The ongoing thoughts of an art teacher in China - and home in Sydney

A continuing diary about my travels in China, and thoughts about China and Chinese art from home and abroad

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

learning chinese - shi ma??!!

Hutong View, Dazhalan, March 2011

Am feeling just very, very slightly less daunted by this huge project of mine - of one day being able to have a conversation in China, in Chinese. Am I mad? Quite possibly! In last night's lesson, with my 3 fellow struggling students, all hopelessly mangling our tones, I felt a little more confident to begin to speak and construct awkward, simple sentences. I love it when you feel you have actually mastered a colloquial phrase - the incredulous "shi ma??" or the dismissive "suan le". And how good to know that chocolate is "qiao ke le"! Our teacher finds it hard to disguise her dismay at our ignorance, and how slowly she has to read a passage in order for us to understand it. Who makes up the passages in language textbooks anyway? They remind me of my French textbook at school, with Nicole et Robert, and their Maman who was always, but always "dans la cuisine" in those pre-feminist days. In this case people are always introducing their friends to their older sister, or showing them a photograph of their younger brother, and politely asking them to go dancing, play ball or sing karaoke - not requests particularly relevant to the middle-aged in the middle kingdom, such as myself.

Wall photographed in Dazhalan, March 2011

I bought a book today on contemporary Chinese architecture, which includes those beautiful, minimal and simple Coachangdi courtyard studios and galleries designed by Ai Weiwei. I was so impressed when I visited Three Shadows Photography Gallery and F2, on the same day that I interviewed the wonderful Liang Yuanwei. The driver had become so hopelessly lost driving in circles around dusty roads, and stopping many, many people on bicycles to ask directions. I think an Australian taxi driver may have given up in a fury, but this guy was so cheerful, and so determined to help me find where I was going. I learned the phrase "Mei wenti", "no problems" from him. And subsequently heard it cheerfully uttered all over Beijing. Not so much in Shanghai!

Hutong Doorway, Beijing, March 2011