Monday, October 31, 2011

Family Confusion

by Ruth
Today in class we were talking about family relationships, a topic that very quickly becomes confusing in Chinese! A few words are similar – mama, baba...and that's about it. No generic “grandmother, grandfather, aunt, uncle” etc. Almost every relationship has a different term depending on if it is the father's or mother's side, if the person is a blood-relative or married in, and also if the person is younger or older than yourself (or whoever you are comparing them to). For example...

Ge-ge: older brother (sao-zi: older brother's wife)
Di-di: younger brother (di-mei: younger brother's wife)
Jie-jie: older sister (jie-fu: older sister's husband)
Mei-mei: younger sister (mei-fu: younger sister's husband)
Nai-nai: father's mother
Ye-ye: father's father
Wai-po/lao-lao: mother's mother
Wai-gong/lao-ye: father's father
Da-bo: father's older brother
Da-jiu: mother's older brother (jiu-ma: mother's older brother's wife)
Xiao-gu: father's younger sister
Xiao-yi: mother's younger sister
Biao-jie: older female cousin (father's sister's daughter or mother's sibling's daughter)
Er xi-fu: son's wife
Nu-xu: daughter's husband
Wai-sheng-nu: granddaughter – daughter's daughter
Sun-nu: granddaughter – son's daughter

I could go on, but you get the idea: it is endlessly complicated! I think there are several reasons for this: First, family relationships are obviously very important in China, so the language includes very specific descriptions of those relationships.

Second, age and status are very important, so older siblings and people in the older generation should be shown proper respect. An older brother and a younger brother just aren't the same thing. An older brother's wife has the highest status of all the wives in the family, so she gets a different name. Thus I will always have a higher status than Kevin's younger brother Scott and call him di-di, even though he is older than me, since I married the firstborn son. Smart going on my part. :)- I will also inherit the family fortune. Oh wait... Anyway, in the past, family status was especially important, but today it is still important for showing the proper respect.

Third, the wife's family and husband's family are viewed rather differently. In the past, the wife left her family to join the husband's family, and while this isn't exactly the case anymore, the idea is still there. Many relationships on the wife's side have the character “wai” (literally meaning outside/outsider) because the relationship with the wife's family isn't as close a bond. At least in theory, though our teacher explained that practically this often isn't the case anymore. But this is part of why it is so important to have a son – you lose your daughter to another family, but a son will carry on your family line.

It is pretty interesting to see all the culture that goes behind these complex relationship terms, but overall I'm just glad not to have too much extended family!!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A Very Important Day

By Ruth
A Very Important Day is coming next week - - November 1 is “Turn on the Heat Day!!” I love this day of the year. In China, the central heating (in our apartments, classrooms, etc.) is controlled by the government and is turned on according to the date rather than the weather. The dates for heat vary according to region. In Weinan, which was a bit further south, our heat wasn't turned on until November 15.

In the south of China, there is no central heating at all. In Yangzhou, for example, I spent my first two years in China freeeeeeeeeezing. I was cold in class and cold outside and cold at home and the only time when I was warm was in bed (with long johns, pjs, several blankets, a hot waterbottle, and a small A/C heater unit. One of my friends from Inner-Mongolia had hard time adjusting to the cold in Yangzhou. When Kevin and I returned to China, one of my big requests for location was to be north of the heat line! I love heat!

Fortunately this year the weather has not been so cold leading up to "Turn on the Heat Day." Just two days ago Kevin and I were saying that it was still remarkably warm. Then – BAM – cold sneaks up and hits you in the face. Cold is sneaky and nasty that way. Today I pulled out the long johns, Smartwool socks, and my big down coat. I dressed Juliana in a turtle neck and thick sweater, leggings, and two pairs of pants, and she wasn't even going outside.

We have also moved Juliana's bed back into our room until the heat comes on. It's not a huge transition since she didn't move out of our room until two months ago. Besides which, she has recently gone back to waking up about 250 times a night because of a stupid tooth that is taking forever to come in. So she's been spending half the night in our bed anyway. (Note: Our double bed is not really big enough for two adult people and one very small but very squirmy child who now likes to claim her own fair share of space - ½ the bed.) We moved her into our room because hers is freezing. Almost as cold as the kitchen, so about 10 degrees colder than the rest of the house. That is because her room has two layers of single-paned windows but the outer windows are broken off. So there is about 1/8” of glass separating inside from out. Even though we have covered all the cracks between the windows with tape, it is still very cold. Hopefully once we have heat it will be warm enough to move her back. In the meantime, it is kind of cozy having everyone sleeping in one (sort of warm) room. Especially since last night Juliana only woke up once, at 5:45am.  Maybe it was teeth + cold that was keeping her awake.

