Missy and Jeremiah’s Magical Chinese Moments, Part yi

13 09 2009

So we thought, after I had devoted such a large chunk of the blog to quirky Chinese driving, their love for Jon Bon Jovi or questionable coffee, that we should have a part of the blog detailing all the really fine quintessentially Chinese interactions we have with people here. Hence the first Missy and Jeremiah’s Magical Chinese Moments post. Yi means one, for those who don’t know Mandarin.
Tonight I headed home alone on the bus after a failed attempt at watching the first match of the Second City Derby between Aston Villa and Birmingham City (which Villa won on an 85th minute Gabriel Agbonlahor goal, incidentally). Missy left early as I needed to stop off at the dorm to check the score of the match and pick up a few items we had left there earlier.
So I got on the bus and it was relatively empty, as the 24 (Er shi si – pronounced ERR-SURE-SIRRRR for those who don’t know Mandarin) often is at night. I sat up front, across from a young couple. The guy was staring, which is not unusual in China, and I wouldn’t even really call unpleasant, because everyone does it, and it’s rarely done with any kind of malice, so it ceases to bother you after a certain point. Anyway, he kept staring, occasionally stopping to tell his girlfriend something, and they’d both giggle. He also kept making motions of a beard or moustache. So after a certain point, I was starting to get annoyed. Alright buddy, I’m a (still moderately, despite all the walking) fat American with a big beard, I get it – I’m sorry you can’t grow one, but that’s life. But right when I felt I would glare at him a bit, he opens his bag, pulls out two Cokes and holds one across the walkway, offering it to me. I shrugged and took it, thanked him (Xiexie – pronounced roughly like TSAY-TSAY – for those who don’t know Mandarin. Your response would be bukushi, which sounds sort of like BOO-KUTCH) and took a drink. So we ended up having a conversation for about half of the bus ride. I can’t remember his name. It was something starting with Ma, as a lot of Chinese names here seem to. Anyway, both he and his girlfriend were students at the Nanjing Forestry School, which is a decent (so far as I’ve heard) school on the bus route. He asked if I had eaten dinner, because both he and his girlfriend were headed somewhere to eat dinner. I already had, but I thanked him for the offer. We talked more, and it turned out that his girlfriend, who hadn’t spoken English at all for most of the trip, just giggled, spoke better English than he did. His English was mediocre at best, but I appreciate the fact he was trying to hold a conversation with me. I told him I worked at the Nanjing Foreign Language School, and he was impressed, as people here invariably are. In the end, we chatted a bit more about the forestry school, and his plans for after – most likely something in the architecture vein, and I wished both of them a nice dinner before they got off the bus. So after a rough first impression, he was nice, as Chinese people often are. We have experienced very little outright hostility here. People are often curious – sometimes to the point of almost wrecking their vehicle to get a better look – but most people have been friendly, or even excited to talk to us and even have a little bit of interaction with a Westerner. We also had a couple young girls – probably 10 or 11 years old – who saw us struggling to order a tea/coffee/fruit drink at one of the many stands here and came back to help us order, then, when we left, said “We hope you enjoy your stay in China” in pretty serviceable English. Considering the amount of warnings we had received about people calling us laowai (Pronounced LOU –like loud minus the d – WHY, slang for foreigner) and being generally unpleasant, it just hasn’t happened here. Maybe it’s just Nanjing, but until we go somewhere where the experience is different, I’ll have nothing but kind words to say, as long as they aren’t behind the wheel or in the DJ booth.
-Jeremiah

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4 responses

15 09 2009
gl

I’ve generally found people everywhere to be friendly and helpful. I see the problems for people when they are expecting the ‘foreign’ place to be the US.

16 09 2009
Night Ranger

Seems like Laowai is actually a neutral or even polite term.

http://www.famouschinese.com/virtual/Laowai

16 09 2009
jeremiahsays

Well, I think that depends on who is using it and what the context is.

18 09 2009
gl

In Lost on the Planet China, the author tells of being called that simply pointing out that he is foreign. As you say, some of the contexts where it was used were fine and a couple of times it was scary…all in how it is spoken.

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