Let me start with Effie.

Before I do, I did as badly as I thought I had on last week’s quiz: 34 out of 100. This Friday I was determined not necessarily to do better on the quiz but to be relaxed with the process of taking a quiz. Also, Jasper at the front desk helped me put the week’s lesson on my computer so I could listen to it repeatedly. That helped in placing it in my mind as well as recognizing the characters. Over and over I listened, sometimes reading the text, sometimes just listening. Although 50 times is the suggested amount, I only had twenty times to listen to the lesson because he only installed it the night before. So this morning, well this morning, really started before the quiz; it started as it does each morning with the sea. Every morning I stand at 7 a.m. by the edge of the sea and watch the swimmers (60°F) — the Kaohsiung polar bears — and breathe in the sea air and do chi gong. As the swimmers run out of the sea, they greet me with “Good Morning,” and I greet them with “Zo–ann.” This morning marks a month. And this morning, I don’t know why but as the swimmers came running out of the sea they shook my hand, one after another. I felt as if I had arrived in Taiwan and all these repetitive classes will allow me within a week, maybe, to greet them with another word than “Good Morning.” Maybe “How’s the water?” Yes, I want to try for that.

I finished the quiz and my breathing didn’t change. I still think it’s idiotic to match sentences as a way of testing one’s knowledge, but it was satisfying to realize that as I took the quiz I could recognize about 80 per cent of the characters, meaning I may know at the end of one month 30 characters.

I stayed after class because my teacher, Fong, offered to help me on Fridays with Monkey King. We worked for about a half hour on just pronouncing the words: Journey to the West, Sun Wu Kong and “I am Handsome Monkey King.” Every single syllable has another tone! It’s actually taken me a full month to hear this. My teacher used all kinds of analogies. My favorite was take the elevator directly down with the word . Pronouncing (meaning aware), the fourth tone, is the most difficult.

Then she wished me a happy New Year. I thanked her and explained I didn’t really celebrate this New Year because I am Jewish. I had recently rebelled on Wednesday in class about the constant talk by the teachers about Christmas by going to the blackboard and explaining that there were other holidays in the world and one was called Hanukkah, which no one in my class had ever heard of. That gave me a perspective on the importance of Judaism. We have three Japanese men, one man from Belize, two Frenchmen and Lorenzo. None of them knew about Hanukkah. So Fong asked me how Jews celebrate the New Year. When I told her that one of the ways was for ten days we are not to say anything bad about anyone, she began to speak about her life, and for nearly two hours she told me the most extraordinary story which I promised to have a closed mouth about. Ahhh, dear Melissa, you commented on my last week’s blog that my way of learning is story. What can I say? To hear a teacher’s story, to hear another’s story, that is my happiness. So for me the celebration of completing one month of intense Chinese learning is to hear the teacher’s own story. That’s a true and unexpected celebration.

Then, I met Effie at Dante’s Café. I was very tired. And there were so many new vocabulary words to learn: dining room, kitchen, post office, supermarket. Do I care? I really just want to say, “How’s the water?” Effie was smiling. Her warm big smile. Yum. Her light pink sweater. Her soft skin. Her constant enthusiasm. My fatigue vanished. When I haltingly read the Chinese words, she encourages me by saying, “Good.” And sometimes, “Very good.” Her good is imprinted in my brain. Good, good, good. The kindly repetition of good permeates my struggling brain. Then her cellphone rings. She mouths to me, “My mother.” Her mother was calling from China to ask if Effie has enough money because Effie hadn’t called her. (Her mother had called yesterday.) And, her mother wanted to know if Effie had eaten and what she had eaten and what she was doing next. Effie smiled so sweetly and said with no irritation, just understanding, “My Mom worries about me.” In the closeness I feel to Effie, I feel her mother’s love. Effie is majoring in international relations. I wish she were President of China. But she says, she just wants to teach, to help people. This is the inside of the story, dear Melissa, this. Your connection to and love of the Kalahari bush people and your wanting to help them. My connection to the Chinese people and wanting to share their culture and bring it to the western world. Who can explain this? The tenderness we have for one another is the great healing. It’s ineffable. Effie brings cookies and I buy a hot chocolate for her and an apple vinegar juice for me. “Is your hot chocolate good?” I ask her. And then say, “I will miss you when you leave for China.” How can this be happening? I only know her three weeks.

