The Joys of learning Mandarin
I had no intention of “really” learning mandarin when I came to China. Learning Mandarin seemed impossible and for only those dedicated to linguistics, or you know, super smart. Once I arrived and realized how little English was spoken in Nanchong I knew I needed to buckle down and study. I took 4 hours of lessons for about 5 months and then my beloved tutor decided to move to America to teach Chinese ( an amusing reversal). Which is amazing and I love seeing her pictures of America but my learning has slowed down a bit. Its pretty difficult to learn mandarin without a tutor when you’re mostly clueless.
While I am far far far from being remotely good in Mandarin, I’ve learned enough to epically screw up some things. Sometimes I do fun things, like add s to works try to make them plural. Ladies at the farmers market don’t want what it means if I want 2 Tǔdòus. I also have the wildly impractible habit of trying to say things in Spanish if my Chinese fails. Spanish is not helpful in China.
I mentioned before I have a mouse in my apartment which I am still overreacting too. One night when it decided to run across my living room, I ran outside shrieking. When my poor long-suffering Chinese neighbor came to see why I was being a baby I told her there was a Lǎoshǔ (which actually means mice, not mouse, so I was already wrong). Unfortunately I mispronounced it to Lǎoshī which means teacher, and since I’m a teacher….. She just shook her head and went back inside.
I left my charger at work the other day and being a true millennial child, I could not live without my phone for very long, so I went to buy a new cord. They keep they behind the counter and they could not recognize my iPhone since its in a otterbox (I drop my phone a lot). I kept point at it and saying Píngguǒ which means apple. This caused them to just look at each other and shake their heads. Finally they just started opening packages to see what would fit. One worked and it turned my phone back on-when the apple logo flashed on they realized why I had been saying Píngguǒ and they died laughing.
People are often curious about me and while its nice and very endearing at times…. sometimes people get way too far up into my space, especially younger men. They’re not aggressive but not always very dialed in to the fact that maybe foreign girls might not want strangers throwing their arms around them. I asked my friend for a way to say “please stop”.
Then the next day this very cute 4ft tall older woman was pushing up against me in the bus and she had a huge bag of chicken feet that were poking out of the bag and scratching me. I asked her to gǔn dàn (please stop) and the WHOLE bus got horribly quiet. Turns out what I thought was “please stop” could better be translated to “Fuck off”. So that’s a really nice thing to say to a tiny woman who’s survived wars, revolutions and famines. She should have thrown the chicken feet in my face.
Learning Mandarin people. Its not for the faint of heart. I constantly struggle with it because I seem to learn very little for the amount of time I invest in it, but its been helpful to understand the culture to a degree. Plus I can now entertain people endlessly with my ability to screw up the language.