Communicating with the family

I remember when I spent my first holiday in China. Preparation for that trip had been going on for a long time but of course I was still nervous. Not so much about the trip itself but how I would communicate with my future parents in law and the rest of the family. The language of choice would be Chinese as none of the family speaks English, or any other language so to say.

I had been going to Chinese language courses for over a year prior to that trip at my university but all knowledge didn’t pass much beyond “ni hao” 你好 and “xie xie” 谢谢. Sure, I have learned more besides those common terms but they quickly left my mind once we arrived in China. As soon as more than one person talked to me it just sounded like an angry beehive and to complicate matters even further they often switched into Xi’an hua 西安话. Thus I was utterly lost during my time there. I had even trouble understanding other basics such as “hao chi“好吃 either due to their insane speed of talking or the local dialect.

Chinese has not gotten any easier for me. Oh no, every day of more studies make my life even harder and increase my desperation with the language. However I reached now a level that I normally have a clue what my in-laws want from me and I can (sometimes) give a short reply which makes sense to them. I am by no means even close to becoming fluent in Chinese but I improve little by little more each day. I don’t go to any courses anymore as here it is mostly hopeless to learn anything when having classes once a week. No, I changed to study on my own. I can set my own pace and see where I have to improve (actually everywhere…).

Where do I see myself in, lets say, 2 years of studies? I am pretty confident that I will be actually able to have real conversations with people. Each and every single day I study Chinese, mostly going through vocabulary again and again but I am such a dense person that this might be actually the only possible way to learn it. Yeah, I watch Chinese TV shows with my wife but the pace is normally so fast that I can only understand the beginning of the sentence or read the first few characters of the subtitles. But this is something I really want to do, I want to learn this language and I am going to stick with it (how I might regret saying this in 10 years…)

And guess what, all my excitement, preparation and practice with this language will be again repeated once my mother in law will arrive here in three months. Each time I visit there I set myself a goal I want to reach with my communication level. Each trip marks a step forward with my skills and I am looking forward to show of my new set of vocabulary and comprehension to them.

 

 
What about your experience with Chinese language or any other new language you are learning? How was your first experience with that language in a native environment?

 

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Names

This article is less about stories about my crazy Chinese family and more about some other struggles. It’s about names, to be more precise, family names and children names.

 

Family Names

Up till now I got to know several “mixed” couples, most of them where the women is Chinese and the man is European. Of all of those couples who married, the wife kept her Chinese name. Nothing wrong with that as in China it is usual that both partners keep their own family names. In Europe it’s another matter, it’s still not that common that the wife keeps her own name or that the husband changes his family name (Still I know several cases).

My wife didn’t want to change her name as well as she wanted to keep her “Chinese” roots but also wanted to have something more “European”. In the end she decided to have a double family name, with her old one first and then the new one added to the back. Those double family names are not that uncommon either, especially in Germany where you can find nowadays a broad variety of those added names, sometimes resulting in very funny combinations. (For example “Große-Flasche” translates into “Big-Bottle” and many more I better not list here).

When asking our friends about the reasons they kept their own Chinese name they normally said that they don’t want to have any silly European name. But then again, there is still a high discrimination in Europe towards foreigners. For example when applying for jobs many applications are never being opened due to a foreign sounding name. Sad but true.

How to name your child

This is another tricky topic as we are also awaiting our son to be born soon. His name? No idea yet. Okay, this is not entirely true. We have some names already on our mind but we haven’t decided on any specific one yet. We are aiming for a name which can be used both in German language and in English language. Reasons? Well, we plan to move back to Germany later and we want at the same time that the name is time usable for English speakers. (Oh, English speakers have often trouble with my name…). So finding a good sounding name, which can be pronounced in German and in English is very important to us.

We also wish to give our son a second given name. This name will be a Chinese one. As we are more than troubled enough to decide on the first name we have outsourced the task for the Chinese name to mom in law. Just imagine how happy she must be, tinkering each day on possible combinations…

None of our friends in Chinese-European relations have children yet, so we shall be setting a naming example for them. Better be good though 😉

 

 

What are your experiences with family names or about finding a great name for a child?

You can overdo it sometimes (Mount Hua)

Most people say that you can never be prepared enough for a task ahead. I found out the hard way that you can be over-prepared.

