I’m occasionally reminded that sometimes, foreign country or not, people are not always friendly and remain "people." Those little experiences sting even more than they would back home, I think. Why? Because it’s too easy to lose oneself in the illusion of newness and change; when you’re still settling into a new country, you look at it with rose-tinted glasses. Everyone’s smiling because they love you and the shiny newness of it all overwhelms stark reality sometimes.
So bitch-post…It really irks me when Chinese people speak to me, knowing I don’t speak a lick of Chinese, and then point and poke fun at me as if laughing uses different sounds in English. Most of the time, they’ll try, and if my growing, but still tiny vocabulary of Chinese words is insufficient, they’ll smile in a friendly way and pat the air with one hand. Universally recognized as "don’t worry about it." Entirely polite and acceptable – I wouldn’t want to talk to me either if it was going to be a headache. But then there’s the ones who will keep babbling on, despite my steadfast replies in a foreign tongue and occasional "Wo ying yu ma" – I speak English. They laugh, draw signs, poke the guy in the seat in front of them on the bus, who might turn over their shoulder and join in, laughing as if I’m that clueless, and eventually the entire back of the bus is drawn into the spectacle. That’s not cool.
Were I alone, I might try to calm my frazzled emotions by telling myself that I still don’t speak a bit of Chinese and no doubt a ton was lost in translation – they might not necessarily have been mocking me. Nope; Chrissy was sitting two rows down and confirmed that row was laughing every time the guy next to me would speak (who happened to have the worst ass breath I’d ever encountered).
So Jenn, also on the bus, passed me her survival Mandarin guide. Yay, okay! Let’s try and have an actual conversation – at that point I was somewhat reluctant, suspecting mockery, but I plumbed my mind, purging as much irritation and anger out as I could and turned on a font of Metta, of Loving-Kindness for my fellow man. I hurriedly thumbed through the book searching for some sort of connection, while my Chinese counterpart looked over my shoulder with a bland sort of amusement, clearly not expecting much. Once I found the right word I then attempted to answer the question I thought he was asking. "I will be in Jinan for one year," I said somewhat shakily. He stared as if I had stuck a knife in his side. No more rambling responses, no more "helpful" hand gestures or drawings of Chinese characters I can’t read on his hand. Confused, I decided to flip through the "Meeting People" section, hoping for a fresh burst of inspiration. And suddenly I had one! A sentence I knew I could say perfectly because I know all of the words in pinyin – "Ni shenmuh zao?" – What do you do for work? I threw those magic words into the air, expecting divine inspiration. He pat the air and turned away. And the rest of the gawkers turned as one with the rustle of coats, deciding the window was far more interesting.
That really pissed me off…Had I not had an awesome time making dumplings at Hannah’s place with my friends I’d be stewing. But instead I make pork/mushroom/onion dumplings and they were epic! That said though, it’s a bit more inspiration to learn Chinese quickly; I don’t like feeling like an idiot, no matter my circumstances. It’s sort of a problem of mine – when it comes to anything; new job, new hobby, whatever, I have to master it in a short time or I beat myself up and/or quit.