Monday, September 8, 2008

Sun YanZi's annoying high-pitch songs played during breaks: Back at IUP

The transition back to IUP was smoother than I had expected. The weather in Beijing is cooler, not nearly as humid as when I had left it. All the trees on the Qinghua Campus are in post-summer bloom. I completely missed orientation, so the faces that I passed by between breaks were unfamiliar, except for the faces of a few Yalies. However, the teachers all say hello as I pass by - I'm glad I haven't been forgotten.

For this module, I am taking courses called "Participation," Broadcast Chinese and Colloquial Chinese. The vocabulary lists are simpler than I had expected, so I spend less time preparing for each class. I find myself reading more Chinese magazines, especially Shenghuo ZhouKan (Life) and Jinrong (Finance), and talking about the things I read with friends and teachers. My Chinese is getting more fluent and my responses to questions are getting longer, but in the midst of all I want to say I drop little characters like 就 or 都. I try not to get extremely excited or angry when I express my thoughts, even if what I say calls for such emotional outbursts. Feelings cloud grammar.

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Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Concerto: Basan Part 13

"Why are we stopping?" I ask. We are driving back to Lhasa along the Friendship Highway instead of through the Kamba-La Pass and the old southern route. The Friendship Highway is not really conducive to building friendship - the cracks and huge holes along the road forces Laba to swerve from one lane to another. Laba's soft swears starts to change his eternal facial expression.

"To prevent car accidents along the highway and to prevent traffic, the government forces all cars to stop at checkpoints if the cars have reached the checkpoints faster than their allotted time limit," explains Laba.
We all get out of the car to wait out the remaining twenty minutes. Laba sighes as he sits on the ground to smoke a cigarette. Other drivers and travelers are waiting too, eating corn or watermelon, drinking butter tea or kicking dirt to pass the time. The river down the gorge that we just crossed reminds me of the dirt water in the river streaming down from the Himalaya mountain range, but the huge concrete bridge juxtaposing the natural landscape takes away the natural beauty of the area.
"Come on Basan, let's go," says Laba.
"What?" I reply.
Tsekey says, "You're Basan."
As I get into the car, I ask, "What does Basan mean?"
"Umm... in Tibetan, it means Friday." replies Tsekey.
"Friday, as in the weekday Friday?"
"Yes. Though, it means more than Friday."
"It means something like smooth sailing (specifically 一帆风顺) and good luck," says Laba.
"Why did you call me that?" I ask.
"Just by observation," says Laba.
"What did I do that deserved such a nickname?"
"Everything you've planned and executed, it seems, has been blessed by luck. Think about your trip."
I cannot really see the "luck" that Laba mentions as much as I see pure chance - the clouds around Everest were gone by chance, the travel permit to get into Tibet was by what I think was chance. The real luck that I can see is that by coming to Tibet, I avoided the earthquake that devastated parts of Yunnan and southern Sichuan province a couple days ago. I am truly lucky, however, to be able to visit a region of the world and to see its culture and society, which may be completely warped in the next few decades as the Chinese government pursues its own Manifest Destiny, exploring and exploiting its western resources. I fear that I will be disgusted on the train ride back to Beijing as I see the skies thicken with the hazy gray mixture of fog and smog and airborne coal.

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