Last year we were once again for a few weeks in China, visiting my wife’s family. As usual we had some plans regarding which places we would love to visit. Number one location was Jiuzhaigou 九寨沟 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jiuzhaigou. This changed after we arrived as my wife got too lazy (it is just too tempting for her just to hang out on the sofa, watch TV and eat snacks whole day). So in order to not disappoint me too much we agreed at least to go to Mount Hua 华山as it is just an hour or so away from Xi’an, my wife’s “hometown”.

HuaShan
Foggy Mountain

The Planning begins

I had watched some information about Mount Hua before so I was excited to go there. My parents in law were shocked. How could we visit such a dangerous place (as if crossing a street in Xi’an is any safer than climbing the mountain…)

It took some time convincing mom in law but we were “allowed” to go there in the end. Dad in law wasn’t so happy about it. He said it is too dangerous. After some time we got to know he had been there several times. Even using the infamous Plank Walk before any security measurements have been installed (Check out http://www.wherecoolthingshappen.com/huashan-crazy-plank-walk/ to see more about the nice little path). Him using that path strikes me as fairly unusual as he is more the safety first type. Actually he is more the type not to do anything remotely dangerous. But then again, he was just 20 back in the days, trying to proof the world something.

The day prior to our climbing adventure arrived. With is also the preparation started. I received some huge backpack from some friend of the family. This backpack was filled with food, much food and a huge vacuum flask. I estimated that the weight exceeded 30 kg easily. Sure, you need some things when climbing a mountain. But that much? The whole duration on the mountain would never exceed 5 hours in our planning and yet we had food and drink for a whole week. Yet, I agreed to it, to make parents in law happy.

Seven Heroes
The heroes of the mountain

We left next morning and went to a village nearby the mountain. The in-laws got themselves a little hotel room, because they had to wait for us (they didn’t want to join us). In the little hotel we had some food which was enough to sustain me for two or three days. They said that I would burn much calories on the mountain and I need all the food. They also advised us to eat something every 30-45min, or we would be too weak. Mom in law also wanted us to wear thick jackets, as she was afraid we would get sick due to the low temperatures in autumn. Low temperatures are in her opinion everything under 28 degrees Celsius so the 25 degrees in the morning were life threatening. I didn’t complain and after that we set out to the entrance where we said our goodbyes.

Chinese really like it red
Chinese really like it red

Up the mountain and the suffering

The view was great, you could see the smog layer covering the countryside around the mountain. And fresh air, so wonderful, finally being able to breathe normally again. Basically I was happy, my wife not so much.

Another Peak
Another Peak

Now I don’t want to tell you all about the great mountain, as you should go there better yourselves. But in my opinion it was worth the high entrance fee + cable car fee. Cable car as we didn’t want to climb up the whole mountain and back again, due to our limited time and my wife’s fear of getting big leg muscles….

The climb to the different peaks on the mountain were manageable (we only went to two peaks). The main problem for me was the backpack which was getting heavier and heavier each hour. My in-laws said that we needed all the food and drink so we tried to use it. We really tried to eat and drink much, seriously but there is just so much a body can fit. In the end I still had roughly 9/10 of the stuff left when arrived at the base of the mountain in the evening again. I still wonder why we had so much mantou and meat with us. With all the food I could have fed probably half the tourists on the mountain.

The whole trip was a struggle for me to take the next step and the weight was dragging me down. Remember the jackets mom in law wanted us to wear? Oh, I was so glad we didn’t take them. It was so damn hot going up with all the weight that I might have melted with some jacket. The worst part was the way down. Due to the high weight I had to carry up my legs were a mess when we arrived the south peak. They were just shaking. Each step on the way down again I was afraid to just collapse.

Those stairs are no joke, perfect for getting nice leg muscles
Those stairs are no joke, perfect for getting nice leg muscles

All preparation was not for naught

Yes indeed, all the stuff prepared found still a use. Nah, we didn’t sell it or gave it away but we actually used it. Mind you, not the very same day but two days later we went to some zoological park. It was useful because mom in law didnt had to prepare new food and terrible because I ended up carrying everything once again. Another surprise, we didnt manage to eat everything this time either so mom in law gave it to her friends who came with us. In the end I was carrying supplies, meant for one mountain climbing adventure, over two days just to give it all away.

And before I forget, I got my revenge. When they came to visit us, I made sure that they have enough food to carry :=)

P.S. I must excuse the poor pictures, but back then I only had my Nokia N8, resulting in pictures with rather much noise.

My crazy Chinese Family I married into…

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