Terri, an old friend from my first-fourth years in Taiwan, is visiting from Beijing for a couple weeks and this past weekend she and a couple other friends drove down to Kenting, which I like to call Taiwan's Daytona Beach. On the way down, Josh, Katie Jo, and I had some good laughs, not the least because we heard that someone, whose identity shall remain secret, had not long found a mushroom in his bathroom. Not just a patch of fungus on a tile or at the base of the toilet. No. A proud, three-inch tall mushroom. On a towel! This led me to research (via Josh's wireless 3G Internet connection in the car!) toxic mushrooms. And, man O man, are they scary! Poor Nicholas Evans, et al.!
The next day or so we were treated to a disquisition by Katie Jo on why the banana is the greatest fruit in the world. This is of course, the same Katie Jo who asked me how I slept... before any of us had gone to sleep. (In fairness, she blames her linguistic foibles on a deep dive she had done years ago with Terri in the Philippines.) On the way back, I denounced, once more, the bed as an arrogant, decadent piece of furniture, likening it--not for the first time--to the cinnamon of the furniture world. This was met with a mixture of great laughter and greater scorn at once. Such were just some of the delights of conversing with the strange people I tend to make my friends.
For me, it was a great escape from the city and the ocean water was very invigorating. I have always loved water (EXHIBIT A). And I learned to swim at a pretty early age (part of our lessons included being dropped in the water on a tricycle and pedaling as we sank). We saw some neat fish (my favorite were the schools of tiny fish). I got some sun and some exercise, but also seem to have gotten a slight cold last Friday that has carried over to now, but I am sure the ocean water and activity did me a lot of good.
One highlight was Josh's dog, Carmen. In the past, Josh has dragged Carmen into the water and she always struggles to escape. This time, however, she was vigorously attacking and biting the waves as they rolled in. She ingested so much salt water, in fact, that about twenty minutes later she threw up a heap of frothy goo and then another twenty minutes or so later emitted a volcanic stream of yellow water from her hindquarters as we walked back. A riot! How do you clean that doodoo up!?
I spent a lot of the weekend perusing Katie Jo's Chinese textbook (from Dong Hai), enjoying seeing how many things I still had to learn, and then making a couple dozen new note cards when we got back last night. Now that I'm learning Japanese--I've put Spanish on hold for now, though it is still close to my heart and an occasionally useful language in my devotional and reading life--, I feel real confidence about Chinese. After about seven years in Taiwan, I've fully accepted that Chinese will always be a part of my life. When I first got into Japanese seriously, about 2-3 weeks ago, I feared it would cripple, deform, or displace my Chinese, especially since I am in all likelihood going to visit Japan next spring (or so?). But partially because I have obtained some fine Japanese materials in Chinese, and partially because I realize learning Japanese will be a totally different "thing" for me than learning Chinese. I learned Chinese almost without realizing it, so to speak. My ability in it has snuck up on me over the years, and occasionally surprises me ("How in the world can I actually read and write this language?!"). I learned Chinese like an immigrant might learn a new language: by using it, idiosyncratically, compulsively. What I find I must do now is "retread" my Chinese by going back through standard textbooks and "filling in" gaps I either forgot from my basic learning or simply skipped by leaping into more "advanced" Chinese for personal interest over the years. For example, while going through Katie Jo's book I only became conscious of knowing how to say and write "light bulb [deng1pao4]," "[shirt] collar [ling3zi]," and "Learning from one's mistakes [Shang4 yi4 ci4 dang4, xue2 yi4 ci4 guai]," to name just a few cases. Likewise, I am going back through NTNU's ubiquitous Audio-Visual Chinese textbooks (2, 3, 4, and 5), culling useful or forgotten vocabularies, sentence patterns, and idioms to make new note cards.
Learning Japanese, by contrast, is going to be "by the numbers" pretty much all the way, if I have any say about it (heheh). I'm starting from pretty much nothing and working up from the phonetic system, to "beginner's essential vocabulary" and sentence patterns (with lots of written workbook drills!), repetitive audio training (via Pimsleur and the CDs that came with some of mz books). My one advantage as a Chinese-to-Japanese learner is that I can grasp at least the gist of numerous Japanese kanji ("characters"), as they were borrowed from Chinese centuries ago. Granted, I still must "relearn" how to say the kanji in Japanese instead of reflexively reading them in Mandarin, and I must learn which kanji have been truly transformed in Japanese. For example, while "place" (tokoro, or the Chinese suo3) has retained its shape and meaning from Chinese, "study" (bengkyo) actually looks like "compel/force" in Chinese. My desire to go to Japan has crept up on me over the years: my training in judo, my love for samurai lore (e.g., Jim Jarmusch's Ghost Dog), my taste for Japanese cuisine, my (ahem) admiration for their beer, my affection for Nodame Cantabile, my love for snowy winters, etc. I have also realized that learning Japanese will "lock in" certain large swaths of my learning. First, Japanese kanji will teach me at least some more "simplified" Chinese characters (viz., many kanji do look like China's simplified characters, and even may have been adopted from Japanese linguists), and I really need to get a leg up on them if (since!) I'm serious about Chinese as a lifelong learner. Second, knowing more about Japanese culture will actually help me know more about Taiwan, since Japan colonized Taiwan from 1895-1945. Third, learning Japanese will also, from what I have read, open up Korean and Shanghainese down the road, if I feel the urge or need to learn those languages. Fourth, teaching in a new culture will expand and deepen my ability as a teacher.
I may write a larger post about this, but let me just say now that learning--truly being a pupil of--a foreign language (not to mention three or four of them!) is very humbling, and indeed a kind of self-mortification.
In any case, I am still in my "home away from home," Taiwan, enjoying the days as God permits them to blossom around me. Going to Kenting was a real blessing, a privilege, in fact, and I feel recharged for a new stretch of seeking holiness, feeble as I may be. (Oh, also, this morning I discovered a large raspberry tree is blossoming right outside my office window! Hooray for "living off the land"!)
I would also like to mention that Fr. Leon, longtime head pastor of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Jacksonville, FL, passed away this weekend as well. As my father put it, "If we all gave half as much of our lives as he did, we'd be a lot better off." I will miss him too and I cherish his prayers and counsel from a year and a half ago. Be sure to pray for his soul and all the departed.