My research of all things China has stayed strong. While being fully immersed in this learning, my work colleague emailed me information about a job opening. The position would be with an organization I’ve been interested in for awhile, in a country with a culture and language I want to learn, and it would be a long stride, but the perfect next step for my career. I let it settle in, but can’t help but think how perfect this position would be. It’s in Bangkok, which I’ve had my opinion changed since talking to some of my friends who insist it’s one of their favorite places. I convince my self that I would also still be able to learn more about China while being there and would have access to trying all kinds of Chinese spiritual and healing practices.
Totally excited about this position I ask my boss and another manager in my office to help me craft my cover letter and resume for the position. I’m glad I did it because my resume has never looked better. I sent off the application and then got curious with what else I might find. Nothing else in Thailand, but then I realized I should actually look at what’s in China. I found a few positions, but one that really caught my eye in Beijing. Funny enough I actually have a first round interview with them at the end of this week. It was only really a screening interview though, so hopes aren’t too high yet.
I’ve joined a few communities of language exchange platforms. There’s an app on my phone called “hello talk” that is my favorite. I can find people based on both of our interests and native tongues. The coolest part is that you can send voice messages and with a click of one button the app will transcribe the message in chinese, convert it to Pinyin (for the pronunciation), and then give the meaning in English. I also rejoin some of the communities dedicated to language learning, that I had joined before coming to Laos. Some people in these communities have learned tons of languages, then started businesses helping people to learn languages on their own. One thing that stuck out to me was this guy’s push to just get out there and start speaking, before you actually know any of the language. I’ve definitely seen that work in Ghana. I was plopped right in the middle of Antoa and then figured out how to maneuver the town, culture, and language. The language guy also suggested to bring around a script to use in case you are just stumped and forget what to say next. He’s so right that most conversations, especially within one culture or area, follow a certain pattern. I would call it “the script” in Ghana. After work I have been walking home and going in buildings with Chinese script anywhere in sight. One guy, right next to my office, always asks me to sit down and talk with him for a bit. I had my script ready and then was disappointed. It’s not as easy as just having a script when the person wants to learn English just as bad as you want to learn their language. He barely listened to my Chinese introduction and immediately skipped into speaking English and asking about obscure things that are way past my knowledge in Chinese. I think having the script is just the start and learning how to use it is the real art.
I’m able to get the basic greetings now in Mandarin, but I want to keep practicing saying that I want to learn speaking with them and then asking some simple things like where they’re from. This guy next to my office is showing the part of the Chinese culture that I and so many others don’t enjoy. I don’t have a problem being aggressive, but the way many Chinese people do it is to the point that it would be rude to do with ANYONE else, except for another Chinese person. My first reaction is to just let him be and practice with someone that is more willing to share the learning. I know deep down this is my first real lesson with dealing with the Chinese culture. I need to learn to turn on my aggressive pushy behavior when around them and keep that switch sensitive, so that I can turn it off when I talk to someone else.
The funniest part of my tries to practice Chinese with people is that they keep wanting to speak Lao to me. Especially when we hit a roadblock, we switch right to Lao to understand where we’re trying to go. On the walk I keep getting frusterated that I’m using Lao as the crutch. In Antoa it was perfect because they would get through their English they knew in a few words and then we would just be practicing Twi. Also, they were so giving that literally almost every person would be testing me all the time and making sure that I remembered what they taught me during our last conversation. That was truly a special place to learn a language and I’m glad it was my first experience. If I had to fight like I am now to learn Chinese as my first additional language, I would have not understood what I do now. Back at my Guesthouse I realize how cool my interactions were, even though I used language as a crutch. I was able to speak to those people in only Lao and Chinese and get across all my ideas and thoughts. Except for the first guy, it was as if I didn’t speak Lao or Chinese at all. Okay, I don’t actually speak Chinese, so maybe that’s fair. I don’t stop and appreciate the progress I’ve made with languages enough, but this is definitely one time that I’m really understanding the progress I’ve made… Alright alright appreciation time over, time to go and learn some more.
