I am writing this blog sitting in a hotel in the middle of a dark hotel room in Zhengzhou, China. Zhengzhou is meant to be a stopover between many larger cities. Zhengzhou is a middle point between two places and not often a destination, even though it is a capital city. The fact that I am writing this from a hotel in this city says a lot about how my day has gone. First of all let me say that it is no surprise to anyone that I have a love affair with China. I adore this country. I fly, and to say I hate flying is an understatement, so that I can come to this country. Having said that, there are days when it throws me for a loop and today was one of those days.
I lost my patience today with several people. I will no doubt be referred to as tiny crazy lady, or dragon lady, in this city for a long time because I got a little peeved. I did not yell, but most people who speak Chinese as a second language will say there are some times when it would be better for everyone around them if they couldn’t speak the language. For me today was one of those times. I checked into my flight at Shenyang airport and the flight was supposed to go to Kunming. At check in I was informed that I would be changing flights in Zhengzhou and it was not just a stopover. I would actually have to get a new ticket and change planes. “OK” I said politely, “Would I have enough time?” The lady at the check in counter replied, “Oh certainly, more than enough.” I had my doubts so I later asked at the gate and found that this person thought I would definitely not have enough time if without someone to help me. “Tell the flight attendant,” she said, “she will arrange for someone to meet you and transfer you.” I then asked, “OK, well I have an international flight leaving from Beijing the next day, I am meant to fly to Kunming for a meeting then immediately after, fly to Beijing, so are there many daily flights from Zhengzhou to Beijing?” She replied, “Oh yes naturally!” Newton’s law went into effect here. A little voice said, “Switch airlines or flights now!” But I ignored the voice, I was already checked in and, I thought,I am not that person that screams about broken phalanges and gets off the plane. (Watch Friends the TV show.) So I took the flight, which arrive a half an hour late, and no one met me to help transfer me so, no, I didn’t make my flight to Kunming.
I finally found the domestic ticket desk at Zhengzhou airport, (see picture of airport above to the right), and some people who were reluctantly willing to help me. (At this point I had already gotten put out with the people at the transfer desk who couldn’t help and now was actually power walking mad so their reluctance was very understandable). There was not much they could do though. There were no more flights to Kunming today. The flights the next day were too late to arrive in time for my meeting. Surprise, surprise there were also no more flights to Beijing because there are not, as I had previously been told, many daily flights from Zhengzhou to Beijing. So I cancelled my meetings in Kunming with embarrassment and as much grace as I could manage and moved on to booking a ticket for Beijing tomorrow.
This sounds easy and it would have been but I am in a city where people are not supposed to stop or do things like buy brand new tickets so I could not pay with foreign currency or used my MasterCard to pay for the ticket. The banks were closed so I couldn’t exchange any of the three other types of foreign currency I had. So, I had to call my husband, have him purchase the ticket online and send me the confirmation while also looking up hotels. Then I had to confirm the flight with the airline which I had been told to do. Shoot to a picture of me still in the airport four hours later.
You may think my story is finally over, I have a plane ticket for Beijing and a reservation at a trusted hotel chain. “It wasn’t so bad after all”, you might be thinking. You would be wrong because as of this moment the electricity has gone off in the entire hotel and here I sit in the dark writing a blog because that is all there is left to do. You can read about how I ended up in a dark hotel room writing a blog in part 2, coming soon!
You may catch me sometimes looking at you blankly, hesitating for several beats before I answer your question or finish the sentence I just trailed off in the middle of. You may have already started your next thought and moved on without me. Forgive me, but the truth is I am still trying to figure out whether to call it a wardrobe, a dresser or a gui zi柜子. My mind is stuck in a hamster wheel flashing up other options that might work as well. The problem is that one of those words has the best meaning but the person I am talking to probably wouldn’t understand it. So here I am, holding my breath and waiting for the word to come out, and here you are, trying to pretend that I am not odd or an airhead or at the least just a little ditzy. In some instances I will just use the wrong word for the language I am speaking at the time, and if you wait for it I may remember to translate for you when it finally clicks that you have no idea what I just said. This process makes me look even more ditzy because I should be able to remember what language I am speaking, right?
