Language barrier

cocktail hour in the laundry room (or maybe we’ll sit inside where it’s cool!) :-)

Sunday evening, wine o’clock: If you dropped by for cocktails this evening, I’d be so pleased to see you that I’d usher you right past my laundry room and into my icy air-conditioned living room.  It’s so hot, humid and miserable outdoors that your clothes and body would probably be drenched in sweat, so you’d breathe a sigh of relief that I’m not making you swelter in my laundry room.  Then I’d offer you either a cold Budweiser, as that’s all I have this week, or a glass of Chile Cabernet Sauvignon – Valle Central 2013.  I forgot to chill it though, as I can never get used to chilled red wine, so it might be a little warm.  We can always add an ice-cube or two, but I don’t know if you’d feel safe with it as we don’t drink water from the faucet in China.  You might get sick, and I wouldn’t want to be responsible for that.

lush lotus

lush lotus

Have a seat in my comfortable chair and tell me about your week.  It’s June, so summer is upon us. Hooray!  Do you have any travel plans over the summer?  Are you starting to visit farmer’s markets and getting some fresh produce?  Have you been to any outdoor concerts?  Do you have some time off from work?  How about family visits?  Do you have grandchildren or parents or children or friends coming to visit?  Will you go to the beach or a pool for a swim any time soon?  Will you be having a barbecue?  If so, what will you make?  Will you invite me? 🙂  I sure would like some grilled corn on the cob (hint-hint!).

perky lotus

perky lotus

I took a short walk around one of our lotus ponds on the campus this afternoon.  It’s nice to have fresh flowers for a cocktail hour, don’t you think?  I couldn’t stay out long because sweat kept dripping into my eyes, I was getting eaten alive by mosquitos, and my camera lens kept fogging over. I think I’m late in the game in photographing the flowers. I should have done it earlier when they were at their peak.  Now they seem to be fading a bit.  I guess their late stage goes hand in hand with my final days here in China.

Lotus pond at Guangxi University

Lotus pond at Guangxi University

I’ve had a busy couple of weeks, so I’m sorry I’ve missed hosting a few cocktail hours.  Don’t worry; I didn’t have one and not invite you.  You’d always be invited, and very welcome.

Two weekends ago, I went with my friend Erica to Yangshuo.  She has never traveled anywhere during her year in Nanning, although she’s been in China for seven years and has traveled prior to this year. We had to squeeze in a lot during a short time, so it felt a little rushed, but we still managed to do shortened versions of three of the four things I did in Yangshuo during the 4-day National holiday in October.  It was a lot of fun, although we got rained on a few times.

Lotus flower

Lotus flower

It’s unbelievably damp in Nanning.  I’m so tired of feeling hot and wet all the time.  I know, that doesn’t sound good, but that’s how I feel.  I get all showered and blow-dry my hair and put on clean clothes in the morning, only to walk out my door and immediately become drenched in either sweat or rain.  I really hate this weather in the south of China; it’s one of the biggest reasons I look forward to my escape on July 15. I wish for once I could work abroad in a nice climate, such as somewhere in Europe on the Mediterranean. Or even a northern country, where I’d have to stay bundled up all the time.

Umbrellas in the hallway of the 9th floor of the Experimental Building - this is Nanning :-)

Umbrellas in the hallway of the 9th floor of the Experimental Building – this is Nanning 🙂

Escape is in the cards. It’s visible on the horizon.  I bought a ticket for July 15 from Nanning directly to Seoul on Korean Air and then on to L.A. where I will visit my sister in Reseda for about a week on my way home.  A week after I bought that ticket, Korean Air canceled that flight, so I had to search for a new flight. Now I will fly to Beijing, then to Vancouver, then to L.A.  The scary part is that I only have a 1 1/2 hour layover in Vancouver, and I already know I will probably miss the connection.  Planes are notoriously late taking off from airports in China, so I’m preparing myself already.  At least it will be Air Canada’s problem if I miss the connection, because both flights, from Beijing and from Vancouver, are with Air Canada.

Lotus blossoms

Lotus blossoms

Yes, my time in China is winding down.  Because my departure is imminent, I dropped out of my Chinese class.  This was long overdue.  Our teacher, Miss Hao, kept telling me I was very clever, because I was able to figure out sentences and vocabulary meanings in class.  The problem was that when I left the class, I never studied.  I could be a clever person if I actually applied myself. 🙂  Also, the other two people remaining in the class, Gavin and Reed, are very advanced, and frankly, I was holding them up.  So I made a quiet and uneventful departure.  However, Miss Hao was keen on inviting our class to her house for dinner, so we went on Wednesday night, June 3.

