I enjoy chatting with Xiao Chen while he drives me home. We have real back and forth, and both learn from each other. He asks questions and is happy to answer mine, and he follows up my comments with questions and genuine interest.
Many times in taxis I have heard Australia praised on the radio as a travel destination. These days when someone discovers I’m from Australia, the instant reaction is not kangaroos or our Prime Minister, but how beautiful my country is.
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.”
I took a job in Langfang, a small city between Beijing and Tianjin, and my Chinese rose to a new level. I was often the only English speaker in the open office area where my desk was. Eavesdropping became a great language learning tool.
I studied Chinese in school for over ten years, the final year being at a Chinese university in Beijing. All this did NOT make me fluent. It didn’t make me sound Chinese. So what did? Talking to lots of people – especially taxi drivers.
I got completely out of the habit out wearing seatbelts when I first arrived. Many cabs did not HAVE functional seatbelts. I would automatically reach for a seatbelt and the driver would laugh at me, bewildered as to why I would bother with it.
I have moved house 5 times in my 9 years in China, always fairly local moves. Over the weekend I made my most recent move. Surprisingly there weren’t any hiccups, parlty cos I made got a chu men tiao before moving. This step is easy to miss!
The toffee fruit vendor chatted to the jian bing vendor, saying “Wow! She speaks pu tong hua [standard Mandarin Chinese]. Like my grandson. He can’t speak our dialect. We speak our dialect to him but he doesn’t pick up much.”
Occasionally I meet a driver who has interesting things to say, and a good attitude, so it’s fun to listen. This was one of those times. I don’t share all his opinions but I’m always interested to learn more about another person’s perspective on life.
Beijing’s bad air is now international news. Articles about last weekend’s horrific conditions sprung up all over the place. Yes, it really was that bad. In the past two weeks we had 6 days in the hazardous range, with one day’s average off the scale.
Our 10 hour bus ride up the Min River valley from Chengdu to Songpan and across a long plateau and then down into Jiuzhaigou in Sichuan province – more interesting than it sounds!
My previous posts about conversations (in Chinese) with Chinese locals have been pretty popular, so I thought it was time to again record for you a few snippets of interesting conversations I’ve had in the past few weeks. On the plane from Singapore to Beijing I was seated next to a nice man from va small town Shandong…