I had top bunk on the train the next day for the 30 hour ride, which is less than ideal, as there isn’t nearly enough room to sit up in bed. There are seats by the windows in the aisles, but the Chinese thing to do is to hang out on the spacious bottom bunk whether or not it’s yours or you know the person. When I eventually descended to have my instant noodles, the three passengers hanging out on the two bottom bunks drew me into conversation right away, especially an older retired man who was with his wife. These conversations can be remarkably similar, so you get well-practiced at it and appear to have effortless Chinese skills, at least for the first 10 minutes. In order of likelihood, you will hear the following questions in the first 5 minutes of meeting a random Chinese person:
1. Which country are you from?
2. How long have you been in
3. Are you used to living here?
4. How old are you?
5. Where do you study/are you a student?
6. Are you married/do you have a girlfriend?
7. How much money do you make?
8. (in my case) Zhangye? Where’s that? Hm. Oh yes, Zhangye. Why would you want to go there? You should go to a big city, they have lots of foreigners.
I’ve heard of a foreign teacher who made a t-shirt with the answers to the common questions, just to make things easier. After a while, the old man remarked “our countries have a lot of communication now. Not like before—you don’t remember, you’re too young, but we were enemies,” adding emphasis by pounding his two fists together. “Mao Zedong—do you know him?—he used to say
“Chatting” would definitely be one of the top pasttimes in
Sometimes when I study Chinese I do it in public, increasing the chances that curious onlookers will try to talk to me instead of staring and moving on. On the second day of the train ride, I was looking over a book on Chinese radicals I bought in