09 Sep A Feng Shui Experience: Finding Balance in Chinese
Feng Shui is all about balance. Anyone who has read or studied it knows this is the case. A few years ago when I was in graduate school, I was required to have three years of Mandarin Chinese in order to get a Masters in East Asian Studies. One of the first words I learned was “balance”—pronounced ping hung. The word is made of up two characters—the first one meaning “even” or “peaceful” and the second meaning “weigh.” I think the Chinese have a nice way of saying balance—weighing evenly.
I began my graduate work in 2003; I graduated in 2006. Yet I still have weekly tutoring sessions with a Chinese expert to help me stay more or less fluent. Proficiency in Chinese can atrophy in about ten days’ time without use. Rote memorization is pretty much the key to learning this language—I suspect it’s true of other Asian and Middle Eastern languages. Once the alphabet is no longer part of the language, you have to rely on memorizing shapes.
Although I probably couldn’t save people from a burning building, when we’ve been on our group Feng Shui China trips, I have helped sort out a luggage issue when our guide wasn’t around and I helped someone buy a piece of jade when no one in the store spoke English.
But those trips alone don’t keep my skills honed in speaking and understanding such a challenging language. So hence a tutor. Every Monday I drive over toSt. Paulto sit in a little coffee shop where my tutor puts me through an hour of grammar, vocab, and content studies. I will say meeting that commitment on certain Mondays is difficult, provoking the inner question of why I continue to do this.
Here are my reasons which, when I begin to doubt my motives, I read and remember:
- It takes me back to a happy time (remembering how much I loved graduate school);
- It’s fun and makes me feel young;
- There’s no pressure or need to excel;
- I forget about other things going on in my life;
- We laugh a lot during our time together;
- I see myself in a whole new way;
A more personal reason for me to study Chinese culminated when in the last years I had a few opportunities to speak Chinese to my Feng Shui teacher Professor Lin. We bridged a distance between us that was normally taken up by a translator. When I could look him in the eyes and say how honored I was to study with him, he could respond without having to rely on someone else to transmit the message. Of course, there was always the possibility that I was telling him that I was very tall and ate bananas, but being the gracious person that he was, it was evident he understood what I meant to say even if it didn’t come across exactly as it should.
Go back and look at my reasons for studying Chinese and see if you have something in your life that does the same thing for you—that helps you “weigh evenly.” Gift yourself this pleasure—it pays off in huge dividends.