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In my last year of university, I signed up for a Mandarin language course at McGill. OK, Mandarin is my first language and yes, I had taken 7 years of Saturday morning Chinese school as a child, but as I’ve asked you before, dear reader, let’s put that aside. Not only was it a nice way to wind down my higher education experience, but I got to declare proudly that I went to McGill (sometimes) as opposed to mumble with inferiority that I was a student at Concordia.

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The class was made up of mostly Chinese kids like myself, some of whom already spoke Chinese in varying amounts, either Mandarin, but mostly Cantonese, which meant that some of them they could read and write, but speaking it was slightly different. For most of the kids in the class, this was a slacker credit, but the class also had a small handful of white kids. I was super impressed by some of them and their ability to grasp the language. Even though I’d grown up with it, it is so entirely different from English that I couldn’t imagine how they were able to get it. But mangia red bean paste cake accents aside, they did pretty well.

The way the class was structured had me attending 2 lectures a week, each given by a different teacher. One would teach more conceptually about the language, and the other more practical. So, while one teacher would introduce a grammatical or vocabulary concept, the other would do drills and exercises.

The older teacher, Ms. Chang (I can’t actually remember her name, so I’m just going to call her that), was the one who taught the linguistic concepts. On that particular day, she was teaching the phrase “所有都”, which kind of means “all of the things”. The way you would use it is by first declaring a list of items, then ”所有都”, then your verb clause. For example, “Pizza, fries, cake, and chocolate — I ate all of those things.”

To demonstrate the use, Ms. Chang, a fashionably-dressed lady probably in her fifties, used the example of her devoted mother. First, she listed all the things her mother used to do for her and her siblings: “Cooking, cleaning, making our clothes,” then she added the verb and phrase, “all of those things, she did for us.”

And then Ms. Chang started weeping. The class was in shock to see their teacher crying in front of them. We were stunned for a few moments in awkward silence until this one nerdy, but funny boy named Oscar (his actual name) broke in with, “Uh…OK, I know a joke!”

After Oscar told his lame, but sweetly-intentioned joke, Ms. Chang recovered quickly to her regularly-scheduled emotionally-repressed Chinese self. But that day, she made a huge impression on the class, especially me. When I think about my own mother and her dedication to her family, as well as my own duties in Parentland, I will always remember this very important lesson: never let them see you cry.

Originally posted June 13, 2013

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