Howdy people. There have not been a whole lot of news recently. It seems to me that the weird and wonderful things I see everyday are so plentyful that they are starting to seem normal.
A few words on Chinese (the language)
We have now had two classes with our private tutor and she is amazing. She gives us lots of structures, which help us talk a lot more than just vocabulary. We have also realised that we already know quite a lot of words in Chinese. Chinese grammar is quite simple, it’s a piece of cake compared to the atrocity that is the Estonian grammar. However, for the first time while learning a foreign language I feel like I can say more than I understand. People in Shaanxi province have an especially difficult accent to understand, which makes communication difficult. The fact that a lot of the people we need to talk to are not used to hearing foreigners speaking Chinese means that they are finding it hard to understand us too.
Having said that, I did have a 30 minute conversation with my yoga instructor. She is a lovely lady, very friendly and helpful, so she decided to find out if I can actually understand what she is saying. I understand about 25% of what she says, the rest of the time I have to look around to see what everyone else is saying and copy them. I get lots of extra attention in the yoga class. I don’t know if this is because I am foreigner or because she thinks I am not understanding anything. She keeps adjusting my positions (maybe I’m doing it wrong?) and standing next to me. She even gave me a shoulder massage.
I have been trying to learn the characters as I learn the vocabulary and they have proven to be quite logical in fact. There are lots of connections one can make. So after learning a few characters, one will be able to make connections and guess the meanings of some characters. The characters were initially based on pictures, but very little is now left of those original images. One has to apply lots of imagination to get to those pictograms. In today’s China a simplified set of characters is used. By a set I mean something nearing 8000 that are used regularly. Chinese kids learn characters by sight and writing them all over again, which makes their photographic memory amazing. Kids also remember English words like this before they learn to read. I often get kids in my class who seem to do so well in all their spelling tests, but when it comes time to write sentences that they have not yet seen, they struggle to put the letters together.
As I said, the characters have lots of logic in them. For instance, the character for ‘woman’ is this 女. Woman + son (女 + 子) = good (好). The character for woman also appears in jealousy (妒忌), treacherous (奸诈) and safe place (安).
The character for mouth, kou (口) appears in anything to do with eating or speaking. The word for fire, huo (火) can be find in fry (炒) and train (fire machine) (火车) amongst others. The character for electricity, dian (电) can be found in telephone (电话) (electric words) and in film (电影) (electric shadow). Some words, however, are quite close to what they depict. For instance the character for net, as used for a fishing net and the Internet is this 网. The character for a tree is this 木, the character for a mountain is this 山 and the characters for one, two three are 一, 二, 三.
There’s your Chinese lesson for today. It’s not as difficult as it seems.
The climate is Xi’an has got to be one of the most capricious I have seen. Summer has now arrived, which means it’s the rainy season. This means huge fluctuations in temperature. It goes from 40 degrees to 15 overnight. From beautiful sunshine to raining 3 days in a row. It has been raining for a few days now. We had a wonderful lightning and thunderstorm last night and were greeted by more rain this morning. The irrigation systems in town are not great, so there are a lot of puddles to tackle.
The Xianese people seem to be very scared of rain. They look at me in amusement when I walk around without an umbrella in a drizzle. Sadly they lack umbrella culture, where one would look where one is going and one would lift one’s umbrella to let another one pass. Here, each umbrella fights for itself.
Food is still glorious
It is now cherry season. The cherries here are very tasty and sweet. They are probably full of chemicals, but they do taste like real cherries I used to pick in my grandma’s garden as a kid.
I can’t remember if I already told you about hot pot. It literally translates into fire bowl (火锅). The idea is that you either share or have your own pot of flavoured boiling water. It is usually flavoured with chillies, but you can choose mushroom, beef, chicken or some other stock. You then choose a bunch of little dishes, which can be different types of tofu, meats, vegetables, fish and so on and you boil them in your pot. You then make a sauce, which includes a large amount of peanut butter with some added chilli, vinegar, different oils and herbs and dip your cooked food in there. It tastes very very nice and is definitely one of the favourites amongst the locals.
I have learned what different things in a Chinese supermarket are and can cook some Chinese dishes now, which I will demonstrate when I see you!
The postman has been busy recently. No, not like that.
I have received some nice packages from the UK and from Estonia. This has caused some jealousy in the office and comments about how loved I am.
Today a stash of Estonian sweets, chocolates and magazines arrived from my mum. Last week Caroline shipped over some emergency Nutella supplies for me and the week before that Ali supplied some other emergency items. Thank you all very much!
Now, please don’t let the poor postman lose his job.
Until the next time.