Ten Lessons In

Tonight is my 10th Mandarin lesson with my latest student, and I’m psyched!

My student has been absolutely incredible. Her pronunciation has improved in leaps and bounds, she’s learned so much about Chinese culture, and she’s picking up a good amount of vocabulary – characters and pronunciation!

It’s not really a news update or a country profile, but I’m so proud of her I and I wanted to share it. Our lessons have given me a point of sanity in this lockdown craziness, and seeing her progress has been brilliant.

God, teenage me hated the idea of becoming a teacher. But these lessons are actually really enjoyable.

Why Today is Important: 11th May

The 11th May marks the beginning of Lag BaOmer, a Jewish festival that historically marks a brief reprieve in the Omer, a period of mourning in Judaism.

According to tradition, a long time ago a plague killed thousands of students of the Rabbi Akiva, a significant figure in Judaism. The plague ended on Lag BaOmer, and so this day marks a 24 hour period of celebration in the midst of a time for mourning and remembrance.

On this day couples can get married, and people can generally relax and have fun. In Israel it is customary to plant trees. It’s a respite from the gloom and misery, and a much welcome one.

My understanding of this festival is fairly basic, unfortunately, so if anyone has anything to add or any accounts of their personal experiences with this festival please feel free to comment and share your knowledge with myself and others!

Tāwhirimātea, The God of Wind and Storms

On the 7th May I wrote a post about the Maori New Year festival, Matariki, and the legend it stems from. For those who didn’t read the post, the story goes that the god of the sky and his love, the goddess of earth, were separated by their children. The second eldest child, Tāwhirimātea, was so furious with his younger siblings for separating their parents that he ripped out his own eyes and flung them into the heavens, thus creating the Seven Sisters constellation.

But then he starts his quest for revenge.

He gathered an army of his own children: clouds, winds, rain, fog, all of whom were eager to help him fight. They destroyed the forests of his brother, Tane, the god of the woodlands; they chased his brother, Tangaroa, into the sea with all of his children; and they pursued his brothers Rongo and Haumia-tiketike into the arms of the mother earth, who made him stop his pursuit.

The Divine War between Tāwhirimātea and his siblings (and their children) rages on to this very day. They say that on a good day, he listens to his parents’ advice and forgives his siblings for what they did; on those days the breeze is gentle, warm and calm. But sometimes, he becomes so overwhelmed at the betrayal and the pain and longing his parents suffer with daily, and he sends hurricanes, tornadoes and storms so horrendous people lose everything. This is how the god of the wind gives out his own justice to the world.

My First Collaborative Translation!!

I’m still a student, so any step forward experience and career-wise is a god-send to me.

The University of Leeds has a centre for Chinese writing, and they’ve been working together with Paper Republic to give people a chance to translate a literary piece on the coronavirus. It was called Give-It-A-Go Translation, so naturally I couldn’t resist. I gave it a go. I translated a piece about a son returning to his home village to help his parents, and the impact it had on their relationship. The piece talks about the significant changes that happened to his home town, and being torn between being there and being back in Beijing.

It’s worth a read. If any of my readers can read Chinese, it’s called 隔离在家一个月,我与父母的关系变好了, by Deng Anqing. A complete translation is going to be released later this month by Paper Republic.

I’m ridiculously excited. Maybe it’s silly. My part was completely voluntary, and there were 124 entries into this competition, with a large number of us selected to take part in this translation collaboration. But still, I played a part in a piece that is now going to be published. I used the skills I have been developing over the years to finally help produce something…of substance.

I would happily do this all day long if I could.

Country Profile: Andorra

Population Size: 77,246

Area: 468 km² (181 sq mi)

Main language(s): Catalan

Primary religion(s): Roman Catholic

Life expectancy: 82.8 (male/female specifics hard to find)

Geography: In the Pyrenees mountains: lots of valleys and peaks

Current leader: Xavier Espot Zamora

Bordering countries: France, Spain

Stability: Strong

Debt: No data

Country Profile: Algeria

Population Size: 43,053,054

Area: 2.382 million km²

Main language(s): Algerian Arabic, Berber, French

Primary religion(s): Sunni Islam

Life expectancy: Male = 75.4, Female = 77.4

Geography: Mediterranean coastline, with a desert landscape

Current leader: Abdelmadjid Tebboune

Bordering countries: Morocco, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Libya, Tunisia. Across the water from Italy and Spain.

