The Journey Home

I woke up on Saturday morning early. I wasn’t really in a hurry but I cleaned up my space and loaded up the car. I had promised JK that I would go to breakfast with him, but I still had an hour to kill, so I went to Asilomar Beach for one last time and had a look at tide pools.

JK and I went to the Lighthouse Cafe, I ordered the California Benedict, which means it had turkey and avocados. Meh. The highlight of the meal was the Pepper Plant, which reminded me to stock up on a few bottles of the sauce before I left town. On the way there, JK told a story about how a diver went into the dolphin tank to do some maintenance inside the tank. One dolphin did an echo check of her and then they all fell silent. The diver later reported the strange silence to the manager, who said, oh, it’s because you’re pregnant. A pee test later confirmed what the dolphins already knew.

That’s gotta be cultural behavior, right? And awfully considerate. Which shows that dolphins have communication and cultural transmission, but also consideration and values. And a theory of self/theory of other.

Anyway, I brought JK back to the house (someday I’ll tell the story of the sublet… not today) and said goodbye. Then it was off to San José, where I met some of my friends from graduate school, and their two awesome kids. It was great to see them and eat a bunch of cheese!

After that, it was another short drive to Daly City, where my Auntie had made adobo, pansit, and lumpiang shanghai. I don’t know what she does to her lumpia, but she fries them in a way that they taste like they are chicharrón. I’ll let your mind explode around that thought for a little bit.

After dinner, my cowsin J and I went to see Elysium, which is the Matt Damon movie about the developing world, environmental exhaustion and overpopulation, corporate exploitation of workers, the broken criminal justice system (police and corrections), a rich upper class driven by fear, corrupt government officials, immigration reform, an artificial scarcity of healthcare, extra-constitutional robotic surveillance, an over-reliance on technology… did I miss anything? There’s also a Christ-like redemption by a figure who needed one last heist for the sake of survival, a Christ figure who goes bionic and gets jacked up on pills. And the bad guys were South Africans.

On with our story. This morning I woke up thinking there would be left over lumpia, and there was… but I honestly couldn’t get to it, since Auntie had made sinangag, longganisa, daing, tinapa, and some kamatis for me. It was insane.

I kissed them goodbye and drove toward Sacramento, to meet my friends in Elk Grove. I told my phone to take me the short way, and I ended up driving through the Sacramento River Delta, through Walnut Grove and Locke, which made me think of Hizzoner S. Some of that drive was on river levee roads, crossing over picturesque bridges, through tiny roadside towns.

When I made it to G’s place in Elk Grove, I first had to meet Kiki the dog, who was so excited to meet me… she calmed down after I pet her. Then we went to lunch at a Mexican Italian Fusion restaurant, which you can guess was a Mexican restaurant that had some Italian dishes on the menu. I had some chilaquiles verdes con pollo (sin huevo) but the star of the show was a side order of “doughnut bread,” this mysterious dense, fried bread that had the texture of an old fashioned cake doughnut. I failed to get a photo of Emilio Zapata.

After that, we wandered through a pet store, and then after that there was Pinkberry. I stayed about an hour longer than I had planned, but it was more fun than driving through the Imperial Valley.

I stopped in a town called “Wilson” for fuel, and there were a couple quick pit stops on the way. I was hoping to make it to Ashland, Oregon before sunset, and I totally did. I checked in, and then rolled through Ashland to see what there was to eat. The places downtown all looked pretty full, and since I’m dining alone I decided to just eat at the Chinese place.

Ok… I’ll just say it. So I got “szechuan chicken” and was hoping it would be 辣子雞, but it what they put in front of me was “americanized” beyond the point of recognition. It ended up being that puffy batter fried chicken with a clear sweet and sour sauce that had a few pepper flakes in it. I just ate it, trying to avoid the sauce, and I didn’t say anything about it. But when the waiter came to took my plate away, he meekly told me there’s no chinatown in Ashland, only 4 chinese families, and there’s no good Chinese food to be had in the town, just stuff like this, he said, pointing to my plate. It was, indeed, very bad. The chicken soup was good, though.

