Saturday, August 28, 2004

Well, I did it! I moved. Hard as it is to believe, I actually moved a week ago. It really doesn't seem like it. Why do I always have to be moving into a new place right when I'm also supposed to start working? This is a habit I would like to avoid getting into.

In any case, my new apartment is slowly but surely taking shape. Even though I am living alone now, due to an amazing and unforeseen turn of luck, I am once again in a two-bedroom apartment, leaving me with what seems like massive amounts of space and very little to put in it. I am currently pretty much only living in the small bedroom, rather a lot like the single dorm room I had in college, until my parents can bring me my big bed from home in October. Then the small bedroom will become my office/guest room/library, and I'll actually have to make the large bedroom presentable, rather than a respository for all the things I haven't found a place for yet, and then shutting the door so I don't have to look at them all.

Soon the living room and dining area will be presentable, though! Yesterday, Lee and his father brought me the couch that used to belong to Lee's cousin who moved to Taiwan, and today I went shopping at Meijer and got a dining room table and chairs, a TV table, and a third bookshelf. Oh, and a phone with an answering machine, soon to be installed. This is becoming increasingly necessary, as more people learn my new phone number and my "garden level" apartment stubbornly continues to get almost no cell phone reception whatsoever. Now, if I could only get internet and cable service going, I'd be all set.

I have to admit that I am finding this whole process of starting over with almost entirely new stuff to be rather cathartic, as well as reminiscent of when I first arrived in Japan. There is just something very refreshing about moving into a new place with very little and arranging everything exactly as you want it. I hope that I can have everything well and truly put away soon, so I can feel like I am starting out fresh and organized both. I have high hopes for this year.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

I'm sorry to do this again, but this is yet another notice that blogging from me will be light. There are many changes going on right now, not the least of which is that I am moving apartments. This of course means that internet access will be sporadic at best, until I get settled enough to contact the cable company for a connection.

I do have it on good authority that I found an apartment and signed a lease the fastest this person had ever heard of. Unfortunately, packing all of my stuff and transferring it to the new place is going to take a bit longer. Why has no one invented a real Star Trek transporter yet? It would be much easier if I could just put it all in a big pile and beam it over.

In any case, there will be a more full report soon, hopefully after I have everything put away. At the very least, I will have stable access to a computer again on Monday, when fun, fun proctoring starts for exams at MSU. Whee!

Friday, August 13, 2004

Fly Away Home
I may not be able to truly satiate my desire to travel to exotic destinations right now, but I can at least go home. So I did. I ran away to North Carolina. I have been here for two days so far, and it has been wonderful. A vacation to recover from my summer vacation. I suppose it is true that one can never go home again in exactly the same way as it was when one was a child, but right now, I don't want that. It is, in fact, more comforting to me that I cannot come back and feel the same as I used to, because I do not want to feel that I am reverting back to something that was before or regressing in some way. I am enjoying being the me that I am now around the people who have known me the best and the longest.

My mommy, who loves me, took yesterday off of work to hang out with me. We had a late breakfast at Bruegger's, and then went to a place where my parents and I can spend hours upon hours of time: a bookstore. I wasn't going to spend any money, but, well, that obviously was not meant to happen. I picked up a book about the history of American English and another about the development of Spanglish. Fun, fun, fun! I'm building up quite the backlog of books that I am looking forward to reading, after I finish the book I've been reading ever since I went to China and then had no time to read. We followed that up by going to World Market and being girly about home decor items.

I had lunch with my dad today. First, though, we helped another guy from UUFR move the sound system cabinet into the new sanctuary. My dad and John have been in charge of the sound system for years now, John being a professional sound designer who used to work in theater in NY and my dad being an ex-electrical engineer, so I had a lot of fun listening to them commiserate and explain to me all the things the architects did wrong, from a sound design point of view, in that beautiful new room. Then my dad took me to one of the good restaurants in the fun area of town near his office, on the way stopping to point out to me the way to identify a GE train engine on the freight train that was parked on the bridge over the street we were on. Good, geeky times.

My brother loves his present from China, and has declared me a good sister. I got him a fake North Face jacket in Shangyiang Market in Shanghai, which was super cheap and apparently indistinguishable from the real thing. It even fits him, and the color was pronounced very satisfactory.

All in all, this has been an excellent trip home. It was a good decision to run away for a while, I think. If I have to have returning pains, this is a good place to do it.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

I am not alone
I've been catching up on reading blogs I couldn't see in China. In doing so, I came across this entry from Jonny Angel, in which he writes:
My insatiable taste for the "new" sometimes frightens me because it means potentially forsaking things like roots, stability, predictability, and comfort. And yet, I feel that if I don't strive for the new, I am cheating myself out of what life has to offer. This is a real inner-conflict of mine.

I am not alone.

I find myself needing to be constantly reminded right now that I am only 24, and there is nothing that says I have to have my whole life figured out just yet. Indeed, if I turn 30, or 35, and still don't have it all figured out, it'll be okay.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

I think it gets harder and harder to return to the US each time I travel long-term outside of it. I'm not really sure why. It doesn't feel like I'm running away from anything when I initially leave, it just feels like an adventure. When I come back, though, it feels like I'm being forced back into reality against my will. It's like the letdown I used to feel after Christmas vacation was over, only much, much worse.

