Monday, May 15, 2006

3 Little Devils

I think I had my first real "conversation" in Chinese tonight, at the Friendliest Man in the World's store that is right near my home that me and Andrew frequent. There was a woman there tonight who teaches Culture and Russian that was keen to talk to me, and as she is originally from Shanghai her Chinese was much clearer to me than the local Zhangye residents. She said she can't understand the local dialect either. That's not to say I understood even half of what she said, but we talked for perhaps a half hour and exchanged more than the basic "I'm from America and yes, I can use chopsticks and I like Chinese food".

I socialized for the first time with my co-teacher, the Chinese English teacher assigned to me that, in theory only, tells me what's going on. He wanted to take me to dinner, which sure enough was at a very fancy restaurant, with a taxi ride there and back despite the walk being only 10 minutes. We had some decent conversation and his English was surprisingly good (if that sounds like a strange thing to say about an English teacher, you obviously haven't been to China), and he had had some experience with foreigners when he spent a month in some sort of cultural camp with Americans. Perhaps to display his familiarity with our alien customs, when the food came he asked if it would be alright if he ate straight from the same dishes as me - in China the dishes are communal without exception, and this would be as absurd as asking a Chinese person in America if it was alright if we used forks.

Last week there was a knock on my door when I wasn't expecting anyone. To my surprise, when I opened it three small girls came running excitedly into my apartment, and casually took their seats on my furniture and made themselves at home. They didn't speak English, and the fact that I didn't understand much of what they said didn't stop them from addressing me as waiguoren (foreigner) and asking constant questions. I (foolishly) took out my camera, which somehow didn't get smashed to bits in their excitement. After a whirlwind five minutes, they left as quickly as they came. And then another five minutes passed, and they reappeared at my door, but with a ping-pong paddle to give me. This time I was sucked into at least 15 minutes of hide and seek in my apartment, with the girl I could tell was the ringleader continually pulling my sleeve and whispering long suggestions in Chinese that I didn't understand.

And finally, in things possibly worth mentioning that come to mind, in a very Chinese shopping experience I bought a pair of pants that had no pockets whatsoever. I didn't realize this until the next day when I tried them on, because they had what appeared to be pockets, only they were securely sewn into the pants. I was unsure if this was the Chinese lack of attention to detail, a new fashion trend, or a company that relied on fools who didn't look very carefully in the store. When I took them back and explained my pants had no pockets, the woman said "they do so have pockets!" before taking a look and exclaiming "oh!" (well, a Chinese equivalent), and then fixing them with her scissors. So, it was my first guess after all. China is best enjoyed by the good-humored, and I'm always amused by the way things are done here.

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