Saturday, August 26, 2006

Triple Tasking

Biking seems to get mentioned all the time in our posts...so let me get it out of my system, at least for the time being. As I write this, it's early on a Saturday morning, and we have tentative plans to bike from Lake Needwood to DC (once all the sleepy heads get up!). This would be a 23-mile ride that takes us from the leafy edges of the DC metro area, through the melting pot part of Montgomery County where we live, past some of the wealthiest real estate anywhere (Bethesda, Potomac), through a national park (the C&O Canal!), and finally into Georgetown and Foggy Bottom. Great stuff!

TIMEOUT! Cameron and Blue are tearing around the yard, beating each other up...awesome!

As for bicycle commuting, I do it regularly, but not anywhere near everyday. A couple of times a week, maybe. Here's what I get out of it--(a) the exercise that comes from a beautiful 16.5 mile ride (through much of the territory I just talked about), and (b) the chance to practice some Putonghua, (c) all on the way to or from campus (better than the Beltway, eh?). Good for the body and good for the mind! Try it (and, more importantly, stick with it)!

Friday, August 25, 2006

Wo shuo de bu hao

Last October, the four of us started taking Mandarin lessons together (you know, the language spoken by more people in the world than any other!). We meet once a week with an awesome tutor who we've become good friends with. Hsin Tai Tai teaches us vocabulary, helps us through conversations, put us through exercises...and has extraordinary patience with us! Wo men xue de bu kuai! (We don't learn quickly...at least that's what I think I just wrote!)

We also listen to a series of audio lessons put together by the Pimsleur Language Program. We purchased these lessons (30 of them!) on CD, and have since downloaded them onto our iPods. This means we can practice our Mandarin anywhere--even on the road, since we have an adapter that plugs our iPods into our minivan speaker systems. Personally, I tend to practice a lot when I am commuting--walking to and from the Metro, sometimes on the Metro, and even on the Capital Crescent Trail (the route I travel on my biking days).

Here are some lessons that I have taken away from the experience so far:

The 4th tone is a killer. Mandarin is a tonal language. How you pronounce something is just as important as what you say, in terms of conveying meaning. The word "ma" can mean "mother", if you pronounce it with a high level tone. It can also mean "horse", when said with a falling then rising tone. So you'd better get it right! For me, by far the most difficult tone is the 4th, which is a falling pronunciation. It's the kind of tone you might use when yelling at someone. I have trouble working such an intonation into my everyday speech! But I will keep trying...

I am the hardest worker. I practice way more than anyone else in the family. I simply have worked it into my daily routine most effectively. For example, it takes me about 10 minutes to walk to the Metro from our house, and then 10 more minutes to my office from Farrgut North. There's almost an entire 30-minute lesson right there! You get the picture. In general, there are 30-60 minutes a day where I can work Mandarin in...without radically changing how I go about things. That said...

The kids are much better Mandarin speakers than me (and Desi!). I have a richer vocabulary. I am more willing to use my Mandarin on the street, in restaurants, wherever there might be an opportunity. Julie and Z, though, sound way better than me. It usually goes something like this. Hsin Tai Tai asks me to repeat a new word she has just taught us. "Not bad," she says...after I butcher it! Same for Desi. Then comes Julie. "Perfect!" Then Z. "Great! Excellent!" Right now, Julie and Z are desperately trying to get me to pronounce "cai" correctly. (It's harder than you might think...at least that's what I'm telling myself!)

Learn a language...any language! We are having a blast! More and more, we walk around the house communicating with one another in Mandarin phrases. My personal favorite? Wo bu zhi dao! (I don't know!) Even if we never make it back to the Middle Kingdom (I have a sabbatical coming up in two years!), we have enriched our minds and our family in a great number of ways. Tai hao le!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Camp Daddy

Well, we got back from our cross-country trip, and we have one week when Mom is in school and Dad watches us. You might be wondering, "What's Camp Daddy?" It's when we do fun things, like:

Play tennis (we bought a ball hopper this week)

Golf (at the Northwest Park driving range and Hains Point)

Hiking (which we did today at the Billy Goat Trail)

Biking (to Mamma Lucia in Bethesda and back...about 20 miles!)

One thing we do year round is the read the Hardy Boys books. Right now, we are on #16, A Figure in Hiding.

That is what Camp Daddy is. It is so fun!

~Zoli

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Weather

Here are two lessons about the weather I have taken away from the cross-country trip (and life in general).

(1) Everyone complains about the weather, no matter what kind of climate they live in.

The sun always seems to shine in southwestern places like LA and Phoenix. The humidity is really low. Yet, it is always too hot for the locals in the summer. (OK...114 degrees is a tad bit warm, even for me!)

The same holds closer to home. Talk to folks who live, say, in the Blue Ridge mountains, under the cover of all of those leafy, green trees. Invariably, as the mercury rises, so does the decibel level of their expressions of discomfort.

(2) Everyone thinks their weather, no matter how awful it is, is better than the climate on the East Coast.

As "bad" as it is in all of these places, it could be worse for the locals...they could live...(cue up scary sounding music, something like the Imperial March)...they could live "back East". What could be worse? High temperatures, high humidity levels, stagnant, unhealthy air...ugh!

But is it really that bad? I bike year round, in conditions ranging from triple digits to below freezing. In fact, I tend to log lots of miles in December and January, in addition to June, July, and August. Plus there is--hiking on the Billy Goat Trail, running in and around the National Mall, shooting hoops in the driveway with Song Wei, walking 18 holes of golf at Little Bennett...you get the picture. All of this gets done...so what if I'm a little bit sweaty?

But maybe it's just me...Desi certainly thinks so, at least some of the time. But there is evidence suggesting that we are not as sensitive to the temperature as we often suppose. As William C. Howell, a psychologist, states: "There is a very large mental component to feeling hot." Mind you, Howell is not suggesting that we can't tell the difference between, say, a perfect 70 degree day and a real "dog days" scorcher. But, that said, our perceptions of comfort and discomfort are determined at least in part by social cues. You know, the local TV forecast (HEATWAVE!!!) and the "Can you believe the weather?" conversations we have all the time with family, friends, and co-workers.

So what's the moral of the story? Tune out the sensationalism...and don't contribute to it yourself! Get your weather information (hey, we all need to plan ahead, even me!) from more measured sources, where the weather itself isn't "the big story". Then use this information thoughtfully. Is there a real danger to hitting the bike trail? If not, get out there and push yourself.

There's a whole world out there to see...and much of it just isn't air conditioned!