Maybe it's that living in the US now feels too easy. Where's the challenge in living in a place where I understand all of the language being spoken around me? Where all the cultural interactions are second, or rather, first nature and require no analysis? There's some large portion of my brain that has now gotten used to being used this way, and when I'm back here, it's bored. There was a day a few months after I got back from Japan when I ended up riding the elevator at school with most of the German department, and I actually felt some measure of relief at not being able to understand every word they were saying, because it was allowing me to use that atrophying part of my brain. I do like being able to speak the language of the country I'm in, yes, but I also savor the challenge of knowing that every time I listen to someone or open my own mouth, I am improving my own language skills as I struggle to master said target language.

Maybe it's that I've been well and truly infected with wanderlust. Going to a new place promises new things to learn, new things to see, new observations to make. There is something so seductive about traveling. It's not even so much about the destination as it is about just going somewhere new. It all takes on an illusion of irreality, somewhat like life has become an interesting dream that I don't want to see the end of. Some of it is frustrating, to be sure, but in the end, it always seems to be worth it.

And then, maybe it's that I feel so many more possibilities in my life when I'm abroad, like I could reach out and grab any one of those infinite paths spread before me, and when I come back home, I feel my access to infinity dropping away. Out there, I can be anything, do anything, go anywhere. Here, I have a mold I need to slip back into, and it often chafes because the edges are no longer quite the same as they were before I left.

Will the mold re-form me back to what I was, or will I remake the mold?

Right now, it seems like it would just be easier if I could hop another plane and be on my way again, except this time, it really would be escaping. It doesn't help that I have a halfway serious job offer in China. Not enough to make me not want to get my MAs, because those will make me imminently more employable, but the offer is so... tantalizing.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Back to life, back to reality...
That's right, I am back from China. While in China, for those who were not following along at that blog, I got horribly, horribly behind on blogging, so most of the China updating is going to be taking place after the fact, but that's okay, because I took notes and pictures so as not to forget anything.

I thought it would be good to do a little retrospection on the experience linguistically here, though. I have noticed that I seem to be travelling long term to places where I have fewer and fewer language skills each time. First I went to Chile for 5 months, where I was functionally fluent. Then I went to Japan for a year, where I was at least competent to understand people and get around, even if I couldn't express myself very well. And now I went to China for 5 weeks, where I vaguely remembered some of my one semester of Chinese from 2.5 years ago, which put me at doing better than most of the people on the trip, but still very much in the large group of idiotic lost people following Lee around saying, "What does that mean? How do I say this?"

I found the whole thing rather frustrating. We were not in a position to get regular Chinese lessons, so there was little I could do in the way of systematic improvement. I did spend a lot of time listening, so some of my vocabulary came back, and I could occasionally surprise Lee and/or random Chinese people with what I did understand, but that's not saying much in the grand scheme of things.

It's been a long time since I was that far back in the language learning process, and it reminds me that I have some definite starting strengths and weaknesses. I understand Chinese grammar rules quickly. I like identifying systems. Put me in a beginning language class, and I will always be the person reminding others in my group how to use the irregular question form or what have you. I'm also good at listening and picking up key words. I watch body language enough to combine the few words I can pick out with non-verbal cues, and I can basically piece together the conversation going on around me. What I can't do is open my mouth and speak with any kind of confidence, usually until I feel like I've been listening and absorbing enough of the language around me that I've attuned my mind and tongue. Of course, I like to watch and listen in my own native language more than I like to speak, so it's not as if this is out of character for me or in any way only related to foreign language acquisition. (Not that you'd be able to tell from my loquaciousness in the blogosphere. It's just that I've finally found a medium in which no one can interrupt me.)

Note that none of the above says anything about reading and writing ability. I will never forgive Chinese for inventing the character system and then getting the Japanese to adopt it. Syllabaries I can deal with, but a writing system that is completely unrelated to the sounds of the spoken language is just unnecessarily cruel. How am I supposed to be able to quietly pick up vocabulary on my own from a cohesive context? Of course, the person who helpfully tried to invent the pinyin system of Western phonetic symbols was, I have decided, completely demented and possibly evil to boot. If there was ever a less obvious way to represent the sounds of Chinese in a Western alphabetic manner, I never wish to see it. I am very happy that Grinnell no longer teaches pinyin to the beginning class, but instead uses the "bopomofo" syllabary, because nothing screws up an English speaker's pronunciation of already difficult Chinese words than seeing them spelled in front of him/her. I just stopped looking at our cheater sheet during our 3 brief Chinese lessons and simply watched the teacher's mouth, because seeing the pinyin letters just wrenched my brain too much. Listening to the other people in the class who had never had any experience with Chinese, or any other Asian language, invited a great internal struggle not to go into teacher mode with my own peers and end up taking over the class from the nice Chinese woman railroaded into teaching us. I'm sure Lee was glad to escape attending the classes after the first day.

In any case, should I ever go back to China, I will definitely refresh my Chinese before going, because I am not spending another 5-week-stint being unable to ask the simplest questions and having to carry business cards for all the destinations I wish to go to in order to communicate with the taxi drivers. There's only so much blatant ignorance I can stand in myself.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?