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Margaret: 机器人 – jīqìrén – robot

September 10, 2011

I survived hanyu!  I felt much better about it today, although it is still extremely challenging.  The tough part is that everything is explained in Chinese. The trouble is that many Chinese grammar patterns are entirely nonsensical in the first place, and some can be difficult enough to understand in English as it is. My laoshi also loves to tell us other words that mean the same thing, oh but they can’t exactly be used in the exact same way. Here’s five words and how they are the same and how they are subtly entirely different.  It’s chabuduo (almost) impossible. You can’t miss a beat in hanyu!

I realized at my tutor session that the University of Minnesota did not teach me how to speak Chinese. Every speaking opportunity I ever had gave me the prompts ahead of time so I could rehearse what I was going to say. Helpful in the real world? Absolutely not. However, what they did teach me how to do was to understand grammar patterns and become really good at taking exams without actually having a real grasp on the material. As a result, my laoshi gave us a minute to complete a few sentences using a new, confusing grammar pattern and when he came by to check my answers, “dou hen hao,” or they’re all perfect. Today was a mixture of pride (because I think I may actually be able to survive hanyu if I study six to eight hours a day), frustration (because there is still so much of lecture that doesn’t make any sense to me either because I don’t know the vocabulary being used or because everything is being explained in Chinese), and disappointment (because after two entire years devoted to this language, I can’t speak it!).

What I really want to talk about is the dinner I had at the kuai can, or fast food (it’s really just a dining hall). My friend invited a Chinese student she met in line to sit down with her and I. I haven’t had too much direct interaction with Chinese students, and it seems the university has tried their best to keep us separate, so I was excited to chit chat with him.  He seemed very nervous to be sitting with foreigners and was eating speedy fast, even faster than the crazy fast speeds that everyone eats in the dining halls, presumably in order to get back to the books. He said he is a physics major from Shanghai. He takes thirty (yes THIRTY!) hours of class per week of physics, which he finds “interesting.”  When he is not in class, he “rests” for one or two hours, spending the rest of the time studying or “doing exercises.” Must be some kind of magical powers or an insane amount of caffeine…  When asked what he would like to do after graduation, he replied, “It depends on my mark.” Basically, if he scores high enough, he will get to go to graduate school. He feels lucky to live in a dormitory where there are communal showers because in some buildings, students must walk outside in the dead of winter to go to another building where they have large gym locker room-style shower rooms. These, he complains, have no place to dry your hair.  I cringed at the thought of just how many girls have their hair freeze every single night on the way home before bed. He told us he lives in a room with three other people. When asked if his room is large or small, he said the most distinctly Chinese thing I’ve heard since I’ve been here: “It is enough for four people.”

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