¡El español es muy fácil! 但是中文很难！
I bought "Spanish Now! Level 1" from Barron's, with the four CDs inside, and I've been cramming Spanish all week trying to get at least a basic asking-directions-and-buying-train-tickets level of comprehension for our upcoming Peru trip.
OMG it is so much easier than Mandarin it's not even funny. The exact same amount of effort applied gets me ten times further with Spanish than it does with Mandarin. (Japanese was somewhere in between.)
With Spanish I already know the alphabet, all the words are spelled phonetically, and most of the vocabulary is Latin cognates. Sure I have to deal with noun genders and irregular verb conjugations, but those are easy compared to Mandarin's tones. And I took Latin back in high school, so a lot of the verb conjugations (e.g. -mos ending for "we") seem vaguely familiar. Spanish really is just modernized Latin. Between that and Sesame Street teaching me numbers and colors, I'm finding that I already knew more words than I realized. I'm not even feeling a need to make flash cards: I see a word a couple of times and I basically just remember it.
I plan to keep studying it after I get back, since there are plenty of countries where I can use it and plenty of Spanish speakers right here in California. It seems like a generally useful skill to put a few points into.
Sushu was really sad last night that I'm progressing so much faster in Spanish (and enjoying it more) than in Mandarin despite her best efforts to teach me her mother tongue. I still want to master Mandarin, it just does not come naturally at all. My biggest problem isn't the writing or even reproducing the tones, it's that most of the words sound the same to me. Which is to say, distinguishing one word from another in Mandarin depends heavily on phonetic features that my brain is in the habit of discarding as irrelevant. I learned at a young age not to distinguish between "qi" and "chi" or between "shi(2)" and "shi(4)". As a result, most words feel mentally slippery, like they lack a distinct shape for my brain to grab onto.
I don't know if there might be a different method of studying possible which would work better for me, or whether I simply have to do what I was doing but try harder and keep it up longer.
Peru Kicked my Ass, Part 1 - Lima
Alright, the picture uploader works, so it's time to start showing you my photos from Peru!
We were there for about 8 days. We flew into Lima and then went up to Trujillo and Chiclayo, on the north coast, in the desert; then flew down to Cusco, in the Andes, to see the Sacred Valley and Macchu Picchu. The coastal desert and the Andes are very, very different places, so this was kind of like two trips in one. There's a lot of pictures so I'm going to break this up into several posts.
The clouds lined up just right and formed a circular rainbow around the airplane's shadow. Apparently this phenomenon is called a "Glory", and the optics behind it are pretty funky.
Our flight from Houston to Lima did not have TVs, so I didn't get to do my usual intercontinental-flight pastime of watching incredibly crappy movies this time.
When we landed at the airport in Lima, we met a guy holding a sign that said "Xia", so we followed him. We almost got in his car before realizing that the hotel he wanted to take us to wasn't the hotel where we had a reservation. Turns out he was waiting for a different Xia family. Oops!
So we went back inside and found another guy with a Xia sign, looking very worried that we hadn't shown up yet.
Our hotel was the Hotel EspanÌƒa. There were skulls on display in the lobby. "Momias", explained the nice lady behind the counter. ("mummies"). She wanted to know where the rest of our luggage was and couldn't believe we had traveled to Peru with only one backpack each, then shrugged at the strange ways of us sketchy foreigners.
The hotel had oil paintings, chandeliers, and plaster statues everywhere, packed into every available nook and corner like passengers on a crowded subway. It was an orgy of fake colonial opulence.
After a while I realized that they were the same oil paintings and statues over and over again. It was like being in a Castlevania level where the background textures keep looping.
Our room had four beds, each with a hideous gold fitted blanket. It had zero windows and a very noisy fan.
I was woken up early by an incessant squawking noise. I followed the sound up the stairs to the roof, where I found these huge parrots hanging out in a rooftop garden.
Those weren't the only "pets" in the hotel. This tortoise was just strolling around like it owned the place.
We didn't have time to really do anything in Lima except sleep and then get back to the airport for our flight to Trujillo.
This was a random plaza we passed on the way. I don't know the name. Plazas like these are an essential feature of pretty much all Spanish colonial cities.
I'm glad to see the old "tie their shoes together and throw them over the telephone wire" prank transcends all national boundaries.
I don't remember who this statue is supposed to be, but it's probably SimÃ³n BolÃvar. It usually is. They love that guy! Not just in Peru, but all over Spanish-speaking South America.
Fun fact: if the revolution had gone the way he planned, most of South America apart from Brazil would now be one enormous country called "Gran Colombia".
Despite his best efforts, he couldn't keep it together. But he is still known as "El Libertador" throughout Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia (the country that named itself after him.)
Before going to Peru I had no idea that cacti could even get this big. They're the size of trees!
Our first taste of Peruvian cuisine (if you can call food from the airport food court "cuisine").
Sushu's having corn, yuca, and anticuchos (grilled spiced beef heart on a stick -- better than it sounds!) I had a very nice tamale with chicken, onions, and olives inside.
Note the enormous size of the kernels on that corn cob! They're like starchy grapes. It's very different from North American corn.
More fun facts: you get funny looks in Peru if you introduce yourself as "American". Peruvians think of themselves as American too; "Norteamericanos" (North Americans) is what they call us.
Next: Trujillo, and the ruins of the Moche civilization.