After that meal, I came back to the hotel, filled my jacuzzi, and sat in it. It’s a jacuzzi suite, so I didn’t feel the need to wear trunks or close the window. I also sat in it and ate popcorn and facebooked with my phone.

I’m going to soak again tomorrow before checking out and hitting the road for Seattle. I’m not sure yet where i’ll stop for lunch.

Last Post from Monterey

Yesterday afternoon I did two class presentations, one group presentation and one individual. My individual presentation was some random word vomit despite the organization my powerpoint provided. As always I blanked on key words.

The group presentation was an evening talk show format, and I was the host. That went better for me, although our teacher was not familiar with the format; I think she expected the kind that’s common in the rest of the world: the round table, everybody talk at once kind of format (think The View) or a news debate show. Or even one of those variety shows, where there are 12 guests all at once, they’re all holding a wireless mic, and the editor later adds snarky sound effects, thought bubbles, and music… in other words, total chaos.

We were all like, oh no, we’re not doing that… we’re doing a civilized, American late night talk show, where each guest gets a solid three minutes largely uninterrupted to shine and plug their product. I sent the teacher a link to Diego Luna teaching Conan how to say “No mames” so that she could get an idea. Anyway, that went well.

This morning we sat and took our written test. Facilities made us get up and move in the middle of our test, which was annoying, but I just moved. Meh. I’m sure I got an 80%.

After the test I went to get a massage, and then after that I met the rest of the Chinese program at Monterey Beach. When I arrived I had to rescue the fire, and then I ended up spending a fair amount of time cooking.

When that was over, I came home… and had nothing to do. I wasn’t planning to leave until Sunday, so… I made arrangements to leave tomorrow, a day early. So I’ll drive up to San José and meet some friends for lunch, then back to Daly City… that will give me a chance to return my uncle’s bastón. Then on Sunday it’s Sacramento for lunch, and Ashland, Oregon for dinner.

Ok, how’s my Chinese now? It’s better than when I started. I’ve certainly seen a lot of vocab and patterns. A few of them are in my daily speech now. I’m not terribly worried that I haven’t internalized more of those yet… it’s not my first rodeo. I know that some of that stuff will start coming out of my mouth in the months to come.

I actually discovered this phenomenon when I got back from France in 1993. My French had improved tremendously from the immersion experience, and I had plenty of new frenchy habits. But I was a little disappointed that my French wasn’t even better. I would go to French class in Seattle and make a lot of the same mistakes I had made before. Oh well, I thought, I didn’t get fluent, but at least it was fun.

Fast forward to a year later, and I was totally able to speak French. So apparently the growth came after I had returned, after the immersion experience was long over.

Looking back now, it was silly to expect that language growth had to happen immediately in response to exposure. If you think about what has to happen neurologically, all the rewiring and reinforcing of neural pathways… all of that happens on it’s own schedule, and has to do with things that I can’t control, like synapses and blood flow.

So what I’m going to do now is keep reading a lot of Chinese, keep finding reasons to talk to people in Chinese, and write as much as I can. I bet a year from now there will be a big difference.

There’s a bigger picture question regarding trying to force language learning, the people who approach it boot camp style, the people who say “no pain, no gain” and then torture themselves with memory recall drills and then make themselves miserable. Those people will inevitably be successful and then attribute their success to all the suffering.

But there’s a different way to look at it… you can also see it as a matter of the brain keeping it’s own acquisition schedule. As long as people are feeding the language instinct with communication, they’re brains are going to develop along it’s own schedule whether they drill themselves into submission, or do what I do, which is chat with target language friends and read for pleasure.

I had a brilliant conclusion to this but I forgot it. It’s late, time to go to bed. My next blog post will probably be from Daly City.

Lower Back Lockup and other tales of this weekend.

I’ve been a horrible blogger. Last spring while school was still in session I promised myself that when I got to Monterey, I’d blog way more. I even had visions of vocabulary blogging, like I did in Taipei 2012. Alas.

