Sunday, July 1, 2007

The White City

We are in Guanzhou, and have been here for several days. It is here that we shall end our trip, and me this journal. Nothing of interest happens at this point, at least nothing I shall tell you.

Our hotel is the White Swan. I could write to you of its placement and its decadence, but I’ll let the promotional materials speak for themselves:

The White Swan Hotel is set on the edge of Shamian Island. Originally a beach on the Pearl River facing the White Goose Pool, Shamian was separated from the mainland in the Qing Dynast and turned into an island which overlooks the River on one side and has the city at its back on the other.

It is very nice here. All the staff of the hotel and all the shopkeepers outside speak English, as this is a hotel where United States parents bring international adoptees on their way out of the country to get the proper certification from the consulate. And Americans are not exactly known for speaking Chinese.

I get a lot of compliments on my speaking from the shopkeepers. A few tell me that I have a Beijing accent. None of them say it believably; everybody’s just trying to make a living.

It is not appropriate to end an adventure without learning something. I have learned the following:

1. Parenting is hard. Do not think that there is wide agreement on what to do. There is not.

2. Great empires grow because the people there do things that are difficult. Great empires die because the people there refuse to do things that are difficult. People in the United States assume that if they go to work and do their job and pay their mortgage that things should just Magically Work Out For Them. Sorry kiddo, but no. Working really hard in something that many people can do is insufficient. Working for a long time is also insufficient. We have to do the things that are difficult to do. That said…

3. Chinese is not a difficult language to speak. Tones are not as hard as you think. Learn how to speak it. Yes, that means you. Now. I write to you from a bastion of Western opulence in the middle of the next great empire. Either you will learn to be a part of it, or outside of it. I have always enjoyed the inside, thanks.

4. Chinese is a difficult language to read and write. It is as hard as you think. Learn how to read and write it anyway. Children here start learning English from the age of six. Even the beggars even know enough to be polite. The least literate person of this century will not be the one who cannot read, but who cannot read fluently in more than one language.

I am among those who did not take 3 and 4 seriously in university, and now I have catching up to do.

Zhe shi Ba. Zai Zhongguo. Zaijian.

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