At any rate, I'm so glad that next week the all powerful "They" will turn on the heat!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The 10 Steps from Spoon to Mouth

For yeah!  I love eating!
by Ruth
I was wondering when Juliana would start getting interested in feeding herself. She likes eating finger foods, but she has been perfectly content to have someone else shovel the spoonfuls of mushy food for her. It's faster that way, and so far, getting as much food in as short at time as possible seems to have been her primary goal. But a few months ago, those people who tell you what your baby is supposed to be like said, “Now your baby doesn't want you to feed her anymore; she only wants to do it herself.” I should know not to pay much attention to what those people say, seeing as they are the same ones who said, “Your baby is now sleeping through the night” months and months ago, and we all know that didn't happen.

Very important tangent: For a full three weeks now - - - - Juliana has been sleeping through the night!!!! Can you believe it? Not just that, she has gone from waking up 2 to 6000 times a night to sleeping for 11 hours! It's incredible! 20 days! (well, technically minus a couple of teething days). If you are wondering how long I will be counting the days, well...we had 371 days worth of not sleeping through the night, so probably for quite a while.

Back to the original subject: So for a few months I have been wondering when Juliana would take an interest in feeding herself. And all of a sudden the other day, she decided that she didn't want me to spoon in the food anymore; she was going to do it herself. I can see why she was hesitant to try this because it turns out, spoon feeding yourself is quite a complex process. It goes something like this:

Step 1: Take/forcefully grab spoon from mommy with one hand.
Step 2: Flip spoon over upside-down (flinging half the food onto the floor)
Step 3: Transfer spoon to other hand.
Step 4: Sweep spoon back and forth across tray several times (losing the remaining food in the process)
Step 5: Pick up food from tray by hand and redeposit into spoon.
Step 6: Aim spoon in the general direction of the mouth.
Step 7: Move spoon and mouth in opposing circles until they somehow coincide.
Step 8: Shove spoon into mouth, rotating it 360* to actually get the food off.
Step 9: Chew on spoon for desired span of time.
Step 10: Remove spoon from mouth and bang on table for a while. Repeat

At you may have guessed, it is not a quick process. The advantage is that I now have time to eat too!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A TINY Bit Tricky

by Ruth

Chinese is a high context culture and definitely a high context language. When I was going through flashcards from our oral lesson, I came across a nice little example (one of about 50,000 good examples, no doubt):

The definition on the flashcard for this character says,
“to support  / to sustain / to erect / to raise / branch / division / to draw money / classifier for rods such as pens and guns, for army divisions and for songs or compositions.”

What? How can this one word mean all those very different, unrelated things? A measure word for pens, guns, army divisions, and songs? Among its other meanings?

This would be confusing enough, but when I looked up the pronunciation “zhi” (pronounced like 'jer') in the not comprehensive dictionary on the phone, I found 25 different words and characters all pronounced exactly the same way – zhi1 – or “zhi” with a first tone. There are also 23 characters for “zhi” with a rising tone, 22 characters for zhi with a falling-rising tone, and 65 for “zhi” with a falling tone. That makes 135 different characters that are pronounced “zhi.” Among these 135 characters you could find words like...

...pheasant – to leap – to squat – character – delicate – hemorrhoid – ancient sacrifice – mad dog – wisdom – enraged – ambition – unicorn – flag – to store – wait for – embroidery – toe – to stop – location – but – duty – straighten – to grow – value – nephew – respectful – sick – gardenia – goblet...

For this, I just have one word:
哎呀 Ai-ya!!!!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Little Swallow

By Kevin

The week before last, my tutor was away, serving as a translator at the big Sino-Arabic Summit held in Yinchuan to promote trade between China and the Arabic world, largely through the production and export of Halal foods and the import of oil.

So, I had a substitute tutor. It was a bit frustrating at first.

