One man’s cultural journey
Ihad been very interested in various languages and cultures but I found only Chinese is very practical. When I started learning Chinese in Princeton, I found the teachers there were very responsible. They taught us the language by using the original script of 1930s movie in Shanghai as the textbook — very lively learning materials.
I remember we had to sign a contract with the school about the commitment of doing the class study: never speak English in class—only Chinese. If I speak one English word, I would be dropped out from the class. Very strict teaching principle.
Also I found only with Chinese teachers or faculty, I could speak Chinese even outside the classroom mainly because they didn’t speak English, literally. Other language teachers, after the class, they would speak English. Only the Chinese staff, in the study center or library, they all spoke Chinese. It was great for me to practice the language as I could speak to them in the language.
When I studied and was trained at the Johns Hopkins University, I took the chance to communicate with the colleagues coming from China, to know what was going on in the country and to endeavor my Chinese study.
I used to choose and condense all the compulsory and selective courses into eight or nine months in a year so that I could take the rest of the time to travel and experience Taiwan, Hong Kong or other places in China.
China is undertaking great changes within which makes the people feel strange even at their home cities. For me it changes every day. I have been learning the language for over the decades but still the culture seems like a very big ball to me, I am only lying on the surface of it, digging towards its core, every inch a time. And I am still on the outside layer of the ball.
Something can be very simple to the people in the society, like a 2- or 3 year-old child can understand the meanings but a foreigner may never get it. But I am grateful that I learned so much in my every day life with my colleagues and my students. Their daily medical practice sometimes inspired me to think why this way, not that way.
There is a famous sentence from Confucian Analects on how a man may find instructors for himself. The Master said, “When I walk along with two others, they may serve me as my teachers.” I have been walking along with the “two others” since I am in the country. Nathan Congdon, China’s first foreign eye doctor working in a clinic in the capital of Guangdong province