it's the same, but any time you want to specify how many of a noun, you need a measure word.

I think sometimes it gets a little ridiculous. I mean, how else are you going to measure people except in people? But when you go to a restaurant you can't say wu ren (five people), you HAVE to say wu wei ren (five people's-worth of people).

So, different nouns go with different measure words. One measure word is roughly for long, thin things, so you use it on roads, pants, etc. Another is for large flat things like pictures. But this chapter we've learned a measure word, gu. Here's the definition: (a measure word for strength, smell, or a long, narrow thing, etc.)

What drives me crazy about that definition is the "etc." at the end. As if strength, smell, or long, narrow things constitutes a category I can add to. I asked our teacher what in the world we're supposed to use gu for and she just paused, said, "Oh," and then said that it's used for some abstract nouns.

I've also been learning about Chinese culture from our book. There was a dialogue we had to read in which one person was asking the other person how to deal with Chinese people asking really personal questions. Here are his answers:

"Where are you going?" If you don't want to say, just make something up or saying you're going home. No one will mind if it's not true. They're just being polite.

"How much money do you make?" / "How old are you?" Just lie.

"Are you married?" Just change the topic.


katiepenguins said...

Hee. If the cigarettes in America are bad for you, I wonder how much more evil they are in China.

Mom said...

Well, this trip to China has certainly been broadening- let's see, you've learned to gamble in new ways, sent your brother cigarettes as a birthday gift, and learned how to lie in new Chinese ways.
Have you been affected for any good ways?