On Thanksgiving I did not ponder this question as much as I have in years past. Obviously I’m thankful for, friends, family, health, etc. However, living in Guilin has made me appreciate some of the smaller things in life…
The Legend of Zelda
As of today, December 6th 2011, a package is en route to 15 Yucai Road, Guilin, Guangxi, P.R. China. The contents of this package include,
1x Nintendo Wii
1x Copy of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (with Wii Motion +)
1x Wool pea coat
2x Bags of homemade white-chocolate chip macadamia nut cookies
Begging my mother to send me a very expensive package so I could enjoy a seemingly prepubescent pastime seemed far-fetched and immature until I read the reviews. Immediately after reading, “Ocarina of Time has met its match”, the most pertinent question became, “How could I not have mother ship me this wondrous game?” You must understand, I think of Zelda games as works of art. I would classify them as epic, interactive movies instead of video games. Controlling a sword-wielding elf-like humanoid dressed in a green tunic has provided me with countless hours of entertainment. Further more I attribute most of my problem solving abilities (finding things, opening gates, navigating dungeons, etc.) to The Legend of Zelda. When the package arrives sometime next week, I will revert to the 13-year old version of myself until the powers of darkness have been thoroughly vanquished.
Friends: “Want to go to Cats and Rabbits tonight?”
Me: “No… I’m busy… go away.”
Heating and insulation
One of the major reasons I wanted to teach in Guilin was because of its sub-tropical climate. I had heard that the weather in Guilin is quite pleasant for 7 months out of the year. Theres a few months of torrential downpours, which I can’t wait for, and a few months of winter. In my TIC interview I made it implicitly clear that I refused to endure another mid-western winter. Kirk politely informed me that Guilin does in fact get cold during the winter. At the time I thought, “Oh sure, average highs of 48, how insufferable.”
Little did I know, heating and insulation are not universal. Furnaces, insulation, do not seem to exist in Guilin. The only way to heat my apartment is a space heater. The only way to say warm in class is to wear a coat and mittens. Driving anywhere on my moped when it gets below 40 degrees is bone-chilling. The cold itself would be tolerable if I was ever able to get warm. There is no insulation in my apartment. The walls are paper-thin, the windows are single-pained, most of the time it is waker outside than it is inside. Sweatshirts and blankets have become my de facto wardrobe. I’m essentially living in a fridge. The cold, cold has not even arrived yet. When winter truly envelops Guilin, I will be seriously regretting my decision to exclude long-underwear from my luggage.
The greatest annoyance I had during my first week in China was that I was not able to check Facebook… conveniently. How sad is that? Circumventing the Great Firewall and coming to grips with the fact that I would not have a smart phone for the duration of my stay was difficult. Having an unlimited source of information and entertainment at my fingertips was something that I took for granted in the United States. Now that I’ve conquered the Chinese router, keeping up with the news, streaming television shows and downloading music and movies legally* is that much better. I would have gone insane living here 20 years ago. I would have been truly disconnected from American culture and I may have even learned how to speak Chinese by now. Yes the downside of the Interweb is that it is quite distracting. This simple formula explains my dilemma,
Boredom + Free Time + Intereweb = Reading through Fox News comments for no apparent reason.
Learning a 2nd language has always eluded me. To date the only class I have ever failed was French 3 junior year of high school. I can still remember Madame Doriac’s contemptuous voice,
“Do you know the answer Michael? … no, hahaha”.
The problem I have with foreign languages is a combination of inability and work ethic; work ethic being the most probable culprit. My language acquisition barrier is a violent cycle. The more I don’t understand the language, the more frustrated I get. The more frustrated I get, the less likely I will actually study outside of class.
When I came to China I thought I would finally be able to break the cycle. Becoming conversational in Mandarin whilst living in a place where the only language spoken is Mandarin, seemed like a relatively easy task. From everything that I’ve learned from television and movies, if you hear enough of a language your brain will adapt and allow you to become a fluent speaker. This could not be farther from the truth. I have taken 2 months of Chinese class, 6-hours a week and I’m only now beginning to show signs of improvement. Let me clarify that this is not because Chinese is an impossible language to learn. My fellow classmates are learning Mandarin substantially faster than I am. Chinese is not as difficult as you may think. The language is incredibly logical and the classes and environment are very conducive for learning. Alas, my lax attitude towards homework combined with my cerebral cortex’s inability to comprehend Chinese grammar is stopping me from reaching my goal of becoming “Conversational in Mandarin”.
But this is all a tangent for the point I am trying to make. English is the International language. As Americans, we can basically go anywhere in the world where at least someone will know English. Being able to speak English fluently with good pronunciation is a highly valued trait in China. From everything that my students have told me, English opens the doors for career opportunities, travel and a whole slew of other benefits. Because of my linguistic shortcomings, I am thrilled that I had the fortune of being born in the United States. God only knows where I would have ended up had I not grownup with the Lingua Franca pre-loaded into my brain, probably in a rice paddy or a slum.