I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to learn the language! My life would be 80% more chill if I could speak Mandarin. I am glad I started lessons, but you just can’t imagine how hard the “zh” and the “j” sound can be—so alike but with distinct differences that completely change a word and its meaning. The same with the “four tones” : flat, up, down-up, down. These intonations give each word its unique meaning. For instance, the word “ma” has four distinct definitions, depending on tone (Mom, numb, horse, to cuss)! I have been in multiple situations where my lack of ability in comprehending what is being said to me and expressing my needs has created frustration, tears, and a feeling of powerlessness. I am still amazed that people can live here and never learn anything beyond “Hello, goodbye, thank you, stop here”. For myself, I am still trying to undo the habit of saying “thank you” without the proper tones; luckily it is easy to understand “xie xie” with or without the tones (Can you believe xi is pronounced “sh”? Whomever translated all the sounds into the English lettering system did a shoddy job with xi, qi, j, and zh. They are pronounced nothing like our Roman alphabet...aaargh!). I think with many languages (this being my opinion as a native speaker of English), pronunciation and tone and vocabulary is added to pre-existing knowledge. But with Mandarin, those three have to be unlearned and re-assimilated. But it is doable!! Take lessons, study, and practice! Makes life in China 100% easier!!! I love watching my friend from Buffalo argue with a local. “Are you mad?”, I ask her. “No.” Yet she gets the tones and expressions downs pat and makes a price squabble look like it will come to blows (for she is fluent in Mandarin)!
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There are plenty of foreigners with whom to make friends, if that’s what you want/need. At last count, there were 20,000 expats in Chengdu, a city of 14-20 million (different sites offer differing stats, and depends on counting in suburban areas or not). Of course, there are many wonderful locals that love having foriegn friends as well. And if you are a social butterfly, there are events nightly in the city center and around town. I am somewhat at a disadvantage, being so far south from the center of Chengdu; just outside the “third ring” (same as the highway “loops” or “beltways” that surround US cities. The 12 or so kilometers I live from the ‘first ring” costs me a 30-60 minute ride on buses, subway, or Dudu, so it’s kind of a pain. I plan to move when the new school year starts, perhaps closer to the city center; I don’t like the suburbs that much, though it’s convenient to me a few km from school.
It has taken me 3 months to get into the swing of life here in Chengdu; perhaps not. I’m told I have advanced faster in my use of the Chinese apps and such in adjusting, plus the fact I started Mandarin lessons. Who knows. There always seems to be a challenge to face, but that’s not a negative as long as I can manage my reaction and remember what I can and cannot control. That is probably the biggest factor in success, in any country, and in life in general! Why stress over what I cannot control! As long as I continue to be open to new experiences (and frustrations), save money, enjoy the little pleasures in life, and travel, all will be well.
And yeah, I already have my Month Four Vaca planned! I’m returning to Kangding for the Dragon Boat Festival Holiday! Booked my tickets on the Chinese app “Flying Pig” all by myself, too!
Photo credit (Mandarin Tones) www.ichineselearning.com