Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The China Diaries: Happy Anniversary!

I've been in Xi'an for a month now. I arrived on the evening of 5 September, about an hour from now. It has, overall, been a wonderful month, with as many challenges as rewards, etc., etc.

In all seriousness, it has been a good month. I've been surprised in ways both good- The Chinese are just lovely people to foreigners- and bad- honestly, do you have to spit everywhere?. I have not had to work all that much, I'll come right out and say. I arrived just before a holiday that happened to fall on a day I wouldn't have had off from work, and I'm now at the end of a week off for National Day. The current Chinese Dynasty is 62 years old, if all the signs are to be believed (and, as this is China, they are, even if you don't, which you do).

I realize I have only been here a month, and I will not pretend to be any sort of expert, but I do have a few distilled nuggets of knowledge which are worth keeping in mind for the end of your first month:

1. It is always a good idea to have your dictionary and a note pad with you. The Chinese are not, by and large, good at the Point to a Few Words in the Dictionary Game, but if you write out a remedial sentence, they will happily oblige.

2. You will go through a period where all the food is wonderful, you eat everything, and both you and your digestive system are having a wonderful time. And then your digestive system will realize this is not a holiday, and it will take back all the nice things it said about the chow bing from the corner restaurant.

3. On a somewhat related note, tofu may taste lovely, but when it is frying... well, there are no words. Imagine that you've worn your shoes through a marathon, and then locked them in a humid box for a month. The smell you'd get when you opened that box isn't even close.

4. There are no lines. Lines were an abstract concept your parents made up so you wouldn't knock over the other children. You're an adult now. So are the other children. Have at it.

5. You will never need to learn how to say "please" in Chinese. "Thank you," "excuse me," and "you're welcome," yes, but never "please".

6. You will wonder how so advanced a civilization could have formed with so ridiculous a language. Honestly, with all the sounds the human mouth can make, why would you limit yourself to so few. Even a few clicks would help.

7. On the other hand, you will start to wonder why other civilizations didn't develop a logographic system of writing. It starts to make a remarkable amount of sense.

8. You will not get tired of funny translations: "Show the grass your mercy" on a "Keep off the grass" sign, for example. Or, for the more subtle among us, "Please keep the enterance clear" on an elevator sign. Makes a bit more sense than "entrance," really.

9. Your sense of what is or isn't a fair price for something will become wildly skewed. If I pay more than ¥10 ($1.50) for a meal, I ask questions.

10. People will say hello to you on the street. People will want to get their picture taken with you. You will think it is because you are a stunningly attractive human being, a perfect distillation of human evolution, and not bad to talk to either. You will be wrong. It is because you are white.

Keep all of these things in mind. It'll work to your advantage, I promise.


Anonymous said...

I love number 10!!! Glad to hear your learning so much!

Anonymous said...

Why wouldn't you say please?