Counting the days to Chinese fluency

By Lise Floris Source:Global Times Published: 2017/9/3 5:03:41

Illustrations: Xia Qing/GT

He shuffles along a street in the Zaoying community. His pajama bottoms show underneath the hem of his pants, and he carries a small birdcage in his hand. He smiles at me. I want to ask him where he is going with the bird. Does the bird need fresh air? Does he you ever let it out? Does it have a name? Does he go to a different park every day to hang it up in a tree? But the only thing that comes out of my mouth is, "May I take a picture?"

Once again, I hit the language barrier at full speed and fall flat on my face.

If I were a WeChat sticker, I would be the happy piglet in a convertible, waving toy windmills at a hundred miles an hour. I am enthusiastic about living in Beijing. My curiosity has no limits. I want to know what the Chinese think, bombard them with questions and mind their business in every possible way.

Thanks to the efforts of my fantastic teacher Yu Laoshi and the progress my classmates and I have made in speaking Chinese and recognizing characters, I am now beyond the phase of simple Chinese questions like do you have this in a large and statements like this is too expensive. But alas, I am still not remotely capable of having a deep conversation in Chinese.

When I'm with my Chinese friends, I tend to treat them like my walking-talking Chinese dictionary. They often hear me exclaim, "Wait, let me get a piece of paper and write that expression down!" But sadly, I don't always have them by my side when I feel the urge to ask older Beijingers an avalanche of nosy questions.

Take for example the man who sings beautiful arias by the lake in Tuanjiehu Park. During my imaginary conversation with him, I ask him if he's a trained opera singer and whether he sings for his own pleasure or secretly hopes to impress someone.

Then there is the beautiful raven-haired fashionista in Sanlitun. Is she's a pop star? Is that Prada handbag real? I know how to ask if something is genuine in Chinese, but perhaps it would be too direct.

What about the elderly couple in the queue at the supermarket. Their grandson is adorable. Despite their love for and devotion to this child who is most likely their only grandchild, do they sometimes wish they had more freedom?

One of my friends once said that "learning Chinese is nine kicks in the crotch for every one kiss on the cheek." It's an uphill struggle. But I can see the reward on the horizon.

Every small improvement, every kiss on the cheek will slowly but surely tear down the language barrier and bring me closer to the man in the street. Every new word or sentence will help give me a broader understanding of the culture and the trends in China.

Wait for me, please. I am learning.

This article was published on the Global Times Metropolitan section Two Cents page, a space for reader submissions, including opinion, humor and satire. The ideas expressed are those of the author alone, and do not represent the position of the Global Times.


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