活� again

April 4th, 2007

So I stuck with To Live for my Chinese study last night. Really, I’ve had enough of that textbook. I have other textbooks at a similar level up at the in-laws’ place. We should be going there this weekend, so I’ll have a look and see if there’s any worth bringing back for study. I have one somewhere called è¯?说中国, or something like that, which I remember being reasonably interesting by textbook standards. I’ll have a look and see if it’s worth bringing back. I mean, I’ve got to have something to learn grammar and other important little things like that from. And besides, one novel by one author in one style is naturally going to limit what I learn. To learn properly I’m going to need some variety. But To Live, at least so far, is going well.

Last night I started with rereading the first paragraph. I was pleased to see I’d pretty much retained all the new vocab. Well, there were a few ‘umm’s, ‘ah’s, ‘what was that again’s, and so on, but I always managed to remember the character in question, even if it took a bit of effort. Then I got stuck into the next paragraph. This is how I intend to keep studying this book. Well, when I’m halfway through, I’m not going to go right back to the beginning every evening and read all the way through until I reach the “new” paragraph, that would be silly. But reviewing the previous few paragraphs to make sure I’m retaining vocab and understanding is, well, a no-brainer, really. Language learning involves a lot of repitition, because it’s that repitition that firms up your learning, allowing you to retain the new information. Sure, there are lots of neat tricks to aid your memory, but none of them change the fact that language learning and retention is basically and ultimately a “use it or lose it” thing, and using it, in all languages, including your “native” language, means repitition.

Enough of the ranting.

So I reviewed the first paragraph, worked through the second, then read them both over again to make sure. Quite happy with my progress, even though it is definitely very early days yet. And I’m understanding enough to see that it really is quite well written. Take this line as an example:

“我头戴宽边è?‰å¸½ï¼Œè„šä¸Šç©¿ç?€æ‹–鞋,一æ?¡æ¯›å·¾æŒ‚在身å?Žçš„皮带上,让他åƒ?尾巴似的æ‹?打ç?€æˆ‘çš„å±?股。我整日张大嘴巴打ç?€å‘µæ¬ ï¼Œæ•£æ¼«åœ°èµ°åœ¨ç”°é—´å°?é?“上,我的拖鞋å?§å—’å?§å—’,把那些å°?é?“弄得尘土飞扬,仿佛是车轮滚滚而过时的情景。”

It’s radically different from any scene I remember in the film, but reading this I have this image of Ge You ambling loosely, disjointedly, in that way only he can, straw hat stuck on his bald noggin, flip-flops/jandals just managing to stay on his feet, strolling down dusty lanes between fields looking like he’s half asleep.

Ugh. This post was disrupted by an ugly, but necessary trip to the bank. It’ll take a moment to get my thoughts back in order. And yes, all trips to all banks are ugly. Nature of the beast.

Right. So in that passage I quoted there were a few things that got me. Well, first up most of the new vocab wasn’t new- it was all words I knew orally, but whose characters I had never learnt. That made the process easier. One of the truly new words was “å?§å—’å?§å—’” which I guessed from context was onomatopoeia (correct) and pronounced “batabata” (close- ba1da1). But there was one word I had learnt orally that turned out a little odd- 呵欠. The dictionary told me this was pronounced he1qian4, but lzh insisted the he1 was pronounced ha1. And then I realised- this was not a new word for ‘yawn’, but the word I’d been hearing lzh saying all along. Trouble is, she says it somewhat differently from how the dictionary says it should be said: What she says sounds more like HA1Qi. There’s a definite stress on the ha1, and the ‘an’ seems to drop off the qian4.

Nope, completely lost the train of thought. Maybe not so much lost it as missed it completely. Early this morning I knew what I was going to write and how, but having been disrupted by a trip to the bank, disturbed by a neighbour needing help, and various other things intruding into my little sphere, I’ve lost it.

Right, on to the other thing I was going to rant about:

I’ve been rereading Amy Tan’s The Bonesetter’s Daughter. I remember it being a reasonably good read, so far as saccharine American novels go, first time round. But this time it’s irritating me. The parts set in modern San Francisco seem alright, but that may be because I’ve never been anywhere on that side of the Pacific. The parts set in or near Beijing just irritate me. It’s lots of little things that bug me and build up until I no longer have any faith in Amy Tan’s ability to describe China. In fact, I’m rapidly approaching the point where I start thinking she knows sweet fuck all about China. Really. I mean, how the fuck do you catch malaria in Beijing? Or anywhere this far north? Well, The Bonesetter’s Daughter mentions a few very peripheral characters somehow managing that feat. Alright, I’ve heard of a man living near Stanstead Airport in London catching malaria from a mosquito that hitched a ride on a flight from somewhere tropical and survived just long enough to infect this hapless chap. But that was only a few years ago, while the parts of  The Bonesetter’s Daughter set in Beijing are set in the 1920s, 30s and 40s. How does Zhoukoudian become ‘The Mouth of the Mountain’? This might, perhaps, be a plausible translation, and I may be revealing my ignorance, but this just doesn’t seem right to me. And how does a rural northern Chinese woman constantly complain about food being too salty? Really? That’s ridiculous! Allow me to quote from the first paragraph of To Live:


Got that? That’s rural northern Chinese food. Anyway, there’s a lot of little things in that book that just don’t ring true and that, when combined, conspire to strip away my ability to suspend disbelief, willingly or otherwise.

Done ranting now.

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