Posts Tagged ‘chinese’

Language precision

laelene Posted in general blog,Tags: , , , ,

If you speak more than one language, how do you feel when you speak the languages that are not your primary one?

I’ve always been a proud Mandarin and English speaker, with native proficiency in both. I started off speaking Chinese as a child, then learned English when I immigrated before I turned 4. Around the age of 5, my grandmother came to visit and taught a Chinese class in our living room. When I was 8, my parents sent me to China for a year, where I attended school and was immersed in the culture and language. That helped my Mandarin a lot! I came back with stronger language skills and would return to China during summer breaks up until middle school. Meanwhile, I had been attending Chinese school since 4th grade or so.

In high school, all that dwindled as I focused on my classes, extracurriculars, and preparing for college. My junior year, I had moved from New York to California and could not find a suitable Chinese school in the area. My education in Mandarin was paused until I took a class in college. Since then, it’s been 10 years! Unbelievable. I only speak Chinese for a few hours a year now and I find myself more and more shy about it.

One of the things I was proudest of as a child was my near flawless accent. I sounded basically like a native Chinese person and did not have the accent that many of my peers had. But after years of dormancy, my language skills have been slipping. I’m perfectly fine to use Chinese when I’m in China, but in the states I often use English when Mandarin would have worked. A few days ago, I suddenly realized that this was totally silly. I’ve been trying to speak to myself in my head to practice. I didn’t want those speaking to me to judge any misuse of phrases or slight pronunciation variations I might have.

But you know what? It doesn’t matter. They don’t care if I’m fresh from China or born here. In fact, I’ve always found that Chinese people get really excited when they see that I can converse with them in the language they are more comfortable with. It doesn’t matter if I stumble over reading Chinese or if I use slang that give away some of my background. I hear plenty of people speaking English with poor grammar and strong accents, but the only way to get better is to keep going. I’m going to take the same eagerness to practice Chinese that I have when speaking to my mom and extend that to any others who understand me. Screw speaking “perfect” Mandarin! Pretty soon, I might speak far too little if I chase too high a standard.

Cleaning ears

laelene Posted in lifestyle glimpses,Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

How do you clean your ears? (Or do you?)

The way I understand it, the Western style is to use Q-tips. This probably happens after a shower when the interior of the ears have been nice and moist for awhile, softening any sort of earwax you might have built up. Some rubbing around catches that stuff and whisks it out. Or something like that… I can’t actually vouch for it since I don’t clean my ears that way. What I’m used to is the Eastern way, which I’m sure Eastern Asians in particular are familiar with, if not our more southern counterparts too.

tools used to clean ears including flashlight, ear scooper, tweezers, and q-tip

Tools of the trade.

Cleaning your ears becomes a bonding event since it requires the assistance of someone else. They take an ear scooper – sometimes metal, sometimes bamboo – and gently make their way down your ear canal as you lay on your side and they shine a light in your ear. Your earlobe gets pulled this way and that to help straighten out your ear canal for easier viewing. When a bit of earwax is targeted, the cleaner gently lowers the ear scooper in, using the little spoon-like curve to try to scoop out the piece. This may take a little gentle scratching around the area to loosen the earwax if you have the dry kind, or quite a few scoops to get the sticky wet kind. Either way, it’s a practice in patience, determination, and trust. Both sides have to remain relatively steady and slowly maneuver to get the earwax. I’ll even incorporate tweezers when a piece can be pinched away from the wall of the ear. It’s a delicate procedure that requires quite a bit of care. After all, you don’t want to cause any bleeding or pain in the dainty skin of the ear canal. You could very well create hearing impairment!

I quite enjoy having my ears cleaned and sometimes I ask for them to get a little bit of scratching even if there’s nothing to clear. Sometimes my ear canals just itch for a little bit of attention. It must be something born of the habit of cleaning my ears that way. It’s a part of the Chinese culture that definitely stayed with me.

365great Day 355: salted duck eggs

laelene Posted in 365great,Tags: , , , ,
Comments Off on 365great Day 355: salted duck eggs

365great day 355: salted duck eggsI always avoid eating egg yolks, but the one exception is when it comes to salted duck eggs. For whatever reason, the brining process makes the yolk a consistency that is grainier, which I enjoy. Or perhaps that’s just how duck yolks are? Whatever the case, I grew up loving these eggs, which are super salty and work well with a nice bowl of porridge. The yolk gets really oily with these when they’ve been made well and that oozing is a welcome sign of a tasty yolk. It’s one of the few stranger food items that I do eat. I’m not into crazy weird stuff and this is about as “weird” as my taste goes. I guess this falls under the “I love just about anything salted, preserved, or brined” category of preferences. Those things tend to be crunchier and of course saltier. Perfectly to my taste and I think they’re all great!

