Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Ni Hao Ma

When I was younger, I used to take Chinese lessons at a special Mandarin school held on the weekends. My dad and his family emigrated from Taiwan to the United States when he was thirteen. My grandparents, aunts, and uncles all speak Chinese, though many of my aunts and uncles speak it with difficulty. English was the only language they were allowed to use at home, my grandparents wanting to ensure their children developed the ability to communicate. Today, aside from difficulties in formal writing, an occasional slippage in tense or word order, and a vocabulary that has odd omissions, there is little that marks their English from that of a native speaker.

Now they have children, but with the exception of my youngest cousins, none of us can speak or understand any Chinese. Neither I nor my siblings were taught at a young age. Later, in junior high when I made the decision to start attending the special classes, I honestly wanted to learn. However, the school wasn't really very helpful. Many students there already spoke Chinese, and were there because Asian parents tend to fill up their kid's free time with more school. Class focused more on writing than conversation, and though I consistently scored high marks, I had no idea what was going on.

Now I regret not having learned. I know it's not too late, but realistically I'm just too lazy. Every so often I think I might work up enough interest to take Chinese at the local junior college, but it never really pans out. To a certain extent, this is just part of a larger personal issue. I'm not very Chinese. I mean, genetically I'm half Chinese, but culturally I'm firmly American. I don't really see this as a great problem, it all evens out in the wash. Still, sometimes I think that perhaps I have not made the effort that maybe I should have, to be more attentative to these kinds of concerns. Right now I'm Chinese enough to recieve red envelopes on New Years. While that's better than nothing, I'm not sure it's enough.

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