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Mike's Random Thoughts From The Road #19
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1. anyone who tells you that china is on the verge of becoming the most influential, powerful nation in the world has not been to china. it's not going to happen.

2. sure, yes, no problem. you can be the first one to tell me "i told you so" when it happens. if you think that you will be saying that to me someday please refer to random thought #1.

3. why do i say this? for a variety of reasons i suppose. one that pops to mind is that they still heat their homes with coal, which is delivered each morning by a 10,000 year old guy riding a 10,000 year old bicycle.

4. the pollution is so bad in chinese cities that the sun seems to set about two hours before it actually sets. it disappears in the thick goop of air pollution that hangs like a poisonous curtain for several miles above the horizon.

5. if i am wrong about my claim in rt #1 (i'm not) then china will be the most powerful, influential country in the world that no one can find.

6. i don't mean to pick on china so much - i loved the place, the people are extremely friendly and the culture is fascinating - but another claim that gets to me is when people say that chinese is the most spoken language in the world. wrong. the most commonly spoken language in the world is english. in a distant second place is spanish. (do you have kids? do them the biggest favor you can and enroll them in spanish lessons when they are about nine years old - they, and you, will thank me someday.)

6a. (this doesn't count as a random thought because it is out of place but i met a guy the other day in rio de janeiro who told me that "actually, chinese is the easiest language to learn."

-blank stare-

if there is one thing that chaps my ass it's when someone says something contrary to common knowledge just to say it, like "it actually never rains in seattle" or "actually black is the BEST color to wear out here in the blazing sun of the sahara desert; white is actually the hottest." if any of you are reading this, stop it. you sound like an idiot.)

7. ok, back to the english thing again: if a person speaks a second language out here ("out here" is the world in this case) it's english, not chinese. they speak chinese in one place: china. ("chinese" in this case is the common tongue of china: mandarin - in the former chinese colonies (e.g. hong kong) they speak cantonese, not mandarin.)

8. you can, in fact, go around the world without knowing another language. you are blessed if english is your first language because you can (although i don't recommend it) get by without knowing another one.

9. EXCEPT in latin america.

10. without spanish, especially in bolivia, peru, ecuador, colombia, (and i'm sure most of central america although i haven't been there yet) you are going to have some trouble. which is why i said spanish is the second most common language in the world.

11. but even so, english is the most popular. for example, i walked the inca trail to machu picchu with a group of seven people. four folks were from quebec and spoke french, one was from finland and spoke finnish, two were from brasil and spoke portuguese, and our guide was from peru and spoke spanish. what language was the tour given in?

12. english, even though i was the only one in the group who speaks it natively.

13. you are a lucky person if you speak it as your first language. you are almost always catered to. signs all over the world are written in two languages, as well as the directions on products like medicine, and hostel/hotel workers worldwide almost always speak english.

14. so yeah, #13 reminds me of two experiences i had in china which strengthen my claim in rt #1: both involve the treatment for my swollen arm.

first, i went to a pharmacy in xian, china for medication. after pointing at my arm and saying "ow", the women in white coats scurried to a cabinet and produced a box of pills. "i am not consuming anything i don't know the ingredients of," i mumbled to my friend as i saw only chinese on the box. one of the women turned it over to the english side. i scanned the ingredients listed there. #5 stood out to me: ground beetles. cool. i swallowed a few pills but the beetles didn't do the job so an hour or so later my arm was still throbbing. my buddy neil was sick of my whining so he dragged me into the first clinic we saw.

i was surrounded immediately by a team of women doctors and curious locals from the street. i pointed at my arm again and said "ow." they examined my arm, poked at it a few times, twisted it, yanked on it, and finally decided i needed a splint. they went into a room full of medicine, dumped out a box which held some boxes of pills, cut the lid off, and used it, along with some gauze, to wrap up my arm. high-tech treatment. it cost me 25 u.s. cents. i removed it as soon as i was out of sight of the clinic because it did absolutely nothing. i let time heal my arm instead.

15. so, to illustrate my point again, if you are using things like powdered insects in your medicine and are fixing potentially broken arms with cardboard boxes, you are not going to take over the world in a couple of years. i feel confident about this.

16. back to my english lecture for a moment: a great opportunity for native speakers is teaching it. you can work just about anywhere in the world teaching english as a foreign language because the whole world is waiting to learn it.

17. let me put it this way: if the world decides someday to have one global language (which would be sad), it will be english, not chinese.

18. finally a quick thought on my language. i have been in south america for eight months now, and i am happy with the four weeks of spanish instruction i had in argentina. after i finished, i just threw myself out there and practiced. i am at the point now where i can say just about anything and i can have meaningful conversations.

19. and, most importantly, i can pick up chicks who only speak spanish.

20. that is actually the best way to learn a new language: hang out with a girl who only speaks the language you are trying to learn and talk with her.

21. you'll pick it up quickly because nothing motivates quite like, ummm, love.

keep on keepin' on,

p.s. totally unrelated but i want you to know that every guy in brasil is named bruno. i even met a girl last night named bruna. i can imagine the scene in the delivery room:

father: ahh yes, our first child. let's name him bruno.

mother: uhhh, sorry bruno but he is a she.

father: oh, damn! ok, well our langauge has that stupid masculine/feminine thing, so let's just stuff an "A" on the end and everyone's happy.

mother: perfect. hello bruna. this is your father bruno and i am your mother bruna, welcome to brasil. here are your shoes: your samba lessons start at 4 o' clock.

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