rambling again

July 17th, 2008

Thin, high cloud outside, but otherwise it’s looking like a beautiful day. I think, if the weather holds, I might go out and wander round a bit after lunch. I think No. 34 round to Tianqiao, see what can be seen of the Qianmen renovations from the southern end, then….. wander.

Moving apartments was a series of trade-offs, really. We’ve got more space, but the bedroom, bed, and wardrobe are all smaller, for example. The biggest advantage is what was probably designed to be the second bedroom. Bedroom? No, now it’s an office, a study, perhaps even a studio. Well,’studio’ may be taking things a bit far for now, but even so….

Well, whatever, it’s great. In one corner is a large computer desk/cabinet that holds both the university-supplied computer (which works amazingly well for a BeiGongDa-supplied computer), a printer, various electronic bits and pieces and my laptop, CDs, textbooks for work, stationery and some random stuff that needed a home. On either side of the window are the bookshelves on which our non-work books are arranged neatly: novels; poetry; Chinese language resources; Chinese history and philosophy; random non-fiction…. I’ve never been so neat in my life. And then in the corner opposite the computer desk is the cheap and nasty foldaway dinner table that comes standard in the foreign teachers’ apartments. It’s cheap and nasty, but it also happens to be at the perfect height for me to study comfortably. On the table are a black desk lamp, a black gel-ink pen, an HB pencil, an eraser that seems to have acquired a couple of patches of sticky, green paint from the outside of the pencils in the pencil case it was stored in, two notebooks- one for general use, one of those primary school style notebooks with the grids for practicing characters in which I copy down new characters- a dictionary and the books I am currently studying- Twilight in the Forbidden City by Reginald F. Johnston- an absolutely fascinating book, highly recommended- An Intensive Course of HSK (Advanced) from the BLCU Press- dry and boring with two few examples, but it does provide a good breakdown of each section of the HSK Advanced and explanations of the main testing points, difficulties, and things to watch for in each section- and HSK Exam Grammar from the Peking University Press- also dry and boring but necessary because it goes into the grammar in far more detail than the other book. And for seating there are two cheap and nasty fold-up plastic chairs. A colleague who also spends a lot of spare time studying Chinese needs a proper office chair and got one from the Pingleyuan wholesale market two days ago- we’ll see how long it is before he leans back and breaks his latest victim- but these two plastic chairs are more than adequate for me. All I need is enough support for my back to stop me from slouching- something I’ve always been far too good at, ask my parents.

There are a few other bits and pieces. One corner is being used for storage- I think it’s mostly shoes- and leaning against the end of the computer desk beside the door are my small backpack and the satchell I use for class. There’s also a CD player/tape recorder/radio, but the CD player is busted and Chinese radio seems to be pretty much the same as New Zealand radio- mostly ads, about half of which are the radio stations’ own ads boasting how great the station is and how much music they play, and maybe in between all these ads and the mindless blether of the DJs (honestly, do they have a maximum IQ requirement for DJs?) you might be lucky to hear one or two songs every now and then. And if the songs are actually worth listening to then you’re on such a roll of good luck you should go buy a lottery ticket. Noise, in other words. And news and [shudder] talkback radio don’t really interest me. I suppose I should one of those story-telling programmes the old-style cabbies always listen to, they’re pretty cool, and good listening practice. Perhaps I need to find the frequency for this station (the page will load, but you won’t be able to listen to it with Firefox. It cooperates with Explorer, of course (Oh China, when will you end your obssession with Microsoft?!)) and listen to it the old fashioned way.

Tangent: I notice two things about the BJ Radio homepage. A countdown giving us 22 days 10 hours however many minutes and however many seconds to the Olympics- it’s that close? Wow. Time flies when the Olympics have been hammered in your face every day for the last seven years. And this: “文明办网文明上网举报网址:www.bj.cyberpolice.cn;举报电话:85223518”. Hmmm….. Having trouble finding frequencies for their stations, though.

But I’ve found classical music to be quite good as study background music. Well, depends on the composer. So far I’ve found Mozart to be a little distracting, but Bach and Rachmaninov work well. I’m one of those people who is more comfortable studying with a bit of music in the background- just enough to block out the outside world, create a kind of aural coccoon. I drove my mother nuts when I was in high school, she couldn’t see how I could possibly be learning anything with this music blaring, but it does actually help me concentrate. Of course, you don’t want the music to take over or distract, just to sit there in the background and massage your mind. Bach and Rachmaninov, as I said, have proven quite useful in that respect. Mozart is just a little bit too much of a show-off to be helpful, always grabbing my attention and saying, “Hey, check this out!” I’ll have to experiment with other composers to try and find the perfect mix.

I also need to get more classical Chinese music- the real stuff, not that CCTV rubbish which is really Western orchestral pop with a thin veneer of Chinese characteristics.

