Monday, June 25, 2012

I do a wipe

Something kind of interesting happened this evening.

I was sitting here at my computer, listening to music and trying to book a train ticket online.

Then there was a knock at the door. It was 7pm, hmm.

I rarely have people knocking on my door, and never this late in the day.

Then I remembered, ah ha! is the 25th, and the happy man always comes on the 24th-ish. And since the 24th was a Sunday, he must be coming today instead.

I call him the happy man because he's always smiling.

And no matter how hard I try, I can rarely remember Chinese names when people tell me. I usually have to make up some ridiculous story in my head in order to remember them. For example, I once met someone who told me his name was Wen Yue Liang or some variation of that, and so I remembered the sounds of the words and then used my dictionary to translate them to "ask" (Wen) and "moon" (Yue Liang). So now when I see him or I think of him, I think "oh look, let me ask the moon!"

Anyway, happy man is the man who comes around to each apartment once a month and checks the water meters. He usually appears at the door in his white tank top, flip-flops and shorts, a 3-ring binder open in his arms, and always with that signature smile.

Tonight he came rather late though, but still smiling. I let him in, he checked my kitchen and bathroom water meters and was about to leave. I then thought oh yeah, I better tell him I'll be gone on vacation next month at this time so he doesn't think I'm avoiding having to pay the water bill.

Not that I have any idea how to say most of that in Chinese.

But since I already made the "Oooh!" noise and index-finger-in-the-air motion to signal him to stop and listen, I had to think quickly and improvise.

I'm pretty sure what came out of my mouth translates to something like "July August me go..."

Oops, forgot the words for vacation.

Since I already had the Google Translate site up for translating the Chinese train ticket website, I quickly looked up the words for vacation.

He then made the "ahhh!" noise to signal his understanding, and then rattled off a bunch of Chinese I didn't understand.

I think he said something about him being gone as well, and when I return, I can call the office to have someone come over and check the meters.

That is about 12% confidence and 88% guess.

So I pretended I understood him and said "hao hao hao" (because repeating the word "good" over and over and over is what people seem to do here when they agree or understand).

Happy man left and no sooner had I made my way back to my dining room table where I was sitting before happy man came did I hear another knock at my door. I assumed happy man forgot something, so I returned to the door and opened it.

But to my surprise, it was my neighbor lady. She let herself in and started chatting quickly about something, but I had no idea what she was saying.

Side note: This is the neighbor lady who gets frustrated with me because I can never seem to understand what she's saying. And the reason she seems to get so frustrated is because she has usually just witnessed me understanding one of my other neighbor ladies perfectly well. I can hold full conversations with my other neighbor lady, but not this one. She may even think I'm purposely pretending to NOT understand her. I don't know if I just have a mental block with her or if she's really mumbly or if her accent is way bizarre to my ears. I just don't know.

Anyway, I told her that I don't understand what she's saying, so then she started to mime.

I absolutely love when my conversations here break down to the point of miming. I'm only being half sarcastic. True, I would much rather be fluent and perfectly able to understand everything everyone says, but I'm just not there yet. And I really do love miming. It's fascinating to see how many mime-actions are universal.

Hey, it's a small world. And we're not all as different as we like to believe.

So neighbor lady started making wiping motions with her hand, like she was dusting something in the air. She kept repeating "Wǒ bàn yī cā le" (sounds like "wah bahn yee sah luh" kinda). I wasn't familiar with that phrase, so I told her I didn't understand. So then she started moving through my apartment while pretending to dust everything, while still repeating the phrase.

I had a feeling the only reason she would randomly appear at my door immediately after happy man was here, was because she met happy man in the hall as he was leaving and he told her I was going to Beijing on vacation.

And that all apparently happened in about 5-10 seconds time. It's no longer surprising to me how quickly word travels here. It's pretty freaky at first, but then you get used to it.

Dude, viral marketing probably originated in China. (this is probably completely inaccurate)

Anyway, I quickly sat down to translate the phrase since the trusty Google Translate site was still up, but my VPN had since timed out and the site stopped working.

By this time, neighbor lady was no longer mime-wiping the air. She had started snooping. That's really the only way I can think to describe what some people do here when you let them into your apartment. They just kind of move room to room, sort of with their face extended and looking everything over, peeping around corners, eyes shifting everywhere all at once. Snooping. But you know, in a totally innocent and friendly way.

She told me in Chinese "You're going to Beijing?" and I said "Yes, in July" and then she repeated the phrase again, and I told her again that I didn't understand.

Of course I could have confirmed what I thought she was saying by asking her if she wanted to clean my apartment while I was gone, but I did not want to open that can of worms.

First of all, my apartment is clean. I clean the heck out of it every single week, top to bottom, inside out...mostly because the amount of dirt that comes in from the street is mind boggling. It's a keep-up-with-it-or-drown-in-filth sort of thing. I will shut all of my windows before I leave town, so I doubt the place will get unbearably dirty.

Second of all, I do not wish to have someone in my apartment while I'm out of town for six weeks. She's already snoopy enough right in front of my face. Can you even imagine???

Since I came to China with only a backpack full of belongings, I don't have many personal items in my apartment, so it's not a huge deal for someone to be snoopy here. And luckily the "Dream Journal" I keep is written in English, so she wouldn't be able to understand how insane I may be.

Another side note: Last night I dreamed I was going bald. I looked in the mirror and looked similar to this guy, only you know, the female version...

It may have something to do with turning 35 tomorrow. All of my birthdays have come and gone with no thought to the age, the number, and on several birthdays I have forgotten it was my birthday until someone reminded me. But this time around, the number 35 keeps flashing in my mind's eye. Like DING DING DING, slippery slope to 40! You're at the top of the 30's rollercoaster! You're at the part where your stomach is in knots, heart pounding through your chest! AHHHHH!!

I'm sure I'll wake up tomorrow with my arms in the air and happily screaming. That's the fun part of the rollercoaster that comes after the terrifying part.

Anyway, where was I... Oh yeah, no thanks. I like the feeling of privacy, of knowing (or at least pretending) that no one will be in my personal space while I'm not around.

So neighbor lady left, frustrated with me as per usual, and I returned to my computer to restart the VPN and try to translate what she had said. I think she was saying 我办一擦了 which Google translates to "I do a wipe."

Ah ha! So my assumption about her wanting to clean my apartment was correct! I think?

And good on ya, woman, for your amazing miming abilities. You were definitely wiping. Nothing lost in translation there.


  1. I laughed through post of this post, it is hilarious.

    Another 35-club member, gawd I hope it's not a slippery slope to 40!

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting, Ayngelina :)

      I'm really enjoying your blog! I hope it's not a slippery slope too. I'm sure when I'm 40 I'll look back and tell my 35 year old self to shut up already. :)