It’s midnight now, so I don’t have time for a complicated narrative. This entry is just the highlights of the past few days.

On Friday (I can’t even remember what life was like before Friday) I had a 9am Chinese test. I only took an hour and a half to write it. I was the last person to finish, but the teacher noted that it was uncharacteristically fast for me. I felt I had done pretty well, but I could feel my back muscles tightening.

So right after the test I went to get a massage, and afterward I felt great. I ran back to the house to get my kazoo, and then back to school, where I MC’d the summer talent show. Oh yes. I told jokes (the cake joke, but not the octopus or doughnut joke). I sang a couple songs in Chinese, one was 拉肚子 (“diarrhea” to the tune of “La bamba”) with big J. The other song was 对不起,我的中文不好. Of course, in the middle of the song, I blanked on the words.

For those of you who don’t know me, this is a thing: I don’t feel stage fright or nerves about being in front of people. However, I always, always suffer from a memory blank. It’s happened ever since I was a kid, in plays, or singing lyrics to songs, or making important announcements.

Anyway, after the talent show, Atlanta J and I went to the beach in Pacific Grove to look at the tide pools. I could feel my back tightening again, and I started to feel afraid of slippery and rocky surfaces. We saw some fish, some anemones, tons of crabs of course, a jelly, and I some otters. I didn’t hear of any Friday night shenanigans.

When I woke up on Saturday morning, my back was locked up, and it hurt to stand up. I managed to get my lox bagel from the Bagel Deli (on toasted poppyseed), and from there made an appointment for a 9am massage at Massage Envy. The massage was great, and the massage therapist helped me figure out that my back was locking up because the muscles that are attached to my hip bone are in crisis… the lower back was guarding. The massage was great, as I said, but the crisis continued after the massage.

So I got in the car and picked up my phone to cancel on hizzoner S. I heard him answer, but then the connection dropped… so I thought to myself… I can make it to San Francisco.

So I drove 2 hours to San Francisco and went to meet hizzoner S in the Mission. S is super cool, into Asian American Studies from back in the day, had a favorite spot in the Mission for pupusas, and showed me a latino grocery store run by some Chinese Peruvians. I love the sound of Cantonese, but even more I love the sound of Cantonese English, I just find it irresistible.

I had a great time with S in the Mission district, but my hips and back were absolutely killing me after the car ride. It hurt to stand and I could barely walk. I called my cousin in Daly City and asked if I could just go to his place and lie down.

Of course once I got there, I had to answer the questions 1) what did you do to your back? 2) have you eaten, and 3) you’ll stay here tonight; which wasn’t a question. I went to lie down, and stretched and used a massager on the muscles in question while Cowsin J and I cracked jokes.

Finally the time came to get up and go to Auntie and Uncle’s anniversary dinner. It hurt so bad to walk, that I made a crack about needing a bastón. Uncle R heard me and immediately went to the back room to loan me his cane, which was AWESOME.

So I drove to the restaurant and the anniversary dinner, and it was great to catch up with cowsins and family. I didn’t get to play with my nephew because I was afraid to get out of my chair. After dinner I drove back to Monterey. When I finally got to the sublet, I jumped out of the car with no pain whatsoever. Whaaat?

The pain was back in the morning, and I skipped class. I determined that the source of my pain was not sitting or standing, it was the act of getting up… and that was excruciating. But by the end of the day the pain started to fade.

Today I went through my morning routine 7:30 lox bagel, 8:30 library to print, 9:00 to 11:30 morning class. I had tennis balls in my back, poking me in strategic spazmatic spots. I ended up skipping my afternoon class so I could come home and rest.

I realize now that the rest of this story is about how and when I did my homework today, so maybe I’ll skip it. The thing I will say is that I wasn’t able to go to the Mexican fair in Watsonville. I had been looking forward to eating elotes and watching lucha libre with Atlanta J. I heard all about it when he got back though; and saw pictures! He had a picture with a panda wrestler, and video of the bad guy luchador who was called “la migra” and had “border patrol” printed on his butt.

