Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Last week's 'Quote of the Week'

After teaching Chinese weekly for perhaps 20 weeks to one of my students, we came across the word 'Qichuang' (get up in the morning) pronounced 'chee-chwang'. After trying to say it several times, my student said with a big grin: "Finally we are speaking real Chinese."
Skin of my teeth

Well, at the specified time of the year, I received my Japanese Proficiency test results. It was almost as disastrous as it could have possibly been. My predictions had been:

Vocabulary and Characters 96%, Listening 60%, Reading 75%.

My actual result was:
Vocabulary and Characters 96%, Listening 44%, Reading 63%.

Overall, I got 66.4%, which was over the 60% I needed to 'pass' and get a certificate saying I was of Grade 2, but it floated very close to that line. It was an improvement on my 1998 result in every area though:

Vocabulary and Characters 81%, Listening 19%, Reading 57.5%.

My next step is not as clear as for Chinese. I am not sure if I can devote the huge amount of time and energy I put into getting this result, and doubling it, to get to Level 1 level. I am interested in continuing my studies in Japanese. I have already lost my edge, but would probably still use the materials I have to deepen my understanding and try the same level again. It is a nice level and I don't mind remaining on it and seeking a more satisfying result. Of course, once I get back on the studying horse, I might be grasped by inspiration to go the whole way. We'll see.

Sunday, February 26, 2006


2006, contrary to my desire, has been a rather bumpy road in regards to my health. In early January I had chosen it as a main focus to get well and then get fit both of body and mind. I hadn't expected the first one of those to take so long. It is the eighth week of the year and I am only finally escaping from what has been a rather bad run of nuisance health problems (yes, I count myself lucky that something really serious hasn't grabbed me, as should all people. Here's a run down:

I started the year with one mostly healed injured ankle. Well enough to go 17km on New Year's day, that through imprudence (a key word for me), was reinjured and then due to my lopsided protection of that ankle, injured the other ankle. At its peak, both ankles were injured on both sides; the lower calf on the outside was strained and the inside ligaments on both were sprained. Now, I would provisionally say one, the original troublemaker, has healed. The other is painless right now, and should it be painless till my next block of work.

Wisdom teeth have been a non-problem, that became a problem and then, well, let's hope its all for the best. I had all four wisdom teeth removed, which to my ears sounded OK (so long as they need to be removed), but to everyone else's ears sounded a tad excessive, and a rip off. Either way, with the surgery more than a week old, I have still got some teeth concerns. It seems that the swelling pushed my teeth around, and then as the swelling went down the teeth all went back to where they came from, this however opened up the gums close to the teeth and was collecting food in them and it became painful to eat. So I had to revert to soft or mulched food again and still am. But the trip to the dental surgeon explained the necessity of each removal and soon as things are back to normal, I will be happy that I have had them done together without any great ordeal.

I may have also had a mild bout of anaemia again after the surgery. This is purely self-diagnosed, but I felt dizzy and nauseous till about Wednesday this week. It was possibly also another case of imprudence when I decided to start work again on the Monday after my surgery.

And my back is still a work in progress. Absolutely fine when there is nothing wrong, and painful if I sit to play chess or teach for more than an hour.

With such a long list, I have considered how I am going to get back out of this unhealthy hole. Namely, iron tablets in the short term, mulched diet till my next working week, grass-walking throughout this week, gentle exercise and stretching for my back and legs ongoing, longer-gentle walks next week, yoga when my back is no longer in any pain, a nice variety of food once my gums have recovered and then hopefully 100km's in April to wash it all down.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Losing Wisdom

When I was on the bus in Taiwan, one of the few AIESECers who vaguely wanted to continue a conversation with a scary foreigner was explaining his Chinese name, Yingzhi, saying it meant "full of wisdom". And every time he met me again he always said, 'Remember me? I'm full of wisdom.' Anyway, in a different way, last Friday I was depleted of my wisdom with the expensive extraction of four of my "third molars".

The surgery itself was a piece of cake. You lie back, get injected and then leave the world for what seems like barely a few minutes (wish I watched the clock, it was over an hour). What happens after that is much more exciting. You suddenly get moved out on your wobbly, wobbly legs and thrown into a waiting car, which happens to be piloted by Xin's mum. Suddenly you realise that your mouth is full of stuff and you find the front of your jaw, everything from the mouth down, including your lips are completely without sensation and hanging limply. Then you discover that one of those things in your mouth is your tongue - also dozing. You stare into the wing mirror and realise your left jaw decided to adopt an expansive strategy. You look like a lopsided gangster.

