Business first: Thanks to a successful test run (Thank Mom!), I can now confidently post my mailing address in case anyone feels the need to send something my way. It took eight days for the mail to get here, so nothing perishable, please.6F No. 51 Xin Sheng Rd. Yonghe City, Taipei County 234 Taiwan R.O.C.
First day of school! I was that excited before I realized what I was getting myself into. Thirty minutes into class I felt a little more, First day of school?
Our teacher walked in speaking Mandarin and never really stopped unless she was waiting for our class of ten to figure out we were to repeat what she’d said. Jason kept turning around to give me “are you getting any of this?” looks, and I would smile to reassure him that I, too, was lost at sea.
We painfully got the repetition act down, and our class was transformed into a hissing chorus as we learned the difficult Mandarin consonant combinations.
“Even Taiwanese people have trouble with this,” Wu-laoshi said encouragingly. Everything she says is encouraging, but what other way would you deal with fully developed adults learning something so challenging?
Wu-laoshi asked the non-Asians if we had Chinese names, and two of the five of us did. Colin’s name from Japan just had to be tweaked slightly to Ma Hŭlĭn, deer strong tiger. My name would be difficult, as V-sounds are decidedly lacking from Mandarin. I offered Wu-laoshi my middle name, and she immediately dubbed me Tí Níkĕ, dam girl certainly. It’s not quite as cool as Colin’s, but I like it.
We covered introductory dialogue, counting, and all of the consonant sounds during the three hours of day one, and both my brain and my mouth suffered fatigue from it all.
Day two we learned vowel sounds, Colin almost got in a fight, and then we learned more getting-to-know-you dialogue.
Wait now, a fight? Greg, an unfortunate “redhead” with the pinkish skin, invisible eyebrows, and explosive temper but so-light-it’s-blond hair, tried to pick a fight with Colin during one of our ten-minute breaks. Colin had been repeating the new sounds under his breath when other students were going, but apparently not as quietly as he had thought. Greg, nostrils flaring, accused him of being disrespectful, and Colin immediately apologized. But, as though Greg hadn’t heard the apology, he kept going: “You’re being disrespectful, and you can keep doing it if you want, but you know, there are going to be consequences.” Oddly, no one else showed any signs of noticing the exchange, including the teacher, who was checking our homework.
After class Colin, Pascal, and I found him waiting outside the building, intent on continuing to make his point. “I just wanted you to know you were being a dick—I’m not being a dick, you are, and I wanted that to be clear. Is that clear?” We stood on the corner through two rush-hour traffic-light cycles before he felt he was sufficiently understood, and finally the aggressive, macho, insincere “We’re good,” was exchanged.
We caught a bus on Wednesday, showing up to class early and relatively sweat-free. Colin went to find a bathroom, and I pulled out my sound chart to study in the dim, empty class. (I didn’t even try to turn on the lights. Honest, I’m not dull; these are not your normal light switches and the only button labeled said “Push to exit.” WTH does that mean?) Who was the first to show up? Our new friend Greg, of course.
He figured out the lights and, with something like nervous laughter, apologized for perhaps coming off a bit aggressive the day before—he hadn’t meant for it to seem that way. He told me I should tell Colin that everything was cool. Pascal showed up and behind Greg instead of in the seat that would be right next to Colin, as he had done the day before, and the three of us started talking about the weather and how we have to separate our garbage and so on. Colin and some others filtered in, and Pascal gave Colin a big goofy wave that I’m going to naively interpret as a “I still want to be friends with you but this guy makes me a little nervous” wave.
During class we did a lot of review of the new consonant and vowel sounds (there’s a test Thursday) and started stringing them together. We worked on all of the dialogue we’ve learned so far, then got paired up to talk about foods and present what foods our partner likes. My partner and I went first (oh dear, we’re going to get a video at the end of the term to remember just how horrible I am at this), and Greg talked to his partner during the whole thing. Colin was livid and kept trying to catch Greg’s eye, as Greg continued the stage whisper through other presentations.
We left immediately after class and walked back to the MRT with Pascal, the conversation consumed by apprehension of Thursday’s test. It had been pouring on and off during class, but was only a light misting as we walked. We emerged from the MRT to a downpour, however, and my sun umbrella stood up to it mightily. Deciding to pass on our errands for the evening, we slopped home together, Colin supporting me as my tractionless sandals sent me skidding across the wet tiled sidewalk.
At home we watched the rain from our balcony, and ran up to the roof when the rain had subsided but the lightning was giving a show. A few great bolts streaked across the sky directly ahead of us, with the thunderclaps coming several seconds later. It was actually chilly with the sprinkle and the breeze, so we returned below after not too long to enjoy a lovely dinner of noodles and bok choy and leftover curry potatoes. I chose to save my Chinese homework for the morning.