Former Extension Educator, Local Food Systems and Small Farms
Richard W. Clark
Former Visiting Associate Professor, Human & Community Development
Former Extension Educator, 4-H Youth Development
Former Extension Educator, 4-H Youth Development and 4-H Youth Development - Metro
Former Outreach Initiative Specialist
Former Director of Web Development
Former Extension Educator, Youth Development
JoAn C. Todd
Former Extension Educator, Nutrition and Wellness
Former Extension Educator, 4-H Youth Development - Metro
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Monday, April 28, 2008
Kong zi shuo: "you peng zi you an fang lai, bu yi le hu?" (Confucius says: "Having friends from afar is great happiness, is it not?") In addition to being able to pronounce the names of the cities we'd visit and say such phrases as "thank you" and "you're welcome", I chose this saying from the ones Virginia shared in January. I anticipated that we might make friends in this far away land. What I did not anticipate was how surprised these new friends and chance encounters in an elevator or shop would be that a foreigner would take the time to try to learn their language.
The first full day in Shanghai, Virginia called on me to speak this phrase at the first meeting of our group with the Vice President of Sanda University. As I gave my best rendition of the saying, the Vice President chimed in so that we both spoke "bu ye le hu?" ("is it not?") in unison. This happened time and time again. Each time I uttered the first portion it was the same reaction, wide smiles and finishing the saying in unison with me. It was the same reaction with Director Wang and his wife of the Zhejiang Province Hydrological Bureau, the beautiful Chinese lady in the train depot, and the principal at Lu Hang Middle School in Pudong. I shook hands with the middle school principal during the saying and she continued to pump my hand vigorously, saying "yes, we are good friends and should remain so." This saying prompted the Deputy Party Secretary of Wenzhou University to try to teach me another Confucius saying about continuing friendships, by "coming and going." No matter the specific situation, all seemed genuinely pleased by the sentiment and my attempt to speak the sentiment in their native language. By the way, the "coming and going" Confucius saying will be the next phrase I intend to learn.
Chinese phrases seemed to bring a smile and surprised looks. Patti was trying on jackets at a shop and asking my opinion. My response of "ma ma hu hu" ("so-so" or "O.K.") evoked a chuckle. Saying "excuse me" or "I'm sorry" ("dui bu qu") to move past a person in a shop or when I spilled a beverage garnered a benevolent "it's all right" ("mei quan xi") response. Telling the shop keeper I wanted a blue ("lan se da") dress for a 13 ("shi san") year old made for successful shopping.
Other times knowing just a little of the language allowed me to identify a tiny piece of what people were saying, enriching the whole experience. One mother was telling her small child about the "plane" ("fei ji") as we walked down the loading ramp. Many times people responded with "Bu ke qi" ("you are welcome") after I had said "thank you" ("xie – xie"). Even knowing the photographer was counting "yi, er, san" ("one, two, three") before taking a picture was exciting.
Of course, not all communication attempts were completely successful. The morning of our first workshop, Patti and I realized we still needed to locate a plate to complete a Terrific Teachable Moments activity. All the English speaking staff were gone from the faculty cafeteria as we tried to use hand motions to ask to borrow a plate. We'd been eating on sectioned trays and drinking tea from plastic glasses without saucers, so nothing served at breakfast required a plate. Our "circular, flat, eating motions" only garnered confused looks. Then one of the cleaning staff motioned that we should write what we needed on a piece of paper. There was a ray of hope that we might finally communicate. I drew a circle to signify the plate and wrote the word "plate" and handed it over. The staff person glanced at the paper and promptly wrote three Chinese characters that were equally as confusing to me as my English word was to her -- a TOTAL COMMUNICATION IMPASS! We did find a saucer in Mr. Lu's office down the hall, and realized we had a very long way to go with our Mandarin.
Perhaps my favorite language encounters were with children and university students. Almost all students we encountered wanted to practice their English. And the Wenzhou student volunteer interpreter, Cathleen (her American name) who showed me the student union was no exception. But knowing a tiny bit of Mandarin allowed her the opportunity to recommend small changes in the way I made a particular sound when I said the Confucius saying to her. The last day we toured an island. During our walk we came upon a school group. We wanted to take their photos and they wanted to take photos with Americans. At the end of the day, while waiting a few minutes for the rest of our group, I encountered the same group of children and teachers. Since we had already taken photos together, I approached a teacher and said, "We are friends" ("wo men zi peng yao"). Then I asked if the children could help me practice counting in Chinese. I started and the children gathered round and counted to at least to 30 (way past my ability). Then the teacher instructed the children to count in English. Finally she suggested they sing action songs. They were so enthusiastic and animated! It was one of the most wonderful encounters of the whole trip!
I spent considerable time with the CD provided by Virginia for the PDO and a computer program that teaches language, to learn as much Mandarin as I could before April 15. Every minute I spent learning our host's words and phrases was well worth it. Showing respect is a very important value in the Chinese culture. I hope that making the effort to learn even a small portion of the language showed respect to such gracious hosts and the Chinese people in general.