Miss Hao lives on the 18th floor of a new building on the university campus; during many of our Chinese classes, she was busy on her phone talking to contractors and decorators about fixing up her house.  It’s a lovely sprawling apartment with great views over the university campus.  However, she doesn’t have air conditioning.  It wasn’t that she hadn’t turned it on; she decided not to have it built into the house at all.  I can’t imagine no air-conditioning in Nanning’s heat and humidity, but I did have the (ahem) pleasure of enjoying (i.e. suffering through) the heat for this one evening.

She had originally promised us we would get to help her make dumplings, which none of us were thrilled about because we’re all pathetic at making them and don’t enjoy the process at all.  But we prepared ourselves, only to find, voila (!), she’d already made them when we arrived.  The lack of air-conditioning was something I was prepared for however, simply because I know the Chinese mentality.  I predicted she wouldn’t have it and I was right.

Left to right: Reed, Gavin, unknown Chinese friend of Miss Hao, Miss Hao

Left to right: Reed, Gavin, unknown Chinese friend of Miss Hao, Miss Hao

We did have a lovely evening there nonetheless, and I loved the dumplings.  Dumplings are one of my favorite things to eat in China, and these were especially good. Gavin and I brought our own beer, and I’m glad we did because Miss Hao didn’t have any.  She did bring out a refrigerated bottle of red wine partway through the dinner, however, so we could make toasts to each other.

Clockwise from bottom left: spicy cucumbers, watermelon, dumplings

Clockwise from bottom left: spicy cucumbers, watermelon, dumplings

Besides that little outing, I met fellow-novelist Paul for dinner one night to exchange our novels. He’s given me the next 50 pages of his, which I’ll read this week, and he’s said he’ll finish mine.  He’s leaving in a week and a half, so we’ll see if we get through them.

lotus leaves

lotus leaves

I had a couple of lunches with Gavin, but now he’s mad at me because I didn’t leap at the chance to help him make the listening final exam over the weekend.  He knows my strong feelings about preserving my weekends for myself, and so the fact that he didn’t plan ahead enough so I could help him before this weekend showed a bit of disregard for my beliefs.  As a teacher, it’s all too easy to let your planning and marking, which must be done outside the classroom, spill over into your personal time. I like to have a clean line between work and pleasure, so I keep the line very rigid.  Only in an emergency will I let work encroach on my personal life.

Oh well, if he doesn’t get over it, I’ll be leaving soon anyway.

dropping petals

dropping petals

Last weekend, I went to Beihai, the only coastal city in Guangxi province, to visit Mari.  Mari is a Finnish lady who lives and works in Beihai for a Finnish company, Stora Enso, known for publication and fine paper, packaging board and wood products.  She’s in charge of supply chain management for container board used in milk cartons.  I met her when we went on a tour of the Terra Cotta Warriors in Xi’an.  She kindly invited me to visit her in Beihai, sending her personal driver to Nanning on Friday afternoon to pick me up and drive me the three hours to Beihai.  He then drove 3 hours each way Sunday night to return me home. Besides that, she invited me to stay in her apartment, which was beautifully decked out IKEA style.  She was the perfect hostess; and we had a great time and lots of laughs.

lotus flowers in the pond

lotus flowers in the pond

In addition to those two weekends away, my students turned in 73 outlines and brainstorms/clusters that I had to grade in the first of three staggered deadlines.  They’re writing their final research papers for my class and there are three stages in the process.  I thought I’d be able to go through them quickly, but it was very time-consuming mostly because they were a total mess and many of them were off topic.  Oh dear.  If we get through this process it will be a miracle.

lotus pond on the university campus

lotus pond on the university campus

Since our last cocktail hour on May 25, I’ve mailed one big box home by ground; I sure hope it makes it back to Virginia.  I should mail another this week.  I went out for a “drink” with one of my students, which turned out in fact to be a “mango mountain.”

I finished watching the first season of Madam Secretary, Skyped several times with Mike, Skyped with Sarah, and finished watching Season 5 of Grey’s Anatomy. I also watched The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, one of the few DVDs I brought here with me, for about the 20th time.  I continued to plod away on the depressing Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian; it’s a hard-to-take book but I’m learning something about the Armenian genocide prior to WWI. It’s always good to learn something new about the horrible things we as humans are capable of.

lotus

lotus

I also had an interview with Teaching House in Washington, D.C. because I applied to take an intensive CELTA (Cambridge Certificate for English Language Teaching of Adults) course in September. I passed the interview and committed to the class.  So now I know what I’ll be doing this fall: taking the course and enjoying the holidays with my family.  I’d like to stay home for a while, but who knows how long it’ll be before I get itchy feet again.  Going back to work at NOVA is not something I can get excited about.

