Friday, January 18, 2008


spoke too soon. Last night I went to take a shower, turned on my heater in my room so it would be warm when I got back, and after I took a shower my heater wasn’t working any more. I plugged it in for a second in an outlet in the living room and it worked, and that was all the testing that I could handle at midnight when I was freezing in a towel. This morning my heater still wouldn’t work, but Traci said that when the maintenance guy came to fix her hot water this afternoon (she’s paying higher rent for her own bathroom, and her heater broke last night) the outlet worked fine.

But on to the most successful conversation I’ve had in China. I was on break this morning, so I had already been in Chinese mode for 2 hours and still had one to go, and I went to the bakery nearby to buy some breakfast. This was my third time there, so I decided to make the leap and get more than a “hello” out of the girl who works there. I asked her how she was doing today, she said well, and then asked if I studied at the university. A week ago I wouldn’t have been able to hear her question, but now I’m getting better at listening.

It gets better. Once I told her that I was a student there, she asked why I wasn’t on vacation. This was it. If I couldn’t understand her here, I’d be back at stupid foreigner, and I did have to ask her to repeat her question once or twice. It was a complex process that led me to figure out her question. First, I knew that everyone who goes to Xinan Mingzu Daxue (our university: “Southwest Minority University”) had just finished up their fall semester and are now partying in preparation for Chinese New Year. Also, I knew that while I didn’t actually remember the key word the girl used (fangjia), I knew that we had learned it at UF, and that even though the syllables sounded like it could have something to do with home, that it might mean something about going on break. I answered by trying to say that we were on a different schedule than the rest of the university, and that we only get off Feb 6-12 (Chinese New Year this year is Feb 7th). She said that sucks, since they all get a month off, and I agreed, since I didn’t have the presence of mind to remember and say that we already had a month off.

And then we had a great conversation. I’ve taken Chinese for a year and a half, I’ll be in China for 7 months, in Chengdu for the rest of the winter and the spring, and then in the summer I hope to study in Harbin. She had some comment about Harbin. I only know two things about it: it’s really far north, and they have really pure Mandarin. I figured her comment was one of those two.

Then I managed to say that the pastry (饼干, a new vocab word) I bought yesterday was really tasty, but I couldn’t find it on the racks now. She found it for me, and I paid. I asked if she was a student, and she said that she graduated.

I know, chatting with the cashier is not the most exciting topic if it’s at your local Publix, but when you don’t really know what you’re talking about, you can almost write a whole page about it because you’re so excited.

1 comment:

Virginga said...

YEA! for the great conversation with the pastry clerk and boo hiss for the heater/electrical snafu! I hope the shower water was really, really hot! You are just awesome, the way you are zipping along in fits and starts and doing so well. More starts then fits will be in your future, young man. Btw, the manager at the green roof Chinese buffet in Harrisburg wants to know where you are. He remembers you from a couple of years ago. Wouldn't it be funny if he has family there? I'll keep you posted on that.
Love and warmth,