This week has been a making-Europe-known week for me, not just for the Chinese but for others as well. Some days ago I met a Sudanese girl at the housing office, who had just arrived and didn’t have a clue what she was supposed to do. She didn’t speak any Mandarin either. I stayed with her for some hours, and we had a great time walking around the campus taking care of stuff. Now I have a Sudanese friend too! She was really grateful for the help and I told her that I’d been in her exact situation one month before, so it was natural. It can be frightening to find yourself in a strange place far from home where you don’t know anyone, don’t speak the language and don’t have a place to stay. On weekdays I have been participating as an assistant teacher for Chinese students learning English during their lessons. The reception has been overwhelmingly positive, even though I’m not a native speaker. (Perhaps that’s why, it’s not as intimidating!) I was very surprised to learn that none of the students have been to Europe. Not even the UK, or Germany, or any other big country! Perhaps this participation will prompt their curiosity to awaken.
I attended a lecture by Richard Young from the university of Wisconsin-Madison on world languages and local identities. According to him, the language we speak makes up a big part of our identity, and hegemonic languages usually face resistance from minority groups, because they feel their cultural identity is threatened by assimilation. A good example of this can be found in the Xinjiang province, where a significant Uyghur minority is residing. Young further argues that the minorities are negotiating a “glocalised” (globalised/localised) identity, and that they are “languaging” an identity. Examples of this he finds in the Inca empire and the Spanish inquisition, when the quichua language was threatened by Spanish invaders. Languaging an identity means that parts of a hegemonic language are integrated to secure the preservation of a minority language. Examples of this he finds in Korea, Malaysia and Singapore, where English is the hegemonic language. As a result of languaging, there are now varieties of English spoken known as Konglish, Manglish and Singlish in the area. After the lecture we had a nice chat, and he was very interested in the Swedish-speaking Finns’ current situation. Riku, you seem to have a doppelganger: he is originally from the UK, his name is Richard, he is a linguist and is interested in Firthian phonology!
Spring is here, which means that every other night there’s a meowing concert going on beneath my window. The residents’ cats roam freely during the night, and apparently their hormones are raging as well. I’ve been making plans with my friend, who is coming to Wuhan in April and leaving in May. To think that she’s coming all the way here! It’s amazing and I’m very grateful to her. We have some plans, which we’ll have to discuss in detail later. Things learned:
- When Chinese people practice reading English, everyone reads aloud at the same time, which results in a cacophony of unintelligible noise.
- No one crosses their legs when sitting.
- Cutting off relationships, especially to family members, is a big deal in China. There is a legend circulating about a Wuhan University student who stopped speaking to his parents some time ago.
- Critical thinking and other life skills are taught alongside the subject in question during lessons. This is something that I appreciate a lot, and is needed at home in Finland too. Students learn how to separate facts and opinions, how to face adversity, and how to feel gratitude for the things they have (there are educational videos even).
- It’s literally 20 times faster and cheaper to get new glasses in China than it is in Finland. When I broke my glasses for the umpth time I went to the campus optician, who simply popped out the lenses, put them into a new frame, and told me that the total cost would be 140 yuan. Yes, yuan, not euro. That means about 18 euro for a new pair of glasses. (In Finland, you need to put a zero at the end, and then double it!) Everything was over in three minutes. Talk about effective and cheap customer service.
One of the themes this week has been happiness. Wen raises her students’ motivation by encouraging them and telling them about her own experiences with mid-life crises. “I hope that you will be carefree and happy forever, but it is very improbable. When adversity strikes, you experience it and live through it!” She told us that she had this crisis when she had escaped death three times. The first time was when she was 17, at sea on a boat that capsized when a big wave hit, and she fell overboard. She was under water for a long time, until she was pulled up by a fisherman, who happened to be rowing nearby. The second time was when she was giving birth to her daughter. It was a difficult delivery and it took her several months to recover. The third time was when she was on a flight from Singapore to Hong Kong. The weather was really bad, and the plane almost flew into an electric pole. Despite these experiences, she is very optimistic and resilient. We looked at some famous quotes about happiness. “When you are well married, you are winged. When you are ill-matched, you are shackled.” Wen especially likes this quote and told us that even though none of us students have experience of married life yet, this is a good quote to follow. You need to feel like you have wings, like a free bird, and not shackled in a cage. This means that you have matched well. She feels like she is winged, and encouraged us to look for the same feeling. Growing old is also something which is not to be avoided. “It’s okay, you have to face it anyway!”
After the lecture, I went to have lunch with two Chinese guys, who became my friends. I was thinking of going to a canteen, but we ended up in a five-star(?) restaurant instead. We had lotus root, bamboo shoot, nuts and fish, which are shown in the picture, and we had a lot of fun discussing why people choose to go to study in a certain country (one of them has been to Bolivia in exchange, the other one in Scotland) and we had an exploratory adventure on our way back to the dorms, finding hidden alleyways and footpaths in the vegetation. Next Sunday, all three of us will have lunch at Wen’s place with her daughter, who is also my friend, and her husband. Earlier this week I went to have lunch with other Chinese students, and afterwards they would have an English-speaking competition. The idea was to dub a part of the movie “Alice in Wonderland”. The movie plays in the background, and the students are voice actors, carrying out the dialogues in English. I feel a bit overwhelmed now, with over 50 new WeChat contacts. At least there’ll be no time to get bored!