I am not really bilingual, and if you want to know the truth I am not even biEnglishgual. Yep, you caught me, that is not a word. If in doubt I like to make it up as I go along. Try to keep up because my mind is a bumpy ride. So is it a clothespin or a peg? Or a clothes peg? Is it a laundry powder or laundry detergent or washing powder? The English isn’t even really the problem. It is just incredibly entertaining for you because in those instances when my mouth doesn’t wait for my brain to catch up, you to hear me rattle off every word I can think of that might fit until you nod and say, “Yes that is it, I know what you mean.” My good friends do this because they know they have to eventually indicate which word is the right one for Australia or else I will just keep going. Sometimes I think they let me keep going as long as they do because it amuses them to watch me try. Some of the words I come up with are way off base. Did you know a brad in the US is a split pin in Aussie land? Those words have no relation what so ever.
Chinese, that other language that I semi speak but am completely illiterate in, is the real issue. It’s the issue because there are so many of my thoughts, that after 12 years of living there, I must express in Chinese. You think I am talkative, verbose and overwhelming? Imagine if you could hear the 30% of my thoughts that are kept quiet because the entire sentence can only be expressed in Chinese. Oh boy, would you love that joke or appreciate the irony if only you knew what the heck I was saying. Imagine how much more articulate I am when I don’t stop breathing in the middle of a thought because the last half of the thought was in Chinese and now I have to translate it or explain it. You might find me understandable. You might think I was humorous. Well maybe not because I never really mastered the art of a joke in Chinese. I want to tell you I have a gege 哥哥, not a brother, because then you would know without any further explanation that he is my older brother. I want to tell you that that problem I am having is well meibanfa 没办法 . This has so much more meaning than just no solution because it indicates there will never be a solution and all hope is lost. I feel this way when dealing with websites and html. Another word that comes to me when I think of html is ma-fan麻烦. It means trouble or stress or both rolled into one. Hard to translate but sheer joy to apply when you are at the end of your rope. And when you are leaving my house after I have complained about all of the above, I want to say man-zou 慢走 because it kind of means take your time leaving but it also means I care and because I care I say man-zou not just see ya. If you are born into a single language family, then all your thoughts and feeling take place in that language. Like me, you may not realize that there are a bunch of other thoughts, feelings and ways to describe things until you start to learn your second language. Once that other language and culture becomes part of you, it becomes very difficult not to express that other language and culture. It becomes, for me, like holding your breath and containing all those other descriptions and thoughts that are running through your head.
By the way if you are bilingual and would like to own one of the t-shirts in the picture above, you can find them and many more items for bilingual families at Bilingual Style.
For those who choose to study or live internationally the community and support groups that help people are increasing and are increasingly good at what they do. People are finding it easier in today’s world to live internationally than they ever have before. In Australia we see people coming here from several different countries to live, study and work. The trend of living internationally is definitely growing. In the past 5 years the number of expatriates living and working in China has increased 18% and the Indian consulate in San Francisco has reported that from 2009 to 2010 the number of visas issued for Americans going to work in India doubled. Worldwide, according to justlanded.com, in the year 2000 there were 161 million of us living and working overseas and in the year 2010 that number had increased to 200 million.
There are several questions raised by these trends in our global community. One of which is: Are we, as a society, preparing our children for what is happening in the world today?
A person who reaches the top of their chosen career path today will find that in order to be the best or to work with the best they must live and work internationally. They must speak another language or two or three and feel comfortable working with people who hold a variety of cultural perspectives. In sports the top coaches move in international circles. Australian’s recent national soccer coach was from Germany. Yao Ming went from playing basketball in China to playing NBA in the U.S. This is not to mention the many interesting coach and player partnerships in tennis, which seems to specialize in international cooperation. If you are a chef chances are you will eventually want to study or work in another country to learn more about international cuisine. One example is Manu Feidel from the TV show, My Kitchen Rules. Manu is French but now works and lives in Australian. He also lived in England for a period of time. We tend to think of the manufacturing industry and diplomatic circles as career paths in which knowing another language and international problem solving are great skills to have. However, more and more as we look around this world being free to expand your career means to move amongst different cultures and languages.
