Chinese Corner

Chinese Corner teacher demonstrates counting to ten using your fingers. The hand expression of numerals six through ten mimics the Chinese character, instead of directly expressing the numeric amount.

Chinese Corner at South Seattle Community College. The  teacher is demonstrating counting to ten using  fingers of one hand. The expression of numerals six through ten mimics the written Chinese character, instead of directly expressing the numeric amount.


Chinese Corner . The standing folks include Chinese language high school students helping out. The teacher is against the wall. Note the clock. I liked it so much I bought one for my home office.

The standing folks include Chinese language high school students helping out with Chinese Corner.


Clock in Chinese Corner room with Chinese characters for the numerals

Clock in Chinese Corner room with Chinese characters for the numerals. I liked it so much I bought one for my home office.

Chinese Corner is the all-purpose name for gatherings where students of Chinese gather to practice or learn usually with native speakers. They run the gamut from sophisticated presentations to casual meet ups. Recently I’ve been going to the Chinese Corner at Seattle Central Community College near the Chinese Garden. This one is for beginners, with an emphasis on Chinese culture, but I have the chance to speak and listen, which is great. A critical problem I have trying to learn Mandarin in Seattle is lack of folks to speak with and listen to. So I come to this Chinese Corner whenever I can, even though its late afternoon time is often not convenient.

Among the attendees this past quarter were John and Viola, who hadn’t one word of Chinese between them. Ni hao, I said. Why do you want to come to Chinese Corner? I asked.

“We are adopting a baby from China,” they explained. Why from China? I asked. Several of her family members had Asian babies, Viola said, adding it was a practical decision based on an factors like cost, access to medical records and how many weeks you had to stay in the country when picking up the child.

“It’s very complicated,” she said. “We’ve been trying to adopt for a couple of years.”

“We could hear as early as Monday,” she continued, “but certainly over the quarter.”  Gong xi gong xi (congratulations).  But as it turned out their smiles turned to frowns, as of the last class still no adoption.

Another person, Leslie, was there with her two daughters, the older a freshman in high school who was “wild for learning Chinese.” Chinese was one of her school’s language electives and she started this year, for no special reason. Now she loves it. “She wanted to be an exchange student this year but I was nervous about her going to China and said no,” said mom. “Maybe next year.”

Stephanie was there with her 2-year-old son. The toddler was going to daycare three times a week, speaking Spanish in the morning and Chinese in the afternoon. Stephanie said her son loved to sing in Chinese and she wanted to be able to help and maybe sing with him.

“Doesn’t that confuse him, having three languages in a day?” I asked. “Spanish, English and Chinese?”

Yes, it does, she said, but the principal said by the time he graduates preschool it will all straighten out, and he would be truly tri-lingual.

With all these Seattle youngsters on the path to learning Chinese,  students of the future should have plenty of people to practice with.

Why Study Mandarin? The less polite version

Sometimes necessity makes you do things.

This was part of the same short trip to Beijing as the previous post, and we took a car to the pearl market, located in a department store-like building. We passed levels with luggage, clothing, shoes etc. and went to the pearl vendors. They occupied an entire floor, hundreds of them, each with a small, same-sized station in the cavernous room. They had big numbers displayed on poles, so you could find your way to a particular one. It was noisy and confusing, kind of like the stock exchange floor. My friends, fluent in Mandarin, both American but one born in China, had purchased before, so we muscled our way through the throng to Vendor #268.

Hardly occupying more footprint than a card table, the vendor presided over an array of pearls from a high stool. They were simply hung on strings, arranged by kind, size and quality. A waterfall of preciousness displayed as casually as onions. Hundreds of coils, fresh and saltwater, some tiny like grains of rice, others approaching golf ball size. Plus red coral, jade and precious stones I didn’t recognize.

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Community College

Community college was my first stab at learning Mandarin, started after a brief trip to China. I signed up for the beginner class, but to my surprise it was hardly a beginner class. Two dozen students were enrolled. Many dropped out quickly, upon realizing how daunting Mandarin really was, leaving 15. Of those, half were “running start” students, meaning high school students who were now in early enrollment in college; these folks had taken two or three years of Chinese in high school! So, while the instruction in high school “sucked,” they had certainly been exposed to Mandarin and the singsong tones of Chinese words. And they had supple brains.

The other half of the class were Chinese-Americans who had ignored auntie when she had sat them down at the kitchen table and tried to teach them Mandarin. Headstrong  six-years-old Americans. Now, two decades later, they were wanting to learn Mandarin and understand their cultural inheritance. Naturally these people picked up speaking and understanding quickly.

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