Saturday, September 18, 2010

More Language Lessons

My efforts to learn Chinese are continuing, but progress is excruciatingly slow. In ideal circumstances, meaning the speaker is going so slow as to almost not be saying anything at all, and I have visual hints to help my comprehension, I can now understand words such as girl, boy, car, blue, green, red, bicycle, rice, milk and eggs. This vocabulary equips me with the ability to utter all kinds of useful sentences such as "the blue boy rode the green bike to buy red eggs." Wait- forget that. I don't know the words for rode and buy yet. Oh well, if ever I am standing on a street in Beijing and witness such an event at least I can point and say "blue boy."

However, my spoken Chinese is brilliant compared to my Chinese character reading. So far I can confidently read just two characters. However, I would argue that if you could only ever be equipped with just two, these are the ones you want to have in your language arsenal. I realized with no small sense of accomplishment that I actually knew these Chinese characters when I was in Korea. I went to use a public washroom (that would be bathroom for all you Americans) at a ferry terminal. The ferry was bound for Jeju Island, a popular destination for both Japanese and Chinese tourists. There, posted on the door, was a sign with the Chinese symbol for "women." I looked over at the other door, and sure enough, I could read the character for "men." It was a breakthrough moment.

In case you are wondering why these would be such important characters to know, all I can say is you clearly have never been in a public washroom in China. I am operating on the assumption that, just like in North America, the guys washroom is way more disgusting than the girls. So when the girls washrooms look like this, I definitely do not want to accidentally wander into the wrong one because I have misread a sign on the door. Please note this picture was picked to be safe for all viewers. There was worse. Much worse.

So, yesterday as I was struggling through another Chinese lesson it suddenly occurred to me that hey- I am actually already bilingual. Sort of. After all, I speak both Canadian and American English. For instance, when I was in the US visiting my parents last week my brother took us out to eat at a place near Coeur d'Alene called the Wolf Lodge Inn. The place was steeped in what I refer to as "North Idaho charm." There was a rabbit's warren of little rooms and spaces, each containing as many tables as could be squeezed in. The walls were covered in cedar shakes, and you could walk over and watch the chef grilling your steak over an open fire.

It appeared the combination of cedar shakes and open pit fire wasn't contributing enough in the way of making this place the biggest fire trap I have ever been in. There was also a roaring fire in an open fire place. (I am quite sure the local fire inspector was being bribed on a regular basis with one of the Wolf Lodge's famous 16 ounce, aged in bacon fat, steaks.) And sitting next to the fireplace at a cozy table for two we had another serving of North Idaho charm.

At the same time my brother and parents looked over and said, "Look at the Indians," out of my mouth came the words "I'm getting a picture of those Natives." In the USA it is still perfectly acceptable to use the term Indian. Not in Canada. Even the term Native is a bit of a stretch. First Nations or Aboriginals would be preferable. (Lest someone accuse us of being crass, please note these are mannequins, not real people.)

While south of the 49th I also made a trade with my brother, and I have to say I definitely got the better deal. I went to the local yarn store and picked up some wool to knit John a toque. Drawing once again on my bilingual skills I will translate this for my American readers. Toque=hat. I madly knit away while we visited and played card games together, and by the end of the visit John had this toque to take back to Chicago.

For my end of the deal I was given a gallon of huckleberries that were promptly made into this jam, which happens to be the same no matter which of my two official languages I am speaking- delicious!


  1. funny post! I desperately want some of that jam, yum!

  2. Okay, that photo of the dirty bathroom just about made me puke! And I think I may have a worse outhouse photo..taken at the end of our hike at a State Park on the Oregon Coast. But I won't post it... it was THAT bad!!

  3. At the Smithsonian we have a National Museum of the American Indian. Most of the collection came from a single donor who insisted on the name. Hopefully it can be changed at some point. Oh, I have to keep this short, the Redskins are playing the Texans right now. =)

    I dislike our public washrooms, if they're worse in China...well, I could just pretend I'm visiting my sister-in-law. We stayed at her house last year while she was having emergency surgery. I had to clean all 3 bathroom to be able to stay--if I'd only cleaned one it may not have been available when I needed it. Yuck!

    Huckleberry jam! {sigh} That sounds wonderful.

  4. Oh Man, those huckleberries sound good. I'm jealous.

    Keep at the Chinese, it will come!

    I like the pictures from the trip to Grandma's and Grandpa's.