lotus blossoms under cover

lotus blossoms under cover

I’d love to hear all about your last couple of weeks, so feel free to stay awhile, and tell me what’s on your mind.  There’s no rush.  I have nothing to do tonight because I don’t work on weekends. 🙂

fern and leaf

fern and leaf

I do want to apologize for not visiting many of you as often as I’d like.  My internet is very slow here, and often I open the pages to your blog and wait and wait and wait for them to open.  By then I’ve gone on to something else, or I’ve gone to bed.  I hope to be better once I return home to the US of A, where the internet works smoothly and quickly and without issue. 🙂

Categories: Asia, California, China, Chinese language, Chinese language class, conversation, D.C., ESL Teacher, Guangxi University, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Language barrier, laundry room cocktail hour, Los Angeles, Nanning, Nanning Wuxu International Airport, Reseda, Sino-Canadian International College (SCIC), Teaching English as a Second Language, United States of America, Virginia | Tags: , , , , , , | 28 Comments

a 30-hour marking marathon & mike’s welcome arrival

Monday, January 12: We had our Year 1 Writing Final Exams today from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m.  Normally the students are given one hour to write two paragraphs, meaning that they don’t have time to ramble on and on.  However, this semester, the powers-that-be decided to give the students two hours to write two paragraphs.  This meant that I got 73 papers with two very long paragraphs each.  As we got the papers late in the day, we started marking very late.  I only got 11 exams marked over a several hour period.  As Mike’s arrival was scheduled for Monday, January 19, I felt a lot of pressure to get all my papers marked, tally my grades, and get signed off so I could collect my travel allowance before the weekend.  It was a lot of pressure to complete everything in a very short time.

Tuesday, January 13: We had to invigilate the Year 1 Reading Exams, even though, as a Writing teacher, I don’t teach reading.  After invigilating, I marked 25 more of my Writing exams.  It was a grueling day with hardly a break, but I had set a quota for myself and I had to do it.  As I couldn’t start marking until after noon, when the Reading Exams were over, it really compressed my marking time into about a 6 hour period.

Wednesday, January 14: Today we had to invigilate for the Year 2 Listening Exams from 8:30-10 a.m. and another set from 10:30-12:00.  This meant that I got another set of 37 Listening Exams from my Year 1 students to mark.  For the rest of the day, all I did was mark exams: 19 Writing exams and 12 Listening exams.  It was a thankless day.

Thursday, January 15: Luckily, I didn’t have to invigilate for any more exams, so I hunkered down and marked the final 18 Writing exams and the final 25 Listening exams.  Needless to say, it was a very long day.

Friday, January 16: Today, I had to transfer all the grades from my exams (73 Writing and 37 Listening and 37 Speaking, which we had given last week) to spreadsheets and double-check them, and write a summary as to why the grades are the way they are (SCIC requires that all classes have an 80% average (+ or – 4%)). I did it all, handing my grades in by 4:00 p.m.  However, I found out the office handing out the travel allowances was closed until Saturday.

Saturday, January 17 & Sunday, January 18: This morning, first thing, I went to the office with all my signed-off papers and got my travel allowance, which is really just the money reimbursing us for our original flight to China back in September.  It really isn’t anything but a back payment for money we’ve already spent.  However, I was determined to get it before I left on my holiday.

Meanwhile, during this horrible week of marking, I was also booking hotels and flights for Alex’s and my trip to Yunnan in the first half of February.  I also was working on booking my in-country flights and hotels in Myanmar, which I never had time to complete and had to do while I was traveling.

Over the weekend, I was still working on booking things for my holiday, getting my apartment cleaned for Mike’s arrival, taking care of banking matters (I had to get crisp new U.S. Dollars to exchange in Myanmar), and packing. And during my down time, I spent countless hours watching all the episodes of the final season of Breaking Bad, one right after the other. 🙂

Monday, January 19:  Mike is due to arrive in Nanning at 10:55 a.m. on Air China, so I take off from my apartment at around 9:45 to walk to the front gate of the university and catch a taxi.  Luckily I get there in time and I capture him as he comes in through the gate with the other mostly Chinese passengers.  I am very happy to see him after being away from home for four and half months.

Mike arrives at Nanning International Airport

Mike arrives at Nanning International Airport

We get in line at the taxi stand where I show the driver my trusty Nanning map with Guangxi University on it, since the drivers can never understand me when I say “Guangxi Daxue,” which means Guangxi University.  I don’t know how I’m saying it incorrectly, because whenever I listen to a Chinese person say it, it sounds the same as when I say it.  However, no one can EVER understand me.  As an English teacher who works in foreign countries, it’s really pathetic at how bad I am at learning new languages.

the taxi stand at the airport

the taxi stand at the airport

It’s about a 45 minute drive from the airport to the university and Mike is bewildered by the lively chaos that defines the streets of Nanning: motorbikes, e-bikes, bicycles, three-wheeled contraptions, fancy cars and SUVs, plus vendors selling every item known to man.  I’m sure a city like Nanning is a shock to someone like Mike who has never been to Asia before.