Oh and also, Atlanta J returned from the fair with a unicycle that he bought for $20. I can’t believe I missed that!

Tomorrow is already Wednesday, and there’s another weekly exam and presentation of Friday. Guh. There is too much fracking assessment in this program, it’s annoying, it’s taking away from contact time. Oh well. By the way, I got an 82% on that exam I took last Friday, the one where I could feel my back locking up. I’m surprised at how low that grade is, but then I looked at some sloppy answers and one that I even left blank… I wasn’t thinking straight.

So now my back is ok, it’s still a little stiff but it’s no longer locking up, that part has passed. It does feel a little beat up from two massages on consecutive days, but that’s a good hurt.

There are only eight days left in this program.

It’s gotta mean something.

I have to read my text and prepare for a vocab quiz tomorrow morning, so this will be a short one.

The only heresy I really insist upon is that when a wild animal crosses my path, I like to think about what that animal is meant to tell me or show me. Because God sends animals to tell me stuff. I would hate to have to renounce this heresy, either to the Inquisition nor to the Athiest Collective; it’s so entertaining. Wild animals don’t just randomly and meaninglessly wander into my life. It’as gotta mean something.

So today as I was eating my stewed beef with veggies over rice, a bird flew into the cafeteria; hit a window, and then landed on on a hanging lighting fixture. It squawked a few times and then fell silent. Occasionally other students came in, noticed it, and freaked out for a second about a bird inside the building. Then it shat inside the lighting fixture.

So what was it telling me? The image is of being trapped in a place that’s highly unnatural to me. The door I came in through is wide open, but I can’t see it. Quit squawking, no one is coming to help me. Might as well shit in the lamp fixture.

I left to go to class, and then came back two and a half hours later to hear squawking. This time, the squawking was coming from under a table that I like to sit at. The bird was hiding there; I think it was terrified to walk/fly the few dozen feet to the tall double doors it flew in through, wide open. I thought about clearing the tables and chairs that stood between the bird and the door.

So that was my animal sighting for the day.

That, and a handful of harbor seals that were napping on the rocks as I went by on my evening walk. They are pretty well camouflaged; they are the same coloration as the rocks, and the only way I can tell them from the rocks is their shape. While they are napping, they are like rock-colored, banana-slug shapes on the tops of rocks. Occasionally they wiggle, and you know they’re not a rock.

Besides the lost bird, and the wiggly harbor seals were a dozen or so dolphins, surfacing and often jumping in the open water of Monterey Bay. The man who pointed them out to me said “there must be hundreds of them” but I would only say four or five dozen.

So besides the lost bird, just some wiggly harbor seals, and jumping dolphins. Oh, and tide pools full of darting fish and hermit crabs, occupying black snail shells.

Besides that, no other animals. I suppose that there was that baby dear in the road that I almost hit the other day as well, but that is the absolute extent of the animal contact that I’ve had this week.

It’s gotta mean something. Ok, back to Chinese.



A dream, a rule, and a sunset



A dream.

Last night I dreamt I was talking to some people, and they were nodding and responding appropriately.  I realized later I was talking to them in Chinese, and they weren’t Chinese speakers, but they said it was obvious what I was saying and no big deal.

This has happened to me in real life; I had an extended conversation with someone in Spanish who wasn’t really a Spanish speaker… a Venezuelan friend uncomfortably it out to me.

Later (not today) I’m going to write a post about “language hijackers;” who they are, why they don’t usually bother me, and what I do if they do start to bother me.

A rule.

I’ve been saying for a long time that I’m going to write a post about sample sentences, how to write them properly, and why it’s important.  Today is not the day I’m going to write that post.  But just in case I forget, I want to include this rule:

Sample sentences are supposed to help you understand the target vocab/text/language; they are not supposed to confuse you more.  New rule:  every time you have to look up grammar or vocab from a sample sentence that’s above your level, you get to kick the textbook author in the face.

A sunset.

