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.
Apologies for the lapse in updates, but it has been quite a busy week this week. John has been teaching all week and is starting to get to grips with his classes. His students sound great, really bright and motivated. As they are being taught in English, they all have to choose an English name. John has some interesting names in his class including, Harry and Potter (who sit together) and a female Colin. I think Megatron might raise some eyebrows if he gets into university in America.
John had his first observation this week. I am sure none of you who know him will be surprised to learn his was a model lesson. It has given him quite a boost to know he is definitely on the right track.
Today was ‘Teachers’ Day’, so John received a chorus of ‘Happy Teachers’ Day, Teacher’ from many of his classes. They also gave him some lovely cards.
But, it is not just John who has had a busy week. I have been working away on my final assignment for my Open University course ahead of the exam in October. I doubt anyone wants to read about that, though.
On Monday we went to the foreign travel clinical to have a medical for our resident’s permit. It was a strange process, but quite efficient. There was a group of nine of us affiliated to John’s school all having the medical at the same time. Once we had registered, we were each given a form and shown to a changing room where we put our bags in a locker and swapped our shoes for slippers. We then had to visit each of the cubicles in turn. One for blood tests, another for ultrasound, ECG, urine test, eye and ear checks, height, weight and kidney pummel. Then finally we were taken downstairs for an x-ray. The doctors/ nurses were all very nice, so it wasn’t too traumatic.
The next step in the resident’s permit process is to register with the police. Before we can do this, we need to get something done to our marriage certificate. We thought we had already sorted this out, but apparently we have to take it to the Chinese embassy in the UK. I might have to sort it out when I am back in October.
This week, I had my first three Chinese lessons with Grace. They are hard work, but I am really enjoying them. Grace is a good teacher. She is a qualified teacher of Chinese as a second language, so she really knows her stuff. She has also been great in helping me understand how things work around the city. Thanks to her, we now have travel cards for the bus. The bus journey to my lessons (about 5 miles away) costs 12p each way rather than £3 in a taxi.
So, it has been a busy week, but a good one. We are settling in well and starting to find our way around the city. This weekend is a long weekend as it is the Moon Festival on Monday. We have got all sorts of things planned, so hope we will have time to munch some Moon Cakes.
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.