We take his suitcase to my apartment and head out directly to my favorite dumpling place across the road from the university’s Main Gate.  We order dumplings with pork and Chinese chives, dumplings with water chestnuts and my favorite ultra-salty and spicy green beans with red peppers.

Mike tries dumplings at my favorite dumpling place

Mike tries dumplings at my favorite dumpling place

I take Mike to my favorite dumpling spot

I take Mike to my favorite dumpling spot

After lunch, we change into some walking clothes and take a nearly 4 mile walk outside of the West Gate of the university.  I have to pick up a poncho I dropped off at a dry cleaner there, so I choose that route for today.  I figure he’d like to move around after sitting on a cramped airplane for endless hours.

I give him a little time to relax in my apartment while I finish packing, as we leave Tuesday at 5:20 p.m. on an overnight train to Jishou.

For dinner, we go to a Japanese restaurant which I used to like but now has a much reduced menu.  I actually don’t order anything because I’m stuffed from the afternoon’s dumplings, but what Mike orders has some kind of meat prepared in the typical Chinese style, full of gristle and fat.  He doesn’t eat much either as he gets tired of spitting out all the unsavory parts of the meat.  We do however toast his visit with a Tsingtao beer. 🙂

Categories: Asia, China, Chinese language, Expat life, Guangxi University, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Language barrier, Nanning, Nanning Wuxu International Airport, Sino-Canadian International College (SCIC), Teaching English as a Second Language, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 44 Comments

a bamboo boat ride down the yulong river & home to nanning

Monday, October 6:  The Yangshuo River View Hotel must truly be a family affair, because today Vivian’s husband drives me in his van to the launch spot for the bamboo boat ride down the YuLong River.  It’s supposed to be a two-hour drift down the river to a bridge near town.  Sadly I don’t remember either the launch site name or the bridge.

When we arrive at the bustling spot, the boats are all jumbled together waiting for customers.  It’s nearly 11:00 a.m.  I need to leave Yangshuo this afternoon around 3:30 or 4:00 to head to Guilin for my 6:10 p.m. train.  I’m not ready at all to leave this place, but my holiday ends tomorrow and it’s back to work on Wednesday.

Starting off on the bamboo boats

Starting off on the bamboo boats

I’m guided to my own private boat by a young man who will be my boatman.  I have to climb unsteadily over a bunch of bobbing boats to get to mine.

a jumble of boats

a jumble of boats

special viewing seat

special viewing seat

I guess the river must be really shallow because the boatmen use long poles to push the boats down the river using the river bed for leverage.

heading down the river

heading down the river

traffic jam

escaping the traffic jam

We finally break free of the other boats and drift down the river.  The views again are stupendous, with the karsts around us in every direction.  Everyone is cocooned in bright orange life vests and shaded by rainbow-colored umbrellas.

karst backdrop to the YuLong River

karst backdrop to the YuLong River

my boatman

my boatman

another boat

another boat

cruising

cruising

My boatman has to work hard with his pole.  He doesn’t speak any English and of course I know no Chinese.  There is no need for words, so we drift silently.

my boatman in his conical hat

my boatman in his conical hat

The boat passengers and boatmen on the other boats are pretty friendly, saying greetings of “Hello!” or “Nǐ Hǎo!”  I enjoy taking photos of the Chinese on the boats around me, and they equally enjoy taking pictures of me, the only foreigner in their midst.

there are moments of peace

there are moments of peace

pretty scenery

pretty scenery

I love the karst scenes

I love the karst scenes

floating

floating

beauty along the way

beauty along the way

Click on any of the photos below for a full-sized slide-show.

I enjoy watching these little girls standing at the end of their rafts in pretty dresses.

Little girls stand on their rafts

Little girls stand on their rafts

i see some farmers and water buffalo along the shore, framed by picturesque haystacks.

water buffalo on the shore

water buffalo on the shore

We pass another launch site that looks a little deserted.

another launching point along the river

another launching point along the river

bamboo rafts

bamboo rafts

shady passage

shady passage

the karsts are ubiquitous and ephemeral

the karsts are ubiquitous and ephemeral

YuLong River

YuLong River

Peaceful cruise

Peaceful cruise

We pass by the Yangshuo Mountain Retreat.  Audrey and I stopped here on our bike ride and saw the boaters going down the river.  Now I’m one of the boaters.

