90s futian, or the xiaokang quilt of days gone by…

Not so long ago and not so far away, Futian was known as Shangbu and was considered the rural burbs of up and coming Shenzhen (which was mapped as Luohu-Shangbu). But then (somewhat deus ex machina) Deng Xiaoping appeared in 1992, promising that the experiments would continue. So, during the 1990s, the SEZ boomed and Shenzhen restructured. Old Futian (well, xiaokang Futian), emerged out of all this governmental restructuring and economic booming.

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hearing meaning in chinese and english

yesterday, enjoyed a wonderful bbq with friends of friend. the conversation vered here, as it so often does in shenzhen to: how did i learn chinese?  the assumption behind the disbelief that i speak chinese is that it is difficult to learn chinese. i hear the same distancing shock when chinese people are surprised by the facts that i eat with chopsticks, navigate the public transportation system, and successfully bargain for goods.

it is more difficult to go from english to chinese than it is to go from chinese to french or spanish because english shares so much with the romance languages and very little with chinese. when i learned french, for example, it really was just a question of learning how to translate, once i knew the rules, i just needed to practice execution. were there details i din’t get? yes. do i still struggle with proper use of the subjunctive? yes. do i have difficulty navigating all those gendered nouns. yes.

and yet. did i already understand the use of the past tense and the importance of conjugation to making meaning? yes. did i have vague familiarity with french history and culture? yes. did my u.s. humanities education prepare me for themes i would find in french literature and philosophy? again, yes.

at first glance, then it does seem more difficult for an english speaker to learn chinese than it may be to learn french. the structures of english and chinese share little in common. and, given the tendencies of u.s. american education in the 70s and 80s, i was also unfamiliar with chinese history and culture, as well as great themes in literature and philosophy. all this to say, i understand the difficulty that native speakers of either english or chinese encounter when we attempt to crossover that divide.

nevertheless, learning chinese became easier when i realized that we share many linguistic features but not only use them, but also listen for them differently.  Continue reading