And right now, as if on cue, somebody outside is playing what sounds like one of the traditional Chinese flutes. I can’t see who or where, and so don’t know exactly which instrument, but along with the cicadas, people going about their lives, that gentle breeze, and even the distant rumble of traffic on Xidawang Lu, it’s providing quite a pleasant backdrop.

But the key thing is: It’s a lot easier to study when you’ve got a space you know you can comfortably study in. Oh sure, there is the library, which is pretty good, but this space I can customise, personalise, and that makes it even more comfortable and therefore much better for study purposes. Of course, there are more distractions here, but….. So far it’s working well.

Yesterday was comparisons. I already know most of this, at least in the practical, everyday, down and dirty get the message across kind of way. But my theoretical knowledge is a bit lacking and HSK likes to ask finnicky little questions in which you have to find some tiny technicality that even educated native speakers would have trouble picking out. This is one of the areas that tripped me up in April. And so I opened up An Intensive Course of HSK (Advanced) and started working through it’s dry, technical explanations of the 比较句 (comparison sentence). It’s alright, and pretty clear, but a little short on detail and desperately lacking in examples. Then I got to the end of that section where it informed me:


  1. … …于:胜于、强于、大于、小于、无异于、不亚于、相当于
  2. … …过:胜过、赛过
  3. … …似:胜似、深似、恰似

[actually, I’m not sure about ‘赛过’, the character in my book is not very clear and that’s the closest I can find]

And that’s it. No further explanation. No rules for the usage of these 文言词语, no further examples, nothing. And so I opened HSK Exam Grammar to the appropriate section to seek clarification- that book, after all, goes into much more detail and gives much deeper explanations and far more examples. Nothing. Not even a mention of the 文言词语 used to express comparisons. But I decided I could at least work through that section and try and get a better, deeper handle on the various comparison structures.

Lot’s of dry, boring, technical explanations of grammatical structures. Oh yes, I am in heaven.

I am such a masochist.

Well, I’m going to have to get back into those novels that fell by the wayside with HSK and then the end of semester rush. I still haven’t finished 《活着》- bloody hell, that must be taking me nearly two years now- but my wife bought me 《狼图腾》for my birthday. Oh, don’t worry, I’m not expecting great literature from it, I just wanted to see what the fuss was about. And considering I can read it in the original, it doesn’t make much sense to get Howard Goldblatt’s new translation. Anyway, got to get back into the novels to balance the technical stuff and keep the interest level up.

And we plan to get ourselves some calligraphy supplies this weekend. I’ve always been interested, ever since my school in Changsha took us foreign teachers to a calligraphy exhibition at the Hunan Museum only a few days after we’d arrived in China. I got a few informal lessons from one of the art teachers at my school, and at that exhibition I met a guy, a student at one of the smaller universities, who was quite a talented amateur calligraphy who showed me a bit more, helped me pick out books, taught me a little about the different styles and the tools of the trade. But that was it. I should’ve followed it up in Taiyuan and then Beijing, but for whatever reason- sheer laziness, if I’m going to be honest- didn’t. Well, now that I have this little study which is starting to take on the dimensions of a studio, seems like a good time to get back into that. lzh knows a bit of calligraphy and also wants to practice a little more. Should probably also find a teacher…. Anybody want to teach me calligraphy for free?

Well, if this is going to be a studio, it should probably have a name. Any suggestions?

6 Responses to “rambling again”

  1. Micah Sittig Says:

    On the HSK, it sounds like you’re on a similar track as me: combine grammar studies with a lot of extensive reading. I’m planning to plan (yes) to take the HSK next year and, knowing how nitpicky the exam can be I’m hoping that the reading I’ve done outside of “class” will fill my head with enough Chinese language intuition to be able to make good guesses on those technical questions.

  2. wangbo Says:

    Yep, that’s more or less what I’m trying to do, although the outside reading is also their to keep my interest levels up. Trouble with the books I have is going from the relatively simple examples to the hideously complex and incredibly finnicky test questions. Oh, and I’m trying to boost myself up to Advanced, which raises the level of complexity.

    Which level HSK are you aiming at?

  3. Micah Sittig Says:

    > Which level HSK are you aiming at?

    That’s why I say “planning to plan”, I’m not sure yet which level is appropriate to me. Probably intermediate to not be too discouraged the first time around, but I really gotta spend an afternoon at the bookstore sizing things up.

  4. wangbo Says:

    Ah, right. Make sure you get practice tests, too, they can be a lot of help, and they’re pretty close to the real thing.

  5. Ji Village News Says:

    Regarding radio program to listen to, have you thought about listening to some 相声 or 单口相声 on CD? They can be entertaining and the pronunciation tends to be good. I found 刘宝瑞’s 单口相声 to be particularly enjoyable.

  6. wangbo Says:

    That’s a good idea, I’ll have a look next time I’m CD shopping. And I’ll definitely have to find one of those radio stations that does story telling and xiangsheng.