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Languish Class

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On any other day of the week, the room full of square floor tiles and plaster ceiling would be inundated with college students listening to the professor lecture about the history of surrealist art. But not on Sundays. The only day where the classroom serves a different purpose, and I am stuck here along with ten other students and a middle-aged teacher.

“Zhe shi wo men de . . .”

The words spouting from the teacher are unintelligible like a gibberish language. While she drones on, the rest of us are involved in one of the three D's: doodling, daydreaming, and dozing. Although we are half listening, our ears perk up once we hear two words. Break time. As we prepare to sprint out of the classroom, the teacher makes the same unavailing plea:

“Please, try to speak Chinese during the break.”

The rest of class goes by unnoticed. At promptly five o'clock the teacher presents us with our homework, which half the class will neglect to do, and we all rush out of the classroom to maximize on the waning hours of Sunday evening.

Another class has come to a close. Yet, if you asked me what I had learned during those three hours, I would not be able to tell you.

As the years went by, most of my friends dropped out of Chinese school. I pestered my parents to let me quit, arguing how we lived in America, not China, and learning Chinese would never aid me here. Writing and speaking Chinese was not going to help me solve a ninth degree polynomial or demonstrate how to debug computer software. On a good day, it allowed me to ask my grandmother to pass the dumplings at the dinner table. The answers I received from my parents were always unclear, but the undeniable fact is that every Sunday from two to five, you knew















exactly where to find me.

I tended to stifle my Chinese ethnicity in an attempt to conform with those around me, and that thought process lingered throughout my nine years of Chinese school. Traveling to China with my family the summer after graduating, I witnessed the Forbidden City in Beijing. The rich history and culture of the Qin dynasty could be felt seeping from the countless palaces and artifacts, and I was astonished at the thought of how all this was made by the hands of people – people who I share the same ancestral blood and wield that same native tongue.

Meeting numerous relatives at my dad's hometown, even with my deficient knowledge of the Chinese language, allowed me to discover the roots of my heritage and the arduous work the generations before accomplished to present me the opportunities I am fortunate to have today. I was left wondering if these feelings could be amplified if I was a more fluent Chinese speaker, and questioning whether I should have listened in the classroom instead of catching up on sleep. I arrived at China in a state of apathy; I left with feelings of regret.

The Chinese language is a bridge that intertwines me to something greater. If others look at a sheet of paper with Chinese characters written on it, it would just be scribbles on a page. But to me, these characters hold the bindings to millennia of tradition and culture, and these words hold the promise for the future that I must help pave the way like those before me.

From time to time, someone asks me if I can speak Chinese. Being able to say yes gives me more than a connection to the culture, but also nostalgia looking back at those long days in the classroom drawing pencil mustaches on Chinese political leaders and Nobel Prize winners.





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