How To Follow Along


“I mean, I still don’t think I should be in this class,” I mused, shuffling along beside Keeli as we left our first High Level Speaking class. “I understood that he was talking about how he used to go drinking after driving taxis when he first got to Xiamen, before he was a teacher, but he spoke really quickly!”

“Hannah, he never drove taxis.”


“He said that you never find people from Xiamen driving taxis because they are too lazy, and go drinking instead.”

I’d felt that I could follow the flow of the conversation over the course of the hour and a half, but this new knowledge disconcerted me. I accurately deduced WHAT we’d been talking about (taxis, drinking, Xiamen) but I couldn’t tell you how the themes worked together. I participated a lot despite my lagging listening abilities and  the fact that the other kids spoke conspicuously more ‘flucently’ and ‘melodiously’ than myself, putting in well more than my two yuan. I gave it a shot, and as I wasn’t even supposed to be in that class in the first place, a shot was all I owed myself. I decided to try the easier one (which would still be tough) and for once in my life give myself the opportunity to not take it easy, but not push myself to the brink. I would to be able to do my homework and then go out and USE my knowledge, instead of just devoting myself to work the whole semester and failing to experience my giant classroom. Decision made, I gave myself a nap break.

Today, I tried the easier version of the same class- Third Year, First Semester. I assumed that the class would be a breeze- I walked out pale faced and shaking. The same teacher taught the class, and spoke even more quickly than he had in the harder version (if that’s possible!). The twentysome kids and I read a section of the book discussing the Chinese Zodiac, as it relates to temperment. The chapter’s ‘new vocabulary’ list was short, so I felt a bit better about reading. I bisected my notebook paper so as to include class notes on the left side and new-to-me words (words that weren’t the one taught in the text but ones I simply didn’t recognize) on the right side; by the end of class, the right side had become the right and left sides, and I realized that everyone else could read Chinese at the rate I can read English, which is not a slow pace.  True to my Year of The Horse ways, I got impatient and started to fume.

A half an hour in, I turned to a boy next to me named Seth (or Thes, as the Chinese apparently call him) and asked plainly, “How much of this do you think you’re getting?” He’d written sparingly in his notebook, and had laughed at the appropriate times, i.e. when I was staring blankly at the teacher and the rest of the class was realizing that a joke had just been told.

He looked at me, then at his book, then at his notes. “Pretty much all of it.”

“Seriously? How long have you been studying?”

“About two years. I’ve lived here for 9 months.”

TWO YEARS?!? Who was this kid? I hoped he was an anomaly, but deep down I knew the other kids hadn’t been studying as long as me either. “Did you feel like you couldn’t understand anything when you came to Xiamen?”

“Just about. But I’m so close to reading newspaper articles well, it only takes me twenty minutes to get through one now!” My heart fell. I’d actually have to work to get anywhere.

I’ve always considered myself a hardworking, dedicated, determined sort of person, but this summer I just realized that I was denying the fact that I’m inherently simply lazy yet stubborn. I’d like to steep my tea and drink it, too, and usually can because a lot of things come naturally to me. When I actually have to work, however, I get anxious and angry and generally unpleasant to be around. After unloading on my friends in the next class, Rich made a very good point.

“Hannah,” he said evenly, “in all the years I’ve known you, not once have you ever taken initiative and still failed. You’ve usually just taken initiative and freaked out about failing, proceeded not to fail, and then calmed down.”

“That’s true. But this time I have no long-term memory and I’m not good at language.”

Rich turned to me and gave me a response coincident with a drastically more empathetic version of something like ‘Stop freaking out or I will cut you,’ and I calmed down. I’ve decided to try the course this week- I have until Friday to make a decision, so I have a week’s worth of time acting as a safety net in case class really does get too overwhelming and I need to switch.

My friends realize that I have a tendency to worry- I’m just concerned that this time, my worries will be revealed as valid, and not because they’re self-fulfilling.

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