365great Day 354: jade

laelene Posted in 365great,Tags: , , , , , ,

365great day 354: jadeGrowing up, we always had some sort of jade jewelry around. I remember my cousins each had a piece carved into the animal of their Chinese zodiac sign, which they wore on red strings around their necks. I had fun little pieces, like Buddhas and tear drops and even a pair that formed a heart – perfect for best friends to share. When I graduated from college, a few of my aunts and uncles were able to make it over. One of my aunts gave me a jade bracelet. It’s one of those that is never meant to be taken off. We carefully squeezed my hand through and got it on… over five and a half years later, it’s still here and I’ve never removed it! In Chinese culture, jade is believed to have protective powers and it becomes an extension of your body. It is probably one of the luckiest pieces of jewelry you could ever give or receive and is rife with tradition. Keeping it close to your body is supposed to be good for your qi, ensuring a good flow of energy throughout your body to help you maintain good health. No wonder it makes a great (and very meaningful) gift!

365great Day 297: reflexology

laelene Posted in 365great,Tags: , , , , , ,

365great challenge day 297: reflexologyOk, this was the only pic I was able to get of the reflexology massage place today. I know it doesn’t look like much of anything, but if you’re familiar with those shops, the super wide seat draped with towels at these places should be something you recognize. I love going to these places because they offer cheap massages and even though they bill it as a one hour foot massage, you actually get a full body massage (mostly through a towel and your clothes). What a bargain! They always love me too, since I’m one of the few Chinese people in the area and they’re thrilled I speak their native tongue. I personally love the feeling of getting a strong foot massage and it’s fascinating how the parts of the feet correspond to your organs. Whether you believe in that and want healing or just want to get a massage in, these places are cheap and great.

That Asian (American) couple

laelene Posted in general blog,Tags: , , , , , ,

Are there not enough Asians who live in the UK? Everywhere we go, Panda and I have been grouped into the Asian category. People see us and assume we came from China. We’ve had ladies on the street ask us for directions in Mandarin and restaurant owners who speak to us in Chinese dialects. They seem shocked, bewildered even, when they hear us speak English with American accents or act like we don’t understand Chinese. It’s as if the only Asians in all of Great Britain are tourists or something. I mean, I feel like we’ve seen our fair share of Chinese people milling about, but I guess it is true that each and every one of them was a Chinese tourist (at least all the ones I heard say anything).

tourists in plaza by buckingham palace in london

Chinese or American tourist? Do I have have to choose between them?

Still, it’s been quite an experience for me to relive the times in my childhood when my American-ness was a big deal. Whenever I’d go back to China as a kid, I got a fair share of attention for being “that American girl” who grew up not like the rest of them. As I grew up it became less and less unusual. In the US, particularly in the Los Angeles region, not only is it normal, it’s practically expected that you grew up in America. The majority of my peers are born and bred Americans. I don’t often run into those who have recently emmigrated and are still new to American culture, though there are still plenty of those. For the most part, Asians of all sorts in California have likely been in the country for a least one generation if not more. I’m of a slightly less common variety of those who moved as a toddler. Most of my Asian-American friends are true ABCs and a lot don’t even speak Chinese. I’m glad that I do, or I’d feel even more awkward out here!

A few weeks ago, I started to learn Cantonese partly because it is so weird to sit around not understanding what’s going on at a Cantonese restaurant when Panda is conversing with the staff. I always wonder if those people think I’m an ABC who has little to no ties to the mainland, or if they realize that I’m just a Mandarin speaker who can’t make sense of the Cantonese going on around me. I hate feeling left out so I figured I might as well learn basic terms to get me through standard day-to-day conversations!

It’s funny how we’re now mistaken for tourists from mainland China when Panda’s never even been and I’ve always been identified as an outsider. I never could understand how I’d go back to China and people would know right away that I wasn’t raised there. When I was younger, my extremely tan skin probably gave it away. Now that I’m paler have I lost my scarlet letter? Or is it just that people abroad can’t tell as easily as those in China? Whatever the case, I’ve suddenly become a lot more conscious of our outer appearance not always matching up to what people assume us to be. I feel out of place already as a foreigner and that just adds another layer. It will be nice to return home where our Asian-American-ness is not questioned!

365great Day 67: xiao long bao

laelene Posted in 365great,Tags: , , , , , , ,

Learn more about 365great here.

365great challenge day 67: xiao long baoXiao long bao – “little dragon dumplings” – an awesome name for an amazing dish. They’re also known as soup dumplings, because of the “soup” inside each dumpling that gushes out as you bite in. I absolutely love these bite-size morsels of goodness. It’s the perfect combination of thin skin, juicy soup, and fragrant meat. Oh, and I love eating them with the ginger and vinegar dip too. The eating experience of XLB is really a sort of adventure: first you carefully pluck it from off the paper in the steamer, then you dip it in the vinegar and ginger sauce (add some soy sauce or hot sauce too if you like), and then you delicately bite in as the steam and soup inside heat up your mouth and the salty, tart, sometimes spicy tastes spread across your mouth. Making good XLB is an art form in itself and it shows when you eat it. The skin has to be thin but strong, there has to be a nice pop of soup inside each dumpling, and the filling has to be seasoned well and not over or undercooked. Treat yourself to some one day and I think you’ll agree – it’s great!