It didn't start out well. He talked about how this would be a good chance for him to improve his English and for me to improve my Chinese. I quickly let him know that I wasn't paying him to improve his English. He'd get a chance to use some English because I don't know enough Chinese, but I wanted him to speak as much Chinese as possible.

It got worse when he started correcting my pronuciation of the Chinese word for the number 3 - "San." He insisted that it should be said with a long "a" sound like Americans use when saying "and." I told him that I'd always been instructed that it's a shorter vowel sound, perhaps closer to how Americans might say "on." Thankfully, Ruth's tutor came in later and told him that his pronunciation of that sound wasn't standard Chinese, nor was the "v" sound he used in "Weinan."

I never expected that my pronunciation of any Chinese sound would be more accurate than a native speaker. But I had to remind myself that Americans pronounce things differently depending on where they are from too.

Anyway, on the third day he came to tutor me, he brought an interesting children's song, "小燕子 (Xiao Yan Zi)" -- translated, it means "Little swallow." Here's a video ,
or you can watch it here.

He said that he learned the song when he was a child. His translation of the lyrics is what intested me most:

"Small swallow, who wears beautiful clothes,
Every year at springtime, you come back here,
I asked the swallow, why do you you return here?
The swallow said: "This place at spring time is the most beautiful."
Small swallow, let me tell you: this year it is even more beautiful,
We built a huge factory and adorned it with new machines,
We welcome you to always come back here."

As he explained, I stopped him: "If I was a bird, I wouldn't want to come back to a city that has a new factory."

"It's a song about progress," he assured me, a bit confused by my question.

"Not if you're the bird."

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Lunch with Ai-yi

by Ruth
Today our baomo (the woman who watches Juliana, who we often call Gao Ai-yi) invited us to her house for lunch. She called us several times before to confirm the plans and to remind us that the weather was cold so we should wear more clothes. She told us the name of her neighborhood but we still weren't exactly sure where it was, so she said she would meet us on the nearest corner. She called twice while we were on our way there by bike (a total of about 10 minutes) to make sure we were coming and we weren't lost. When we met her at the intersection, she immediately took Juliana out of her bike seat and carried her the rest of the way. Juliana was excited to see her ay-yi (“auntie”). She has not only gotten used to her, she absolutely loves her.
Ai-yi scooping out some apple for Juliana, while the others look on

Gao Ai-yi introduced us to her college age daughter, her husband, and her niece. She said her daughter had wanted to come to our house to see the baby. In addition to the eight dishes waiting on the table, Gao zimei had set out a table full of apples, figs, grapes, and chestnuts, and she served us “eight treasures” tea, a Ningxia specialty. We sat and munched on these appetizers while Gao played with Juliana. She sent her daughter off to buy some yogurt drinks for Juliana. I'm sure it was laden with sugar, and as soon as Juliana figured out how to sip it up from the straw, she thought it was great.
Fish, shrimp, chicken, doufu, noodles, greens, peanuts...
When it was time to eat, Gao held Juliana so that we could eat. I had already fed Juliana a full meal before we left home, but she still eagerly munched on the rice and doufu her ai yi offered. After we had eaten and eaten, I finally convinced Gao to let me hold Juliana so she could eat something. She ate a few bites and then jumped up to cook an egg for Juliana. Juliana happily ate the whole thing. She loves to eat.
Juliana happily eats the rice from ai-yi's bowl
As we were finishing, Gao's middle-school son appeared. He greeted us shyly in English, ate a little food, asked for some money, and then was off again. Gao showed us a picture of her eight (yes, eight!) older brothers and sisters. Then she took Juliana in the bedroom to play on her little piano keyboard. Juliana was very excited. She did not want to leave. Whenever I tried to take her from her ai-yi she just begged to go back. I was only a little offended. Somewhere inside she still likes me best.
Ai-yi teaches Juliana to play keyboard
It's about time Juliana learns to read music

Whenever Gao ai-yi comes, Juliana crawls happily to the door and motions to be picked up. The other day I told Juliana, “Ai-yi will be coming this morning,” and she rushed over to the door looking for her. Today when I was talking about “ai-yi,” Juliana said, “Ya-yi!” Juliana just loves her, and Gao adores Juliana as well. We are very blessed to have such a wonderful ai-yi!