Thursday, August 30, 2012

Celebrating the Ordinary -- Day 5

About six years ago, I fell in love -- with the Mandarin language.

My aunt, knowing I would someday go to China to adopt my baby girl, gave me a present: a CD with 10 Mandarin lessons, hoping that I could say simple things like "hello" and "goodbye" when in China. I happen to love languages, and I really enjoyed the tonal songlike quality of Mandarin.

After I was finished with the 10th lesson, I was hooked.

Three years and 90 lessons later, having gone through each half-hour lesson five to 10 times -- it was finally time to make the journey to adopt my baby. When the referral for her came, I was excited and scared about the prospect of being a new mother, but I was confident in the Mandarin skills I had acquired.

How did I devote so much time to learning this magnificent language? I did so all within the comfort of my car.

Each time I'd drive somewhere, I would put on the next CD lesson and concentrate with great effort. That is why today's photo has part of my car's steering wheel (I was parked when I took the photo, so no worries) with the box housing the CDs. Many days I didn't feel like practicing, but I forced myself to go through lesson 76 again for the eighth time, knowing it would help me communicate in China.

Knowing it was my daughter's heritage.

Knowing I wanted her to learn Mandarin when she was old enough.

We in the travel group did not have to learn Mandarin; we had a translator. Yet, I wanted to become immersed in this language, not only for its beauty, but its utility. It would be practical to speak to the Chinese people in their own language, and perhaps I could soothe my child with the familiar sounds of her native language. And learning a language could perhaps help repair some of the chemobrain damage, I reasoned.

In China, the people were so friendly -- whether I spoke English or Mandarin. And the lessons paid off: while I can't call myself fluent, I can communicate enough to get by. In China, I was able to ask where the American Embassy was, ask if a restaurant was open for lunch, and say a lot more than "hello" and "goodbye."

Sure, there were some humorous episodes. Like the time when I told a shopkeeper that my daughter was 13 years old instead of 13 months old. Yep. I got quite a stare that helped me correct my error. Or the time when I almost bought a business class airplane ticket when all I wanted was to know where a particular souvenir shop was.

Leaving China for home in the United States felt bittersweet. I was glad to be heading home, but sad to be taking my daughter from her birthplace, even though circumstances gave us no choice.

Today on my way to work, I continued studying Mandarin. After all, when my daughter and I go to China, I want to be more fluent. And I look forward to saying "hello" again to China.








10 comments:

  1. Very industrious use of car time! And bravo for learning such a difficult language (and sharing your humorous missteps!). Your daughter is a lucky little girl. ;-)

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    1. Renn, yes, I have used my travel time wisely. Mandarin's difficulty lies in its tonal quality. Verb conjugation is almost nonexistent, so I was thrilled about that! Lots and lots of memorization, though.

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  2. Oh Beth, what a beautiful story - thank you so much for sharing this part of your life with us xxx

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    1. You are welcome, Marie. I simply love the language.

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  3. Gorgeous story - and doesn't seem ordinary to me at all!!

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    1. Liz,

      Thank you! I've learned through this challenge that none of the things in life is just ordinary; everything is extraordinary. It makes me appreciate life's wonders with even more wonder.

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  4. Beth,
    I think it's wonderful you are working so hard to learn the Mandarin language for your own benefit, but also in order to further celebrate Ari's heritage. You are an amazing mom. Of course, I already could tell that!

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    1. Thank you, Nancy, for your compliments on my being a mom. Yes, I want to celebrate Ari's heritage as best as I can.

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  5. Beth, I'm impressed that you are learning Mandarin. And for all the right reasons. I agree with Nancy: you are an amazing mom. xoxo

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    1. Thank you, Jan. You are all making me blush! :-)

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