Rationing control

laelene Posted in general blog,Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Perhaps you associate rationing with wartime, like I generally do. Did you know that in China they still do it? Well, at least in terms of the [centralized] heating supply. Every year, as fall fades away, the citizens await the day that their heating will get turned on. It’s earliest in the northern cities (like my hometown of Shenyang) and later in areas like Beijing. For those in the south – forget about it. No matter how cold it gets, they have no heat unless you purchase a special air conditioning/heating unit for your home. Then, as spring approaches, as soon as the government deems it warm enough, the heat is taken away again. And so year after year, the Chinese get to deal with bundling up in their homes because they don’t have enough heat.

chinese granddaughter and grandfather standing outside doorway in winter

Maybe that’s why winter wear looks like this and usually includes 5-7 layers, even indoors.

Back when I was born in the 1980’s, there was a lot of food rationing too. My mom always told me how eggs were a valued commodity in the cities and when she was pregnant, she got to enjoy the one egg per household (per month I think, though maybe it was per week). I had a cousin who was a year older than me and when I was born, I turned out to be a big eater. Or drinker, I guess. I gobbled up milk like nobody’s business (which meant that my cousin’s milk rations often went to me too). Maybe that’s why I grew up so big and strong.

Even housing in the old days was “rationed” – you were given a place to live and that was that, pretty much. If you wanted to move (within the same city), you could apply to be “given” a different apartment that might be newer and/or in a better location. I believe there was some sort of lottery system to help determine who got to live where. Certainly unlike the American buying experience I’m used to, where any house anywhere is fair game if it’s in your price range.

And then there’s the One Child Policy, which is kind of like rationing children to families. Except in this case, rather than waiting to be given what you want, you have what you want (once) and that’s it. Still, it’s similar to getting handed rations since you are allowed a limited supply, which has nothing to do with your personal situation. Rather, it’s an “everybody gets the same restriction” kind of thing.

Each of these in their own ways take control away from you the individual. You do not have the power to decide that you want to heat your home earlier in the year, or that you want to eat half a dozen eggs in one sitting, or that you want to move clear across town to that beautiful new complex, or that you want to have another child. Granted, things have eased up over the years and many of these rules have gone away or at least become more flexible. Still, sometimes it amazes me what sort of uber-controlling environment some cultures grow up in. And how the act of rationing itself is a rationing of control: Here, this is how much control we’ll give you over your own life. All’s fair in communism, right?

Having a baby boy in China is a BIG deal

laelene Posted in general blog,Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
chinese baby wrapped in poufy red swaddling clothes laying on bed

When I was born? Probably not a big deal.

One of my cousins in China recently gave birth to a baby boy and oh my gosh, it was such a big deal. You think you’re excited to have a kid? You should imagine how excited you’d be if that was the ONLY kid you were allowed to have in your lifetime. And let’s say you had a boy like my cousin – then you get to be super excited that your family lineage gets passed on. Yeah, boys are still valued more than girls over there (as in many countries, I’m sure).

Maybe I should also mention that you’re not allowed to know the gender of your child, so it’s a surprise for just about every citizen in China when their child is born. Of course, sometimes people “cheat” and find a way to find out, but by law doctors are not allowed to tell you (and they abide by it strictly). You better have some mad connections to get an accurate reveal ahead of time. So come labor time, there’s a ton of anticipation as everyone waits to find out the all-important question: is it a boy or girl??

If you’re confused about these crazy rules (laws), let me explain. You’ve probably heard of the One Child Policy in China at some point. Most people have an inkling that Chinese families are only allowed one kid. Maybe you didn’t believe it or didn’t think they take it so seriously. Well, it’s definitely a law that’s alive and well, though a bit more lax now (like if you remarry you’re allowed to have a child with your new spouse).

Layer on top of that the outlawing of gender revealing during pregnancy and you’ve got one mad nation (as in crazy – specifically, boy crazy – not upset or angry per se). Can you imagine how curious you’d be? The reason that you’re not allowed to know the gender of the baby is because boys are heavily favored for passing down the family name and whatnot, so many people would have an abortion if they knew it was a girl. This probably wouldn’t be such a big deal to families if you got more than one chance to have a boy. But as the laws go, you only get that one chance.

Not only did the announcement of a boy stir up a whole lot of chatter, family activity has picked up as everyone makes their way to send their well wishes. Traditionally, each family is supposed to send one representative, but since my family is all the way here in the US, one of my aunts is representing our family as well. It’s time for my cousin to get showered with gifts and attention (though really it’s probably all going towards that son of hers).

Having a boy is so important that family members are pitching in to “guard” him. Yeah. They’re afraid he’ll get stolen or swapped out. I mean, that’s how big a deal it is. Are they overreacting and paranoid? Maybe. But you never know… with so many couples desperate for a boy, they just might do crazy things to get one.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...