It’s been almost a week since I came back from Emei Shan. My legs still ache and quiver like jelly when I see steps or stairs of any kind. But this week, I have had to climb steps of a different kind.
Monday saw us open Chinese lessons in the B1 level. This was decided after a placement test, and well, we were pretty proud, considering that the other levels are A, A1, A3 and then B1,and so on. Wow, we thought, we have reached so fast so high! Thud. Enter Deng Laoshi, start talking in Chinese, only Chinese, no pinyin, write in Chinese, give a sheet consisting only of Chinese characters. For the next 3 hours, my head spins. The rest of the class answer confidently any questions that Deng Laoshi asks. I can only mumble a ‘don’t know’ or try to repeat what I have heard. It was awful. It was humbling. It was a plain disaster. I will never know how Deng Laoshi thought we were good enough to be at that level. “Your pronounciation and grammar is very good,” she insists even as we tell her that we can’t read or write Chinese yet. “Well, you can go to A3 maybe, and then come back, yes?” she queries. We nod. We take a look at the A3 text-book, and no, sorry, Deng Laoshi, that isn’t our level. Sorry to disappoint you, but we climb down to A1.
And there, I immediately feel at home. The other class, B1, seemed to be filled with some presumptuous know it alls who have an impenetrable accent that makes their Chinese sound ridiculous. This A1 classroom though is much smaller – just around 6 or 7 of us. And all of them struggling just the same as us. There is Dawei, a quiet Englishman from Sheffield. A German guy from Leipzig, an American woman from Michigan, three Koreans, and us. And it’s not just the sun that warms my back as I sit in that class. It’s just sometimes hard to describe vibes. We appear silly when we do so. But I believe in these vibes. The vibes from B1 were awful. Here, it’s just comfortable.
Having said that, reading and learning Chinese is anything but comfortable. I am just typing this rather bleary eyed after having spent 6 hours, yes 6, learning to write. How many characters did I learn? 30. That’s it. And I probably might remember around 5 of them by tomorrow. Sigh. Remind me again why why why I am doing this.