Our family is pretty average. In case you are scoffing, hear me out. We have two kids, live in the suburbs, have two cars and a dog. We get our groceries from a local supermarket, but sometimes we go crazy and take a trip to the farmers market. We recycle. Yes, for a family that is an Australian and American blend and used to live in China, we are pretty average.
We didn’t used to have two cars. We used to be able to cope with no electricity and no running water for at least a couple of days. Our internet went down all the time when we lived in China. It was very fast but extremely unreliable. This was the stuff of life. I bathed my children in bottled water, lit a bunch of candles and moved on with life.
We used to be so used to dealing with little irritations that I was surprised recently that a few little bumps in my very “average” First World life threw me off. I got stressed about these things. I got upset that they took so long to fix. The internet went down, our second car was in the shop for 6 weeks and our air conditioning died. In the midst of my miniature meltdown about all these things I did have the presence of mind to say to myself, “Hey princess! Yes you! A lot of people in this world don’t have one car, wouldn’t know what to do with internet and just deal with heat. Suck it up sweetheart and put a smile on your face.”
You can attribute that last bit to my mother. She is great for telling like it is. It must be a Southern thing. To be fair I was big on the pout and whine as a child so she had to develop some serious coping tactics. I often heard her say, “Hun a frown never fixed anything. Put a smile on that face and go get dressed, you’ll feel better.” To be honest a smile, a pair of jeans and some makeup does go a long way. Southern women learn this early on in life.
After I had a good long talk with myself about my attitude, I had some thinking to do. I realized how much I needed to check myself when my youngest child walked in our living room totally despondent that he couldn’t download a new game app. We were using all the data allowances on our phones for the boys’ homework so he had to go without. (I am not the only used to the First World lifestyle, half my children’s homework requires the internet.) I was teasing him about what a rough life he thought he had because he couldn’t download new games for a week when it hit me that I was behaving much the same way.
I won’t deny that it gets hot in Perth, but as a girl raised by a Southern mother I know there is no amount of hot that can’t be fixed by a tall glass of iced tea and a fan. So I don’t have internet in my house for a week or two. Instead of downloading new books maybe I can reread a few classics. Certainly wouldn’t kill me. The second car was the biggest stress, but the truth is our office is right on the train line. It is pretty easy to get to. You know what I missed about having a second car? I missed being able to call my husband and asked him to pick up something I had forgotten for dinner before he came home. I also really hated getting up 20 minutes earlier in the morning. I am that spoiled by my first world life and my kids know it.
How bad is it that my reaction to not having a second car is so blown out of proportion when you take in account that there are people in the world who struggle to find drinkable water? What am I teaching my children when I lose internet and act like it is a huge deal? There are several big problems in the world right now, like the number of orphans, pollution, human trafficking, violence, hunger etc… To act as though having no air conditioning is a big problem may be teaching my children that it is actually a big problem. None of my problems are life-and-death and I need my children to understand that there are life-and-death situations in this world. I need my reactions to my “First World problems” to indicate I understand that there are bigger issues in the world than these tiny little problems. So many people in our world would be happy to have my problems. Can you imagine if I told someone who was starving that I had a fridge full of food, a car, access to medical care and a good education for my children but I don’t have air conditioning, internet or a second car so I am really struggling?
Last year our family had to go without a fridge for a month because ours broke down and a new part had to be shipped in. Didn’t bother me a bit then, and it is not like I really lost it when I had to deal with these problems, I just let them get to me. When I realized that I had let these things get to me even a little a bit and that my children were in turn letting these things get to them, I knew it was unacceptable.
My children’s generation who have grown up in the first world, have grown up with the world at their fingertips. The slightest inconvenience seems to be interpreted through their eyes as a big issue. I want my children to grow up seeing the bigger picture. I want them to be able to put their problems in the context of the larger world. If I want them to truly grasp other people struggles, then I need to clearly demonstrate what actual problems are. I need to show them that I understand what a real problem looks like. I do not want to give my children implied permission to treat their “First World problems” as life and death when they are really more like small irritations.