Rather than grinding out the vocab and grammar today, I took a delicious nap.  Then I drove to Seaside to eat pho, and when I got there, it was closed.  Brutal.  But it was also sunset, so I went to the beach and watched the sun set over Monterey Bay, before heading back to grind out the vocab and grammar.

The workload in my classes, it’s too much.  We are told to study over twenty new words a day, and we have no idea which ones are important and which ones we’ll never see again.  We could totally handle this quantity of content if there was more practice and less analysis.  There’s not.

On the other hand, I feel like I’ve been placed at exactly the right level, and I like everybody, and I like the class.  That has NOT always been the case over my career as a serial summer-intensive student.  Count em: this is the SEVENTH summer language intensive that I’ve taken, and so far this is the one that I feel the best about.

Vocab  is below; I’ll review it in the morning.

  1. 暑假 shǔjià          summer break
  2. 疑问 yíwèn  question, interrogation, doubt.
  3. 属于 shǔyú  classified as, belong to
  4. 实践 shí jiàn  practice, put into practice, fulfill
  5. 接触 jiēchù  to touch, connect, access, be in touch with
  6. 维护 wéihù          to defend, safeguard, uphold, maintain
  7. 考 kǎo         beat, hit, take a test
  8. 类 lèi  kind, type, class, category, like
  9. 吸引 xīyǐn  to attract
  10. 不远千里 bùyuǎn qiānlǐ  make light/go to the trouble of traveling long distance
  11. 看来 kànlai Apparently, it seems that…
  12. 翻译 fānyì
  13. 发挥 fāhuī  to display, exhibit, express, elaborate
  14. 热衷于 rànzhōng  to feel strongly about, be fond of, obsession
  15. 相比之下 xiāngbǐ zhīxià  in contrast
  16. 经验 jīngyàn        to experience
  17. 大于 dàyú  greater than, bigger than, more than
  18. 放假 fàngjià         take a vacation/day off
  19. 采访 cǎifǎng  to interview, gather news, hunt for and collect, cover
  20. 干嘛 gànmá
  21. 特殊 tèshū
  22. 科学 kēxué
  23. 秩序 shìxù  order, sequence
  24. 研 yán                  grind, study
  25. 收费 shōufèi  fee, charge
  26. 大批 dàpī  large quantities
  27. 介 jiè  introduce, lie between
  28. 追求 zhuīqiú  to pursue a goal stubbornly
  29. 网页 wǎngyè
  30. 专业 zhuānyè  specialty, major
  31. 当 dāng ,dàng
  32. 打工  temporary work, casual job
  33. 能力  capable, capability
  34. 否则 fǒuzé  if not, otherwise, else, or else
  35. 絶大多数 juédàduōshù  absolute majority
  36. 组织 zǔzhī  to organize
  37. 形式 xíngshì  outer appearance, form shape
  38. 收获 shōuhuò  harvest, reap
  39. 留校 liúxiào  stay at the same school
  40. 比例 bǐlì  proportion, scale
  41. 仍 ren2 still, yet, to remain
  42. 聚集 ju4ji2  to assemble, to gather.
  43. 绍 shao4 to continue, to carry on
  44. 后顾之忧 hòugùzhīyōu  worries about future?
  45. 充分 chong1fen4 sufficient, ample
  46. 特长 te4chang2  one’s forte
  47. 可观 ke3guan1  considerable, impressive, significant
  48. 丰富 feng1fu4 to enrich, rich plentiful, abundant
  49. 零花钱 línghuā qián  pocket money

I don’t think you know what “ethnic group” means.

Orientation Day
Ok so today was our program orientation, for SILP (Summer Intensive Language Program), which people pronounce as a one syllable word, kind of like “silk” but ending with a /p/. If you don’t know yet, I’m at the Monterey Institute for International Studies, which abbreviates to “MIIS” and everyone pronounces as “miss.” It’s an 8 week summer intensive for a handful of languages; I happen to be taking Mandarin.