Now the time has kick–started and begun to run. With love, time runs.

Week 3: Learning in Kaohsiung
Week 2: One to Another
Week 1: An Unlikely Story

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  1. Eli Rarey

    Ineffable Effie.  “I wish she were President of China.”  Yay!

    It is beautiful how you are having an adventure that is made up of small things like letters, hot chocolate, and handshakes.  But the adventure is huge, like Journey to the West.  I love reading the little details that surround you falling in love with this experience.

    You are so naked!  And beautiful!

    • Dianewolkstein

      Yes, Eli. Thanks for seeing the hugeness and the everydayness of this journey.  Today I fell in love, really in love, although I’ve always been in love, with the Chinese characters. Writing them on the whiteboard large and with freedom of movement was like chi gung, exacting and breathing at the same time. And then Teacher–that’s how the Chinese call the teacher Lao She which means Teacher–kept saying Good, Good. What a relief after the quiz earlier today which was bad, bad, very bad (so bad, so frustrating having to remember so many characters, I nearly quit school). So it goes, back and forth between memorizing and freedom, the details which hopefully lead to more freedom. And then walking home from class, I saw the virile sprouts on the palm trees, jutting out, getting ready to sprout in February–like lettuce growing by the waters– with even more thrust. I will put up a photo. So there’s INside the classroom and life OUTside. And did you know that the word for student in Chinese is shuasheng–meaning both learning and borning?  I will stop or I will write another blog. And yes, I do feel naked, that’s because I’m in the reborning. Much love.

  2. Jan

    Dear Diane
    Shuasheng – a divine gift.  Never before have I encountered a word which so perfectly encapsulates an experience of coming into oneself in a new way.  Shuasheng – what we are doing so often in the nano moments of life, yet it is outside of our awareness.  You, Diane,  are nascent in this place and space, beginning to experience yourself in ways you don’t have any language for – yet.  The precious moments you describe made me think of my participation over an 18 month period in an Infant Observation.
    Read below:

    What we call the beginning is often
    the end

    And to make an end is to make a

    The end is where we start from.


    ‘Sitting in the shower wishing I
    could allow the infant observation experience to flow over me in the same way
    as the water hitting my body, the above quote struck.  Beads of understanding began to place
    themselves along a previously unimagined thread.  The enormous resistance to writing up this
    summary reflects my unwillingness to relinquish a unique and treasured
    experience to the world.  Rather like my
    pregnancies, where my babies remained in the womb past their due date, writing,
    speaking the story of this profound experience, means relinquishing it to the
    world; this, the richest of experiences ceases to be exclusively mine.   To some extent it is also the difficulty in
    writing about something which is still and I believe will be for quite some
    time to come, in process.  For me it is
    like trying to bring something into form, attempting to find a bridge from the
    Lacanian ‘Real’ into symbolic form – in this case words. The previous sentence summarizes something of the contradictory nature of the overall observation
    task. There will always be a discrepancy between the feeling one lives in a
    moment and the expression of it.

    Thank you for sharing your moments and for giving me Shuasheng.

  3. Erica

    Happy Hanukkah Diane, happy learning and much love.

  4. Dorothy Johnson-Laird

    Hi Diana,
    I hope you will be able to also say, “I am beautiful Monkey Queen.” It’s good that you know how you best learn through story. Effie really comes to life through your words, I can just picture her.  Keep running!

    With peace,


  5. Anonymous

    Step by Step (padam padam in Sanskrit) – watching as you mature. 

  6. Mary Jones

    My grandmother was a gossiper. It was incredibly important to her that people look a certain way, act a certain way, and talk a certain way. Any derivation of the norm was to be talked about, almost always disdainfully. I’ve watched as my mother has struggled with that legacy, doing her best, but when her back was against the wall, or when she was nervous or uncomfortable, often falling into bad habits. I find that when I meet people, I can very easily break them down into categories, shortlists of strengths and weaknesses, pressure points that I can hit and elicit certain reactions. Gossip is something I’ve learned, something I have spent all of my adult life trying to stop. And for the most part, I’ve succeeded, but it comes with a huge amount of cognitive discipline. I can’t help but think what a wonderful way to start a new year, 10 days without a negative word about anyone. I wonder if I can extend those 10 days into 30, or a hundred.