我不再给我先生当司机了!(I Am No Longer My Husband’s Chauffeur!)

July 31st, 2017 by Ellen Dowling No comments »

So last week I asked his “Infectious Diseases” doctor (may none of you ever have one of those) if there was any reason why Don couldn’t drive a car, even though he is still on an IV infusion twice a day. “Is he taking any opiods for pain?” the doctor asked. No. (Don is a stoic about pain. Good thing, too, because we all know what can happen with too many opiods.)

他的医生告诉他, 他可以开车了!

Ta de yi sheng gao su ta, ta keyi kai che le!

His doctor told him, he can drive!

I feel like I finally have my life back, as I don’t have to arrange my days around his medical appointments (which are getting fewer and farther between).  He’s also getting stronger with each day. Yesterday he used a mallet to hammer in a stake to keep several of my tomato plants propped up. Then he had to go lie down for awhile, but it’s still progress!

Sometime this week we expect the doctor to take him off the vancomycin (powerful antibiotic) and remove the port from his right arm. Then he will be able to take a shower by himself without someone being there (yours truly of course) to wrap up his port arm (so nothing gets wet) and make sure he doesn’t fall out of the bathtub. Now he is focusing on eating yogurt and taking probiotics to build back up his gut bacteria (pretty much wiped out by the vancomycin).

Every day more good news. Thanks to all of you for sharing a little of this scary journey with me. More posts down the road, but hopefully less about medical problems and more just about Chinese stuff.

再见! Zai jian! (Literally, “See you again.”)

我生先回家! (My husband has returned home!)

July 11th, 2017 by Ellen Dowling No comments »

He’s only been in the hospital for (nearly) a month. But initially, we were told that he might be in the hospital until late October, so this is real progress.

他很虚弱 (ta hen xuruo): He is very weak. And he lost a lot of weight (三十五 磅, san shi wu bang: 35 pounds). He does not recommend that anyone else follow his diet, despite its success.

My Chinese teacher tells me, “你会比较忙, 因为你要做很多好吃的东西给你生先 吃!” (Ni hui bijiao mang, yinwei ni yao zuo de duo hao chi de dongxi gei ni sheng xian chi): “Now you will be very busy because you will have to make lots of tasty foods to give to your husband to eat.” That I can do; last night’s dinner was steak and stuffed baked potatoes. Gotta be careful that I myself don’t gain weight trying to fatten him up, LOL.

Lesson learned from this experience: If you don’t feel well enough to travel, don’t travel. If you’re exhausted and worn down, MRSA may be coming for you. (Apparently it’s everywhere.) Stay home, stay safe, stay well.

我先生还在医院,可是他好多了(My Husband is Still in the Hospital, but He is Much Better)

July 4th, 2017 by Ellen Dowling No comments »

Here are today’s favorite Chinese phrases:

好多了( hao duo le): much better

祝他早日恢复健康 (zhu ta zao ri hui fu jian kang): hope he will be well soon

Here are phrases I never want to have to use again (or learn the Chinese for):

Feeding tube

Catheter

It’s going to be a long road to recovery for him, as soon he will be going to an “acute rehabilitation facility,” but I know he’s to determined to get his body back and will work hard at it. And meanwhile I’ll have more opportunities to work on my medical Chinese. 我希望今天能见到他的医生 (Wo xi wang jin tian neng jian dao ta de yi sheng): I hope I can see his doctor today.

我先生在医院 里(My Husband is in the Hospital)

June 28th, 2017 by Ellen Dowling 4 comments »

In my twice-monthly Chinese class, my teacher and I spend around 30 minutes chatting (in Chinese, of course) about interesting experiences we have had since the last class. She and I are both relatively new grandmothers: She has a 3-year-old granddaughter (孙女, sunnu) and a 9-month-old grandson (孙子, sunzi); I have a 4-year-old 孙子. So as you can imagine, we frequently talk about their most recent exploits.

In my class last week, the topic was how sick my husband is (很病了, hen bing le, very sick) with severe pneumonia complicated by aggressive MRSA. He has been in the hospital for 2 weeks now; since a week ago, he has also been sedated and intubated (after they operated on him to drain fluid from one of his lungs). They say he is slowly improving, but I just want him to wake up.

