Oregon’s been treating me well lately, and I’ve been approaching this summer with a lot of wonder. Here’s what I’ve been up to the past several weeks so you can catch up with me to the present.
David, Sky, and I were in Bend. Evan was accompanying us most of the time, though toward the end of the month, he was hosting a WAYK workshop with Oklahoma Latin teachers, sponsored by the Classics Department of the University of Oklahoma, Norman. The three of us in Bend were working on a consolidated, easy-to-follow manual for new WAYK players, explaining the most essential techniques and how and when to wield them. David and I joined in Hayden’s Mandarin circle on Tuesday, the 26th. We were in awe of how Hai Xing, a 6-year old girl adopted from China, used some of the WAYK techniques on her own while she was having us sit down on certain places on a playground (Set-up, Same Conversation, Same Rotation). She even made a stop/go game for us (Red Light/Green Light)! To us, these were surefire signs she would be an excellent WAYK hunter in the future.
While I was in Bend, I experienced many firsts: my first time eating pansies (in a salad), my first dessert with raw milk, my first WAYK game with someone under 10, my first experience at a dedicated Chinuk-language night at Portland State University (PSU), among so many others. The art of language hunting was alive and well in Bend and in Portland, and I was happy to meet other WAYK devotees around. One night, in Bend, all four of the WAYK crew in Oregon–Evan, Sky, David, and me–joined three Spanish-language learners in the cozy outdoor patio of the Bend Brewing Company. We were all at different levels; Evan was Superior, while our three hosts and David were between Intermediate and Advanced, and Sky and I were Novices. Nevertheless, we made ourselves comfortable in the Spanish circle; to push some Spanish words on both David and me, Evan and the hosts asked us a barrage of questions about our lives, pulling us through the conversation and suggesting possible responses when we looked like we were stalling for answers.
Evan came back, and the four of us made a trek to a small town on the outskirts of Portland, called Molalla, spending several days and nights in Evan’s nearly-empty house there. Free of distractions just about all throughout each day we spent there, we shot videos of advanced WAYK and made podcasts, which will be uploaded over the next few weeks. It’s about time the world should know how WAYK operates beyond “Want/Have/Give/Take” and “The Walk”! More than that, David improvised on a piano–a talent I never suspected he had–to compose a fresh, frivolous WAYK podcast theme song. I thought it particularly fitting that WAYK should have music that is just as spontaneous, flexible, and simply fun as WAYK is.
I came back to Bend and marveled at the gorgeous scenery all around, as well as the charming used-book stores, the vibrant coffee shops, and the active yet unpretentious atmosphere downtown. Hai Xing’s adoptive mom, Robin, had a niece of hers, Breanne, stay with her for a few weeks. Breanne was very interested in Japanese animation and comics, so she wanted to pick up the language herself. At the same time, a preschool teacher named Yoko, who happened to know Japanese, was visiting Robin’s house. Evan and I were visiting Robin’s house on the usual Tuesday afternoon, expecting to play WAYK in Mandarin. When we saw Yoko, though, saying “Konnichiwa” to us, we immediately saw an opportunity. Evan would be throwing his techniques at everyone, while I would help explain the techniques in Japanese to Yoko while honing my own skill in the language. So we decided to be flexible that night and play in Japanese rather than Mandarin. We were amazed at how readily Yoko picked up on the techniques, like Copycat, Same Conversation, and Everybody Deals. Even though we hadn’t gone into the archetypal first WAYK game, “What is that?”, she took the situation we had–introducing ourselves–and threw in a Bite-Sized Piece of her own, asking us what nationality each of us was.
The Japanese-language hunting followed for the next few weeks while Breanne was around; one night, one of her friends, Michaela, came over to join the fun. Luckily, Yoko was also available on Thursdays, so we established Japanese-language nights twice a week. We played typical games of “What is that?” using typical objects around the house: pens, cups, dollar bills. We threw in some apple slices and water as well, combined with a new ride we collaboratively composed, “Eat/Drink”. (We tried using cell phones for a while, but we limited ourselves away from them because the Japanese word was too long to remember for Novice speakers.) All the while, we were making sure I was pulling Breanne through the target expressions and went all the way to “Want/Have” before it was time for Evan and me to leave Bend for Molalla again. (If I had a chance to stay for just one more night, I would have come up with rides to tackle the complicated way Japanese handles the verb “to give”. But, as it happens, WAYK sometimes has to give way to real life.)
Late July and early August
For the past several days, I’ve been staying with Evan and helping him work on improving his countryside house, which he wants to sell soon, in Molalla, Oregon (about an hour’s drive south of Portland). He made a deal with me that if I wanted to assist him in a task, like wiping the house walls or cleaning the floorboards on the patio, then he’d want to speak in Spanish with me to help me practice and improve. (Believe it or not, I’m not fluent in Spanish, even though I have a Spanish name, which just happens to be an artifact of my Filipino origins. I never took a class in the language, so I’m only at the Novice-Mid level.) I managed to pick up quite a surprising amount of vocabulary over a few hours of talking and working. We even managed to coin a new technique name, “Whistle While You Work”. I’ll cover that technique and my Spanish-language sessions in more detail next week.
At the same time, I’ve been having several deep conversations with him (in English, naturally) about the future of WAYK and what it means to revitalize a language. How do we motivate people to study their own native minority language (like Basque, Yurok, or Irish) if another language is just more useful to them to know and to study (like Spanish or English)? How does a grassroots movement with complicated politics sustain itself, and what kinds of tools, people, and skills are needed? Are certain languages not worth revitalizing, especially if the few remaining speakers can only use the language up to an Advanced level, not reaching Superior?
Later this month, I’ll touch on our answers to these questions on the bigger picture of WAYK. These are important topics that deserve their own essays, not simply things that are worth only a passing mention. I’d encourage you to think about these issues over this month, and I hope you can join the discussion, too.
Until next time!