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Dreaming in Chinese: Mandarin Lessons in Life, Love, and Language Paperback – Bargain Price, September 13, 2011
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Fallows manages to take the relatively dry subject of translation and create a warm and witty memoir. Dwelling less on her own feelings then on the intricacies of language mastery, she shares experiences after she and her husband moved to China that taught her just how complex Mandarin can be. Such as the fact that there are 400 syllables in Mandarin as opposed to 10 times that number in English, making tone crucial in conversation. Fallows makes all this fascinating by writing in a thoroughly engaging manner that not only invites readers into her experiences, but also delights them with her discoveries. There is confusion with a Cantonese cab driver, the manicurist who envisioned “almost perfect happiness,” and the employee at Taco Bell who thought Fallows wanted to hug him (she was inquiring about takeout). From observations about maps, naming children, and the struggle over one language for a nation where over 300 million speak something other than Mandarin, Fallows takes readers on a ride through Chinese culture that is as entertaining as it is informative. --Colleen Mondor --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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What I Like-->Favorite Passages & Concepts from the Book:
The Beijing expression "Walk Slowly" / màn z'u offered as a "goodbye" (Pages 32-33). / I was not aware of this bit of culture before this book, and I enjoyed learning about it. Item note: IMdb lists a cultural exploration movie called Man Zou: Beijing to Shanghai, and I am interested in watching it as a result of reading this book. The DVD appears to be available for purchase on Amazon! :)
Quotable Quote: "It is difficult to avoid a crowd in a country of 1.3 billion people" (Page 63). I just found that to be an amusing comment. Of course, I know the country has a huge population, but I never thought about what it might be like to live, to study, to survive there on a day to day basis.
Quotable Quote: "With the one-child policy, which began in 1980, Wang Ming Yuan's will be the last generation where it is normal to have siblings. Her children will have cousins, but her children's children probably won't" (Page 81). / I knew about this policy, but I had never thought what it might mean beyond a simple family unit...for the country and people as a whole.
Quotable Quote: "...my language teachers all taught us to think of Chinese as moving the focus from big to small: addresses telescope in from country, to city, to street, to number, to apartment. Personal names are ordered to start big with the family name and end small with the personal name. Dates are referenced from year to month to day" (Page 93)./ I find this to be a true, defining statement of China's culture, history, philosophy, etc as I've studied it to date from my beginner's point of view. I also believe that this will help me with my own learning of the Chinese language.
The Chinese concept of balance / opposing forces--yin yang--is expanded in this book to introduce useful compound words from Chinese (Pages 119-122). / Language shapes people's thinking and expression, so this chapter offers some insights into the Chinese mind.
For some readers, especially those who have in-depth knowledge of Chinese or Mandarin, this book will seem simple, light on content, perhaps, even stating what is obvious. For beginners like me, though, this is a great collection of thought-provoking experiences, even if the author may use poetic license in certain areas as some have suggested. Deborah Fallows is the storyteller, and this is HER personal narrative. The reader is looking at Chinese and China through her lens. I accept her story, her narrative as is. The book, in my opinion, is actually more about observation and appreciation rather than a hard and fast Mandarin 101. It's an appetizer that prepares one for the main dishes. :) The book prompts me to search out other personal narratives about China...to travel more paths in this fascinating genre.
If you want a personal, beginning commentary of Chinese culture, read this book. If you plan to travel to China, read this book. If you enjoy personal narratives that offer cultural nuggets and insights, read this book. If, however, you are looking for a strict, academic analysis of the language or people, look for another book. If you are wanting a formal beginning in Mandarin, look for another book or other materials.
Overall, I am well-pleased with this book, and I find myself re-reading parts of it, especially where Chinese vocabulary words are introduced and discussed. I believe it would make an interesting supplemental text to a Chinese culture and / or informal language class.
Even after many years away, I learned after the fact the explanations for so many personal experiences, and even more about the culture I so came to love and in many ways respect.
My only criticism is that in the Kindle edition I read, the printed Chinese characters were much too small to be seen and examined for all the strokes being discussed in the text. Certainly not the fault of the author!
Dreaming in Chinese is highly recommended for travel buffs, armchair travelers, and for people who are interested in foreign languages and their influence on their cultures. Very good stuff.