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 wù. Pronouncing wù (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