As you get older, you notice more generational differences, and the more you start to feel the world isn't yours, and a bit of culture shock sets in. When I started teaching, the Chinese students were quite similar to me in age and there was a lot more I could relate to, even though we were born in different countries. But as China has transformed had record pace, the generational differences are even greater. The students of today are vastly different in their values and priorities from those I first taught. When I do encounter a student I can relate with as a person, it's a moment of excitement, but that is becoming very rare. It used to be that I could motivate students by telling them how I learned language but very few of these suit the modern students who know that there are ways to "get by" without doing the hard work. Two ways that I believe are best to learn are listening to the radio (for passive exposure to comprehensible input) and reading (for time with a wide variety of non-spoken language and ideas; exposure to grammar). Recently I told a group that I was reading a book myself in Chinese, even though study isn't the focus of my life. I said I was reading to enjoy, and learning was a nice side-effect. This probably had little effect. The only effect was that when I alluded to the book title, all of them said: "Oooh, a book about sex." Regrettably even these "adults" want to be children forever. And though it does have a few adult themes, it is not a book about sex. Sigh. The cover of the fourth volume of five says it all, and the protagonist, Wei Xiaobao, is said to have seven wives. I have almost finished and he is barely out of his teens with only one wife (and that at a stretch - she was tricked and compelled into it; and she wants to kill him).
For most of this year though, reading fell off my priority list in favour of running, but I still read in oft moments and times when I wanted distractions; two books took focus both Louis Cha (金庸) novels, Fox Volant of Snowy Mountain (which I finished), and The Deer and the Cauldron, the "book about sex", which as of 31 December I'm on chapter 41 of 50. Both I'd brought from China to read and keep my Mandarin up as well as to read all of Louis Cha's body of work; The Deer and the Cauldron is my seventh, roughly halfway through his body of work. His work is always interesting in terms of creative and elaborate stories, which boggle the mind in their intricacies, as well as tying everything into real historical events and figures.
Although I chose one of the two novels because of a recommendation, and the other one was a gift, their background timeframes were very similar. Fox Volant of Snowy Mountain was set in the mid-Qing Dynasty but whose back-story focusses on a period when the Ming Dynasty has just fallen, followed by a brief reign from usurper, Li Zicheng, and then the Manchus steaming in to push him out with the help of a Han general, Wu Sangui. The Deer and the Cauldron is set just after the early Qing dynasty while Wu Sangui is still alive and the Qing Emperor Kangxi was on the throne. I'm glad to read it just because the more I do, the more history is being given flesh and I can understand how things happen. Previous books have had the characters interacting with Genghis Khan during his rise. The latter book has the character, through various circumstances, taken to Moscow where he sees how a young Peter the Great (before he was great) became a tsar. If there was one distraction while reading it is that the books are quite unhistorical in their portrayal of male and female relationships, suiting a soap opera/TV series generation. But it definitely enriches the plots.
Along with the relationships comes probably the best thing about Louis Cha novels, the emotional entanglement through circumstances. I have nine more chapters to read in The Deer and the Cauldron to find out how Wei Xiaobao resolves his conflicting loyalties which are very much coming to a head. His closest friend is Kangxi the emperor, yet he leads a branch of an organisation that is aiming to overthrow him. He has creatively found a way to keep these two worlds of his life consistent. Spoiler is that history already tells me what the ending may be. I can't wait to find out how he does it... and how he gets the other six wives!