Saturday, June 16, 2007


When I took Chinese in college, we were instructed to buy Oxford's Concise English-Chinese Chinese-English Dictionary. I hated it; it was totally worthless. It was a short, squat book that fit poorly in a knapsack. It was paperback and easily bent. And all the new words we had to learn were in the textbook. What was the point?

Now I love my little dictionary. I carry it everywhere. It does not always help in conversation (in fact, it rarely does), but it has helped me pick up a few new words every day. When I was without it for a few hours yesterday, I felt naked. It is my only weapon against ignorance.

Speaking of language, Wang Rui told us a fantastic little parable today:

A mother rat had a litter of baby rats. As they grew up, they noticed that their mother went and talked to the other animals a little bit every day. "Mama," one said, "why do you waste your time? We're rats. We need to speak rats."

"You will see someday," said the mother.

One day a cat came sniffing near the rats' house. When the mother rat heard it, she began to bark like a dog. "Woof. Woof woof woof!" she said. The cat became very scared and ran away.

The young rats were very impressed. Their mother turned to them. "Now you understand the importance of learning a foreign language."

Indeed. I shall miss Wang Laoshi. He has been an excellent guide.

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