I like their sign for “Romantic Riverside Dinning.”

Yangshuo Mountain Retreat, where I stopped on my bicycle ride: casual "dinning"

Yangshuo Mountain Retreat, where I stopped on my bicycle ride: Romantic Riverside “Dinning”

Yangshuo Mountain Retreat

Yangshuo Mountain Retreat

The water here is very shallow.  The grass rippling in the water is a little hypnotic.

flowing grasses

flowing grasses

There are some places where people are stopping to eat, but my boatman just keeps pushing us downriver.

lunch stop for others but not for me

lunch stop for others but not for me

This little bridge is a cute one.

pretty little bridge

pretty little bridge

passing under the bridge

passing under the bridge

At another stopping place, I see this young lady checking her cell phone.

checking that cell phone

checking that cell phone

On the way downriver, we cross a lot of dams, going down chutes and landing hard at the bottom, with water washing up over our bow.  It adds a little thrill to the ride.

geese on a dam

geese on a dam

I don’t think this couple is very thrilled at being stuck on the dam.

stuck on the dam

stuck on the dam

looking back at the dam and the hotel on the shore

looking back at the dam and the hotel on the shore

We pass some more pretty hotels along the river.

pretty peak

pretty peak

Finally we come to this bridge.  I look at my watch and see we’ve only been on the river for one hour.  I figure my boatman is taking a break or letting me out to buy souvenirs, but then I realize he’s telling me this is the end.  I was told this is a two-hour ride, so I don’t want to get off the boat, but the boatman keeps gesturing for me to get off.  I’m not very happy about this as I paid for two-hour trip, so I call the hotel to talk to Matthew, the English-speaking manager.   He talks to the boatman and then explains the situation to me.  Apparently, the two-hour boat ride is for people who make stops along the way, like for photos or for meals.  My boatman never offered me any stops, probably because he couldn’t speak English, but also partly because he could finish early and go upriver again to pick up another customer.  I’m not very happy about being misled.  I really did expect a full two hours of a BOAT RIDE, whether I made any stops along the way or not!

the bridge where we disembark

the bridge where we disembark

I call Vivian to have her husband pick me up, and he comes shortly and takes me back to town.  My Rough Guide to China had recommended the Pure Lotus Vegetarian Restaurant.  I had tried to eat here another evening, but something was wrong with their cooking facility when I stopped by.  Now I ask Vivian’s husband to drop me off here.  I sit on the lovely patio and order some grilled eggplant.

sitting on the back deck of Pure Lotus Vegetarian

sitting on the back deck of Pure Lotus Vegetarian

When the eggplant comes, I don’t recognize it as eggplant; it looks like the mushy fringe of a damp mop.

Grilled and fringed eggplant

Grilled and fringed eggplant

The eggplant tastes good, but it’s cooked in a lot of oil, and immediately I can feel my stomach churning.  Again I’ve made the mistake of assuming that if I’m eating vegetables in China, my stomach will be okay.  I’m going to have to face the fact that if the food, meat or vegetables, is cooked in oil, I’m possibly going to get sick.  I don’t know why sometimes the oily food makes me sick and sometimes not.

Pure Lotus Vegetarian

Pure Lotus Vegetarian

Feeling sick from this meal makes for a long trip back to Nanning.  I don’t feel like taking a bus this time to Guilin, so I hire a taxi for 260 yuan (~ $42).  I get to the train station way too early, and the whole time I’m sitting there, my stomach is churning.  On the 2 hour 40 minute train ride home, my stomach continues to churn.

When I finally arrive back at the Nanning Railway Station, the crowds getting off the train are unbelievable.  We move like cattle off the train platform and are chuted into two stairwells.  We are so packed that I feel claustrophobic.  I have a lot of anxiety; television shows I’ve seen about stampeding crowds flash before my eyes.  I imagine getting crushed in a tired and irritable crowd of people anxious to get home.  Finally, after what seems like an interminable time, we are released outdoors.  It doesn’t end here. At the bus stops, the crowds are pushing onto the buses that come up to the train station.  I don’t want to be packed on a bus with all those people, so I look in vain for a taxi.  There are none to be found; every one seems to be taken.  I’m tired and I just want to get home.

Finally, an older guy on a motorbike asks me where I’m going.  I tell him Guangxi Daxue (university).  I must not be saying it right because he doesn’t seem to understand me.   In desperation, I pull out the Pleco app on my phone and show him the word.  He repeats what I thought I said, and then he sticks my suitcase between his legs on the motorbike and tells me to hop on.  In some countries this might be dangerous, but I don’t think it is in China.  I’m so happy to be back on a motorbike again and on my way home.  It’s quite cool tonight and the breeze feels incredibly refreshing on my skin. I love the sense of freedom that riding on a motorbike brings.

