I am ashamed to say that after living in China for six years, my Chinese is still awful. At best it might rise to the elementary school level. The knowledge I have gained of Chinese characters wouldn't past muster in a grade one class. I can pick up a few words spoken every now and then, but I can't have any sort of conversation -- dialects, accents, and my bad pronunciation prevent that.
I envy those Expats who are proficient in Chinese. Some of them can achieve a celebrity status -- more envy from me. (Though to be honest, just being a foreigner in Wuxi does give one some status. I have appeared in local magazines, in newspapers, and on television. I have even experienced a sort of adulation from a mob. So, I can say celebrity and fame are probably very annoying for those who suffer through it full-time). The Expats with good Chinese abilities have an insight into China that I envy as well. How many times I have seen the Chinese talk pleasantly about those foreigners who speak Chinese well.
However, the high status and admiration the Expats can get here comes at a price -- a bargain with the devil has to be made. You give up your freedom of thought.
There is an Expat who can be seen on the video screens of all the public buses. His Chinese ability has lead to him having a co-hosting gig on a learn English show -- a promotional tool of an English school rival to mine in Wuxi. It is a great gig that must beat the heck out of teaching.
However, I didn't envy the man when I saw what he had to do in the episode of his show currently playing on all the buses. He was wearing the red scarf of the Young Pioneers -- the youth wing of the Chinese Communist Party. He and his co-host were presenting the English vocabulary for terms associated with that group. When I see the Red Scarfs, I am reminded of the scarfs worn by the murderous Khmer Rouge.
Maybe, I should try to learn Latin again.