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Export to China, Mianyang
3rd Apr 2016 - 22nd Apr 2016
Decoding English and Chinese literature

I was watching the high jump at the Tianfu sports weekend when a student sidled up and asked if I could help with a difficult passage in the English book he was reading. Yes I said but became a little anxious as he pulled out a copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover. He opened the book at the relevant difficult passage and with relief I read the difficult words: ‘I’ll say nowt and ha done w’it’. Ah, I can see how Nottinghamshire dialect and phrases could be difficult.

Works that are deemed to be Classics are even more revered in China than in the west, so it’s not surprising to find students getting hold of western ones, either in English or translated. Another student in my class was reading a translation of On the Road, certainly a classic of American 50s angst but not the smoothest of reads even in English and with a knowledge of the context. One of the books studied by English Majors is Catch 22, which I agree is quite brilliant, but I fear the humour of it passes them by.

Here’s a question I was asked by an English Major: ‘Mr. Patrick, I've recently finished the new series of 007 acted by Daniel Craig and started to have interests in things going around this film, like MI6. How much do you know about it? What's the relationship between this organization and PM and any other important political organizations in the UK? Can the leader issue an order without PM's consent? By the way, compared to the US agents of some movies, like Mission Impossible, I really prefer the way of the British Agent. I still remembered Daniel Craig escorted the queen to the place of the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony. What do you think of this arrangement?’ Interestingly, I found that both MI5 and MI6 have websites.

Chinese got a whole lot more difficult to decode this term as we progressed from Textbook 1 to Textbook 2 of the New Practical Chinese Reader. Each chapter has a dialogue to read: in book one the format deceptively switched from showing Pinyin first (Pinyin is the method of writing Chinese using romanic letters) and Chinese characters underneath, to Chinese characters on top, but Book 2 removes the pinyin prop except for listing new words (see pic.). Learning to recognise if not to write Chinese characters isn’t an option. In daily life, as back home, hardly anyone writes anything anymore, except that here the restaurant customer writes the order on a pad rather than the waiter noting it down. They have to make an exception for my verbal orders. Otherwise, text messaging, which may soon become as important as speaking, is done by typing pinyin and then choosing the required Chinese character. I’ve attached a couple of pictures showing the pinyin input screen and the choice of characters available, using ma or na as an example. The mobile isn’t clever enough to tell what tone is wanted with the pinyin syllable. Depending on the tone, ma could mean, ‘mother’, ‘horse’ or ‘I’m asking a question’ amongst others, each of course represented by an individual character.

As if learning Chinese wasn’t work enough, this term the college laid on a course on Chinese culture for any foreigners in town. I suspect the purpose was primarily a recruitment exercise, and being on Sunday afternoons the response from the foreign community was sporadic, but I did my bit and went along several times. In the best one we had a go at traditional Chinese water colour painting – my bird effort is attached. Otherwise, it was of most interest as an indication of Chinese primary schooling – lots of singing required and questions not anticipated or welcomed.

Next: Shanghai visit part 1
Previous: Flexible birthdays and other Chinese flexibility

Diary Photos

DaoXiaoMian (knife cut noodles) from Shanxi

Chinese study: Textbook 1 with Pinyin, Textbook 2, no Pinyin!

Rarely seen mountains west of Mianyang city

Flag Waving for Tianfu's Sports Weekend

Pinyin keyboard used to select Chinese characters

Character options available for one pinyin syllable!

The character drawing alternative to a pinyin keyboard

My attempt at Chinese water colours

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