Becoming Chinese

Watching ToddlerB grow up is a great opportunity to see the links between culture and language, and watch how children soak them up without thinking.

You'd think that intoductions to 18-month old children would be a simple matter, but here the brain is kept working overtime. On our Saturday morning trips to the playground I'm busy guessing ages of the other children to work out whether she should be saying hi to "mooi-mooi" or "je-je" ("younger sister" or "older sister"). Back home and the mental arithmetic continues - among the staff in our block of flats there are some younger guards that are "goh-goh"(older brother) and older ones who are "suk-suk" (older uncles, but not so old that they are "ah-bak"!).

Chinese language is very descriptive in words for people. If you've ever learned Chinese, there will be a lesson that sticks in your head, when you try to learn the hundred and seven ways to say "sister-in-law". (Well, not that many, but definitely too many). My advice ? Don't bother. You can always get there in the end, even if it means the long-winded "my wife's elder brother's wife", instead of whatever is the right term.

Sigh, it's yet another area of local knowledge where ToddlerB is bound to surpass me in no time.


But Chinese enough ?

ToddlerB is 18months now, and heads down to the playground for a run around each day. Yesterday, as she toddled over to another mixed child in our block, MrsB heard the following conversation between two little local girls:

Miss1: Aiyaa, I won't go near to them. They are different. I'm scared.
Miss2: Don't worry! I see them every day, and they won't hurt us.

MrsB says Miss1 is about three and a half, and Miss2 is closer to three. It is funny to hear such a serious conversation from two little girls. At the same time it's quite something to cover fear, prejudice and reassurance in such a simple exchange.