The orientation started in a lecture hall, and I have a question: are lecture halls engineered to put you to sleep? I tried in vain to find a feature of the lecture hall that wasn’t the sleepiest possible choice: the carpet, the sound proofing, the dull lights, the sound system with no treble, the lack of sunlight, the high narrow walls, the padded seats… every design choice made had a sleepy sleepy bias. I wonder what a non-sleepy lecture hall would be like… it would have some sunlight, I imagine.

Orientation was kind of tedious. They gave us a folder full of hand-outs at check-in, which we all read in about 20 seconds before the hour started. Then the hour started, and for an hour people read the hand-outs to us. Then our conversation leaders took us on a tour of the tiny campus, and then they herded us into a lecture hall to fill out forms. P loaned me a pen.

After that we all went to lunch, and P and I got sandwiches at a coffee shop, and dealt with our technology accounts. Then it was back to the classroom to take the diagnostic placement test.

You are not supposed to “do well” on diagnostic placement tests. They’re supposed to diagnose your level and then place you in the corresponding class. If you “do well” on the diagnostic, they place you higher than your level.

So I kept telling myself not to be anxious about the stupid placement test… but it did make me tense. I was annoyed by people making noise, sneaking in and out of the lecture hall door to do the face-to-face oral assessment in the lounge.

After class I found the student center, and I’ve been here ever since, listing the vocab I should know for tomorrow’s quiz (below). If it seems like too much, it’s because it is too frackim much.

The part where people try to tell me my own identity for the sake of their convenience.
One last thing; they asked us to fill out a form, checking off which one “ethnic group” we were: African American/Black, Asian American (including Pacific Islander), Caucasian/White, Hispanic/Latino, Native American/Indian, Multiracial American, and Decline to State.

We all know that most of those are not ethnic groups, right?

If some bureaucrats want my ethnic identity for their stats I’ll be happy to tell them; but if they list a bunch labels, and then tell me to check only one, then they can go eat a dick, because I’m Filipino American, and not some bullshit label they invented for the sake of their own shitty convenience.

Here, I made them a form they can fill out:

What is your first name? Check only one:

  • __ Nigel
  • __ Pricilla

生词 New vocab for tomorrow

  • 自从 自从我到了蒙特雷、天气还冷了。
  • 广泛
  • 自从手机广泛用以后、不用写信了。

  • 交流
  • 传递
  • 至少
  • 我早上至少喝一杯咖啡。

  • 一封信
  • 信纸
  • 信封
  • 免费
  • 在韩国、泡菜是免费的。

  • 留起来
  • 真实
  • 落伍
  • 有人还上网、落伍地下载音乐。哈哈!

  • 打印机
  • 印出来
  • 道理
  • 他不聪明、所有地他说的从来没有道理。

  • 根本
  • 我根本不进去星巴克。

  • 道理
  • 日常
  • 日常生活

  • 影响
  • 互联网
  • 天下事
  • 拿——来形容
  • 其实
  • 任何人
  • 科技
  • 使
  • 认为
  • 缩短
  • 距离
  • 增加
  • 速度
  • 因此
  • 改善

Sunday Morning Coffee

So I found the Carmel Valley Coffee Roasting Company a little over a half mile from my summer sublet. There is a mild stench of that chemical vanilla flavoring, but that’s all the sneering that I’ll do today.

So my coffee order is very low on the needy scale: a tall americano for here with no room. My Californian baristas were slightly shocked by three parts of that order:

  • tall. “you… mean like… the large one?” As a linguist I know that I’m supposed to not be surprised by regional variation but I wasn’t expecting to have crossed out of the realm of “tall/short” espresso drinks.
  • for here. She repeated the words “for here,” but still I had to convince the cashier a couple of times that I wanted the ceramic mug rather than the cardboard tanker.
  • no room. Both the cashier and the barista checked with me to make sure. I wonder if people ask for the manager if they don’t leave enough room.

They are accustomed to way needier orders than mine, but I doubt they hear orders like mine a lot.

I haven’t found much else in terms of coffee around here yet. I’m annoyed at myself for leaving my coffee gear at home in Seattle. I had set it out and everything.

Goals for today: buy some rice, do some laundry, walk around. It’s kind of cold here.