April 13th, 2010
My mother tells me that language learning is like an upward spiral (see the inspired and beautiful photo above). Each loop has a top and a bottom half. When you are on the top half, you are in a swell of positive emotion, you can see quite clearly how much you have improved and feel immense pride in what you’ve accomplished. But with every high there is a low. The bottom of the loop is the overwhelming and discouraging realization of how much you have left to learn. It’s times like this when ignorance comes in handy.
In China, I have only just started to be on that bottom side of the loop, and trust me I am beating furiously against the current. I will not go gently into that good night of depressing self pity. Though anyone who knows me at all, knows I have a broody side to me. Usually the deathly combination is beer and my period. This is when, I will fall into a series of depressing “why did he leave me” or “I thought he loved me” rants that would break a monk. I really have amazingly patient friends.
My first breakdown in China almost happened at the AIESEC conference. Expectations are always to blame. I was looking forward to going to a conference in China. I wanted to teach the Chinese the cheers from Ottawa, meet a whole bunch of foreigners and get smashed with a bunch of Chinese feeling like a princess. This unfortunately is not what happened. I arrived at the conference in Shanghai to the great surprise of the conference organizers. “We weren’t sure you were coming,” they said. “What do you mean? I registered,” I replied.
Stammering and stumbling a bit over the words, they explained, “yes but we wrote you asking if you were coming because you are the only foreigner.”
“Did you write me in English?” I asked explaining that I am not good at reading and writing in Chinese and usually just ignore those emails assuming them to be spam. Well they hadn’t. They wrote me in Chinese explaining that the conference was in Chinese and that even though all the discussions were advertised on the website with English titles they were all going to be conducted in Chinese. “Great!” (note: sarcasm.)
But still I tried to remain positive. I attended the lectures, tried to understand and went to a party the first night. Though as Shakespeare said, nothing is either good or bad but thinking makes it so. That was certainly true here. People were eager to meet me and ask me about my life. And instead of being pleased and flattered with the attention I was embarrassed and felt foolish. Of course they are curious about me, I am a freak. I am the only foreigner stupid enough to come to this and everyone is wondering how I could be so stupid. And there I was standing in the middle of an AIESEC party with a rum and coke in my hand, and my mind swung into full-fledged depressing ranting.
The next morning I packed my bags after breakfast, wrote a short note to my roommates and tried to sneak out at Opening Plenary. Unfortunately one of the conference organizers caught me leaving. Their apologies stung further as the embarrassment started tickling at my tear ducts. No I will not break, I refuse to break.
So the AIESEC conference was a failure. Though through it all, I do remember one great line by one of the presenters, (the only one in English) – “even the great have to deal with all this shit.” The same presenter also said to not be afraid to fail, and that failing was pretty good for a person. So, I guess I could say I was just following her advice.