Sunday, January 31, 2010

The fields are many many

We biked randomly through some of the same countryside, just because. We were invited in by a bunch of nice people having some tea outside their new temple, which is in the process of construction. They all lined up with us and took our picture with our bicycles and gave us snacks, etc. These kind of encounters happen to us fairly frequently. I had a very nice longish chat with a woman my age who was working in some capacity with the temple project. Despite the specificness of the vocabulary she was using to describe the temple and its various gods and rituals, she really tried to explain herself in ways that I could understand. I really appreciate it when a person can tell where I am in my Chinese ability (intermediate, without a lot of specific vocabulary) and is still willing to talk about interesting subjects without scaling it down too much. (How many times have people asked me if I enjoy Taiwanese fruit as a conversation point?) As for me, I can't speak at length about much other than my own life - the facts, feelings, and bare essentials. But I can get a good enough gist of what others are talking about and I can ask questions about what words I don't know. It's whether I can understand the answers to their questions that determines just how long the conversation can last. If they don't have a sense of what I do and don't understand, and they are not willing to help me understand, then the conversation usually doesn't get very far at all. But you don't need to be speaking in a foreign language for this to be the case. In conversation, even in our native language, does it not also come down to finding an awareness of what each other knows and then trying to fill in each other's blanks?

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