Childhood, Language

Language confusion

After our mom left when we were little, our 外婆 (wai po, maternal grandmother) continued to live with our dad and us for several years, I suppose out of family obligation and to take care of us. We are both very thankful for what she did for us and taught us (gardening, embroidery, knitting, cooking, etc.), but there is one funny thing she left the two of us with: a general confusion about proper Chinese.

Our parents emigrated from Shanghai, which has its own very different dialect: 上海話 (Shanghainese), which we grew up hearing and sometimes speaking. We also learned Mandarin Chinese at a Taiwanese-run Chinese School, which meant that we learned Zhuyin (an alphabet of sorts, if you want an analogue) and Traditional writing, rather than Simplified. Between those and English, we were already confused enough and mixed up our own sentences, but our grandma had yet another Chinese accent and said words that, when we repeated to other Chinese friends, elicited looks of “huh?” and “what are you even speaking?”. Some prime examples: our childhood best friends’ mom looking at us funny because we always used the Shanghainese word for trash can (she spoke Mandarin, Cantonese, Taiwanese, and I think even a little Fukkein or similar); still remembering that day in middle school when I finally learned the English word for drawer1.

Last night we watched Please Vote for Me, a documentary about a democratic election for a class monitor at an elementary school in Wuhan, China.2 I actually missed the part where they mentioned the location, and spent the first 20 minutes or so thinking to myself “man, these people really sound like my grandma”. I vaguely recalled that she or somebody on that side of the family was born in Wuhan, so I thought I’d ask my mom.

She told me that, first, she was proud that I have such good ears for language and sounds (yay), and that I was correct: she and her sister were born in Wuhan, and their mom, my grandmother, lived there for 15 years and absorbed the local dialect and accent in order to excel at her job (locals preferring locals and all that). My grandma was apparently never very good with language and between various dialects and accents from other places she had lived (Changzhou, Nanjing, etc.), she would mix at least three and up to maybe about five different dialects per sentence. My mother and aunt were apparently especially embarrassed by this as kids and would never let her go to the parent-teacher meetings at school and teased her often.

I like this kind of knowledge/story from my family. It helps me (and my sister) understand why we were often so confused as children and even today when it comes to Chinese and its various accents and dialects. It also feels really good to know that we have the ability to discern even slight differences in sounds. Then again, add this background to later studies in Latin, Spanish, and German along with diction in French and Italian and let’s just say that I get confused aurally quite often, especially if I start listening in the wrong place or expecting a different language3. So, if you’re ever speaking to me and I get lost/confused and have to ask you to repeat, this is probably why.

Bonus: a non-Chinese girl speaking Shanghainese really well! Shanghainese people are so proud of being from Shanghai – even my mom laughs about how if I’d grown up there, I’d be expected to marry another Shanghainese. Makes this girl learning the dialect and speaking it so well even better.

  1. Which I still have a really hard time saying, between learning it late and drawling a little.
  2. Review: It was interesting. Watch it.
  3. The same goes for if I start listening to a piece of music on the wrong beat or expecting a different key. Extreme confusion.
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Childhood, Purchases

Lego Beach House

Lego Beach House

Lego Beach House

After spending a lot of time reminiscing about Legos and building a wishlist on Brickset.com, I finally went ahead and bought a Lego Creator set and built it. I love it and I fear I may have become re-addicted to Legos. Perhaps the Green Grocer is next…? Well, I should probably see if Daddy still has our 20 gallon bucket of Legos at home somewhere first.

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Childhood

Random vivid memory, circa 1994

I don’t remember much from grade school, but here’s a true story that will always stick with me.

There was this kid I HATED in elementary school. He was gross – one of those boys who was always trying to woo girls with his rendition of “On Bended Knee” and saying inappropriate things at inappropriate times. He was also a terrible student, which drove me insane. I mean, I know, not all kids learn at the same rate, but not knowing how to spell or do simple arithmetic is unacceptable in my book.

Anyway, I suspect that his inability to compute 7 + 6 largely had to do with the fact that he almost never did his own homework. We turned in our homework by passing it down the row, where it would be collected at the end by the teacher. As the pages went down the line, he would grab somebody’s sheet and copy it down as his assignment. I sat farther down the row and noticed what he was doing, so I would remove his paper and shove it into my desk before passing the pile on. I know, I should have just told on him, but this felt SO much more satisfying.

Things that shouldn’t surprise you: I always had a horribly messy desk/locker and I don’t like it when people are dishonest.

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Childhood, Purchases

Spirograph!

While walking around Newbury St. in Boston on Saturday, we stopped in an Urban Outfitters to take a look. In addition to some cute picture frames, I picked up this little tin of awesome:

Hypotrochoid Art Set

Hypotrochoid Art Set

You might better remember this as a Spirograph. I had the travel one as a kid and loved the football shaped gear the best.

Travel Spirograph

Travel Spirograph

I’m totally watching some old school sets on eBay now. Score.

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