30th April 2015

When I came here I was determined to learn some Chinese language. In Zhuhai I met a few Western teachers who seemed to get on OK with virtually none, but I don’t like that. Firstly I think it’s a little insulting to go to another country and not even attempt to learn it, we might call it the Colonial approach, still popular with a few ex-pats I know who live in Spain. Secondly it will make my life here easier. I don’t want to point at stuff that I want and whisper thank you to them in very bad Mandarin. I want to be able to chat a bit and tell the taxi driver where I want to go. Finding a taxi driver who spoke English would be a little like winning the lottery.

So get some lessons I thought. I’ve had three now and it’s going OK…..ish. My teacher teaches in what I know now is the Chinese style. I sit in the front row of the class, it’s only me IN the class and he stands at the lectern talking, scribbling on the board and asking me questions. He talks ominously of homework and what he’s going to test me on. I smile politely and write it down. So how is it going ? Well I’m starting to understand some pinyin, a Romanised Chinese alphabet created in the 1930’s. I’ve got the vowels apart from the sixth one which is a sod. (Try shaping your mouth as if you were going to say ooh but say eeee instead ?) Even the 4 tones are nowhere near as difficult as I thought. You have to sort of sing them if that makes sense. But oh those Chinese characters !!! Imagine somebody scribbled something utterly incomprehensible to you then pointed to it and says this is the sign for fish. They then scribble something equally incomprehensible that looks remarkably like the first scribble and says that it means Province. Now I jest of course. Just because they appear arbitrary to me doesn’t mean that they really are. I just have no terms of reference. So, I’m paying this guy so I plucked up my courage, told him that I didn’t want to learn Chinese characters, I can do that more efficiently by myself with flash cards and I just want to learn conversational English.

Anyway I’d better go I’ve got a stack of homework to do…..