Anyway, I was thinking I might write about his progress on my blog, as that seems to help me get through this trying time, but since it is, after all, my “China Blog,” I will use this opportunity to describe as much as I can in Chinese. If you’re following along, you can learn with me.

I’m probably not going to learn the Chinese for words such as pneumonia or Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA), as I hope never to use them again after Don gets through this. But I do want to explore words and terms such as “get well soon” (快点好起来, kuai dian hao qilai) and “I miss you very much” (我非常想你, wo feichang xiang ni).

再见!(Zai jian, See you soon!)




 

 

Three Tips for Eating Well in China (Even With Limited Mandarin)

September 17th, 2016 by Ellen Dowling No comments »

[Note: The following article was first published on the Dig Mandarin site.]

As I was watching Dig Mandarin’s wonderful video Ordering and Eating Hot Pot in China, rinse-and-grill-meatI was reminded of my own experiences with this culinary delight in Beijing. I first became aware of this type of cuisine when I asked one of my Chinese students about a restaurant across from the 西门(xī mén, west gate) of the PKU campus called, mysteriously (to me), in English, “Famed Restaurant for Rinse and Grill Meat.” “That’s a 火锅 (huŏ guō, hot pot) restaurant,” she explained. Never having heard of this type of restaurant before, I was happy when some time later a Chinese friend invited me to dinner at one, where the concoction we assembled in a large wok in the middle of the table looked like this:

crab-hot-pot(That red thing in the center is a spicy crab—yum!)

So all of this reminiscing made me think about how important a role food plays in one’s quest to understand a culture and its language. Indeed, the most common question I would get, after telling someone that I had just gotten back from China, was “How was the food?” I would tell them that 90% of what I had to eat in China was absolutely delicious—Peking Roast Duck (北京烤鸭, Běi jīng kǎo yā), Sweet and Sour Mandarin Fish (松鼠桂鱼sōngshǔ guì yú), any stir-fried vegetable (especially green beans or broccoli), and my favorite of all time, dumplings (饺子,jiăozi). The other 10% of the food I occasionally encountered was a little weird (fried scorpions on a stick, little white sautéed silk worms, a mélange of duck tongues, and a tureen of chicken soup with AN ENTIRE CHICKEN, FEET AND HEAD INCLUDED inside), but I could easily pass up any of those for the majority of really tasty Chinese dishes.

The problem was how to order such wonderful food if I was on my own in China. Left to my own devices and forced to eat out nearly every day (because my hotel room had no cooking facilities), I quickly figured out some useful ways to keep from starving (or avoid eating goose intestines). Here are three of them:

1. Try to find a restaurant that has menus in English. As Beijing, Shanghai, and other large Chinese cities become ever more cosmopolitan and internationally oriented, more and more restaurants provide such menus. (The translations on these menus are often hilarious: One listed a dish that was called “Eggplant and Fried Bees”; another, “Oven Bread and Gruel”; and another, “Rice Glue Balls.”) The word for menu in Chinese is 菜单 (cài dān): 你们有没有英文菜单 (nĭ men yŏu méi yŏu yīng wén cài dān) means, “Do you have an English menu?”

2. If there is no English menu, see if there are at least pictures to help you out; then you can just point to what looks good to you. (You can also say, 这个, zhè ge, meaning “this one” as you point.) Be warned, however. Sometimes food that looks good on the page might turn out to be something you would not normally eat. When a Chinese friend asked me, “Which looks good to you on the menu?” I pointed to one tasty-looking dish and said, “This one. What is it?” “Dog,” she replied.

3. Be adventurous! You are a stranger in a stranger land, so expect that the food will be a frog-dumplingslittle strange, too. Don’t ask what it is; you might just be surprised at how much you like food you have never eaten before. Although I’m not sure I’ll go out of my way again to eat frog dumplings (like I was trying to do in the picture), I do remember one night in Beijing when my colleague Deb Riegel and I went to a highly recommended dumpling restaurant, only to find that the menu had no English and no pictures. Deb is a vegetarian and knew how to say 我不吃肉 (wŏ bù chī ròu, “I don’t eat meat”) and then we left it up to the waitress to pick out dumplings for us. We had no idea what non-meat fillings those dumplings had, but they were delicious and we gobbled them up.

