Rewind 9 years ago to a train station somewhere in Andalusia, Spain…
I approach the ticket window and in mediocre High School Spanish, say:
“Quiero dos billetes a Rhonda.”
The kind-faced, ticket agent asks:
I say (in still flat Spanish):
Me (finally rolling the “r”):
Happy ticket agent:
“Ah! R-r-r-r-r-r-r-honda! Bien!”
I genuinely don’t think he was being an ass; I just hadn’t tried hard enough to get into “language character.” I wasn’t using my hands, talking loudly and rolling my r’s. I wasn’t being “Spanish-me.” I was still being quiet, unassuming “American of Scandinavian heritage-me.”
This old story has got me thinking about “Chinese-me” and how I can better embrace Chinese speaking cadences and gestures. How can I better “get into the part?”
If I were a guy, it might mean I need to start wearing my shirt rolled up over my belly. This would be a double-bonus, since it’s already humid and hotter than hell. Probably won’t work as a woman…
I have started listening to both Mandarin and Cantonese radio a lot. I have some faith that it’s tuning my ear to tones and cadences (and since our house is still empty, I don’t have much else going on).
But it’s also not helping with my Chinese language character. The Mandarin speaking radio-announcers that catch my ear are the men, who always speak so deeply and forcefully. I don’t always catch much of what they are saying, but the radio station I’m currently listening to must be heavily sponsored by some sort of Chinese liquor, since he’s always blasting with such gravity: “Zhongguo ming pai…. jiu” (中国名牌…酒). Going around the house, saying in a loud, deep voice, “中国名牌!” is somehow very satisfying, but this also doesn’t help form female “Chinese-me.”
Over on the Cantonese station, which I have an even harder time following, the week was filled with: sing-song-y Cantonese, sing-song-y Cantonese, “Lady Gaga,” sing-songy-Cantonese, sing-songy Cantonese “little monsters.” All the female voices were from the “Teen Beat”-set and were gushing about Lady Gaga. Also not helpful to formation of the adult, female “Chinese-me.”
I could switch to Chinese films, but the first ones that pop to mind are “The Road Home” which mainly features a Chinese woman running through fields in padded trousers and not talking much (just talking with her eyes) and “Raise the Red Lantern” in which the woman also only seems to talk with her eyes. There are the martial arts movies, but those women also don’t seem to actually talk much.
Could kill two birds with one stone: stop trying to actually speak Chinese (either kind) and just look wistful and “talk with my eyes.”