So I am getting back to where I need to be. Thankful for my First World comforts without allowing the times they don’t work properly to shift my perception of what should actually trouble me.
Now let’s turn our attention to the “ee” sound in Aussie. There is a need to make Australia seem less intimidating to outsiders because it is home to a slew of many frightening and lethal creatures. For example, there are more deadly snakes in Australia than any other country worldwide. The answer to this problem seems to be adding an ie,y or ee ending onto several essential words. This sounds absolutely adorable! It does feel downright odd though that a country that speaks English in such a cute way has men the size of Chris Hemsworth, as well as sharks, killer snakes, spiders and drop bears. With words like footie, sunnies, cossie, mossie, rellies and schoolies, it is like the whole language is designed to take a tourist’s naive mind off the deadly flora and fauna.
You can imagine an entire continent of people saying, “Look at the beach now look at my hand there is a bikkie. Look at the beach, now at my hand, there are some sunnies for you. Look at the beach. You could be here at the beach instead of in your country freezing vital parts of your body off. Oops! Sorry ignore the huge shark. Go for a swim, she’ll be right mate.”
It would make sense if this were the case, if the language was a vast conspiracy of cute designed by Australians to distract attention away from the dangerous insects, animals and plants native to Australia. This is really not the case though. Australians actually love to point out the variety of bugs this country has that can kill you! Give an Aussie an uninitiated tourist and they will frighten the pants off them in 5 seconds flat. They will spout numerous facts about the gruesome kinds of death or injury you can experience in this country. It makes me think they take children aside in school and say, “Alright this is how we scare the tourists, pay close attention!”
To put this all in perspective though, this is a country which boasts unusual animals of all kinds. While the crocodile, box jellyfish and redback spider are indeed scary, the country is also home to kangaroos, koalas, quokkas and wombats. Also home to, I kid you not, the Fairy Penguin. These are animals which go above and beyond just cute .They are adorable bundles of picturesque sweetness that will reduce any tourists to oooohs and ahhhs. Petting them is even better. I will never forget the feeling of a kangaroo eating out of my hand while snuggling into me. Australia is a wonderfully weird place where the absurdly dangerous meets the absurdly cute.
I think this is the only way we can really make sense of the language. It may be hard but try to imagine Chris Hemsworth saying, “chippie”, and there you have Australia in a nutshell. By the way chippie does not mean what you think it means. One of the more entertaining parts of my life in Australia is trying to figure out the meaning of new “ee” words.
So let’s dive right in, what are some words you need to know and understand here in the Great Southern Land.
Lippy- Lip gloss
Footie- Australian Rules Football, side note here; it is necessary to know the difference between rugby and footie. Some American commentators messed up the two recently and Aussies everyone got a good chuckle out of that.
Bikkie- Cookie or Biscuit. Not to be confused with bikie – a guy on a motorcycle.
Sickie- Sick day
Dodgy- Not to be trusted
Lackies- Elastic bands
This is just a taste of some of the terrific ways Aussies have altered words. You can imagine having an average conversation can be a little mind boggling. I was once told I should, “Rug up and have a bikkie.” I was pretty baffled until it was translated for me. I was being told to wrap up in a blanket and have a cookie. I had no objections. Add a cuppa, (cup of tea), to that and I will stay for life.
Aussies are incredibly proud when their unique words make it to other parts of the world. Seeing the look of pride on my Aussie friend’s faces when I say a word like, “rellie”, in the middle of a sentence is worth feeling slightly strange when I actually say it. It may also make sense that Aussies speak this way since they also refer to their country as “lucky”. Why wouldn’t they? They live near the beach in temperate weather with a variety of beautiful native plants and animals. In fact if anything is a conspiracy maybe it is the built up reputation Australia has for being a place where death follows you constantly. Perhaps that is the biggest trick Aussies pull, making everyone think Australia is a frightening place to live when actually it is an insanely nice place to settle down.
I think you will see what I mean if you are brave enough to find an Australian and ask them about Drop Bears.
