01 September 2007
Subject: My Pictures and Your Voices


Hullo All,

As I'm writing these prolix epistles, I'm wondering what it is about my travels that motivates me to want to share observations, adventures, and bits of insight I fancy myself having. Things are no more or less noteworthy when they are about the most familiar of subjects, but I never found myself directing mass emails to friends to let them know I went hiking in Colorado. "This morning I ravished the most amazing of fruits, strapped on the most cunning of local shoes, and made my way toward the cloud-shadows...," begins no letter ever written. And /you/, where are /your/ exposees on matutinal grain-product consumption, flexibility of proteins, rushing of hormones, footprint outlines in mud? Does being in "China," as I am calling it, give me license to penetrate your spam-walls with bcc-ed flagellations of phrases and flocks of mythical beastial words? I think this paragraph is to dare you to respond in kind. The previous sentence referred to the instigation of mass-dialogues of your own. This is the last sentence in this paragraph. But we are now (and also then) off-topic. The sentence two sentences ago is now false. This is the new last sentence, but I'm only desisting with the understood and binding non-verbal e-contract that you'll write about the most mundane details of your existence as if they were (and they are) the most intriguing sorts of things, and then include me in your sharing, okay are you ready here comes the punctuation: (...) . ;)

So... the author-reader last left the reader-writers to go home and sleep after describing adventures on Gulangyu. Well, I left the internet cafe that night after midnight, and walked towards my apartment, about 20 minutes away by foot. My route took me across the XiaDa campus, through the wet black heat of night and syrup of insect song, along cobbled streets and through narrow concrete urban ravines several stories high. There were very few people out, hailing a taxi, blowing smoke into a cell phone as if, wire-less, the conveyors of communication were hollow. Two people stood in freeze-frame: lovers, silent, she with arms crossed lost look askance was not communicating. He, earnest, willed her to see his reason. They spoke not a word, but that's how I understand people here, anyway. I was conscious of being conscious and thought about how there were no guns allowed in China, and whether or not that made me feel safer. I guess it didn't. And then I came to the edge of campus, where I discovered the giant gate was locked. Locked! I tried all the levers and simple machine components of the massive metal obstacle, but to no avail. So there, at one in the morning, soft with wandering thought and hard-fast seeking sleep, I free-ran the story-tall gate, videogame-schezuan-style. And that, my friends, is how I did, not the first, and not the last, something questionable in China.

I, in China, suffer from a lingering and torturous tradition which I seek to eradicate: thinking in English. Mitch, thinking in ideas, converts the thoughts into pinyin which his cell phone then converts into characters. But in order to understand his text messages, I must find the character, convert it to pinyin, translate it to English, and then attach that back to my approximation of the original idea. I have to look up most everything and it takes several hours to decode a single one of Mitch's evilhoods; he does it just to make me learn, the nastastic sweetard!

I was trying to look up the meaning of a word the other day. I heard the sound "yi" in conversation and made sure to note the tone, in order to look it up in my dictionary. There are four and a half tones for each sound, each lending an entirely different meaning. But I had no idea which of the 26 characters listed might represent this particular tone of this particular word, let alone how the word was used. (And "word" in this case is a slight misnomer... more like "meaningful syllable".)

"Yi" with just the fourth falling tone alone has several meanings. One character "yi" means a "hundred million". A separate character means anything from righteousness, human ties, meaning, just, artificial, or adoptive, depending on what context it is used in. There are 24 other characters in my dictionary for falling tone "yi" with a huge range of meanings: skill, craftsmanship, art, to remember, opinion, propose, discuss, towering, also, different, strange, surprising, other, foreign, separate, translate, repress, talk in one's sleep, ravings, labour, military service, battle, enslave, easy, amiable, change, exchange, barter, superior, lost, epidemic, benefit, beneficial, increase, friendship, leisurely, escape, surpass, the next, study, descendant, border region, frontier, overflow, excessively, resolute, subjectively, and wing.

