I’ll best most of you didn’t know I had a Chinese grandfather. Here’s the story, with many thanks to my mother for writing it down:
Victor’s “Chinese” grandfather
by Greta Browne, Victor Hart’s mother
Victor’s grandfather, George Chalmers Browne, would have loved to see Victor and Camila singing in Mandarin.
Chalmers, my father, was born in China in 1915, of Presbyterian missionaries who had met there as single missionaries a few years earlier. They raised three children, Chalmers, Beatrice and Francis, who all grew up speaking Chinese. Eventually my father, his sister and his brother left China to go to college in the United States, and my grandparents also left for good, in the mid-thirties, when the Japanese invasion threatened to engulf them in violence. . . . Read more
I didn’t even think about this connection when I started my Mandarin experiment. It wasn’t part of my growing-up experience in any way. I suppose it’s just an interesting coincidence; a subtle karmic link gradually ripening into fruition; or an intergenerational, subconsciously transmitted attraction to China.
At any rate, I love the idea that my grandfather would have enjoyed following my experiment.
This past week was Carnival in Brazil. Instead of spending it in drunken debauchery as you non-Brazilians might expect, I had a great time with my family at the farm. Naturally, I watched three movies in Mandarin—Shaolin (again), Raise the Red Lantern, and To Live, all of which I would recommend unhesitatingly.
I watched the latter two without subtitles. It was the first time since early on in my experiment that I watch a Chinese feature film without any subtitles on first viewing.
I still understand little and it’s far less enjoyable than watching with subtitles. However, the experience was very different from when I saw Farewell My Concubine in the first month of my experiment. The number of words and short sentences I understand, though still small, now actually contributes significantly to my understanding of dialogue and of the plot in general, and thus to my enjoyment. This evidence of progress was encouraging, and I believe this past week will mark a gradual transition away from the use of subtitles when watching Chinese movies.
Another encouraging realization came this week when, speaking to my daughter one evening, I mentioned the Mandarin words for dog and cat. I then reflected that I have picked up quite a few animal names in Chinese! This knowledge comes partially from Qiao Hu and is not representative of my general (lack of) vocabulary in the language. Nonetheless, since I never intended to learn animal vocabulary, I was impressed and pleased that I have happened to pick up so much. Of course, I could be wrong on some of these, but I believe I know:
|Animal||Mandarin phonetic approximation||Where I picked it up|
|cat||mao||Qiao Hu and others|
|tiger||hu||Qiao Hu, others|
|pig||joo||Qiao Hu, Lion King|
|rabbit||tu||Qiao Hu, other|
|elephant||ta shang||Lion King|