Bucket List Idea: Playing the Chinese GuZheng

peckishlaowai Posted in China,Tags: , ,

I decided that being able to play the Chinese GuZheng (古箏 gǔzhēng) is something that will have to go onto my bucket list ;) . Considering limited time I have, it is something that will have to happen a bit later in my life as there are a few other things that take bigger priority in the bucket right now.

Seeing that I have been interested in getting an instrument though, I got a quote a few months ago and it seems it would cost $600 (NZD) to get a GuZheng – 太贵了! Not really wanting to pay that money if I’m not going to give it the love and attention it needs right away. (Secondly I live right next to the sea – not the best idea to get a wooden instrument with strings in this kind of location.)

That said – I discovered this video yesterday – of a girl playing the Chinese GuZheng on iPad. I immediately went to the iTunes App store and searched for GuZheng apps and found this one which seems to be the one called iGuzheng). It’s awesome and at a $1.29 it seems that I can have a taste of the GuZheng now instead of having to hold off for a few years :)

I figure it’s more useful playing with this app instead of just playing some other kind of entertaining app when I get some free time :)

Anyways, check out the video it’s incredible…

What’s in a Chinese name?

peckishlaowai Posted in China,Tags: , ,
To name and how to name: those are the questions

Before you choose a Chinese name it’s probably a good idea to understand how you might use it in China – and when and how it would be useful to have a Chinese name. As far as I am concerned, these are some of the reasons you should consider getting a Chinese name:

  • You’ll often find yourself in situations where Chinese people ask you if you have a Chinese name – thus probably good for general conversation.
  • Pronunciation difficulties for Chinese: offering a Chinese equivalent could be helpful to Chinese that have difficulty pronouncing difficult or unusual English or other Western names.
  • If you have a business card, typically you’d have one side in English and the other side in Chinese showing your Chinese name. I guess this is a must-have in China. (Apparently having an auspicious name is even better for generating business leads.)
  • Having a Chinese name at least shows you are interested in their culture and that you’ve gone to some effort to obtain a name in a format familiar to them.

Way back in 2007 before I went to China I got a Chinese name. I did everything I should have – I had it checked and prepared by my Chinese University professor – a native speaker from Taiwan. She presented two or three options to me and I made my choice. I did think the name unusual at the time but since I didn’t know much about Chinese names to begin with, I didn’t question the name at all. I just went with it.

These were two of my choices with the surname first 富爱美 and 富爱梅。 They translate as such:
富爱美 – Good fortune, abundance, wealth / Love / Beautiful
富爱梅 – Good fortune, abundance, wealth / Love / Plum

I chose the first one: 富爱美
(Some background – all three characters “closely” match the sounds in my Western name.)

You’re probably laughing at me right now – that’s ok by me – it’s happened many times before, in fact my Chinese name always seems to amuse Chinese people or have them laugh at me. (I haven’t tried it on foreigners yet – this is a first.)

I’ll share with you some of the responses I’ve had:
Scenario 1:
I’m standing in class with my students in Nanjing, and am asked by one of the students what my Chinese name is. “富爱美” I reply. Class laughs. I think to myself “something’s wrong with my Chinese name” and I’m a bit too embarrassed to ask them why they’re laughing.

Scenario 2:
Chinese tutor (40 year old woman)also an educated University teacher in Nanjing asks me my Chinese name. ‘富爱美’ I reply. She laughs. “What’s wrong with it?”, I ask.

She replies”我的妈妈喜欢这个名子。 我不喜欢这个名子”. Great – it’s old-fashioned I think to myself.

Scenario 3:
I share my name with another professor at university. Yip you guessed it – he laughs too. “Ah you want to be wealthy, and you love to be beautiful or love beautiful things”. Great I think to myself – I sound superficial. I should get this name thing fixed.

Scenario 4:
I share my name with a Chinese guy from Australia – he laughs too. He says – “Ah, awesome, it’s like you want to embody all of the most superficial things in life, you want to be rich and you love beautiful things or you want to be beautiful. Awesome”.

