An open letter to the Chinese language
(China Daily)
Updated: 2006-11-11 07:46

Dear Chinese Language,

I ought to begin by clarifying my perceptions of our relationship. I have not had my happiest days working at you, indeed, my best efforts to learn you have, by and large, been frustrating and fruitless.

I admit I chose you not because I think you are beautiful or particularly literary, but for entirely utilitarian reasons. I think you have a bright future, and I'd like to be a part of it. Plus, I think you could make me rich very rich but only if our association is a successful one.

I have invested a lot in you a lot of time, a lot of energy, and possibly some of my future, too.

For me, it's been four semesters of dedicated study, countless hours slaving away with flash cards, endless preparation for exams, presentations, tests and for what? To me, you still look like a Rorschach test, and you still sound like a drawer full of silverware being dumped down a flight of stairs.

I don't feel you are making the same effort to make our relationship a happy and successful one. I mean really, no spaces between your words? That just seems like laziness, would it really be so hard to use the space?

It's the world's most common punctuation, and all the other languages use it. Forgive my digression, but I'm sure you understand my frustration.

For all the hardship, I haven't given up that's why I'm here in Beijing today: to learn you.

Our first few weeks living in these close quarters have been a bit rough, and completely exhausting. Devoting all of my time to that at which I am, arguably, worst has been somewhere between humbling and downright depressing. I find myself often shy, avoiding you, but at the same time, no matter where I am or what I'm doing, I feel as though I'm wasting my time by not spending it with you. It's been hard.

You should remember that it was even harder before I came to live with you here in Beijing.

Long-distance relationships are all too often a recipe for disaster, and ours was really no exception.

I admit, I probably wasn't doing as much as I could have been to keep things going well, but you can rest assured I wasn't fooling around with any other languages while we were apart. I am so over French.

What I mean to say is that you are complicated. You're murderously hard to read, and all too often I just don't understand you. Nevertheless, I'm not yet ready to give up.

I'm told that even talentless individuals, such as myself, can make great strides by living with you, and I believe this to be true. Yes, it's been a pretty nutty few weeks, but I have faith things will get better by the time winter arrives in Beijing, and I will do my best to make it happen.

I'll work hard in my classes, and, more importantly, we'll be together as much as possible outside the classroom. I swear I'll set aside plenty of time for us to be alone together, and we can go out with other people too. I'll try to make some Chinese friends who will let me practice you with them, and I won't spend all my time speaking in English to other Americans. That's a promise.

We've got a long way to go, and I realize that, for now, the onus is on me to improve things. You can expect to hear from me again at the end of this semester, and hopefully the news then will be good. Let's make it work.


Samuel duPont

(China Daily 11/11/2006 page10)