Monday, February 05, 2007

Mandarin Lessons: Numbers

Today's Mandarin lesson is about numbers.

The numbers 1-10 are extremely important. Once you know them, you can, of course, count and tell time. Unlike romance languages and English, where you have to learn different words for days of the week and months in a year, the Chinese base these words on the number of the day within the week, and the month within the year. Example: the word for 1, is yi. Monday is xingqi yi. January is yiyue.

It's worth mentioning here that the number two is a tricky, tricky number. It's tricky because it is pronounced er, but if you talk about 2 of something, the number is pronounced liang.

While we are still talking numbers, I must admit I am currently fascinated with "measure words." You can't just say two elephants. You have to use the word zuo (which indicates you are talking about big things, like buildings or elephants - the example given in my phrase book) between the word two and the word elephants.

Other measure words include ba (chairs, knives, teapots, tools or implements with handles), bei (drinking receptacles), zhang (flat things - tickets, envelopes), duo (flowers - blossoms, not plants), tiao (long things - fish, snakes, rivers), zhi (non-descript animals - cats, dogs, chickens - I kid you not this is the example in my phrase book) and ke (trees).

I have to wonder who came up with that idea. Seriously.

Absolute Silence

I have developed a real appreciation for absolute silence.

While I was living in London, there was never really a time when I didn't hear city noises. I could close my door and my windows, but I couldn't really shut them out. Wimbledon was a little better, but as we were living on ground level, I could still hear cars passing by, and that strange whirring of the milk truck at 3:30 a.m., which I swear I thought was an alien the first couple times I heard it.

When we lived in Zurich, we were never far from a tram. The sound of wheels screeching to a halt became a familiar sound.

In China, we are up high enough to avoid street noise (except the occasional fire engine). The only real noises we hear are the neighbors upstairs, who are learning to play the piano (and rehearse all the time, which I don't mind too much because I'm sure some day soon they will play something good). They also seem to run around quite a bit.

Anyway, as I sit here typing, the only real sound I can hear, besides the soft buzz of Chase's baby monitor, is my own typing and the whir of the fan in my computer. And I love it. I love how quiet it is.

And then Chase will wake up and coo, and laugh, and giggle, and sing - and I would not trade this for the world - and I'll forget all over again what it was like to sit in absolute silence.