So you see, you can't really look up a sound like that and learn it, per se. Luckily, Chinese, although each character is monosyllabic, is a bisyllabic language. Ideas are usually expressed in sets of two characters, even if it's redundant. It saves a LOT of confusion. I mean, if you already speak Chinese. For me, there is no safety from confusion.

But the important thing to note here is that the sound of a character is auxillary to its meaning. In western languages, the sound /gives/ the meaning. In Chinese, the language is the written form, and the words are only used to refer to the script in a socially contracted manner. I think that's why there are so many different existing Chinese dialects which have the same character meanings. Chinese is the oldest living language for this same reason... the engraved and written word stand the test of time and are set in tradition, whereas a classroom of boisterous schoolchildren can mutate the sound of a word into a new meaning, given half an hour and the right dorky joke.

In my pursuit of Chinese langauge proficiency, I am learning the bushou or radical idea roots in order to understand the combinations of meanings in other characters. It helps with the memorization to know the philosophy behind each idea. Like "woman" is sort of a cross-legged shape, and "baby" is a sort of swaddled shape. Together in the same character, woman and baby mean "good" because it is good to have children taken care of by their mother. It's all very logical, there are just a lot of them. I only know about 200 after my first week here, and I will probably start pacing myself, but I'll need 3,000 before I'm newspaper-literate.

But I'm also learning the local dialect of spoken language. It's a completely different part of my brain, and I need to cohese the flow of what I hear and speak with my clever character charts on the left side of my thinking-meats. I have to get over being embarrassed about terrible pronunciation and fear of repeating things incorrectly, even if I accidentally say things like "Uncle Three Eyes" when introduced to Uncle Sanmu. But enough about language learning!

I got my medical exam back! My blood is Type O Positive, which leads me to believe I can come up with some pretty poppy and upbeat goth songs. And while not quite being the universal donor, I might be, like, an intergalactic donor at least. But you were left wondering the about results of whether or not I have a liver. It's kind of ironical that, with an otherwise glowing bill of health, my liver was the only abnormality. It's somewhat concerning, but then again, we are all just collections of fallible parts. I've cut alcohol completely out of my diet, and am trying to avoid heavy salts, fats, and sugars. But it's difficult to eat out and do that here; MSG is what's for dinner. And I certainly don't have a thousandth of the vocabulary necessary to read ingredient lists and pick out "The People's Questionable Component #317" so I am relegated to fruits and veg I buy on the street.

I wear sunscreen when I go out, use ye olde bumbershoot, get enough sleep lately, am careful when I use knives, and attempt to limit my exposure to smoke. So try not to worry about my health, those who have cautioned me. I understand that I cannot afford to be in a medical emergency here, especially without language power. And for those who have asked, the air quality here is tolerable, though the pollution from traffic and industry is far from negligable. Luckily, we have the ocean breezes to ventilate the island, flooming the ick somewhere else. But smoking is socially acceptable (and encouraged) here. Mitch smokes a few packs a day, for example. People smoke in my office, in restaurants, in stores, on busses, you name it. PEOPLE ALSO TALK REALLY FRACKING LOUDLY, ESPECIALLY IN MY OFFICE, BUT THAT IS NOT A MEDICAL CONCERN.

We have a phrase to help us deal with culture shock: TIC-- This Is China. I am still in the honey-moon phase of culture shock, where Mitch has, in his six months, moved through rejection, hanging back with his familiar herd, and progressed on to reconcilliation. It helps to say "TIC, baby, TIC" with jovial frequency.

I sat through my first Chinese meeting at school. Two hours of lecturing from the headmaster, and I still couldn't tell if he was admonishing or inspiring the teachers. Brusque, short, sharp tones in super-loud volume-- I absolutely couldn't tell. I understood "good morning" but I didn't get why he kept referring to dumplings. Ah... teaching staff, not dumplings-- same sort of sound. Context!

Hey, if you ever come to China, remember to get Official Stamps on Everything, because if you don't get the Official Stamps on your reciepts, TIC and they are not valid. And also, random people might come up and ask to take your picture with their friend's arm around you as if you were best buddies. Okay, sure--I am a visitor in your country, you may take as many pictures of me as you like. But know that I'll be photographing you and yours right back. A girl ran up to Mitch when we were at a shopping mall, asking heatedly for his autograph. TIC, and Mitch, Rockstar Teacher, is exotica.