Sitting in the dark, in a hotel room, in the middle of a town I had never been to before in China. The only sound was the echo of my slightly frustrated and emotional chuckle because seriously this day could not possibly be this bad. The temptation was to just burrow under the covers and pretend it wasn’t happening but that was not going to get the lights back on. I needed to put my big girl panties on and deal with it. Let me tell you how we got from a missed flight, newly booked flight and a hotel reservation to here.
I had a ticket and I managed to call a hotel and get a reservation but I now had to negotiate the taxi line. Those who have lived or are living in China can commence laughing at me now. Zhengzhou is a smaller town and they haven’t gotten around to regulating airport taxis as of yet so imagine a tiny,irate, exhausted fireball trying to convince a long line of drivers that she wasn’t taking a taxi unless they used the meter. Joke was on me because my driver said he would use the meter then took the long way around so 260rmb, (Chinese dollars), later I finally arrived at my hotel which was a grand total of 3 kilometers from the airport. I arrived at the hotel tired, hungry and riding a very thin line between patience and a World War III emotional breakdown. I would not be the ugly foreigner again. I would be sweetness and light. Ha!
Since the airport did not take Mastercard I thought it would be judicious to ask, before I checked in, if the hotel took Mastercard. “Oh yes, we do, of course!” Except we don’t apparently. The hotel is brand new and the bank hasn’t approved it, they will have the permission by the end of the month. I was told this right after I was all checked in and they wanted me to pay. “You can’t pay in cash?” they asked. No I couldn’t because as a rule I don’t keep that much cash on hand ever. Tomorrow would have to include a trip to the bank to get the money and pay them. Lovely.
I had not eaten all day either, so my next stop after the room had to be a restaurant, room service or a hotel restaurant. There was no room service or nearby restaurants but the front desk informed me there was a restaurant on the 3rd floor so I went there….except it wasn’t open…yet. It is a new hotel, in fact it is so new the elevator still has paint all over the mirrors, so yeah, ok you get the picture.
Thankfully for some reason they had a waitress looking after a restaurant that had tables, chairs, plates, polished flatware and napkins but no customers. No it is not the Twilight Zone, just a new hotel. They also had a chef. The two of them decided that they would give me food. I think if I didn’t have a husband, I might marry that chef because of his kindness to me. He made me egg and tomato noodle soup and an espresso. I might marry him even though I have a husband because wow, he knows how to treat a girl.
My day was looking up. It was 9 pm, almost the end of the day, but I am an optimist when caught at the right moment. I believed the day could still get better. I had a hotel room, I had a flight, I had eaten and developed a very proper crush on the hotel chef. (Don’t worry my husband will understand, he knows all about my relationship with caffeine.) Nothing could go wrong. All was right with the world. I blame the caffeine for this uncharacteristic rush of euphoria.
But… five minutes passed and the power in the whole hotel went out. My rush of euphoria promptly left and I could only laugh and I lived in hope my flight did actually make it out of Zhengzhou the next day. I was also thankful for my Chinese language at the moment. Most days I feel that you can make it in China without a lot of language. Today, however, if I could not speak the language I am afraid I would have been stuck forever. To be honest, I am not sure I am going to make it out of this city even with the language. I hope I see you all again, if not, I guess I have moved back to China.
And the rest of the story…
For those of you wondering what happened with the power and paying the hotel bill this is the happily ever after. After looking out the window and determining that it was a whole hotel problem, I started trying to contact the front desk. I had no luck but did find a maintenance man out in the hall a few minutes later who assured me he would have the power back on in 10 minutes, and he did. After a very good night’s sleep, I was taken to the bank the next day by a lovely member of the hotel staff. Not the chef. I arrived and the bank president promptly came out to show me the banks brand new ATM machine. He was quick to point out the English capabilities of the machine and I was very thankful, if a bit embarrassed. I paid my hotel bill and got to the airport where my flight took off and landed in Beijing. I made it through another 18 hours of flights and some layovers and home to Perth.
If you are looking for more great ironic pictures of signs in China, try this link Shanghaiexpat.com.
