So the plan to ‘write about Scotland’ has failed miserably.
Although this is (probably) more down to my extreme laziness than anything else, I would like to point out that the lack of fascinating Scottish blog posts isn’t entirely my fault. It has been constantly cold, grey and raining here, and, frankly, I’d rather sit at home and watch reruns of Come Dine With Me. So that, dear readers, is exactly what I’ve been doing.
(But what about your new job as a tour guide, you cry? Well, the thing is, we haven’t had any bookings yet. Probably because of this misery-inducing weather. I don’t think many tourists would want to spend a whole day trudging through the mud, trying to catch a glimpse of Edinburgh Castle through the fog…)
I shouldn’t really complain, though, seeing as it’s currently something like forty degrees in Delhi. I’d much rather drown in the Edinburgh rain than in a pool of my own sweat. Sitting here in thermals, two jumpers and fluffy slippers, it’s hard to imagine the heat of the Indian summer, even though I suffered through months of it last year and the year before. I remember buying huge slabs of ice from an aunty on the street (who knows where she got it, or how she stopped it from melting!) and putting them in a bucket so I could have a freezing cold shower before bed. I remember the agony of the long power cuts, when the fan would stop turning and there was nothing you could do but wait, and slowly overheat. All through May and June I’d think of any excuse to go on the metro, or to the cinema, or to CCD just so I could relax in the AC – but then the moment I stepped back outside the heat just felt worse.
Yeah. I don’t miss that.
And actually, that’s one of the main reasons why I picked Inner Mongolia as my next home: it’s bloody freezing there!
Yes, yes, I know Scotland is too. But because I’ll be living right on the edge of the Gobi desert (and who wouldn’t want to live there?!), it means one massively-important thing: IT WON’T RAIN! Well, not very often. And ‘not very often’ is good enough for me.
In March, as Delhi started to heat up after the winter, I began to fantasise about knitwear. About knee-high, fur-lined boots. About not sweating in general. The cold, Inner Mongolian desert would be my new best friend. And as my neighbours in Saket L-Block slowly shed their woolen shawls and sandal-socks, I watched Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and imagined myself galloping around the chilly wilderness of my future home country, on horseback, with a good-looking-yet-slightly-unkempt Chinese sidekick. And then going home to my yurt to drink hot tea and wear hats made of yak’s wool.
But while I expect I’ll love the climate, there’s one big problem facing me in Inner Mongolia: I don’t speak Chinese (or, um, Mongolian, for that matter). I doubt I’ll be able to hook a handsome horserider when all I can say is ‘You good? Thank you!’ I have been trying to learn, though – goodness knows I have enough free time – but it’s just so difficult. The pronunciation makes no sense to me, and the famous ‘four tones’ are nothing short of mind-boggling.
I suppose, looking back, Hindi must have seemed impossible in the beginning, too; I know I couldn’t hear much difference between ka and kha until I’d been studying for a while, and I remember when the alphabet just looked like weird lines and shapes. But it’s so hard to go back to square one! Especially when you’re the biggest procrastinator of all time (did I mention the Come Dine With Me reruns?). It will be a miracle if I can memorise five sentences of Mandarin before I leave Scotland in August.
Learning something of the language will definitely make life easier, though. I contacted an American teacher in Baotou (the city where I’ll be living) on Couchsurfing, who said that although there are hardly any foreigners living there, the locals are really friendly and welcoming. This is probably the biggest incentive to study there is, then – how great would it be if I could understand what the locals were saying to me?! And if I could actually reply?!
A few days ago I watched this programme where a teenage boy managed to become fluent in Arabic in five months, or something. True, he was studying constantly, and living in an Arabic-speaking country. (And, er, being filmed for a documentary about learning complicated foreign languages super-fast.) But it just shows that it’s not impossible if you put the effort it.
Ah, Effort. My long-lost friend/enemy.
But I did enjoy the warm, fuzzy (smug) feeling I got when I used my Hindi in Delhi. And even though I could have just spoken in English, I really think knowing the local language made a difference in the relationships I formed with people, like the chaiwallah at Uni, or the Airtel uncle who gave me free chocolate eclairs every time I recharged me phone. Even the other week, while I was out flyering for the Edinburgh walking tours, I spoke in Hindi to some Indian tourists, just to see what their reaction was. And they loved it! Although my Hindi is still far from impressive, they seemed genuinely thrilled to chat to me in their own language, and it made my day. So, in the end, there’s really no question that the studying is worth it. And in that case, I suppose I should make better use of this time stuck inside while it’s raining.