Snippets of Chinese conversations

Yesterday I had a few fun little conversations (in Chinese) I thought you might enjoy, so here goes!

silkstreetIn the afternoon I went to the Silk Market with a lovely couple from the US, doing some last minute shopping before flying back early this morning. There was a LOT of Chinese conversation there!

We stopped to look at some belts and a salesgirl asked how much we’d paid for the big suitcase we were pulling along. She was impressed with our 260 RMB price tag and told us to come inside the store where there were more belts. As we came through she remarked to another salesgirl about how cheap out suitcase was – that was encouraging! But the best moment came later, after we’d talked for a while.  She said to me, “You speak great Chinese. Actually, your Mandarin is better than our boss’s. He’s been here in Beijing more than 10 years but he still doesn’t speak as well as you.” (He was from another part of China and had an accent, apparently…) He turned around and looked at us and muttered something I didn’t hear, but later the salesgirl told me, giggling, that the boss was grumpy that she had besmirched his good name talking to me ;)

My favourite driver, Mr Shi, took us there and waited to bring us home. On the way back I talked to him about finding a driver to take my friends to the airport at early o’clock. I knew he wouldn’t take them (he keeps pretty regular hours) but he gave me an idea of price. So I called Xiao Chen, a younger driver I met recently and is my new backup. He said he wasn’t keen on the early time, “but if you really can’t find anyone, call me back and I’ll take them.”

Next I called Mr Wang, my other favourite, who does most of my late night runs. While I didn’t think he’d take the run, I knew he’d be able to find someone who would. As it happened he was at the corner where he normally hangs out, and after getting the details straight with me he walked around asking who was interested. Someone piped up and Mr Wang acted as go-between until we both agreed to a price, then passed the phone over so we could work out the details. This is why I love my regular drivers. They are so helpful!

Later, after shopping and dumplings and a chocolate eclair at the French bakery, I went looking for a black cab home. I went out to the corner where Mr Wang hangs out, but he was’t there.  Another driver took me, and our conversation was nice. Turns out he had been about to take two Chinese guys somewhere but then saw me and, knowing Mr Wang was off on another fare, decided to send them with someone else and take me home instead (despite mine being the lower fare, I’m pretty sure). He told me that everyone on the corner recognises me and knows Mr Wang is my regular driver. Later we were discussing apartments, and I mentioned I had looked at two yesterday but it’s hard to find something affordable. He agreed, but said the most important thing is that I find a place that is safe. Made me feel very looked after!

That’s yet another thing I love about the black cab drivers I use. They know me as more than a one-off fare and care about my well-being. It’s strangely like having a bunch of distant uncles. When I build long-term relationships with black cab drivers they become the most safe and reliable rides in town :)

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11 thoughts on “Snippets of Chinese conversations

  1. Yes, they’re not all rip off merchants. Many are just ordinary people trying to pay the bills.

    With the boss who doesn’t speak good Mandarin, I guess it’s just a regional accent. It’s no different to other countries like the US where people from the south will have a strong accent, no matter how long they have lived outside of their home state.

    Good work on the suitcases!

    • Thanks! I assumed she was referring to a regional accent, too. Usually in these circumstances the person says my Mandarin is more 标准 rather than the generic 比他好 sort of thing she said.

  2. I think ultimately it’s the same thing as 比他好 could refer to how precise your pronunciation is. On the other hand, I have come across many Chinese (mostly older) people who really cannot speak Putonghua (I believe on the mainland they do not refer to it as Mandarin / 国语).

    • Yeah, I’ve never heard the term 国语 used here. It’s 汉语,中文,or 普通话. The first two are normally translated “Chinese”, with “putonghua” translated more precisely as “Mandarin”. The word “Chinese” is so imprecise when talking about language. Most of the time people saying it mean Mandarin, but don’t understand just how many languages are spoken in Chinese – and how for many of them, Mandarin isn’t the language they speak at home.

  3. Yes, I suppose it’s not such a crime to use Putonghua and Mandarin to mean the same thing. One of my pet peeves is when people refer to Mandarin as a written language as in “this menu is in Mandarin”.

    • I would not have thought of that as an issue, thanks for raising it. In my mind, “Chinese” is a generic term including ALL dialects, including Cantonese, which is different even when written in Chinese characters. In that context, while most of the time I would refer to written Chinese simply as “Chinese” I could see there being contexts where one would want to clarify which dialect has been written in Chinese.

  4. But that’s the whole point. There’s no dialect in written Chinese there’s only Chinese! Dialects are only for spoken form. So when people cannot communicate verbally they can still write to each other.

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