I Have Always Depended on the Kindness of (Chinese) Strangers

July 23rd, 2016 by Ellen Dowling No comments »

[Note: This article was first published on the Dig Mandarin site: http://www.digmandarin.com/get-help-from-strangers-in-china.html]

After making 14 trips to China and deciding to learn Mandarin, it occurred to me that there were certain Chinese phrases that could have saved me a lot of trouble had I known them during my first couple of visits. Here are two of them:

1. 浴室里的莲蓬头怎么开 (yù shì lĭ de lián péng tóu zĕn me kāi, “How do I turn on the shower in the bathroom?”)

On the first morning of my first visit to Beijing in 2006, I was immediately presented with a plumbing problem: What did I need to do to operate the shower? I could see that there was a shower head high up in the wall over the tub, and there did seem to be some sort of handle or something in the tub itself that I tried turning this-a-way and that-a-way, all to no avail. What to do? I had already been told that the desk clerks at what was advertised as an “international” hotel on the PKU campus spoke little to no English, so calling the front desk was not an option. Then I heard the sound of muffled talking outside my hotel room and peeked out to see that one of the hotel maids was making her rounds. 你好! (Nĭ hăo, “Hello!”) I waved at her. (Later, I learned that I could have called her 服务员, fúwùyuán—the same term used for waiters in restaurants.) When she got to my door, I showed her in and then, through what I’m sure appeared to her to be a ridiculous pantomime, I acted out pointing to the handle, pointing to the shower head, using my hands to suggest water flowing down, and then shaking my head “No.” After watching a couple of rounds of this idiotic performance, my 服务员got the point, calmly walked over to the tub, and pulled out the handle (which I had been trying to turn). Water flowed. 谢谢! (Xìe! Xie!): “Thank you!” I called after her as she left, no doubt to regale her fellow maids with an hilarious description of the crazy 外国人 (wàiguórén, foreigner) in room 602.

2. 多少钱 (duō shăo qián, “How much does it cost?”)

Some of the other nerve-wracking situations I faced during my early trips to China involved buying things, whether at the mini-mart next to my hotel or at any of the various small outdoor shops on the PKU campus. Since I didn’t know how to ask what something actually cost (多少钱?Duō shăo qián?), I would just give the vendor a ridiculously large bill and get back whatever change they offered. (I frequently bought two bananas with a 100-yuan bill.) In actual retail stores, most often there would be an electronic display on the cash register that would tell me exactly what the total cost of my purchase was, and so I was able to pay with the exact change. But then one day the cash register display was out of order or something, and so once again I had no idea how much money to give the cashier for my diet cokes, Lay’s potato chips (green tea flavor!), bottled water, orange juice, and yogurt. The cashier looked at me and said slowly and carefully . . . something. Then she said . . . something . . . again. I started to panic. Suddenly a voice came from behind me, speaking in English: “She says your purchases come to 57 kuai.” Ah, a lovely young Chinese student had come to my aid. “谢谢!”

And then there was the problem on the bus.

Through a mutual acquaintance I had made a good friend in Beijing whose English name is Elizabeth (her Chinese name is 汪 晓芳, Wāng Xĭao Fāng). Elizabeth and I had many wonderful adventures together (we even went to Shanghai and Xi’An!), many of which involved me meeting her someplace as she lived quite far from the university. I would always insist on taking a cab to meet her because 1. Cabs in China are amazingly cheap, compared to those in big cities in the US; and 2. I could just hand the cab driver a note with the directions to the meeting place in Chinese (which Elizabeth would have emailed me earlier). But Elizabeth, a true Beijinger, was horrified that I was spending so much money on cabs when buses were so much cheaper, and one day she convinced me to take a bus from PKU and meet her at an agreed-upon spot for an outing. “OK, I’ll try it,” I told her, “but you must send me the name of the street/bus stop where I’m supposed to get off so I can show it to the bus conductor. And please tell me what is the exact fare for the bus ride?”

She told me which bus to catch (No. 22) and how much to pay (2 yuan). What could go wrong?

So on a bright sunny Sunday, I hopped on the No. 22 bus, which was crowded, but (being Sunday) not as jam-packed as buses usually are during the week. I found the conductor, a very official-looking woman, and showed her my directions from Elizabeth. (I smiled to myself as I imagined that the Chinese writing on my paper might actually say, “Please help this pitiful old foreign woman get off the bus at Mu Xi Di subway station.”) The conductor read my paper and nodded at me. Then she said . . . something. I realized that she was asking for the fare, so I quickly handed her my two yuan. She shook her head “no” and again said . . . something. I began to panic.