We ride directly to the university gate, where I hop off and pay him 20 yuan (~ $3.26) and walk back to my room. There, I collapse on my bed after a long day.

What a fabulous holiday.  I’d say my first solo trip in China was a great success. 🙂

Categories: Asia, China, Expat life, Guangxi University, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Guilin, Language barrier, Nanning Railway Station, National Holiday, Pleco app, Pure Lotus Vegetarian Restaurant, Translation, Travel, Yangshuo, Yangshuo Mountain Retreat, Yulong River | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

torch road, better known as huojù lù

Wednesday, October 1:  Outside the main gate of the university is a street my students translate as Torch Road; in Pinyin Huǒjù lù.  I usually park my bike inside the campus gates, in the bicycle “parking lot.”  Then I go out the front gate and make a sharp left.

Where I park my bike when I go to Torch Street

Where I park my bike when I go to Torch Street

On Torch Road are a variety of restaurants, lingerie and shoe stores, spas, a bakery and fruit juice stands.  It’s a colorful street that beckons those of us who want to escape the campus and have a bit of city life.

typical restaurant along the street

typical restaurant along the street

commerce

commerce Chinese style

Clothing & shoe store

Clothing & shoe store

This week, I visit this street a number of times.  I go in search of some practical non-slippery Chinese shoes.  I brought sandals with me from Virginia, but most of them have slippery soles.  When it rains around here, the granite sidewalks become like sheets of ice. I’ve witnessed people falling, and I’ve almost lost it myself a couple of times.

I have success in my search.  I buy a pair of sandals, a pair of purple tennis shoes, some colorful footies, a lime drink sort of like a Slurpee (lemon ice), and some candles.

shoes Chinese style

Chinese style shoes at Exull

Friendly salespeople at Exull

Friendly salespeople at Exull

more practical than stylish :-)

my purchases: more practical than stylish 🙂

colorful nail polish

colorful nail polish

a residence building along the street

a residence building along the street

candy-colored lingerie

candy-colored lingerie

Fruity fun.

Fruity fun.

cake at the bakery

cake at the bakery

drinks in the bakery

drinks in the bakery

bakery

bakery

At the lemon ice shop, I’m enticed by the green drink on the next to the last panel on the right.  It takes quite a while to make it, and when it’s done it’s like a huge lime Slurpee.  It takes me all of one afternoon and the next day to drink it all because I keep getting brain freeze.

lemon ice

lemon ice

lemons

lemons

As I walk down the road today, a young lady falls in beside me and starts chatting.  She’s struggling with her English, but I’m proud of her for trying.  She introduces herself as Chen Pingfang and she wants to exchange phone numbers because she “wants to be my friend.”  I ask if she would mind going into the hair salon with me to help translate.  I have a photo of an Asian girl with a haircut I like.  After much talking back and forth between Chen Pingfang and the hairstylist, he tells her the cost will be between 100-300 yuan.  That’s quite a range!  I start to go because I want a set price before I sit down.  Finally the stylist, Han Lu Jao, agrees to charge me 148 yuan (~ $24) which Chen Pingfang relays to me.  She then says her goodbyes and leaves.

Han Lu Jao sits me down in the chair and studies my photo.  He pulls out a book with little samples of hair in dark colors and asks which color I want.  I motion that no, I don’t want color, just a cut, and I use my fingers to make a scissors motion.  Finally he understands that I only want a cut.  I guess he figures if I have a picture of an Asian girl, I want to have my hair exactly like hers, color and all.

at the hair salon: I guess I'm an anomaly :-)

at the hair salon: I guess I’m an anomaly 🙂

This demonstrates the peril of having someone translate for you when you don’t really know the level of their English ability and whether they really understand what you want! 🙂

Han Lu Jao

My hairstylist, Han Lu Jao

Tomorrow morning, I’m getting up at the crack of dawn to head to the train station, and on to Guilin and Yangshuo!  Happy National Holiday!

 

Categories: Asia, China, Chinese language, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Language barrier, Nanning, Pinyin, Translation | Tags: , , , , | 14 Comments

shopping conundrums in the south of china

Tuesday, September 9:  I need shampoo and conditioner, body lotion and toilet paper, a scrub brush and cleaning solution.  I go with my list in hand to NanBai SuperMarket outside the main gate of the university.  Foolishly, I figure I’ll be able to find these things easily.  I’m wrong.  Have you ever noticed that shampoo and conditioner bottles, as well as body lotion and body wash, all look alike?  We can tell them apart in our home countries, but only because we can read the labels.