Stability: Medium. Struggles with a stagnating economy and high unemployment, but it is a Western stronghold for counter terrorism in the region. The US wants to ensure the country is running efficiently and stably, and so will offer what support and investment they can to maintain control.

Debt: $66,583 million


One of the more beautiful New Year celebrations I’ve been fortunate enough to research, Matariki is both the name of the Maori New Year festival, and the star system seen above, known as Pleiades, or The Seven Sisters.

When translated, Matariki means: the eyes of God. The story goes that the paternal sky god, Ranginui, was separated from the maternal earth goddess, Papatūānuku. They had 71 sons, the eldest being the god of wind and storms, Tāwhirimātea. The 70 younger brothers separated their parents, and Tāwhirimātea was so angry with them he ripped out his own eyes and flung them into the heavens.

He then went out of his way to fight each of his brothers, and their children, for the harm they had done to his parents.

I find that story beautiful; seeing how much he wanted to protect and care for his parents, the raw fury of betrayal, the burning energy driving him to seek revenge…that’s one hell of a way to start a year!

The festival begins at the “first rising” of the star system, i.e. the time when these stars can be seen above the horizon just before sunrise. This usually occurs around the end of May-July; for 2020, it’s due to fall on the 13th July.

So how do people celebrate Tāwhirimātea ripping out his own eyes?

Given the time of year, this is a time for cultivating the land and showing appreciation for nature. For many it is also a time for respecting the dead. Children play with colourful kites, and traditionally those who are old enough are taught to fish, farm and hunt. The old beliefs state that the brighter the stars shine at this time of year, the better the harvest will be.

This festival was ignored and neglected for a long time, and it has only been in recent years that people have accepted it as an official holiday again in New Zealand. Personally, my knowledge of New Zealand’s history is appallingly limited, but seeing Matariki has given me a newfound burst of interest. I’m going to look into researching the history a bit more, and in the next few weeks intend to post a brief timeline of key dates.

Until then, if anyone has any information on the festival, culture and/or history of the Maori people I would love to hear it.

Why Today Is Important: 4th May

May the Fourth be with you, folks!

This day is special for the Star Wars fans out there, thanks to the pun in the date. It’s a day for fandom indulgence, meet ups with friends and taking the time to really enjoy something you love.

The first official celebration of the day was in 2011, where a group organised a party in Canada to bring the fans together to enjoy the fandom with costume contests, tribute films and parodies. It was so successful that people have been celebrating ever since.

And I think it’s beautiful.

Even if Star Wars isn’t for everyone, this day gives us all a chance to take a deep breath and think “What do I like that I haven’t enjoyed in a long time?” It might be a movie, or a book, or a place, or something else. But today is a day to have some fun. To appreciate something that makes you happy.

Considering how stressful the world is, especially now, there’s no reason to feel guilty and indulge yourself a little. It’ll do us all some good.

Request For Advice

Last September I was diagnosed with a muscle sprain. Adductor muscles. At the time, if I walked for more than two hours it felt like my legs were going to pop out of their sockets.

I rested for a long while. First six weeks, but then I saw that some people take months to recover. So I waited. But then in February I signed up for a physiotherapist, because I know the waiting list in the UK to be ridiculously long. My first session was cut off because the doctor was Italian, and the office had just received a phone call demanding he go into isolation.

All in all, I only managed to have two full sessions before the lockdown hit.

Now, I can’t walk more than half an hour without sheer agony in my legs.

I tried to book a GP appointment online, but there are no spaces available at my doctor’s practice for the next few weeks.

I’m getting desperate. I’ve been doing cold therapy all week with no benefits – my hips/legs still hurt, and it feels like I’m just suffering for nothing. I’m stuck at home, can’t even go out for exercise, or go earn some cash working on a farm to help with the food-shortage fears. I’m starting to understand why battery chickens react the way they do to the cages…

So, does anyone have any advice on how to deal with this? The physio’s shut, I can’t get a doctor’s appointment, and I can’t even get into town. I’m relying on the charity of my boyfriend and his family, and I feel like a poor excuse for a person because of it.

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