Monday, September 26, 2005

Hanging Out With My Language Partner

I don't believe that I've mentioned James before. That would make sense considering the fact that today was the most interaction I've had with him since meeting him. A week or two ago, I was sitting by the pond with Donny and Ryan doing homework, and we noticed some Chinese guys putting bags and cups into the water. We didn't know what they were doing, so we looked up every so often. It turns out that there were small fish in the pond, and they were catching them. I still don't know why, but I think that remains irrelevant.

About half an hour after we noticed the guys, one of them came over to our table and starting talking to me. He said his name was James and that he was looking for an American friend to practice speaking with. An alarm went off in my head that sounded something like, "SHADY! DON'T GIVE OUT YOUR CONTACT INFORMATION!" I had been in that mode because of all the modeling offers I had been getting recently. However, James seemed nice, and he offered to help me with my Chinese for no charge. I gave him my email address.

A few days later, I realized how much trouble I was having speaking in class. My speaking was, and still is, just terrible. I decided that a language partner would be a good idea. Besides the benefit of free help with my Chinese, I really like helping people with their English. So he and I got in contact, met up, and talked about how we could arrange our practice times.

Today was our first day for practice, and it was Chinese day. I was nervous at first, as I always am when I'm speaking Chinese with new people. James is really nice and really patient, though, so I got more comfortable with talking. Looking back on it now, I think I can safely say that my speech became less stilted the longer we talked. I got more comfortable with making mistakes, too, so now I have some consistent screw-ups that I make corrected. That's really nice.

Our practice time today consisted of my getting my hair cut again, walking some, and eventually going to McDonald's. Before going in, we had what must have been a really entertaining conversation to the people walking by, judging by their expressions.

"What? You don't eat meat?" he asked.

"No. Not even fish. I know, I know. It's strange."

"Oh. But... how do you get energy? I'm always so hungry when I only eat vegetables."

"I seem to do okay, really."

"But... can you eat McDonald's?"

"Haha, I can eat a few things. But it's all so bad for your health!" I said.

"Huh? Really?"

"Of course it is!"

"I don't know about that. McDonald's makes Chinese people tall. I was only this tall when I was 16," he said, holding his hand at the middle of his chest. "But then McDonald's came and I ate it alot, and now I'm this tall."

At this point, we started talking about how McDonald's makes people grow up and out, to put it nicely. I told him about the movie "Supersize Me." He seemed both shocked and intrigued that someone would eat McDonald's for every meal for a long period of time. Shocked because it's a ridiculous concept, but intrigued because he thinks the food tastes really good. After walking and talking about McDonald's for so long, we decided that we would go in, but only for drinks.

Inside, I was the only non-Chinese person. That's never surprising when I get more than 100 meters from the campus, but the amount of staring that happened in McDonald's was much greater than it has been in other places. I was by myself at the table for about 4 minutes because James dropped his drink and went to get another, and people at surrounding tables were looking at me expectantly. I felt like I should have had a meiguo act ready. (Meiguo = United States).

When James got back, we talked about all kinds of stuff: people's accents, what the phrase "to make fun of" means, george bush, personality politics in presidential elections, a tiny bit about our families (that surprised me), and a few other political types of issues that I wouldn't have been expecting to discuss on our first time hanging out, let alone in Chinese. I fumbled like crazy with vocabulary in most of those issues, but I was apparently clear enough to be understood. At this point, I think that's the best I can ask for. He helped me with vocabulary issues, and then I had a few grammar questions after that. I think I have a much better idea of when to use this one particle in Chinese now. He explained it very clearly.

On the way out, an old man sitting at the next table asked me where I was from. I told him, and with widened eyes and a nod, he said, "Ah." He seemed pleased. That was the end of that conversation. I have that conversation several times a day when I'm off campus. I think people are afraid I'm not going to be able to speak anymore Chinese beyond that. Okay, I don't really think that. I think it's actually the case that people have never met anyone from the states before, and there aren't any specific questions that immediately come to mind.

I think this language exchange is going to be good for both me and James. I told him that if he wanted me to, I could work on pronunication with him. He seemed really excited about that. I think pronunciation is a point that he's nervous on with his English, but most people I've met never want to actually ask, "Um, can we do some really remedial pronunciation drills? I don't think I sound right." After I mentioned being able to help him with pronunciation, he said, "Oh! That is really good! I told my friends that I would be practicing with an American, and that I thought your speech was probably the best there is. I think your accent must be very good. Thank you!"

So, to conclude, I love people I meet in China. They're so nice.


Post a Comment

<< Home