NanBai Supermarket

NanBai Supermarket

The array of products in the supermarket is overwhelming. Of course most products don’t have English labels, so you have to figure out what you’re looking at by scoping out similar products in the same aisle, or by looking at pictures on the package, or by asking for help.  Asking for help isn’t easy either, as most of the staff in the supermarket speaks no English.

I do recognize one thing.  Chinese kisses, of the Hershey’s variety.

Chinese kisses

Chinese kisses

The Chinese people seem to love their snacks.  There are hundreds of choices, and I don’t know what half of them are.

Lots of mini-snacks of some kind

Lots of mini-snacks of some kind

It’s common knowledge that the Chinese language is especially difficult because Chinese characters do not constitute an alphabet.   Each character generally represents one syllable of spoken Chinese and may be a word on its own or a part of a polysyllabic word. The characters themselves are often composed of parts that may represent physical objects, abstract notions, or pronunciation.  Educated and literate Chinese people must memorize about 4,000 symbols.

I’d think English would be easy in comparison.

I’d love to buy some beer, but I have no idea what kind to get.  I pick a couple randomly: Tsingtao and Xiaomaiwang.

Even the beer is confusing

Even the beer is confusing

I pull out my phone and look at my Chinese translation app, Pleco.  This app will save my life in China.  Either that or I need to seriously learn some Chinese.  The app allows you to spell out an English word, and then a drop-down list of Chinese words pops up.  You can look through the definitions and find the one closest to your meaning.  When I put in “shampoo,” I find seven different words for shampoo: xifaji, xiangbo or xifaru are a few of them.  These are the Pinyin spellings, and they also have marks on them like stress marks, short vowel sound marks, etc, but I don’t know how to type them in, so you can just imagine.  Pinyin is the official phonetic system for transcribing the Mandarin pronunciations of Chinese characters into the Latin alphabet in the People’s Republic of China, Republic of China (Taiwan), and Singapore.

Besides Pinyin, which helps us Westerners to approximate the word by sounding out the Latin letters, the word is also in Chinese characters, and if you push a speaker button, a Chinese voice pronounces the word.  I look carefully at the Chinese characters on the app and try to recognize the characters on the bottles.  None of them seem to match, but then again there are seven different Chinese words for shampoo in my Pleco translation app.  Finally, I have to resort to asking for help.

The Chinese salesgirl knows no English at all, but she’s eager to help.  I show her the word for shampoo, xifagi, along with the Chinese characters, and I press the button to play the voice saying the word, which actually sounds like “see-fah’-tee.”  She pulls me over to a shelf and points out the shelves with shampoos.  I pick Dove because I know that brand.

Pleco translation: shampoo

Pleco translation: shampoo

Then on to conditioner.  The first words that come up have to do with air conditioners.  Finally, down the list, I find hufasu, for hair conditioner.  At first she is showing me body washes because she motions as if she’s washing her arms and her body.  I make motions indicating I’m looking for something for my hair.  I pick up another Dove product.

For the body lotion, two words pop up.  One is runfuru which means both body lotion and body shampoo.  These are two different things and I don’t want to get one, thinking it’s the other.  The other is runfulu, which is just body lotion.  The girl picks bottles off the shelves and has me sniff them.  I take the one called Rose Body Essence.

Toilet paper is easy because I know I’ll recognize it.  The problem is I don’t know where it is in the store.  Since the girl is so helpful, I ask her where it is after looking it up: shouzhi, pronounced like sho-jay, and she takes me to it.

I have already looked around and around for a scrub brush and have been unable to find one.  When I type in “scrub brush,” there are no results.  I type in “brush” and get a lot of brushes, for hair, for brush-off, for writing, for painting, for cleaning pots and pans.  I want one for the floor, and there doesn’t seem to be such a thing.  While making motions and showing her the word xishua, pronounced see-schwah, several shoppers and other salesgirls gather around us and are trying to figure out what I’m looking for.  Everyone seems baffled, even the girls who speak a little English.  Finally, something clicks, and the salesgirl pulls me to the aisle with mops and brooms.  Voila! There is one, although it seems a flimsier version of what we use for scrub brushes in America.

We go through the same rigmarole with cleaning solution.

Cleaning solutions

Cleaning solutions

I find the word qingjieji, which sounds like tsching-tia-ti.

cleaning solution

cleaning solution

The problem is the sales girl is showing me cleaning solutions for kitchen sinks and countertops and I need it for floors.  I motion as if I’m cleaning the floor and she points out a bottle that says Floor Cleaner on it. I would have seen it if I’d had my glasses on.

