So the summer long ago that I spent studying Chinese at Cheng Da, I indulged my nerdiness by enjoying the benefits of my library card. (The library had a lovely sculpture of a swooping flutist in front of it at the time, too, which I’m kicking myself for not photographing). With strong A/C, the library was a lovely modern space with some neat spaces to lounge about in the company of books. I also had my first exciting experience with sliding stacks, which were quite cool.
Anyway, in addition to reading up on film criticism and helping my cousin with his research on Psycho and Gaslight (neither of which, I’m sorry to say, I was brave enough to watch on my own in the typhoon storminess of that summer… What can I say, I’m a film-wuss, and too highly impressionable for my own good… Where was I? Oh, yes, in addition…), I looked up all the how-to-learn Chinese books there. I already had a bit of a collection that I was studying on my own before going to Cheng Da and studying from the Shida book that is standard university Chinese fare in Taiwan (in spite of being kind of ancient). However, being a bit of a research nerd, I came across this book:
It is probably out of print, and its phonetics are not hanyu pin-yin. However, being a bo-po-mo-fo learner myself (which I think tends to make pronunciation better, though it has its confusing bits too), this wasn’t an impediment for me. This is more of a character-writing book, with nice charts of radicals and their meanings as endpapers. Also, I was delighted to discover that the author had a sense of humor, as evidenced by the entry for the character of “ghost,” which as evidenced by the blue dot, I was not the first reader to note:
Seriously speaking, I’m a fan of studying character etymology, and I don’t think it’s just because I’m an etymology language nerd. I think the contextualization of why/how characters came to be is helpful in remembering them. At Cheng-Da, there was a class with pretty pictures that showed the evolution of characters. Back in the US, on a few rare occasions, my mom used to teach me calligraphy, though all I really remembered was fairly basic. I practiced my characters with calligraphy in Taiwan too, just to make it a bit more fun and involve more gross-motor movement to try to remember them better. Haven’t touched my calligraphy set for a while, and am not very confident that I remember all my characters that well. Spent many an afternoon at my grandfather’s house that summer, practicing characters, which unfortunately tended to make me nod off a bit with all the repetition. My piano teacher could probably vouch that I’m not so good with repetition.
However, I did have a fun experience at Cheng-Da in Tainan that summer, and was a huge fan of my teacher and our class. It was a friendly department, and I would recommend it for other prospective students.