Nearly an hour of driving is over and we have reached the apartment complex. Carlos, my sister’s boyfriend, helps carry some of my luggage alongside me as we work our way to the elevators. At the apartment my sister shows me where I will be staying, which is the computer room with an mattress on the floor. I don’t seem to mind since it allows me quick access to the Internet and I am glad that I have my room instead of sharing it with my nephew as I had thought. After sorting out my clothes, camera, iPod, and other essential items, I went to eat dinner alongside my sister, Carlos and Zhanghua.
We had some traditional Chinese dishes. It was just the typical friend rice, steamed flounder, seasoned pork, and spinach. I was expecting Carlos to cook some Spanish cuisine, but he said that will come at another time.
“How was the flight to Shanghai?” Carlos asked me.
“It was ok. There were delays at JFK and another massive delay at the stopover at LAX. Most of the time I was sleeping on the flights and I just randomly called up some friends when I was stranded in LAX. It was just a long and hectic flight to finally see a sister who I haven’t talked to for many years and a chance to finally relax.” I told him.
“Good to hear, Jon. It’s good to know that you are hear to spend time with your sister and spend your time in Shanghai. This city has changed in the past months although you will not be aware of it. I think you are going to like it here and maybe you can help me improve my Mandarin,” Carlos said.
“Yes. I have already enrolled you in the same language institute as Carlos. You have been living in America for too many years. I am sure your English is better than me. However, your Chinese is not that good from what your uncle has told me,” my sister added.
“This is insane! What do you expect when I had to go to America and live with a bunch of Americanized relatives? Everyone spoke English and spoke their broken Mandarin with heavy American accents. Of course I’m going to be influenced by their sounds and culture. I just graduated from college and now you’re making to back to school? This is nonsense!” Replying to my sister with frustration and surprise.
“Fine. You do not have to go relearn Chinese if you can read the following headline in today’s newspaper,” my sister responds as she handed me the paper.
I looked at the newspaper and I started to carefully reading the headline before realizing this was all written in Simplified Chinese. It was something about the fighting in the Middle East, but I am not sure what it was specifically referring to. This was not good and I only wished they had taught Simplified Chinese instead of the traditional ones that are run by overseas Taiwanese and Hong Kong Chinese. What is even worse is that I have to read this in the perfect tones in Chinese. This was just going to be a challenge seeing that the Mandarin speakers around my town were either from Hong Kong or did not speak Mandarin as their native Chinese dialect.
“Ok, you win sis. I will go to the institute to study and help work on your boyfriend’s Chinese as well.” I told her.
My sister seemed happy that I was not only helping her boyfriend out, but she felt she was helping me in the long term. She was right, after all, by forcing to see that my Chinese had deteriorated much worse than I had previously believed. I really thought those Pimsleur Chinese language files I put on my iPod would help me relearn Mandarin; they really didn’t do that much to be frank. Carlos tried cheering me up by telling me that he usually goes to the local heath club after class and that he could get me in for free. I really think Carlos is just enthusiastic that there is actually someone who could spend time refining his Mandarin and serve as a bridge between the Eastern and Western culture. In any event, my inability to properly read and understand a simple newspaper headline gave me a wake-up call on how close I have come to losing a part of my identity.