What I learn from an 8 year old

Sitting on the plane, about to spend a month in western rural China traveling without too much of a plan. I was exhausted emotionally and physically from all the good-byes and “obligatory” parties in the previous weeks. I needed time for myself. 

I was hoping I could catch a few hours of sleep before landing so I can start my trip with energy and enthusiasm.  As I started drifting off, I noticed the person sitting next to me was a simple little girl.  I assumed that her family members were nearby and did not think too much of it. 

I woke up in a daze after a couple hours to find her jumping in the seat, full of energy.  Of course, kids.  We made eye contact and she begins to berate me  with questions.  Very direct questions. 

“What’s wrong with you?” “Oh nothing, just tired” “Why? It’s morning” “ I did not sleep much last night” “Why? Does your face always have that? (pointing to some acne spot) “ Does it hurt?” “Do you want to play any games?”

This proceeded for half an hour, until I learnt her whole story.  Let’s call her 小美 (Xiao Mei) for the story sake.  Xiao Mei is only 8-years old and she is traveling all by her myself back to her hometown, Huaihua, China.  She is  very gifted, and goes to a well-known elementary school in Shanghai, but has not seen her family for months. This explains the excitement. 

Our conversation was entirely in Chinese and at some point, I realize that I was clearly outmatched in language.

Now, let me give some proper context.  I have been learning Mandarin intensively for 4 months up until now and received the highest speaking marks at my current level (intermediate beginner).  Needless to say, I was feeling pretty good about myself.  And yet, this 8 year old (native speaker) was grammatically superior and knew considerably more words. 

I did not want to admit it.  Curious to see the extent of her knowledge, I pulled out my Chinese textbook, and thus began our Chinese reading contest.  I will spare you the details, it does not end well for me. 

Here I am, a foreigner with only a backpack on his own journey through China and Mandarin acquisition.  With brimming confidence, I thought my trip would be a great assessment of how far my language acquisition has come along. Who would have guessed, within the first 3 hours, I would be humbled by an 8-year old girl. (probably a genius, let’s go with genius!)

Humbling yourself is a great reminder to keep your ego in check and keep matters in perspective.  It is amazing to celebrate your victories, just do not forget that the world is always moving forward.  There will almost certainly be someone working just as hard, celebrating some of the same victories, and looking to elevate their skills and abilities to the next level.  You must constantly be changing and improving. 

Until next time,

Peace and Love! (From the genius herself)