Friday, July 6, 2012

Famished


By Mei-Ling

It's one of those days where I am starving.

I open my textbook and see all my scribbled characters from the evenings of homework hours. I take out my pen and start writing characters according to the pinyin. I can recall about 60% of what these notebook drills request me to do, but already, my memory is fading for terms like shufu and fangjia and xiatian.

The days where I could open my book and write them down instantly without pause are long gone. Soon I will not remember them at all. It's not so much about not being able to remember how to write comfortable, holiday, or summer - but that the entire psychological process of retaining language is so careful and precise to grasp - a daunting cliff that you are forever at the mercy of, but without a harness to secure what you've attempted to learn, or salt to keep your grip from loosening.


It's like cupping water in your hands and watching it slowly drain out. Sure, you'll get remaining droplets on your palm and your skin will be wet, but the fluidness will easily fade, leaving you with nothing but dry air.

I write and I write. I do about five of these. But as I'm writing the fifth one, I realize that what I'm trying to achieve through writing is really something that is mainly fulfilled through interacting. And so, I stop writing, close my book and tuck it away. I open up my textbook and start reading some of the dialogue, testing myself on what I recall and only after reciting it aloud, do I attempt to translate in my head, then flip over to where the English translation is supplied. If I read aloud to myself, I am reinforcing what I know and trying to retain my pronunciation.

Only to realize a mere two sentences later that I have no one to react to my mistakes, or to converse with me and keep any semblance of dialogue. I have no one to talk to. I have no one that can give me feedback. And I know no one cares, because this is Canada and I'm not someone's original daughter trying to talk in a language not truly my own, and doing any of this has been a choice - my only choice - from the very beginning.

This hunger strikes a physical, phantom pain deep in me. It jabs at what I know used to be there - a sense of class community, a teacher who cared and an overall willingness to be a part of something unique. It reminds me of the days where I felt my stumbling attempts meant something.

To learn and know that someone cared, someone who took the time to converse with me, who didn't belittle me, and encouraged me to speak in any way that I could. It is true I spoke like a three-year-old in class, but I was progressing, and that's what mattered. That is what was encouraged, that is what they cared about - providing feedback so that you could feel pride through your attempts at communication, while still learning your errors.

It's like cupping water in your hands and watching it slowly drain out. Sure, you'll get remaining droplets on your palm and your skin will be wet, but the fluidness will easily fade, leaving you with nothing but dryness.

Sometimes I am hungry for someone who cares. Sometimes I am famished for someone who will tolerate my broken language with patience, someone whose facial expressions reflect my errors, and communicate encouragement when I haven't made any errors. Here, people will ask me to "Say something in Chinese" - and I know they are just curious, I know they find it intriguing that a Canadian-raised adopted adult can speak Chinese at all - but I know it is just for show.

Because they don't know what it's like.

So I close up my book, I put my dictionary in my desk drawer, and I try to forget about it.

... I have no one to react to my mistakes, or to converse with me and keep any semblance of dialogue. I have no one to talk to. I have no one that can give me feedback. This hunger strikes a physical, phantom pain deep in me. It reminds me of the days where I felt my stumbling attempts meant something.

I wish they could.

Photo credit: dan

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