This morning I awoke to the first sunny day in the Sunset district in nearly 40 days. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE the fog with the clean, misty air. But after 40 days of gray mornings, it’s pretty darn cool to see the vibrant colors of the park out your window. Today won’t be another black & white movie!
I made my coffee, grabbed a couple of my writing books and also picked up my copy of Bernie Krause’s Wild Soundscapes for some inspiration for my Sound for Visual Media class on Tuesday. As I walked out the entry gate and cleaned off a few steps for my bottom, I couldn’t help but notice and hear two SF Park & Rec workers standing across the street speaking about something. The male worker took off in his truck that was idling in the street leaving the other with her truck parked. She looked over at me.
“Everything OK?” I asked.
“Locked key in car.” She answered.
Oh, no! It’s a long holiday weekend. She sauntered over to my stoop and sat down. She explained that she had to wait for the Supervisor who is the only person with a key to the trucks, but he isn’t working today. So, we engaged in a good chat about all kinds of things in a slow manner to accommodate her limited, but quite good communication in English. She kept trying to explain with, “Sorry, my English not good,” but I told her that she spoke very well. She is far more advanced than she is giving herself credit for. I told her of my experience several years back with some wonderful Chinese students in my class who had come to our program to learn audio and video for 2 years. When I first met them, they were quite shy speakers of the language, but they could read and write very well.
When I told her that I teach at City College, she beamed: “I take classes to learn English there!” We talked about some of her excellent classes as she explained that in China they learn to read and write English but it’s very difficult to learn to speak and understand. She spoke in particular about her teacher named Frank who was always so happy and excited. “He have lot of energy!” she informed me. And she said even when class is very tired at night, he always made them so happy and awake that it was sometimes hard to go home and go to sleep. I was imagining all of these wonderful people working diligently at various jobs they had and then going to classes at night after work to improve their skills with the language.
I sat there, joyous in the knowledge that I belong to such a fantastic public education institution that helps people like this particular SF Park & Rec staff member learn to communicate to put her skills to use in a good job. She mentioned that Frank wrote her a…a…she couldn’t remember the word: “You know when people do good and you want to tell others.”
“A letter of recommendation!” I shouted.
“Yes, a recomm-commen-dation.” she repeated, smiling. “It help me get job.”
We spoke more about how much she has learned since she came to the United States in 2010. She then looked at my book and asked: “Do you like natural?”
I asked, “Natural what, like food or…”
“No, like that,” she pointed to the 4 pictures of different animals on the cover of the book.
“Oh, yes! You mean nature like trees and animals.” I stated happily looking at the park and up into the sun. “Yes! Outside. Nature!” she exclaimed. Then she repeated the word nature a few times teaching herself the noun.
“I come from farm in south China with lots of nature. I like nature.” I couldn’t help but think how amazing it is that she works for SF Park & Rec clearing nature from the pathways in the parks, etc. I was happy that as a citizen of this city, I get to meet someone who is so content with her job and thankful as a working citizen of and for our city who makes our lives in the park a great experience. This is a momentous day. I explained to her that this particular book is all about the sounds of nature and that this man traveled all over the world to record the voices of animals and the sounds of the places they live. She pointed at the pictures again: “Bird, wolf, bee, and…frog!” she hesitated for a moment as she remembered the word for the cute little amphibian and seemed pleased with herself. “Yes. They all have their own language too, like you and I speaking now,” I said.
She pulled out a piece of crumpled paper from her pocket that looked like she reads it every day. She asked if I could help her understand the meaning. It comes from a book that she was reading. It was a profound statement about culture and life and how much of culture is hidden especially from the inhabitants of particular places where lots of culture exists. (Something like that.) So, we got into a discussion about culture as I tried to explain what I thought it meant and that culture really depends on where one lives in America. We spoke about this for some time. The culture in San Francisco, for example, is vast and wide and there are so many different people from all over the world living in the Bay Area. This is why I love it here so much.
She spoke about how lucky she feels living in San Francisco. I told her that I feel lucky too. We are two lucky souls who shared a bit of gratitude today about life and our jobs and nature. She said that she is part-time and on call right now for this job so she could not take more classes this semester. She said she misses CCSF and will return when she has a regular schedule. She wants to pass ESL 150 so that she can take ESL 160.
Today, I met Jenny. She is the first generation of a family in China to move to America. I explained to her that my Mother was first generation American; my Grandparents moved here from Russia in 1918. We spent about an hour talking as she was waiting for some help from the main SF Park & Rec office. I made a new friend. Two people from other places who have the luck of the human draw to get to live in the Bay Area. Yes, the America that includes everyone from the immigrants who moved here from somewhere else to the Native Americans who were here first. We are all here together building our lives.
Speaking of language – it is truly a monumental force. Learn language. Live language. Take a class in a new language to discover how others communicate. Brush up in a language you learned a little in school long ago. Share with everyone you know that there is a wonderful home for this at City College of San Francisco in our English as a Second Language department and our Foreign Languages department.
Language is the original social media. Live it. Learn it. Be it. Thank you CCSF for making it happen!
(Gracias a Kelly Walsh and EmergingEdTech for the borrowed “Hello” graphic above)