Some Australians do this thing, and I'm gonna call it a cute thing, because I can't be indifferent to it and I'm already whining enough about other things Australians do . . . it's happened in my earshot a lot since I got here but this morning I'm writing about it while it's on my mind. There's a centre a bit downhill from here which I'm pretty sure is rehabby - lots of recovering-junkie looking people. I run past it most of the days I go for a run, which is most days, and it always gives me a little lift, because whether or not they stay clean for a long time, I really love to see people trying to get clean, at least - choosing a painful fight back against a disease.
I've heard some objections raised by people who have lost loved ones to cancer about using fighting metaphors - "lost/won her battle with cancer, fighting cancer," etc, and I can understand that's objectionable - like some sort of value judgement is made of a person who dies of the disease, when the outcomes of cancer treatment are determined so much more by national health care systems that detect it early and treat it agressively, rather than the sufferer "fighting". But drug addiction, due to its psychological dimension, is that bit different. Obviously your outcomes are going to be better if you provide better access to rehab programmes and better programmes and all the rest of it - but it's that choice, not just at the beginning but for the rest of their lives, the choice that recovering addicts made that is really inspirational, and the letting-go of the choice of the ones who can't take themselves out of that life which is so deadly sad.
Anyhoo. None of that is to the point. A guy standing by the door of the centre smoking said hello as I jogged slowly past. I said hello, and he asked how I was, and I told him I was fine, and then asked how he was. The answer, in a very nasal voice with a high and rising intonation, was "awwwww, yeaaahhhhhh." I felt like telling him it wasn't a yes or no question, but even at the slow, slow pace I jog, I was already a good 30 meters away. So I just enjoyed it. They say it all the time, but for some reason today it stuck on my mind.
I've been an absent blogger. It's not just the running, which continues with the standard hour a day except when I set out to get an hour of some other aerobic excercise like kayaking or bushwalking - all that fitness has pretty much replaced my blogging time (and made my ass so much firmer! It's a fucking miracle). It's also the fucking Chinese. Fuck, is it hard. Except it's not that it's hard exactly - the grammar and all that sort of thing are way easier than in European languages. It's just weird. Mandarin words tend to be monosyllabic (or else compounds of monosyllabic words), and there are a very small number of syllables you can make. I don't know how many, but you can recite them all in about four hours, and that includes the four tones you can use with them, which means you can orally recite every "word" in Mandarin in just four hours.
So that means the language is absolutely rotten with homophones to the degree that the context doesn't always make it clear what you mean when you speak. So it's necessary to know the characters too, since those are far more unique than the sounds. And of course, that's hard. It has its advantages and disadvantages for a language learner; the main disadvantage is the big mental block that needs getting over of how a language could be this fucking weird. My guess is other major Asian languages aren't quite this weird, since Korean and to a lesser extent Japanese can make use of phonetic writing, and since Cantonese has nine tones instead of four, so there's probably about a kabillion more syllables you can say than in Mandarin. But probably all that means is that they're a whole different kind of weird.
One thing I'll tell ya . . . when I'm done with the Mandarin courses that are available to me here, and after I spend a bit of time somewhere in China or Taiwan to try to consolidate things a bit, I'm learning fucking German or Dutch or Spanish or something I already half understand. I'm still having fun with the Chinese, but damn. Damn. DAMN. It's hard.