Floor cleaner, not to be mistaken for body wash

Floor cleaner, not to be mistaken for body wash

When all is said and done and my shopping basket is neatly filled with all the items on my list, I want to tell the girl how nice she has been to help me.  I look up “you,” and find “Nǐ.”  Then I look up “nice” and I find “hǎo.”  I say to her “Nǐ hǎo?” but I’m confused because “Nǐ hǎo” means “hello” in Chinese!  She looks at me quizzically and I laugh and she laughs because we both understand that Nǐ hǎo is not what I’m trying to say at all.

There is definitely a limit to these translation apps. 🙂

Later, Caleb, my friend and colleague who speaks fluent Chinese gets a laugh out of my story.  He says I needed to say: “Nǐ hěn bùcuò,” meaning “You ARE nice.”

At the checkout stand, I either have to provide my own bag, which I don’t have with me today, or I need to ask for the number of bags I want to buy.  Caleb taught me a handy sentence for this.  “Wo yao yi ge dai zi,” meaning “I would like one bag.” The Google Translator has it as:  Wǒ xiǎng yīgè dàizi.  Before Caleb taught me this, I would indicate with my fingers how many bags I wanted. This is now the only complete sentence I can say in Chinese. 🙂

When I get home, I put all my groceries away.  I put the floor cleaner in my bathroom with my shampoo and conditioner as if it’s body wash.  I momentarily forget I didn’t buy any body wash!  Then I’m looking all over for the Floor Cleaner and decide the checker must have forgotten to put it in my bag.  Finally, when I put my glasses on, I go back to inspect the “body wash” and find that it’s in fact my floor cleaner.  I’m sure glad I didn’t use it to wash my face and body when I took my next shower. 

This is what I get for going around without glasses. 🙂 

Friday, September 26:  I want to buy index cards to use in my classes.  I go to my favorite stationery store and I look all over.  I can’t find any, so I put “index cards” in my app.  No results found.  Then I try to explain to the shopkeeper what I want. I take some lined Post-it® notes and I take some postcards, and I point to the Post-it® notes and then to the postcard to show I want the Post-it® Notes in cardboard form.  She doesn’t understand.  I look up “cardboard” and show her, but she still doesn’t understand.  A Chinese girl who speaks some English overhears and comes to help.  I explain to her what I want, and it slowly dawns on her what I want.  She asks the shopkeeper, who says they don’t carry these kinds of cards.  The Chinese girls tells me she doesn’t think I can find them in China.

I end up buying 3 boxes of postcards which can serve the same purpose but are a lot more expensive.

Saturday, September 27:  I go to the open market at the university hoping to find a cheap ironing board.  The university provided one in my apartment, but it was so filthy and disgusting that I threw it in the trash a day after I arrived.  Later I got chewed out when I told them I threw it away because they said it belonged to the university and I had no right to throw it away.  I said I would have asked for a new one anyway because it was disgusting, but they would have none of that.  They insisted that I pay for the one I threw away.  I told them I would replace it because I need one anyway, and I don’t want them to simply provide me with another filthy one.

I can’t find an ironing board at this market, so I wander around looking at the fruits and vegetables.  Vendors try to sell me various foods, but honestly I don’t know what they are and I don’t want to buy something when I have no idea what it is.  One man points to a pomelo, which I’ve never tasted, and I agree to buy it.  I’ve heard they’re good, and I want to try new foods while I’m here.  The vendor has a sharp curved knife in his hand and makes a move like he will cut the top of the pomelo off if I like.  I shake my head “No,” because why on earth would I want him to cut into that huge thing right at the market?  I’ll wait till I get home to do that.   Of course I’m curious as to why he wants to do that, but I have no way of knowing.  Was he only going to sell me a part of it?  Or was he expecting me to taste it or eat it right there?

Another vendor points to these hairy small fruits (see below), and pulls one from the stem.  He hands it to me; I presume he wants me to taste it.  I stick it in my mouth, but it’s like eating a kiwi without peeling it.  I spit it out in pieces, confused.

What ARE these fruits?

What ARE these fruits?

Without even a smirk at my foolishness, the vendor patiently demonstrates how to peel it, exposing a white fleshy fruit inside.  “Oh!” I say, continuing to spit out the peeling and fruit that I’ve mushed together in my mouth.  He hands me small plastic bag in which to put my regurgitated fruit.

I want to burst out laughing at how ridiculous I must look to him, but he is still not cracking a smile.  He must have been laughing it up inside, and I bet he had a good story to tell his family when he got home. 🙂

Oh, shopping conundrums!

 

Categories: Asia, China, Chinese food, Chinese language, Chinese markets, Expat life, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Language barrier, NanBai Supermarket, Nanning, Pinyin, Pleco app, Translation, Xiaomaiwang beer | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 31 Comments

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