I have been taking three two-hour Chinese lessons per week with Grace since about the second or third week we arrived in Wuxi. It seems that the more I learn, the more I realise how much I still have to learn. I haven’t even started learning to read properly yet – just learning to speak is hard enough.
When you first start, you have to learn the different tones (there are four main ones, but actually a few more subtle ones), then you learn the initials and finals. Once you get the hang of that you learn a few nouns and verbs and think you are getting to grips with it. However, then you start learning the grammar rules and everything gets turned upside down. The way the language is structured is just nothing like English, either in word order or in the way words are used – for example there is a different word to mean you are going to do something depending on whether it is definite or just an idea.
I am sure a Chinese student of English would encounter a similar problem in reverse, but at least they don’t have to worry about blummin tones!
I can now just about order basic food and drink, buy fruit and vegetables and ask for directions. I do need to build up my confidence in speaking to people, though. John doesn’t care – he just tries out any new word he learns at the earliest opportunity. This can lead to misunderstandings, for example, in the first week or so he knocked into someone in the canteen and said ‘you’re welcome (bu keqi)’ rather than ‘I’m sorry (dui buqi)’. I like to be a bit more sure of what I am saying.
Learning written words is essential in Wuxi as there is hardly ever pinyin or English on signs or menus. There are online flash cards you can use to learn (e.g. here) but as soon as I learn one set, I forget the previous one! Hopefully after two years I will have made some progress.
On Friday evening we went to s’Schmankerl (a German bar) in the city centre to meet up with John’s colleagues. It was a really nice evening, sitting out in the beer garden with a large group of teachers from all over the world. The beer was a bit pricey, even by British standards, but the atmosphere was lovely and there were proper loos!
On Saturday we wanted to go to Lake Tai (Taihu) but I didn’t feel 100%, so we just relaxed and read instead. Before we came to China, I set up a subscription to the Guardian for my Kindle. I really enjoy having a newspaper delivered every day, although UK news seems a bit remote here.
In the afternoon, we walked to the city centre to find where the cinema is and to go to the big bookshop. After a bit of hunting, we found the cinema, but there aren’t any English language films on at the moment, so we will save that for another day. Outside the cinema a student came up to us to ask for advice on how to pronounce involve and self. After we had given him our advice, he went away happy. At the bookshop we bought a Chinese language text book to use in our lessons that start today. While there, an older Chinese man came up to talk to us to practise his English. He works as a Japanese translator, but his English was also excellent. It was nice to spend a bit of time chatting to him.
On the way home, we stopped at a hotpot restaurant for tea. We are still getting the hang of what and how to order in these places, so we had a bit of a strange meal – but we came away well fed.
It was nice to chat to my Mum on Skype last night (hi Mum!) It is strange to think that until relatively recently a call home would have been a real luxury and difficult to arrange. The wonders of modern technology!
This morning we went to visit the Qingming Bridge. It was very scenic (see photos in this post). As well as the lovely scenery, one of the highlights was buying a cafetiere from Starbucks. There are quite a few Starbucks in Wuxi, but getting a proper coffee maker for our apartment was a bit of a challenge. Now we just need to find some ground coffee to go in it.