Suddenly, once again I was saved by a lovely young Chinese woman. “She is telling you that the fare is 1 yuan, not 2.” Must be a Sunday rate, I think. “谢谢!” I told my young savior as I handed the conductor 1 yuan. Then I felt a tug on my jacket and I turned to see that a lovely elderly Chinese woman was gesturing to me that I should take the seat next to her. I did so gladly, and for the next 30 minutes or so of the bus ride, I looked towards the conductor as we arrived at every stop, and every time she made me understand, nonverbally, “Not this one.” Finally, we came up to a stop at which the conductor nodded her head vigorously, “Yes!” and I looked out the window and there was Elizabeth waiting for me. Kindness had once again saved the day.

So if you are planning to visit China soon and your knowledge of Mandarin is either miniscule or nonexistent, here are two tips from me:

1. If you need help, find a young, nicely dressed Chinese woman. The odds are that she will not only be able to speak English, but she will also be willing to help you out.
2. After 你好 (nĭ hăo, hello), 谢谢 (xìe xie, thank you) will be your most useful phrase, not only because it is good to always be a polite and grateful外国人 (wàiguórén), but also because, if you’re like me, you will be using it a lot.

You’re Never Too Old to Learn Chinese

June 26th, 2016 by Ellen Dowling No comments »

[Note: The following article was first published on the Dig Mandarin site.]

When my hour-long lesson with my Chinese language teacher is over, I always feel as though my head is about to explode. Ow, ow, ow, learning Chinese is too hard, I complain to myself. I have to memorize all those characters, most of which look completely unmemorable. (And my teacher makes me memorize BOTH the traditional and the simplified characters.) Then I have to memorize the pinyin. And THEN I have to memorize which tone goes with which word. Poor, poor pitiful me: 学中文太难! (Xue zhongwen tai nan! Learning Chinese is too difficult!)

Good thing I enjoy it so much.

According to an article published on CCTV America’s website in 2015: “There are Chinese programs in more than 550 elementary, junior high and senior high schools, a 100% increase in two years . . . and early figures suggest the number of students now studying Chinese has ‘got to be somewhere around 30,000 to 50,000.’” So I’m definitely not alone, but I’m pretty sure I’m one of the older students (having completed my own higher education nearly four decades ago).

I had never thought about going to China: I had no friends or relatives who had ever been there and all I knew about Chinese culture was what you could order at a Chinese restaurant in the US. (Fortune cookies! So traditionally Chinese!) My own heritage is distinctly European: All four of my grandparents emigrated from Ireland in the early 1900s. I had been to Ireland many times, as well as Germany, Italy, Scotland, and England. France, Spain, and Greece were still on my to-do wish list. China was not on the list.

And then, in 2006, I accepted a 6-week position as a visiting professor of Business Communications at Peking University in Beijing. My students all spoke English more or less fluently, but every day I could hear Chinese being spoken all around me and I began to wish I could understand what I was hearing. “你好” (ni hao), of course, I learned immediately. Also “谢谢” (xie xie, thank you), which is a nice thing to learn right off in any country. Soon I had learned how to call the waitress (“服务员” fuwuyuan) and how to order my newly discovered favorite Chinese food: “饺子” jiaozi, delectable dumplings.I love china.

Fast forward to 2013, and I have now traveled to China 14 times, teaching in Beijing and visiting Xi’An and Shanghai, and the only Chinese phrase I have added to my repertoire is “不要” bu yao, Don’t want! (which is a useful phrase if one is bartering at the Silk Market in Beijing or fending off aggressive vendors outside the home of the Terracotta Warriors). This is ridiculous, I conclude. I have too much invested in China now. I must learn more about this country’s unique culture by learning its language. What a surprise—in Albuquerque, New Mexico, I find a Chinese teacher who is originally from Suzhou (I’ve been to Suzhou) and Taiwan. Nearly three years later, I have still not reached my goal of someday being able to speak Chinese at the level of a two-year-old child, but I’m getting close. I recognize many characters right away, and can even construct simple sentences and basic questions. The tones are still a major headache, but I am determined to prevail.

