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January 17th, 2006

zhongwen zhuozi

I went to the first meetings of the semester for Zhongwen Zhuozi and the university's Chinese Club (technically, the Chinese Professional Studies Association) earlier tonight and spent most of the ninety minutes trying to pick up a few stray words of Mandarin or, more often, body language from the speakers to get an idea of what each person was talking about. Cao Weiguo (who taught my Asian Lit class last semester) was there to lead Zhongwen Zhuozi and he was joined by six students, as well as a married couple with their young daughter who were native Mandarin speakers.

Professor Cao and three of the students who were in my Asian Lit class were concerned that I wasn't involved in the conversation, but even though I didn't say anything of my own apart from "Xièxie" (谢谢) and "Bú kèqi" (不客气) - which Wendy had taught me months before - it was still possible to follow some of what was going on. Most of that was probably due to the practice I gained while listening to Mimi speak to her friends in Korean, as the majority of my time around her was spent trying to guess what was going on; largely without success. All the students present had taken two semester of Chinese but would occasionally slip in a word of English or ask for clarification for vocabulary they weren't sure about, which definitely helped.

Everyone had brought food to the meeting, and the little girl who was there went from plate to plate to see what kind of goodies might be available for her to sample. During the course of her wanderings she would stand in front of each plate and patiently wait until she thought no one was paying attention - at which point she would quickly grab whatever it was she was after before running back to her parents and depositing her spoils on their plate. While I was helping to clean up at the end of Zhongwen Zhuozi she came over to watch, smiling up at me as I worked, and then proceeded to mimic my actions step by step - placing her plate in the garbage, pushing down to compact everything together, and then pulling up on the edge of the plastic bin-liner to make sure it didn't sink into the garbage can, exactly as I had done. Once she had finished I smiled back at her and said "thank you" (the previously-mentioned "xièxie" for those of you taking notes at home), which prompted her to clap her hands in delight before running back to her parents. Aïe, little kids can be so adorable.