Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A millisecond

New Zealand this week won a test series in cricket. It's something I still managed to celebrate from a distance in Guangzhou, discreetly watching on the screen at work. It was a comprehensive series win that could have, should luck been better in the first game, have been a 3-0 whitewash against a team ranked higher than us. Cricket is a game of milliseconds and reactions. If a bowler can get the ball to you a millisecond faster than you can get your bat down, you're out. If they deprive you of an extra millisecond to react to a spinning ball as it rears off the pitch, you might nick it into your pad and have it float into a murder of vulture fielders. But if you can react that millisecond earlier as a batsman, then even if class bowlers place the ball in the right place, you can react in a way that can accommodate the movement, the pace and the direction.

My Cantonese listening has made a similar breakthrough: I've gained a crucial millisecond in processing speed in the last two months. Don't know where it came from. But again it is a small amount that makes a huge difference. As mentioned in previous blogs, Cantonese has rather extensive connected speech (especially the Qingyuan dialect although probably all of the more rural dialects of any language). This extra millisecond means I don't need just observe the phenomenon but catch the meaning in stream. I can even sometimes process and guess words I haven't heard before in the flow of speech. Of course, I'm still far from an acceptable level (in my eyes) but it is nice to have achieved perceptible progress. Perception is everything when it comes to motivation and confidence!

It's a millisecond but it is the gap that I need in conversations I'm not a part of in order to take part. Previously it wasn't the case: When it's just a conversation with me and another, I can get what they're saying, and they can generally get where I'm coming from. However with another speaker, suddenly the conversation would course out of my grasp as language is clattered out and burbled back with just some key words popping out to keep me in the game. Now it's different: I can follow many of the turns and topics that pop up in a conversation and respond and even, when the mood and language co-occurs, interject a thought of my own. It's that ability to interject that this millisecond has bought me. And I'm so glad.

Time of any sort is an interesting concept. I read a few days ago that a University friend of mine passed away. Her death is a bit of a mystery from what little I've got from the Herald online and other items. Perhaps, the case is not being followed. She's probably the third person who has had association with me growing up that I've heard the passing of. Sadness and loss mixes with an awareness of life and that of death. The first friend I knew who'd died was a primary school friend Robert. He lived just opposite school. I hadn't seen him for many years when I heard that he'd died in a car crash, he driving, before he got to 20. Board 2 (soon to be board 3 with my arrival) of the Massey High's chess team was Michael. I hadn't seen him for a few years after graduation when I heard he'd tried to drive a van around a railway barrier and got taken out by a train. Now Ying's passed. I'm trying to remember something clearly more than the multitude of vague memories where lots of people were around and a lot of people were talking. Two memories last clear as bell: She arranged a weekend away on a marae, which I was to present some sessions (probably culture shock or Maori language, which I somehow decided to teach). I remember the passion and the energy (which is what most remember so clearly). She was in China when I arrived too, in Shanghai doing something interesting. We chatted often by skype, and then she had her identity stolen bar her skype number so I tried to help ensure all her friends knew that she requests via gmail and facebook were from an evil source. That's all left in my head of a life. 

I guess this will only become more common as I age, and it's quite astonishing that with all the people that I have known since primary school I only can recollect three dying.

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