You go home with a bag full of drugs and are told not to make any important decisions or drive a car. Hmmmm. Should I take these drugs? Anyway, you do crosswords and watch Chinese TV instead and then remember the drugs two hours later. You struggle down a banana smoothie, which is an appalling experience when your tongue is not in operation or with sensation, and then take those pills. Without a tongue to motivate one's desire for food, many of us would die of hunger you surmise. Your girlfriend kindly calls and you tell her, 'Rhaaay dung eeth nung.' Then feel awfully tired and collapse on bed, awaken at sometime, feel dizzy, collapse on the bed again. You celebrate the reactivation of every mouth muscle.

You get amazed that none of your previously chronically sore body parts are sore and claim to have been miraculuously cured and then remember to take your regular dose of Codeine. You cut down your painkiller intake and suddenly those body parts are reinjured.

Well, that's how it was for me, or was it? The last two days have been better, and now I am almost back to normal. I can almost eat all the things I would usually. Although if I were a carnivore, steak would be an impossibility. My jaw is back to about a third of its swelling from Friday, but still obvious. Anyway, a nice little adventure in the journey of life.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

'To have no hate nor love toward people'

My Chinese study is slowly overcoming inertia and has some movement forward after a break of about a month and a half. I am absolutely flabbergasted in retrospect at my study work-rate last year. I was a machine! It is impossible to return to that state immediately, so I am doing what comes naturally: Indulging in reading, recovering my vocab, listening to Chinese radio and chatting with Xin's mum.

One of my favourite ways to study has been to read in that language. Every student I have ever had, I have recommended it to - but few take it up. When you find something you are interested in reading, it is an amazing motivator. I am fortunate enough to have found my perfect reading material in Chinese - a magazine called Duzhe (meaning: The Reader). It is an assortment of various genres of short reading sections. Small stories. Essays. Jokes and the like. Short enough to immerse yourself in and finish in a break between lessons. And with enough variety so that you can move on easily when you choose wrongly.

One of the readings I did today was called 'To have no hate nor love toward people', which is a line from a Chinese poem by Su Manshu (unless that is a transliteration of a foreign surname). To the author, the line describes a state close to what he thinks would be heaven. He then boldly says, that that is how he describes many places in America. Friends and neighbours don't 'love' each other (love naturally means platonic love). They don't have the expectations on each other that people do in China. As there are few mutual expectations, there is nothing to bind them, and very little to repel them. He lived in America for 20 years and says he never had someone whom he could call a friend. Everyone in the places he lived just had a pool of people that were more mutually recognising acquaintances - very few had what he'd regard as friends. He suggests it comes from individualism - by believing in our requirement to be ourselves, it makes it hard to really meld together, and there is an emotional barrier that is virtually impossible to traverse without making people uncomfortable or making the other person suspicious. That is like New Zealand. In societies that are not as individualistic, the barrier just isn't there and people can intergrate themselves emotionally and also be more repelled when there is not that connection.

This coincides a little with a short story I am writing about someone with an overwhelming desire to connect with people. Someone who I am not, but sometimes play the role of. It is someone I might want to be. But interestingly, someone from that other side of the equation - sees our situation as a paradise - blissfully uncomplicated.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Chinese Test Result

After a long wait, resulting from the teacher-in-charge being away on holiday and no-one being around to send them forward till now, I have finally received my Chinese Language Test result. It was better than my expectation, but with the variation in scores that I had feared.

Listening 81% (even higher than my practice tests)
Grammar 94% (as expected, kicked butt)
Reading 91% (had expected much worse; this was when my powers of concentration were in free-fall, I must have guessed well)
Miscellaneous 69% (my fear, it was my biggest concern just prior to the test, plus in the third solid hour I was in a mental meltdown. It was my second lowest score for that section).

Regrettably with my low score in the last section, my total score fell out of the 'A' band score for Intermediate by a mere three marks (out of 400). Since there are fewer questions than points, 170 marks generating a total of 400, one extra correct answer would have got me there. But as a total score, it is better than all my practice tests - so I am happy with my results. I never quite got into that high band even with a pleasant atmosphere, tea in cup, breaks between sections and so on.

Now remains the choice of whether to go hell for leather at Advanced (and be massacred) or master Intermediate this year. Frankly, I consider only one a viable choice... Anyway, nice to finally know. I might get back to serious study soon.