Street signs flooding by as we rode a public bus the other day, we talked about how it must be like to function as an illiterate person back in familiar places. Well, we seem to be able to pull it off here, but it sure is a helpful skill.

We also discussed the strangest things we've ever eaten, but that was before we went out with Simon and Lichi (Chichi), et al. for Awen's birthday. Local delicacy: sea worm jelly. I put the stuff in my mouth and chewed the long hollow creatures embedded in the gelatinous agar. Mitch was revolted, but I thought it was fairly palatable. Though he shoved it in his mouth all at once like a local, while thinking vile thoughts, whereas I hesitantly nibbled and considered my shellfish allergy.

I was in a store the other day, gathering school supplies. I saw an exit sign with the English "Do not Blook" and misread it "Do not Look" and realized that I had just lost the game, and then realized that despite misspellings and misgrammarz, I am so absolutely grateful for any attempt at English. "Let's play with me" and "I sometimes want to have a time when I can lauch. Will you be friend with me?" read some products with the cutest little black-white pig-bee characters. I might just have to start collecting Mono Kuro Boo thing-things for school!

And the music here. There is one long song coursing throughout the city, in all voices, similar beats, same feeling: wo ai ni. WO AI NI, daba daba doo.... WO AI NI, schnikka schnikka schnerrr, WOoo AI NIii... It seems difficult to sing anything else, really. Word tones are a pain in the b-ass and treble clef, I'm sure.

OMG Mitchy and I got /manicures/ together. I'm crazy teal-blue, but he's so SHINY. "Oh my GAWD, I'm stho gorgeousth, I could justh ORGASTHM ALL OVER MY HANDSTH!" he shrieked from the other room. He also shrieks in the cold shower-- it's hilarious. He also booms out Nikki Giovanni poetry, and Saul Williams when the echoing classroom is emptied of the Chinese teachers attending another meeting. ...AND WE RISE WITH THE TIDES TO DIVINITY!

One thing people say a lot here is "nigga" though it's not what you think. It means "um" or just a pause in speech while thinking. Wo shiyang you... nigga... shenma... nigga... zemma shua? It took a time to get used to, and may be something we need to combat in the English classroom. Er... kids, maybe you could say "um" because "nigga" is gonna be right out when you study abroad.

Speaking of the classroom! I used my time not attending the other Chinese meetings to tap out letter by letter some infantile html. Yus, I maded a wubsites! Before I kiss-blow you the URL, keep in mind that I realize it's from the 80's. But TIC, baby, and I don't need no stinkin' CSS and frames. It was the best I could do, on a machine that speaks only Chinese. OK, presenting... PICTURES!
mollybee.org/china/china.html

That's a bit muchly much for now, but you can handle it, yes?

*missing you under the kissletoe!*

(Jasmine (Molly))

P.S: I got a surprise phone call from a sweet sleuth in America, based on a casual mention of only a portion of my Chinese phone number.

Exciting Telephonic Informations from Father Dad, re: Langfernversprecher to China
"Let all your friends know that calling you is only .013 cents per minute, less that .80 cents/hr but for you to call out is on the order of 5 bucks/min.
Your bunkies can purchase a pre-paid calling card to China, 1350 minutes is about 17 or 18 USD. They can be bought online at c.m.call.com. They need to ask for local access minutes to China(or they can call customer service at 800-660-9405.)
How it works: when your friends buy the card they need to say what city&state they will be calling from. The card will have a local number to call, then you enter your pin code, then you call MOLLY at 011-86-592-884-7081."

Wonderful news! Yes, and allow me to re-stress the time difference: 15 hours in the future (in CA). Okay, but for you (in CO)? 14. Because you're so pretty (east coast-ish), maybe 13, 12 lowest, and that's my final offer. Wee-hour calls, though initially welcome, might get to be *suckleberries*. Call me then, I'd love to hear your voices and English up your ears to a curly frill.