You may catch me sometimes looking at you blankly, hesitating for several beats before I answer your question or finish the sentence I just trailed off in the middle of. You may have already started your next thought and moved on without me. Forgive me, but the truth is I am still trying to figure out whether to call it a wardrobe, a dresser or a gui zi柜子. My mind is stuck in a hamster wheel flashing up other options that might work as well. The problem is that one of those words has the best meaning but the person I am talking to probably wouldn’t understand it. So here I am, holding my breath and waiting for the word to come out, and here you are, trying to pretend that I am not odd or an airhead or at the least just a little ditzy. In some instances I will just use the wrong word for the language I am speaking at the time, and if you wait for it I may remember to translate for you when it finally clicks that you have no idea what I just said. This process makes me look even more ditzy because I should be able to remember what language I am speaking, right?
I am not really bilingual, and if you want to know the truth I am not even biEnglishgual. Yep, you caught me, that is not a word. If in doubt I like to make it up as I go along. Try to keep up because my mind is a bumpy ride. So is it a clothespin or a peg? Or a clothes peg? Is it a laundry powder or laundry detergent or washing powder? The English isn’t even really the problem. It is just incredibly entertaining for you because in those instances when my mouth doesn’t wait for my brain to catch up, you to hear me rattle off every word I can think of that might fit until you nod and say, “Yes that is it, I know what you mean.” My good friends do this because they know they have to eventually indicate which word is the right one for Australia or else I will just keep going. Sometimes I think they let me keep going as long as they do because it amuses them to watch me try. Some of the words I come up with are way off base. Did you know a brad in the US is a split pin in Aussie land? Those words have no relation what so ever.
Chinese, that other language that I semi speak but am completely illiterate in, is the real issue. It’s the issue because there are so many of my thoughts, that after 12 years of living there, I must express in Chinese. You think I am talkative, verbose and overwhelming? Imagine if you could hear the 30% of my thoughts that are kept quiet because the entire sentence can only be expressed in Chinese. Oh boy, would you love that joke or appreciate the irony if only you knew what the heck I was saying. Imagine how much more articulate I am when I don’t stop breathing in the middle of a thought because the last half of the thought was in Chinese and now I have to translate it or explain it. You might find me understandable. You might think I was humorous. Well maybe not because I never really mastered the art of a joke in Chinese. I want to tell you I have a gege 哥哥, not a brother, because then you would know without any further explanation that he is my older brother. I want to tell you that that problem I am having is well meibanfa 没办法 . This has so much more meaning than just no solution because it indicates there will never be a solution and all hope is lost. I feel this way when dealing with websites and html. Another word that comes to me when I think of html is ma-fan麻烦. It means trouble or stress or both rolled into one. Hard to translate but sheer joy to apply when you are at the end of your rope. And when you are leaving my house after I have complained about all of the above, I want to say man-zou 慢走 because it kind of means take your time leaving but it also means I care and because I care I say man-zou not just see ya. If you are born into a single language family, then all your thoughts and feeling take place in that language. Like me, you may not realize that there are a bunch of other thoughts, feelings and ways to describe things until you start to learn your second language. Once that other language and culture becomes part of you, it becomes very difficult not to express that other language and culture. It becomes, for me, like holding your breath and containing all those other descriptions and thoughts that are running through your head.
By the way if you are bilingual and would like to own one of the t-shirts in the picture above, you can find them and many more items for bilingual families at Bilingual Style.
Thanks to everyone for your support this year. As you can see from the slow down in blog posts things have got very busy with lots of new students. You can download our newsletter 2 to read about the year.
Wishing you all a very happy Christmas and a safe and prosperous New Year.
The article below, published in today’s Australian newspaper, states that by one count 300 Million Chinese are currently learning English. A lot of these Chinese begin their English learning journey at home in China. Some are in for a shock when they arrive in Australia and find that the English they have learnt is a little more ‘Chinglish’ than English. The article refers to a phrase ‘Thanks for your listening” that may be accepted as good English until coming to Australia.
