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Avalon, California
December 26, 2014     The Catalina Islander
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December 26, 2014

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Watson From page 2 person of any age from toddler to four hours worth of homework, ancient, weathered elder--who is which consisted chiefly of writing doing nothing, or who is drunk or Chinese characters over and over Temple of Heaven south of Ti- begging. Everyone seems to have and over again. If you didn't do ananmen Square and its massive a job or something to do and they your homework, you got to stand surrounding park and then explor are doing itjinjinyouwei: they are in front of the class at the chalk- ing the neighborhoods around it. doing it with a will. board the next day looking like a Subway stations are never where fool. This happened to me the first they're supposed to be (and the The L~nguage two days until I figured it out the first two that I did find were both It occurs to me that I haven't system. It never happened again closed for renovation work), but it spent a whole lot of time in this after that. nevertheless gave me a chance to series on the reason I made this A great testament to the school explore the Xicheng (West City) trip, chiefly to study the Chinese is the fact that many of the embas- district of Beijing. language at the superb Beijing In- sies in the area send their staff to Here, I caught glimpses of the ternational Chinese College in the this school for language lessons mysterious hutongs, or ancient Chaoyang district, and at least two or three days a neighborhoods comprised of On my first day of classes, I was week the halls were filled with labyrinths of narrow alleys. The given a placement test of sorts, mighty important looking people residents of these hutongs have They put two books in front of me: from the Colombian embassy, Ni- lived for generations in these little a beginning Chinese reader and gerian embassy and a host of oth- enclaves. One of the things that an intermediateChinese reader, ers. Although Chinese may sound strikes you in observing the daily I read a few sentences from both incomprehensible to speakers of lives of the Chinese is that every- and they took away the beginner's Indo-European languages, it's ac- one, everywhere is always doing book and told me I was in the in- tually one of the most logical, most something. They are unpacking termediate class. Just like that. simply constructed languages on boxes or transporting mountains For the next month, I was up earth. The difficulty in learning of empty plastic bottles on rickety every morning well before sunrise the language for a gringo such as bicycles. They are raking leaves and on the superb Beijing subway myself lies in the fact that it is so on a traffic island or stuffing dead system from the Dawanglu sta- different from languages like Eng- branches into plastic bags. They tion to Hujialou where my school lish, French and Spanish. are sweeping sidewalks with was located. One of the things I In fact, if someone gave me six homemade brooms or making wasn't quite expecting was that months to invent a foreign lan- those homemade brooms. They the classes were taught entirely guage, I would adopt a lot of the are shoveling sand into wheelbar- in Chinese. No English spoken principles behind Chinese. There rows or tending trash fires or pil- here. When the teacher asked us are no plurals, no words like "the" ing junk in a comer or any one of a to define a word or a sentence or or "an," verbs don't conjugate like million other tasks, for that matter an entire passage, they do in French and Spanish and It doesn't matter whether it's she didn't mean for us to translate to make a statement past tense you Tuesday morning or Saturday it into English. She meant we had simply add either the suffix "de" night, they are working for them- to describe its meaning using only or the suffix "le" at the end of the selves or for their families or for Chinese. sentence or the verb. No messy The Man. Exceedinglyrare is the Every day I was given aboutverb changes or the like. I flew CAPTION: Jim hangs out with his favorite fellow students at the Beijing International Chinese College. From left to right, Oksana (Ukraine), Jim (Catalina), Serena (New York) and Antoinette (France). (Photo by Liu Yanan) out of Shanghai last Sunday for spirit in Beijing than I've seen in the trip home. This time I had a any American city in years, maybe window seat and I watched as the decades). I never got any mistreat- lights of China slowly faded away ment or evil looks and when I paid into the mists of the East China for a steamed dumpling or a taxi Sea. The Chinese are a people ride, I paid what the locals paid. I who have been slammed over the know this for a fact and that's not centuries; first by themselves, then something I can say for most coun- by outsiders, then by themselves tries I have visited in this world. again. Now their country is in the Much has been said about the driver's seat and they're having the terrible smog problem in Chi- times of their lives, nese cities, but I must have hit it For the first time in a long time, at a good time because I only saw I felt like I was in a country where about two days of smoggy weath- the people are actually looking er in Beijing. As far as I'm con- forward to their future, not dread- cerned, L.A. was a lot worse back ing it or trying to avoid it. They in the '70s than China is now. nearly universally love Americans I read recently that the People's there and our lifestyle, or at least Republic of China just became the what they perceive to be our life- world's largest economy. The fu- style. (There was more Christmas ture will be interesting indeed. mainland s been serving Catalina friends since 1914-when than today. What t to Catalina nnected with to you, your family 12 :, Friday, December 26, 2014 THE CATALINA ISLANDER