Looking at some of the most famous actors and pop singers in Asia will also show this growing trend as many of them were born or have lived in western countries for a large time period before making their name across several Asian countries. South Korea and China even have a pop group named Exo, made of 12 members, 6 Korean and 6 Chinese and they sing songs in both Mandarin and Korean.
Starting early and preparing yourself with international cross-cultural experience and language study gives a person a much stronger ability to live without boundaries. Studying in another country as an exchange student, or later as part of your university studies, gives you the freedom to take your career where you want it to go. To live in the global community the way it is now, with the skills to take you anywhere you might want to go.
Written by China Promotions Manager Christa Smith
Shanghai Calling is a cute romantic comedy about a Chinese American man who moves to Shanghai with no ability to speak Mandarin and no understanding of Chinese culture. I watch TV and movies in Mandarin to help me with my listening abilities but this one made me laugh because it made me remember what I was like when I first moved to China about 15 years ago. It also reminded me quite a lot of some of the expats in China I met over the years. The main character,Sam, assumes that he can fix most of his work and personal problems the same way he could back in the States. He even makes the mistake of thinking his assistant is flirting with him when she is just trying to help him learn the culture. He does learn, eventually, that he has to have help and that he needs to learn more about the culture and the language.
I liked this movie because the characters were unexpected but they were more like the people I actually knew when I lived in China. The American woman who is more Chinese than the Chinese American man. The child who only speaks Chinese and refuses to speak English. The warm family and caring boyfriend. I really enjoyed the “Awesome Wang” character. A nice guy with a daughter he loves, who is good at helping expats out when they misunderstand the culture or have a problem with work.
I think we all need an “Awesome Wang” or cultural mentor. I think that even if Sam had been able to speak and read perfect Chinese he still would have had problems because of his cultural misunderstandings. Moving to a new country for work or working with expats can be difficult because we are not coming from the same culture and there are many times when we miscommunicate. Sometimes these can be humorous, we hope, and sometimes they can be shocking and embarrassing.
This can even happen when people study English. I watch a lot of movies and TV to help with my language learning but have learned not to repeat the slang I hear because not every idiom or slang word that is said on TV is appropriate for use in conversation or I might use it the wrong way. I also love the way Sam falls in love with the people, language and culture by living there and making friends. I think the best way to learn a language is by immersing ourselves for a short time or a long time in that language and culture. I love the way the movie shows that sometimes falling in love with living overseas can sneak up on you.
Written by our new China Promotions Manager Christa Smith.
This one is a bit girly and pink , but if you don’t mind that, its a great app! If you have a little princess at home – this is the app for you. Also good for pre gender stereotyped kids such as my 2 year old boy whose favourite part is the sticker game pictured below.
The interesting thing about this app is that it is story based rather than category based like most of the other apps. You get the story of Snow White for free. There are another 4 books you can buy for $1.99 each: Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella.
There are 4 parts – Read, Colour, Play and Sing.
Read: The story of Snow White is presented in book form, read to you in an American accent, with a few Chinese sentenced interspersed throughout. Icons appear on the side of the page as new Chinese words are introduced. These are flashcards that can be clicked on to see the picture bigger, then clicked on to see the Chinese character on the back. The words taught are bird, princess, rabbit, deer, squirrel, 1, 2, 3, my name is, good bye, very good and thank you.
Colour: This is a simple colouring exercise. The only learning component is that as you pick a new colour to use it is said out loud for you to hear.
Play: (1) Memory – classic game of memory trying to match 2 of the same images. The word is pronounced when a correct match is found.
(2) Bingo – listen to the word, and look at the picture, and find the matching card.
(3) Sticker – 4 stickers to match to the empty shapes in the picture.
Sing: A song about Snow White can be played from beginning to end or section y section using the interactive buttons.
What I like: A good mix of greetings, numbers and animals all based around a well known story. Lovely colourful illustrations.
What I don’t like: Really does push the buying of more books as your ‘library’ looks very empty with only one book in it.
Suite 18, Piccadilly Square West Building
7 Aberdeen Street, Perth, WA, Australia
Telephone +61 448 089 336
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