On the side of the China exploration and work I have had my head full of thoughts. I can’t help but think that my next work decision is falling into the same rabbit hole I’ve been falling down for the past two years. Don’t get me wrong there’s not an ounce of regret, but I think it’s time for a change of strategy. In Ghana I didn’t know enough to know what I wanted. I knew I wanted to leave the US, go abroad and work in development, and somewhere in Africa sounded like a great place to start. Then, I realized that my calling is spiritual and Ghana, or really any other part of Africa I heard about, was not going to satisfy that itch. I found the job in Laos to help support my language and cultural learning of the area so that I would be ready to go and spend time in a monastery. My original goal was about a year. Then, on vacation I went to the monastery and realized I want something different. The profound part of the monastery was not that it just honed my spiritual path, but it revealed to me how my learning changes when I have the time to focus on solely that thing. Laos is really he first 8-5 desk job I’ve ever had. I’ve worked hard with the other jobs and positions I’ve had, but they were either more part time, or like in Ghana were more about travel and visiting places. It certainly wasn’t a traditional office atmosphere. It has made me realize how little time there really is around the 8-5 job. It makes more sense to me now why people say to find a job where you do what you love because otherwise with all the rest of life happening there will be little time for it around work hours. Whether it was the full time desk job in Laos, running around in the field in Ghana, or going to school, the past three years I made less spiritual progress than I did in just those two weeks at the monastery. I think it was also more than just having more time. Believe me, at the monastery I still found ways to use up the day and try to escape from facing my self.
I believe the progress was more from being totally immersed in something I love. I think that when I don’t fully commit myself to that, then I feel like I’m cheating myself deep down and that makes me feel like my soul isn’t being satisfied.
I understand that no matter what there are going to be things in life I will have to do that I might not be particularly passionate about. However, school and my cultural upbringing have driven into my head that structure and tangible achievements are the most important and then there will be some time after to explore other things, especially if they don’t exactly fit into those boxes. It feels so natural and safe to keep doing what I’m doing. I’ll find another job and then for my vacation I can spend it at a retreat and pursue my less tangible “extracurricular” interests. At least for now I can feel comfort in realizing the type of step I need to take next.
Okay, back to more fun things about my learning of the Chinese culture. Interesting things about Chinese: The names for countries are more descriptive, then just general names. For instance, in English, I’m not really sure what the actual words America or China mean. I’m sure you could look up the etymology and tell me, but, at least for me, it’s not common knowledge. In Chinese the word for China literally means the middle country. The word for middle is quite commonly used and meaning well known. For America the word translates directly to beautiful country. They also chose that word because it sounds similar to the ‘me’ in America. Okay as I go further into the lessons that’s actually only the rules for China and America, but what other countries matter?
I’ve also been studying the Chinese characters with a really fun and interactive app, called “Memrise”. It takes the characters and gives you the meaning and then people submit their fun stories and pictures to help them remember those characters. Even the words in Chinese are similar to the Country names. I guess this would be more obvious to me with English if I studied more Latin, but I didn’t so this is making Chinese seem way more interesting and actually quite easier than Chinese. For instance, the word for good has the script for woman and the script for child next to each other. In ancient times the Chinese people believed all was good if a mother was with her child. That means that I really only need to memorize some basic building block of the Chinese script and then find those hidden in the more complex meanings. You can almost guess at the more complex meanings.
I stopped studying Lao, so I could have more time for other things, but I can’t help but be learning languages. There so much fun to me and I get an amazing feedback in the way I feel when I make progress. It’s like the feeling I get after a good workout. Learning Chinese is like studying a class about history, art, and culture all mixed into one and then you go around and use what you learned to connect with people, what kind of lessons could be better than that?
I also have found out that Chinese people must be (don’t you dare say that I’m generalizing with this next part of the sentence!) the most impatient people I’ve ever interacted with. On the language exchange app. Some people definitely get it, but I’d say most speak at lightning speeds and when I ask them to slow down it only maybe does for a few words of the next phrase, or if I’m luck the whole next phrase before then going back to being faster than before to make up for the loss of time. I’ve noticed this with Chinese people around town who I try and practice with as well. It makes me want to speak English slower when I’m with other native speakers.
I’ve also noticed that there are probably just as many language exceptions as in English. I always shared with people abroad that English is hard because I thought there were so many exceptions and then usually the person I was talking to and I both agreed their language didn’t have that. Yeah, I agree with that for the grammar exceptions. However, I’m finding that in Chinese and remembering my study of Lao that they have just as many exceptions, but it’s with tone. So like when someone messes up grammar because of a different situation, it’s actually close to the same with messing up the tone. Often times the tone is what indicates the meaning and subjects of the sentence, like how grammar does in English.
It’s been difficult to keep studying all of this and writing the blog lately. At work one of our program’s got approved by the government, so we’re scrambling around to get ready for it’s requested launch, a few months earlier than we originally planned. Everything is very exciting and busy right now.