So I’m in a bit of a lull, blogging-wise. All the excitement of the holidays has passed but the preparations for leaving haven’t yet begun. It’s worth noting that I leave here in seventeen days, which is absolute insanity. So in the interim I thought I’d put up at least one post to serve as general benchmark to record both my progress here and how I’ve been holding up.

Morale: High. Had a Bocata sandwich for lunch yesterday; they are magical. Plus the end of the trip is in sight, so homesickness and loneliness are both being mitigated pretty hard. Looking back the theft of the wallet wasn’t all so bad, because it provided a natural crash — all my upset feelings and frustration and disappointment got focused into one ridiculous, panicked night, and the experience just burned up everything negative that I had in me. Within two or three days I was as happy as ever if not better, and that feeling has persisted through to now without issue.

Health: Peachy. Had sniffles once for like two days, upon which I drank some orange juice and stopped holding onto things in the subway; I immediately recovered and haven’t held a handrail since. Not only have I stayed really healthy, I’m now a certified professional subway-surfer. As a caveat the pollution in the last two days has turned exceptionally nasty and it’s been giving me headaches here and there. Ick.
Oh and I haven’t been losing weight, which is nice. Last time I got back from China, mom said I looked “skeletal.” This time I’ve stayed at 63 kilos the whole time.

Work: 没问题。No problems. Still interesting, coworkers are really awesome. One of them, my boss, actually found my blog and told me that my writing reminded her of Peter Hessler’s, which I consider to be pretty much the highest compliment that it could receive. So thanks, Cathy, if you’re still reading.

Social: A natural follow-up to work, because I wanted to mention my friend and coworker 马超, whose name literally translates to “Super Horse.” How fucking awesome is that, right? Seriously though he’s been really incredible to me. He was the first person to kinda work out my relatively limited set of vocabulary and use it both to talk to me and to talk to other people around me; when he explains words to me it’s always ten times clearer than when other people try to, because he already knows exactly what sorts of descriptive words I can understand. If my language is getting better, probably 30% of that success is directly attributed to this guy. Aside from that I’ve met up once with my language partner from this summer and have hung out with a few of Rayco’s friends. But really beyond that I honestly have kinda stopped trying to branch out socially both because it’s getting to be kinda late in the game, and at this point I don’t have much free time at all, due to…

Stuff keeping me busy: Work. Applying for jobs. Studying Chinese. Working out housing for Northwestern. Reapplying to be a NU student. Selecting and signing up for classes. Writing — takes more time than you might think. Reading — just finished Hessler’s “Country Driving,” (a travel blog about development in China) starting on “All the Devils are Here” (a book about the history of the financial crisis. Asian studies and Econ). Starting to do whatever I can to arrange housing in an apartment for next year. Staying competitive in Starcraft and keeping up with that community — and yeah, this is important enough to me to go on this list. I’m not really ashamed of that. Also doing a side research project for mah Daddy, which will take about twelve hours total.

Language. This one’s actually kinda tricky. If one of my classmates had told me in December that they were going off to live in Beijing for ten weeks while I stayed back in the states, my knee-jerk reaction would be “God, your Chinese is gonna demolish mine when you get back.” But this isn’t so accurate, as it turns out, for two reasons. A) came from Connor about two days before I left. During I believe his Junior summer at Dartmouth, he took a quarter to intern at a magazine in Tokyo, so he spoke from some experience when he told me that while there was an osmosis effect to the language, it wouldn’t be nearly as strong as I might expect. This has sadly proven to be pretty true, because at the end of the day Asian languages just aren’t particularly intuitive. Chinese is especially problematic because tones make dozens of words sound identically the same which makes contextual learning difficult, and the writing system complicates this further; even if you can figure out a word from context, you have absolutely no idea how to write it. I’ve been dealing with this by carrying pen and paper at all times but it’s really awkward to harass people into writing new words down for you unless you know them very well. B) is that the stuff I’m learning won’t particularly give me an advantage back at school. I can talk about strawberry milkshakes and read menus way better than I could before, but unless my Chinese 3 teacher orders me to explain the difference between 盖饭 and 干锅 then I’m kinda S.O.L.
This is not, however, to say that I haven’t improved. I love qualified double negatives. Or rather I sometimes don’t dislike them. While it’s hard for me to tell personally, people I met in January have all told me that I’ve gotten noticeably better. I take this with a grain of salt because Chinese people love to lie about Westerners’ Mandarin proficiency for whatever reason, but Rayco’s friend Kenny in particular seemed sincere. If I had to identify a few areas of strong growth I’d say that I’ve gotten much faster both at speaking and at processing what other people are saying; conversations flow a lot more naturally. My accent and tones are better too, because all my coworkers and friends are under strict orders to just call me out whenever I mess one up. I’ve been keeping up with NU’s vocab lists. I can’t say quite as much for their grammar, but hey, I’m only human.

Overall Mental State: I’ll write more here tomorrow maybe. For now I’ll just describe it through music. Spent a long time alternating Frankmusik’s “Complete Me” and Robyn’s “Body Talk.” Lots of the new pornographers in Xi’an, and then since I’ve been back…
yeah, I looked back this evening at a playlist that I had assembled at work today. It was an alternation of Bat for Lashes with the Mae Shi. To get some idea of why this is, um, odd: Listen to “pearl’s dream” and then “young marks” back to back — the first is this haunting indie craziness, the second is a song that, could songs give people diabetes, would do so immediately. At the very least it might give you a bit of a headache. Sukes listened to it the other day and reported that it made his soul hurt. Fun times!

« »