Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Wŏ Shì Mĕiguórén

Today we started learning survival Chinese, following a morning of reviewing school policies and meeting with our respective principals (there are four of them under the head principal).  I picked up on my new words and phrases much quicker than I thought I would, likely owing entirely to the skills of the Chinese staff.

We covered some basic phrases (such as "I am American", which is the title of this post), learned to count up to 100, and also learned the names of a few basic places in our city.  I am a bit overwhelmed with so much Chinese floating around in my poor still-jetlagged brain (I think my jetlag here is a lot worse than what I had in Korea, and the only reason I can think of is that I'm older)!

Here, in pinyin (a phonetic way of writing Chinese, which is not a phonetic language), are a few of the new words and phrases I learned today:

Duì bu qĭ (dway boo chee) - Sorry
Méi guānxi (may gwan-chee) - It doesn't matter
Wŏ jiào Stephanie (wo jow) - My name is Stephanie.
One:  yī (ee)
Two:  èr (ar)
Three:  sān
Four:  sì (suh)
Five:  wŭ (woo)

The accent marks over the letters denote which of the four tones to use in pronunciation.  The four tones are (using the letter a as an example):  ā, á, ă, and à.  Each of these gets a different sound, which is part of why Chinese is hard to learn.  Our teacher had us think of the voice as having five levels.  In the first tone (ā), the sound is at level 5 only (the highest tone).  In the second (á), the tone goes from level 3 to level 5.  In the third (ă), the tone goes from level 2 to 1 to 5.  Finally, in the fourth (ă), the tone goes from 5 to 1.  If you now feel horribly confused, then you completely understand how I felt at first.  Now, however, I am beginning to grasp the concept.

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"Passage—immediate passage! the blood burns in my veins! Away, O soul! hoist instantly the anchor!
Cut the hawsers—haul out—shake out every sail!
Have we not stood here like trees in the ground long enough?
Have we not grovell’d here long enough, eating and drinking like mere brutes?
Have we not darken’d and dazed ourselves with books long enough?

Sail forth! steer for the deep waters only!
Reckless, O soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me;
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go, And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all.

O my brave soul!
O farther, farther sail!
O daring joy, but safe! Are they not all the seas of God?
O farther, farther, farther sail!"

~Walt Whitman, "Passage to India"