So we finally became somewhat productive members of Taiwanese society and got around to starting a Chinese class. After two months of whining about not understanding what people say to us, we actually did something about it. We didn’t get on the ball quickly enough to join a class on campus so we decided to have a tutor come to our apartment. How posh are we? Anyway, this past Tuesday was our first session. We headed into the evening with mixed emotions. On the one hand, we were excited to finally be doing something to contribute to the alleviation of the communication gap that has loomed so ominously before us during our time here thus far. On the other hand, we were terrified that our tutor, having heard our butchered pronunciation and mangled tones, would either burst into a side-splitting laughter that would bring us all to tears or that she would be so offended at the massacre of her mother tongue that she would storm out of the apartment giving us a tonal tongue lashing. In either case, we would be left with our hearts heavier and our wallet lighter than when we started.
However, our fears were relieved when our tutor came to our door. As is the custom, she promptly handed both of us her business card with her contact information… and also a picture of her late feline companion. Plastered where a company logo might be was a photo of her dear kitty who, after being with her for the past 15 years, passed on to kitty heaven recently. I noticed that the name on the card was different from the name that I had been given on the phone. I figured that they had given us someone different until our tutor explained that she had taken on her cat’s name when she passed away. Trust me, I am not creative enough to make this material up. I knew that we had a winner. There was no way that cat-lady was going to make fun of my tortured Chinese skills.
We sat down, filled out some paper work and promptly started the lesson. For an hour and a half, we twisted our tongues, contorted our jaws, dilated and constricted our throats attempting to mimic the sounds that our tutor produced so effortlessly. “No, no,” she would say. “Curl your tongue back farther as you say it!” Or, “No, no. You should say it with more air. You speak lazy Chinese.” I’m not sure what lazy Chinese is, but I am speaking it, apparently. Then, as we neared the end of the lesson, she said it. I really had to look at her to see if she was joking and then hold back my laughter when I saw that she wasn’t. I thought that they only said things like this in bad kung fu movies but, it really happened, folks. “You know, Confucius say that…” I don’t remember what he said (mainly because I wasn’t able to follow her in the first place) but those three words made every second of the lesson worthwhile.
We said our thank you’s and goodbye’s and Chris and I sat back down at our table trying to digest everything that we had just taken in and repeated the one sentence that we were able to produce with any success. “Wo shi lao shi.” I am a teacher. Hey, baby steps, right?