Why I'm Here
I'm taking an entire year off, and when people hear that they often ask why. There are a lot of answers that I can and do give depending on the situation and how much time I have to explain (and what I'm applying to - say, the Light Fellowship), and they're actually all true. In fact, it's hard to describe how crushed I would have been if this year-long plan, whose idea was hatched not quite a year ago as I was finishing up studying Chinese at ICLP in Taiwan, had for some reason or another not worked out. I'm not going to try to list reasons in order of importance, because I would give them all a rating of 'very high.'
- I've started Chinese, and I'm going to finish it. "Finish" means different things to different people, but I simply can't imagine bowing out now as some of my classmates are doing. A weird combination of the ability to order food and get around, plus the ability to talk more in-depth about very specific topics of politics/economics/culture, just isn't enough for me after putting so much time and effort into this language. And believe me, I have: for those who know me from yesteryear, I just realized recently, and belatedly, that Chinese is my new Phoenix.
Back when I read The Count of Monte Cristo, I was already interested in languages, and I was completely blown away by the idea of an old man who could speak twelve language, and a young Count who learned them all to the point where - and I still remember the gist of this line - 'When he spoke Spanish, Spaniards believed he was born in Spain; when he spoke with Arabs, they believed he was one of them' etc. I resolved to match that, and though I've now set my sights a little lower (six languages, 'relatively fluent but not to be mistaken for a native speaker'), I still think it's something I can do before I die.
- I need to learn other things while I'm at Yale. At some point, this become a serious problem: I always put Chinese first, and because it was so time-consuming (for me, at least, as I'm clearly not the brightest crayon in the box when it comes to learning Chinese), I often ended up shunting other, perfectly good courses off to the side. Fortunately "East Asian Philosophy" in the fall was a joke, albeit a somewhat perverse and twisted one, and it turned out that one could get by handily in the spring semester's "East Asian Capitalism" by only reading two weeks' worth of the readings. (Oh dear, that doesn't reflect well on our EAS department, now does it?) My point is this: When I get back to Yale for my junior and senior years, I don't want to be studying Chinese. I might make an exception for classical, or an easier lit class, but I want my focus to lie elsewhere.
- I have Chinese-speaking friends, and I want to meet more. Not so secretly, my biggest reason for picking Chinese as my 'non-Romance language' of choice when I got to Yale was that so many people speak it. I want to talk to those people. In particular, I want to go back to Taiwan and hang out with Jun Xiang (my former language exchange partner; we still keep in touch regularly) and his friends, talk to his older sister about health insurance, actually have conversations with my buildingmates, etc. Here, I want to be able to have a relatively unbroken conversation with the girl I met at Vic's (more on that later), go back to Jinan and eat many wonderful lunches and dinners with Chengliang, etc.
- I think I want my career to involve Chinese. I'm looking at the State Department right now -- I'll be trying for their summer internship again this year, hopefully in Taipei as I'll be there anyway -- but I also really love translating; besides those two, there will also be plenty of NGO/BigBusiness(TM) opportunities for Chinese-speaking graduates of a place like Yale.
- My academics will be so much more interesting if I can read Chinese sources. The Yale library alone has a ton of untranslated Chinese texts, and they could be fantastic for my thesis research or even for East Asian Studies courses in general, particularly the grad-level ones I plan to take while pursuing the simultaneous BA/MA.
Will just one year in China put me where I want to be? I really don't know. When people ask, I tell them that I hope to come back "proficient" - I hope to be able to hold regular conversations without getting a blank look on my face every 30 seconds, and I hope to be able to read books and articles, albeit probably pretty slowly. Writing is something I care less about; I believe that's a skill that comes with a lot of reading. Which brings me to my real benchmark for success: When I leave China, will I be an independent learner of Chinese?
When reading, I want to be at a point where word banks and lists of grammar/sentence patterns are efficiently replaced by context clues and/or some flipping through a (Chinese) dictionary. When conversing, I want to be able to pick out the words and phrases I don't know and ask people what they mean (as opposed to giving them a "huh?"), and I want my spoken Chinese to be good enough that I can correct a handful of misused words and grammar every few days. I don't know that these goals are attainable, but I also know that I'll be pretty crushed if I don't get there. Unfortunately, it turns out that a year just isn't a lot of time: I've been here over three weeks already, which is something like 6-7% of my total stay... Time marches forward and I'm afraid that my Chinese won't be able to keep up.
Well, this has gotten fairly long-winded. An HBA critique will have to wait for another time. I'm also going to stop promising photos, as I don't have Facebook any more (with which to steal others') and I've been too lazy to borrow an adapter to recharge the batteries for my camera (with which to take my own). Light Fellowship, I know you require photos every week for blogging to replace the end-of-year report, but I'll be writing one anyway so I'm not worried.
- I've figured out how the tests work. Despite only semi-absorbing this week's material, and a conspicuous lack of studying, I landed a solid A on this Friday's test, up 3 points from last week.
- Been watching some of the World Cup, when I can. Ghana's victory over America was well-won (an amazing feat of energy at the end there), and though it was kind of expected sooner or later, I'm pretty disappointed that we're out of the running. In other news, Brazil plays beautifully; their ball handling is really just amazing to watch. Defense proved pretty weak against Portugal, though (the latter had way too many break-aways), and Brazil never seemed to rally enough when it came down to it to actually get the ball in the Portuguese net. (A beautiful header came oh so close, though. Oi!) Also, dear Miguel: Ronaldo didn't kick a single good post-foul shot that entire game; he was all showmanship and no results.
- Went back to Vics (the club) last night with some 3rd-year folks. Enjoyed talking with the taxi drivers but didn't find them particularly hard to understand, so I'm thinking the writers of the SAC guide had been pretty sheltered in terms of their Chinese interlocutors when they warned about taxi drivers' Beijing accents being very thick, etc. Then again, maybe I just got lucky.
- The girl from last week wasn't there. I did plenty of dancing anyway and had a reasonably good time. Drinks were ridiculously expensive, though, and I'm also ashamed to say that I bought a 30RMB glass of milk because I was seriously worried about getting dehydrated and I just couldn't bring myself to buy a 35RMB bottle of water.
- Upon leaving Vics at 3:00, I made the questionable decision to call the aforementioned girl. Fast-forward to today: we had lunch at a perfect little Japanese/fusion restaurant and then walked around the BeiYu campus for a while. She also rode on the back of my bicycle. She's almost exactly my age, but graduated from college early (surprise: an English major) and works as a receptionist at a hotel. There were a couple of frustrating points in our conversation (she has a Beijing accent and talks kind of softly), but she seems to have fairly simple interests and I think we actually got on pretty well. I'm very excited about her offer to call me next time she and her friends go to KTV (karaoke). Anyway, it was fun, and she's all-around quite cute... we'll see!
So th-th-th-that's all, folks. My date and blogging have together taken up an alarming portion of the afternoon, and I'd best move on to clothes-washing and lesson-preparing.
Hoping that everything stateside is going swimmingly,