X is gone. E is gone. My bags are packed, and skies are dark. I think there’s a typhoon rolling in. I have three hours to kill before I even have to go get a cab. So one more post.
The first person I talked to in Chinese six weeks ago was the border guy at the airport. He asked me in English why I was coming to China, and I told, him, “xuéxi hányǔ.” To study Chinese. He stopped to think for a second, obviously a little troubled, and then he looked me in the eye and said ah, “hànyǔ.” And then I smiled and repeated and felt like a dork for getting the tone in my very first Chinese sentence in China. And of course, the word I got wrong was “Chinese language.”
Six weeks later, it’s my last day in China. I’m on my own in the dorm, and I decide to take my water jug back and get the deposit. So I go down to the first floor ladies and ask them; they tell me to take my tongxue back to the water guys around the corner. My tongxue? My roommate? He left already, I tell them. He left yesterday. I’m just one person in my room.
They said, yes, you can do it yourself, just take your tongxue around the corner and get your deposit back. My tongxue? My roommate?
It then occurred to me that they were not saying “tongxue” but “tongshui.” And of course, “tongshui” means water jug. Take your water jug around the corner to the water guys.
H and E and I talked about this in Shanghai; the best way to really really know a vocab word is to go out into the world and make an idiot of yourself screwing up the word. You feel embarrassed, and then your brain etches that damn word in stone. E said that after our conversation in Shanghai, he began to realize just how much of his lexicon was “idiot learned.”
“Idiot learned?” I asked. And then I realized that if we had been speaking Chinese, “idiot learned” would have been a 是…的 construction.
So I walked E down to the store, and on the way back he stopped to pick up an airline ticket that was on the ground. He didn’t seem too curious about it, so I had to ask, whose is that? thinking we’d have to fly in to action to rescue some classmate who had…. “Oh, it’s mine,” he says.
I’m not sure what to say.