We Took the Long Way Home and The City Country

We had a day of recovery before we were set to go to Fangshan for the week.  David and I took that opportunity to go jog around the Haidian district in the morning.  Judging by the looks of people on the street, running through Beijing isn’t that common, or we just didn’t look the part. Either way, we had our destination and were just two more vehicles jockeying for position amidst the mash of pedestrians, cyclists, 9 to 5ers, buses and taxis.  It was a bit intense, and David’s advice for crossing the street worked well enough: go when the Chinese go.

Our goal was to design a TQ: Same Conversation by doing a TQ: Walk (or Run) for the coming weeks.  There was a lot of potential for good topics to cover, such as crossing the street, waiting, stopping, yelling at cars cutting you off (Hey! I’m walkin’ here!) and general directional language.

Thinking back, it was definitely a same conversation between David and I.  A few weeks before I had to go to San Francisco to apply for my visa.  I meet David there and we went in together.  I had my trip timed out so that I would only be in the city for a day, but it didn’t work out that way.  We met at the Chinese Embassy in the morning, got in, I found out that I forgot a piece of my application, so we had to go to a UPS store to get it faxed to me.  David and I ended up running about a mile from the UPS store back to the Embassy to get there before they closed for the day, and we were talking in Mandarin the whole way there.

This time, we were trying to get to this park near Beida University, or Peking University, where last year David went and did Tai Chi in this early morning group ran by an older woman.   After a few mistaken parks and wrong directions we ended up there, too late for the group Tai Chi, but still we sat for a bit and watched the park goers.

There was a group of about fifteen to twenty middle-aged women practicing some sort of dance.  With their music blaring they danced in lines and started and stopped and repeated that over again. There was a group of kids running around the stairs next to us, and playing and teasing one another. But, apparently we missed the birds.  David said that a lot of people bring their pet birds to the park, and hang their cages in the trees.  If you get to the park early enough you can see all the trees filled with all of these bird cages.  Maybe next time.

We ran back to our host Irene’s apartment, ended up getting lost, and in the end our hour long run lasted three hours.  It was alright.

Later that afternoon me, David, and Irene got on the bus and went to Fangshan.  This place in interesting in that it is two hours outside of Beijing, but it’s still in Beijing.  It was definitely the country, but in this weird impacted urban/rural sort of way.

We got off the bus and were met by this older woman and her son. The woman was the principal of an elementary school for the children of migrant workers.  She didn’t speak any English and I never got her name.  After they picked us up we stopped at a roadside restaurant and got some dinner.  This restaurant wasn’t really a restaurant though, it was basically a dude with some fires cooking on the side of the road and six or seven plastic tables set up with seats around them.  They had a waitress and everything and the food was pretty good.

Irene and the Principal talked a lot in Mandarin while we ate, and talked some with her son, Luofan.  I didn’t understand much, David pulled me through some of the conversation, but for the most part I was quietly doing TQ: Codetalker while we ate what I think were cow tendons on a stick, which were pretty good, we made it through the dinner, and the Principal and Luofan took us to the Boshi school.

We got to the school, and it turns out that’s where David and I would be sleeping.  Irene was staying at the house of one of the friends of the Principal.  They kept on apologizing to us for the poor conditions of the school and of the town and how little they had to offer us, but it was okay.  It was rough, but their kindness made up for anything lacking.

The school was this big green building surrounded by a ten foot wall, all the classes empty except for our room on the bottom floor and the upstairs quarters where I’m guessing the Principal stayed during school sessions.  Our room was small, but comfortable enough.

In the Principals quarters Luofan had his guitar and asked if any of us knew how to play.  I told him I did and we then we were friends.  For hunting Mandarin, this would be one of his TQ: A Few of My Favorite Things.  Also, I hadn’t been smoking during the weeks leading up to the trip, and saw going away as a good opportunity to quit, but Lo Fan offered me a cigarette and it seemed rude to refuse the tobacco, and to rationalize even further, I applied the A few of my favorite things to myself and began to hunt Mandarin from him.  Then we called it a night, and got ready for bed and the morning.

Written by Evan Gardner



TQ: Codetalker is technique used when a player is in the company of speakers who are way more fluent than he/she is. The main idea behind it being not on trying to understand what the advanced speakers are saying, but rather listening to flow and song of the language. Taking it a step beyond simply listening to the speakers (and where the code talker part comes in), a handy little trick is to put one hand over your ear and the other hand over your mouth (creating a sort of listening tube from your mouth to your ear) then quietly mumble along to what is being said. You get practice ”speaking” the language without any of the pressure of actually speaking the language. Note of caution: performing this technique in public invites odd stares and can be a distraction to the conversation between the fluent speakers, but with enough practice the act of codetalking becomes something you do unconsciously and naturally. And like sign usage, the use of the hands creating the listening tube is a tool to help you become aware of the process, but not the entire process in itself.

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