I believe that three key practices have helped me immensely on my journey to learn Chinese and have kept me moving forward, one step at a time, without discouragement:

  1. I found a great teacher (很好老师), one who is not only interested in teaching me Chinese but is also interested in me. During our twice-monthly hour-long sessions, we not only review and correct my homework—we also chat (in Chinese!) about our daily lives. This interaction allows me to practice what I am learning and so I learn faster.
  2. I use a very good Chinese language text book: Practical Audio-Visual Chinese, volumes 1 and 2, 2nd edition. This text includes dialogues on different topics (that I can both read and listen to with the accompanying CD) and extensive exercises; most importantly, its structure is recursive, which means that the content of the exercises constantly circles back to vocabulary and grammar from earlier chapters, thus ensuring that I don’t forget things I may have learned a while ago.
  3. I try to immerse myself in Chinese culture as much as possible by watching Chinese movies that I get from Netflix (I will watch any movie directed by , Zhang Yimou) and Chinese TV shows on YouTube. (Children’s programs in Chinese are particularly helpful for a student at my level.)

If you want to follow my practices for learning Chinese, you can start with Dig Mandarin, where you will find many resources for teachers (online and onground), textbooks, informative articles, and videos.

Now I must go. My Chinese lesson is two days away and I have homework to do. 我可以做这个! Wo keyi zuo zhege! I can do this!

 

 

 

Of China, But Not In China

June 24th, 2016 by Ellen Dowling No comments »

Back in 2014, which is when I posted my last post here, I was finishing up my 8th year as a visiting professor at PKU in Beijing. Since then, I have not physically returned to China, but I remain there mentally, as I continue to work for several different Chinese companies, telecommuting from the comfort of my home office.

My latest Chinese gig is part-time editor with a Chinese website called Dig Mandarin (www.digmandarin.com), for which I edit educational posts and articles about learning Mandarin Chinese, as well as write my own articles about my various adventures in and impressions of the Middle Kingdom. As each new article appears on the Dig Mandarin site, I will also post it here.

I have also kept up my own Chinese language studies, working with a tutor here in Albuquerque, New Mexico, who is originally from Suzhou and Taiwan. I have not yet reached my goal of being able to speak as well as a two-year-old Chinese child, but I’m getting closer. I’ll share my language learning experiences here, too.

高兴回来! (Gaoxing huilai) Happy to be back!

Beijing is Trying to Keep Me Here

April 21st, 2014 by Ellen Dowling No comments »

Remember the picture of “No Name” (Weiming) Lake I posted my first day here?

PKU hazardous

Look at what it looked like today (my last day here):

no smog

Blue sky! Clouds! Air to actually breathe!

But no, hello I must be going. 明年再见北京!

(Mingnian zai jian, Beijing!) (See you next year!)

I Love You BiMBA!

April 20th, 2014 by Ellen Dowling 2 comments »

On my third-to-last day here in Beijing, I was invited to attend a celebration party in honor of the National School of Development at Beijing University, the organization that includes the Beijing International MBA (BiMBA) program, in which I teach “Report Writing and Presentation Skills.”

The “party” was more of a PKU Meets Vegas kind of bash, with smiling hosts, as many gown changes as you’d see on a Cher special, a gorgeous-sounding choir, and all kinds of dancers, including one group that sang and danced to Frankie Valli’s “You’re Just Too Good to be True,” modified from “I love you baby” to “I love you BiMBA!”

CIMG3204I know. I’m trying to imagine this happening any place else: “I love you UNM English Department!” Nah, doesn’t have the same ring.

And then there were more dancers, twirling and swirling like this:

CIMG3205

And one of the dancers turned out to be my beautiful student, Balinda, seen here (still, not swirled):

CIMG3211

“Oh, what a night!” since we’re talking about Frankie Valli. And such a fitting end to this, my 14th trip to the Middle Kingdom, and no less interesting than my first trip, all those years ago (2006). I have invited all my students to come visit me in New Mexico. Here’s hoping they don’t all come at the same time.

But meanwhile, I’ll be glad to get away from this

mask

and back to the beautiful blue skies of New Mexico:

IMG_0302Ah, green chile and clean air. Country roads, take me home.

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