You Know Your Chinese Is Better When…

by Sam Silverman ’14

First let me introduce myself. My name is Sam Silverman, and I am studying with Hamilton’s ACC (Associated Colleges in China) program. I love China, long walks on the beach, breathing smog, and haggling in Chinese so I can save myself about ¢35.

Today I’m celebrating an anniversary of sorts. Today is my one-month anniversary of living in Beijing. No English, no Facebook, no problem. I have absolutely loved every moment and my Chinese has gotten a lot better. In only the first month, ordering food has become second nature; I can tell if a taxi driver is just driving around aimlessly trying to jack up the price; and, maybe most importantly, I can haggle like the best of them.

Top five reasons I know my Chinese is better:

  1. Ordering in restaurants is no problem at all. In China, when a waiter hands you a menu, they also expect you to order within the next 30 seconds. The first few weeks it would take 15 minutes to just figure out that my food had beef in it. Now, I’m telling them that I want it medium rare.
  2. I’m literally a subway master. This isn’t so much about Chinese as it is my general knowledge of Beijing. In Beijing, the subway is 2 kuai, which converts to about ¢25. It is super easy and convenient, and you can literally go anywhere in the city. The first few weeks I was struggling. Hard. Now I would rather ride the subway for an hour across town than shell out for a taxi.
  3. I see heads turn when I walk by. While I am devilishly handsome, what Chinese people can’t get over is my Chinese. If it’s on the subway, bus or walking around the markets, whenever fellow ACC students and I speak Chinese, I see jaws drop and just looks of shock on people faces. Before, they would laugh at us struggling through a conversation but now, people just look at us with than expression of, “Oh s***, they are learning our language now, and they are good.”
  4.  Certain Chinese words are becoming part of my English vocabulary. When I talk to my parents on Skype, there have been multiple time when I have said dui (correct) in stead of “okay” or said hao (good) instead of “sounds good”. I’ve realized that when I am not reading or writing in English (which is pretty much all the time), that I am thinking in Chinese.
  5. People no longer think that I am American. In China, if your Chinese is not very good or if you just seem like an obnoxious tourist, people will think that you are American. In the past two weeks, people keep guessing England or France, which shows that I seem pretty normal and that my Chinese is fluent. Aside from this compliment, when people think your are American, prices go up by about 20%. Now that I am a poor Englishman, prices start off pretty low and I’m able to bargain them down even further to get the biggest bang for my buck.
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