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Chinese language (Mandarin) & character writing

The laughing driver

Sometimes I forget how big Suzhou is. Today I took a trip across town to find the fabric and flea market. The taxi driver laughed when I showed him the taxi card I took from the handy color coded book. I normally don’t bring taxi cards since this forces me to practice my Mandarin but this time I was unsure of the name so I cheated. When the driver laughed I could not tell if it was about the pink taxi card or the chosen destination.

When I took out my phone to check the map, the driver laughed again. I told him in my best Chinese that I like looking at the map so I can familiarize myself with my surroundings and thus get my bearings. I didn’t really say all of this, just some words. Then I said Suzhou is very big and he said it was not. That was the end of our conversation.

As we arrived the driver pointed at the gate of the market and started laughing again. I just smiled back. It was hard to tell what kind of laugh it was but it seems to happen to me a lot. It generally makes me a little uncomfortable as it sounds like an “I’m laughing at you” laugh. Since I could hardly (read I was unable to) ask him what he was laughing about I remained in the dark. I was hoping the market would enlighten me, in the sense that if it was really shit, I knew what he had been laughing about. Then it would for sure have been an “I can’t believe you are going to this place” laugh…

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The wheel keeps on turning

Driving in China is not really an option. Firstly because I would need a Chinese licence (this can be overcome) and secondly because I value my life. So instead I’ve been having a go at sitting behind a different kind of wheel. This one stays indoors and can be found at a local ceramics studio hidden in a very far corner of an anonymous car park. It would have stayed undiscovered if it hadn’t been for an article in a local magazine and a little encouragement from a new German friend.

pottery wheel

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Need character, will write novel

Last week I really started to learn Chinese characters. So far I am able to write about 15 odd. Since there are tens of thousands of them I’ve barely made a dent in it. Nevertheless I tried to impress my Chinese teacher with my newly acquired writing skills and I think she was a little bit. I’m not sure of her general level of ‘impressedness’ by me but the other day I put a fairly long sentence in the correct order and she said ‘that’s right‘ with great surprise in her voice as if she was thinking to herself ‘she’s never gonna get that one‘. I do have to admit I was quite surprised myself. We had a good laugh about it.

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The funny side of learning languages

This week I finished the first Mandarin language course book after just over 30 hours of classes. Two more and I will have completed the beginner level. So technically I should now be able to greet people (appropriately at different times of the day), introduce myself and others, buy cakes and clothes, order food (online doesn’t count apparently), take taxis, make appointments and book all kinds of tickets. Easier said than done…

Yes, I can introduce myself. Not that I do this everywhere I go but still, I can. Food. Well, I have been able to buy real beef (after asking) but have given up ordering ‘yi bei re kafei Americano’ in Starbucks just because it sounds so silly saying Americano after trying my best to speak Chinese. It just makes me feel weird. Buying clothes has not been much of a pastime, partly because shop assistants follow you around shops constantly (literally like a meter behind you) which really takes the fun out of browsing, however it may explain why the book devoted a whole chapter to this subject. As far as transport goes, I have managed to buy train tickets but the taxi driver can still only get left and right out of me, which has proven to be enough to get me home. Pointing also works in taxis but it is not advised in shops due to the previously mentioned overzealous shop assistants.

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