This problem is not unique to Chinese English learners. Most people who learn English before they come to Australia still have some language adjustment to face once they get here. Australian English is a strange breed! Sometimes we pronounce and spell like the British, sometimes like the Americans, sometimes both ways are acceptable, and then sometimes we throw in our own version! We like to speak casually, with contractions abounding, mixed in with strange idioms as well as the usual sprinkling of phrasal verbs. Many people who have studied English for years outside of Australia are mortified when they find their English skills don’t allow them to understand basic social conversations, or even the news on TV!
What we need to remember is that each part of the world has its own particular version of language, and it is no different with English. Accents are blurring with new phrases and idioms as English spreads throughout the world. One of the great things about English is the way it has taken on words from other languages throughout the centuries. It is this metamorphosing quality of English that keeps it changing, evolving, and continuing to be useful and relevant in rapidly changing world. So whether you speak Chinglish or Anglish (Australian English) remember that second language speakers of English now out number first language speakers, so if you really want a phrase to be part of the English language, you just need to find a way to persuade people that it should be in there!
What’s a word of phrase that is used outside of Australia that you think we should adopt as part of our English?
WARNING: If you are preparing for an IELTS exam (or other such English testing) best to just use the already agreed upon official English. Save the arguments for new words or phrases for lively discussions around the barbie!
This one is a bit girly and pink , but if you don’t mind that, its a great app! If you have a little princess at home – this is the app for you. Also good for pre gender stereotyped kids such as my 2 year old boy whose favourite part is the sticker game pictured below.
The interesting thing about this app is that it is story based rather than category based like most of the other apps. You get the story of Snow White for free. There are another 4 books you can buy for $1.99 each: Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella.
There are 4 parts – Read, Colour, Play and Sing.
Read: The story of Snow White is presented in book form, read to you in an American accent, with a few Chinese sentenced interspersed throughout. Icons appear on the side of the page as new Chinese words are introduced. These are flashcards that can be clicked on to see the picture bigger, then clicked on to see the Chinese character on the back. The words taught are bird, princess, rabbit, deer, squirrel, 1, 2, 3, my name is, good bye, very good and thank you.
Colour: This is a simple colouring exercise. The only learning component is that as you pick a new colour to use it is said out loud for you to hear.
Play: (1) Memory – classic game of memory trying to match 2 of the same images. The word is pronounced when a correct match is found.
(2) Bingo – listen to the word, and look at the picture, and find the matching card.
(3) Sticker – 4 stickers to match to the empty shapes in the picture.
Sing: A song about Snow White can be played from beginning to end or section y section using the interactive buttons.
What I like: A good mix of greetings, numbers and animals all based around a well known story. Lovely colourful illustrations.
What I don’t like: Really does push the buying of more books as your ‘library’ looks very empty with only one book in it.
This is the first in a series of posts reviewing iPad apps for children learning Mandarin. Stacey College run a Mandarin Club for Primary School aged children in Perth, Western Australia. The aim of these reviews is to be able to recommend to parents useful apps for their children to access to support the teaching they receive once a week. These are not sponsored recommendations and are purely my opinion, with testing by my three children aged 11, 9 and 2. I will start with the free apps, then move onto some of the paid apps.
Crazy Chinese Flashcards is my choice for learning numbers. The lite version is free and includes numbers and animals.
The Game: Flashcards with the Mandarin characters for numbers bounce up onto the screen. As you click on each one you get points and the number is pronounced in Mandarin. Don’t click on the inkpots, but the stars will give you money to spend on extras. This part of the game is pretty simple and is just helping kids to refresh their knowledge. It starts with 1-5 and each round adds an extra number until you get to ten. There is limited time and lives.
Pop Quiz: After each round of catching flashcards there is a reading and listening pop quiz. This will help your kids to know if they actually recognize the characters (reading) and understand the words (listening).
Report Card: A report card can be accessed from the main menu telling you how you are going.
So why not download it today and let me know what you think – or more importantly what your children think of it.
If you love it – the full version only costs $1.99 and includes the categories: numbers, animals, colours, countries, shapes, transportation, stationary and fruit. It also allows up to 4 users to log in separately and save their scores.
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