When I left Nanjing University in 2004, my friend Sue and I vowed to become lifelong penpals across the oceans divide. This lasted for a surprisingly long time, two years I think. She would write in English and I in Mandarin. I'm embarrassed to say, and I won't ever tell Sue, that sometimes it would take me 2-3 hours to write what might look to anyone else like the simplest of emails informing her of my classes back in Texas, or about my latest adventure moving to New York. I worked harder and learned more vocabulary trying to craft the perfect email to her than I ever did writing a paper for Chinese class.
One day Sue wrote me an urgent email. She was worried about the floods going on in Texas at the time. "Mary Kate," her email began, "I have heard about the floods where you live. If you are safe and still alive, please respond."
I didn't respond. I was always going to, but I wanted to write her back in perfect, flawless Mandarin and I never got around to it. I was going to have to look up new vocab words associated with floods and torrential rains. For the past three years, Sue has probably wondered, or assumed, my untimely death. However, yesterday I wrote Sue back.
I'm hoping Sue and I can pick up where we left off as lifelong penpals. My Mandarin writing skills have atrophied without use, as I'm sure anyone who has studied a foreign language can relate. This is why I am going to start learning to write a new Chinese character (or phrase, or proverb) a day. I'll share my findings here with you each day.