Strange – I kind of thought this name would sit well with most modern Chinese ambitions – aren’t these the things that most people (not just Chinese) aspire to?

Where does this leave me though? I probably need to rethink my Chinese name – a few years down the line and I’d like to believe that I’m a bit wiser… There’s no hurry though but I thought I’d share with you my experience in getting and using a Chinese name.

Thus dear readers – I have a few questions for you:

  • Have you ever had any issues with your Chinese name? How do Chinese people react to it?
  • Does having a Chinese name, make you feel more integrated or not? Is having a Chinese name useful to you?
  • When Chinese friends learn your Chinese name, do they call you by that name or do they use use your Western name?
  • What about you – do you think my Chinese name is silly too? :) – you can be honest!

Do let me know please – share your thoughts with me. :)

The concept of “fluency” in Mandarin

peckishlaowai Posted in China, Learning Mandarin,Tags: , ,

Like every other Mandarin learner I dream of becoming a “fluent” Mandarin Chinese speaker, but this goal can seem pretty unattainable and daunting if not broken down into smaller achievable milestones. You can also dream as much as you want about it but if you have no plan of action and no regularity in your schedule, you won’t get or go anywhere. So this is where I’m currently at – defining what I need to do (at least roughly in the next 6 months) to get me one step closer to becoming “fluent” in Mandarin. If I’m going to want to get anywhere with Mandarin in the near future – I have to put some stakes in the ground (a couple at least). I have to define what my goals are so that I know what I’m aiming for.

Fluency….? Have a laugh :)

“Fluency”. Yes there is a hint of skepticism – hence the use of quote marks. I’ve often wondered about becoming fluent in Mandarin and I have had so many questions about it:

Is it even possible? Do you need to live in China for a number of years to become fluent? At what point would I know that I am fluent? Is fluency relative, defined by what you want to achieve with the language? It seems such a vague concept at times. When I struggle with the basics I often ask myself whether I am crazy studying this language… If I didn’t have this burning desire / passion in my heart I probably would have given up ages ago. (Oh wait, sorry – forgot – was out of action for nearly 2.5 years – life got in the way…) Well at least I rekindled the flame, didn’t I?

Some conversations I’ve had with native speakers have left some doubt in my mind too – comments like “Not even Chinese people are fluent in Mandarin”. Another reply that also left me rather puzzled about the validity of the concept of “fluency” in Mandarin was when I asked a native speaker why they said “shenme” so much in a conversation and whether they ever had difficulty understanding one another. To this question, I was answered with, “Oh us Chinese don’t always understand what’s going on”. Baffled I was. If statements like these don’t leave a Mandarin learner confused, then I can only present another inspiring example (smell the sarcasm): “200 Kilometres (from here) and we won’t be able to understand one another if we speak Mandarin – no point for foreigners study Mandarin! Better if Chinese people learn English!”.

When you think it can’t possibly get any darker and gloomy though :) , along comes a Mandarin angel, who puts back the silver lining around the (damned) dark cloud: “Don’t worry so much about the pronunciation and tones, even though China is so big, if you put the words together in a sentence, people will be able to understand you. Your pronunciation and tones don’t have to be perfect – just close.” This last statement which I had heard from a native speaker very recently, is certainly very encouraging especially when compared to the statements I had mentioned before. It also however confirms the idea that standard Putonghua is not something everyone conforms or even aspires to – but I’m pointing out the obvious – none of this is news. I suspect it’s known already and not just by me. In this case though this last example is rather comforting. I’ll be an optimist and keep with the last person’s words in my mind as I continue on my path.

Getting back to my point though – all of these questions aside – I reckon one should simply decide that negative comments will not be allowed to discourage. When feeling overwhelmed – the only thing to do is to be realistic and break the end-goal down into several achievable milestones and as for me, I have to define what I’m aiming for and how I’m going to achieve it, with the time (and other resources), I have available to dedicate to this beast. :)

I also need to define what I think fluency means to me. I reckon if I can close a business deal in Mandarin I’d consider myself fluent. For now though, I have rather more rudimentary obstacles to conquer.

Patience is a virtue.

A virtue I (for the most part) do not possess.