Friday, October 5, 2012


This morning my dad sent me this Chinese-language animation about the presidential debate with the subject line "You understand this?" 

I've been living in Mandarin-speaking society for almost exactly four years and have spent about three years actively studying the language, yet unhappily my answer is "not really." Barring subtitles (and obvious graphics), I would be able to tell you that the audio says Mitt Romney won the debate and Democrats are unhappy about it and not much else. Okay, that's probably a lie - I don't know how to say Democrats. 

At this point, I have a comfortable pragmatic vocabulary, but I don't know phrases like "public broadcasting" or "tax cuts" or "deficit." I guess even my American friends with Chinese parents would not get the full gist of the video because they didn't grow up hearing those kinds of words either (though my vocabulary is still smaller than theirs as well).

I haven't been studying since I moved to Beijing. I emailed a language school once about a tutor, but work has been so overwhelming I abandoned the idea.  When I move back the US, I plan on continuing some basic study -- maybe with an online course, maybe with a tutor -- not so that I can reach the kind of high-level understanding that would allow me to watch the news in Chinese, I would need an intensive immersion program for that, but rather so that I don't lose what I have. And as a hobby. I really like learning Chinese.

This afternoon I went to get my haircut and as soon as I told my stylist I was American we started talking about the greatest of global ice breakers: American movies. We talked about Bruce Willis and Schwarzenegger. We talked about The Godfather and The Departed and the Hong Kong movie upon which the latter is based. We talked about Tsui Hark and Chow Yun-fat lighting his cigarette with Benjamins in A Better Tomorrow. I don't know the Chinese names for any of those movies but we were able to describe enough plot to each other to get the point across. He commented that I seemed to like a lot of gangster movies. I said yes, probably true. Then he said America was kind of like Japan's gangster since they wouldn't dare step to China over the Diaoyu Islands if we didn't have their back. I grinned and laughed, "Oh really?" Then he said my government likes to fight a lot of wars. To which the only appropriate response it seemed was, "Yeah, 差不多"

So I guess you could say I'm action-movie fluent. Don't ask me about current events. I'm only Diaoyu-island fluent because that's the event of the moment, but I can recount a Scorsese film plot pretty, pretty well.

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