Until I engaged in the Mandarin Beginner (Level 1) course at UBC following a trip to Beijing in 2004, I might not have understood that Yin-Yang is much more than just a pair of opposites dependent on each other (not to be ascribed inaccurately to the interconnectedness of mill/wholesale/retail distribution channel connections). The discussion is more broadly concerned with communication. As global markets for B.C. lumber expand, there’s recognition of the value and need to enhance awareness of and sensitivity to accompanying global cultural and language diversities. Recent growth in business with China has brought to the fore an acknowledgement that Mandarin is the language of rapidly growing markets in Vancouver and overseas and those who can communicate will profit.
From my early introduction to Mandarin class, it all sounded simple enough: “You will learn phonetics and study the tonal system of Mandarin. You will also learn to share information about yourself, discuss your family, and ask basic questions of those around you, allowing you to function in everyday settings.”
So I read with interest a story in BC Business about Canfor CEO Don Kayne’s ongoing efforts to master The Language of Business with help from a private tutor. The article confirmed my discovery: “Mandarin is a notoriously difficult language to learn. The grammar is alien, meaning shifts with subtle tonality and reading a newspaper requires recognizing thousands of characters. Only a very small percentage of ‘non-heritage’ Chinese speakers will ever attain fluency.”
I recall my Mandarin teacher telling us of a “very famous” Canadian known as Dashan (“Big Mountain”) – a legend in China for his having mastered Mandarin as a second language. Turns out Dashan (Mark Henry Rowswell) has transcended the role of celebrity to become a cultural ambassador between China and the West. He was named Canada’s Goodwill Ambassador to China earlier this year.