Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Everyday's an Adventure (or Why I Love China)

Each time I leave my apartment I prepare myself for an adventure. I never know what kind of adventure -- whether good or bad, surprising or disturbing, eye-opening, mind-expanding or omg-crawl-back-into-my-shell-why-do-I-ever-leave-the-house -- but it never fails…the adventure always happens.

Today's adventure was a simple trip to DC Chéng (DC城 / DC City), the local electronics mega warehouse, to price Nintendo DS units for my lovely nieces and nephews back home. I figure they might make a cool present if I can get them at decent China-prices at hopefully better than China-quality.

Really I was looking to check out the games since the kids may already have the DS units. My friend in Beijing told me you can get game cartridges that have just about every game imaginable on them. What I discovered today is that they have blank SD cards, and they have hundreds of games (.nds files) on their computer, and they put the files on the SD card and wha-la! I remember a not-too-distant-past when I was up-to-date and in-the-know on the cutting edge of most things internet and technology, but maybe this is a sign that the edge is getting edgier and I'm getting, well, what's the opposite of edgier?

So anyway, I left my apartment and didn't encounter any neighbors, which was an immediate win. Then I hailed a cab without having to wait, and when I told the taxi driver where I was going, he understood me on the first try. I was feeling pretty darn good.

The taxi driver asked me the usual taxi-driver questions like where are you from, how long are you here, what do you do for work, etc. I'm a pro at these questions now. Our conversation was flowing pretty good and I was feeling pretty awesome. It feels good to hear and see proof that my language skills are improving. And he seemed like a really nice, polite gentleman, telling me that America is a very good place, etc. Then he asked me my age. No biggie, some of them do that. So I told him sānshíwǔ (三十五 / 35). And then...

He asked me if I am married, to which I replied no, I'm not married. I've found it to be a pretty common question with the chattier taxi drivers, so again, no biggie. But then his eyes almost popped out of his face. Like omg you're 35 and not married?! It's not the politest response, but still not out of the ordinary. It's happened to me a few times now. I didn't bother to go into details like well I was married but not anymore because really, would it go over any better than never having been married at all? The answer is no, no it wouldn't.

Then he asked me if I'm sad because I'm not married. I laughed because it surprised me, but then remembered that many women here are very distraught, like insanely so (by Western standards) if they aren't married well before 30 years of age. So I told him no, I'm actually very happy, and I like being alone. And then his eyes pretty much fell out of his face into his gaping-jaw-dropped mouth.

So this is where things got weird (Yeah, they weren't weird before this). He said some stuff really fast that I didn't quite catch, so I asked him to repeat it. He repeated it and pointed to me and then pointed to himself, and I thought nooo, he can't be saying such things, noooo. So I asked him to repeat again, and he did. This time with hand motions signifying two people coming together, like miming the "side-by-side" motion with the index fingers of each hand. And then I was pretty sure I understood his meaning, but thought nooo, this polite gentleman couldn't possibly be saying such things. So I asked him one more time to repeat himself, and he did. This time with a sign language I had never really seen before but understood its meaning immediately. Because he was driving with his left hand, he used only his right hand to push his thumb in between his index and middle fingers, in and out, in and out... (I know you're totally doing this right now, admit it).

Shortly after arriving in China, I had a similar experience and wrote about it here. Slightly different sign language, same meaning.

So then my eyes popped out of my face and fell into my lap. I quickly replied "Tīng bù dǒng" (听不懂 / I don't understand).

Doot da doo ::look out window:: la la la

::awkward silence::

Then as we slowly approached my stop he began apologizing profusely. I smiled, told him no problem, gave him my cash and high-tailed it out of the cab.

Sometimes I think it would be nice to go back to not understanding any Chinese at all. Either that or from now on I'm just going to pretend like I don't understand a single word.

Or better yet….. Always respond with, "Yes, I'm absolutely married, very much so, like so married you wouldn't even believe it. Like if my marriage cloned itself and had marriage babies and those babies got married and had marriage babies and so on, that's how married I am…times infinity."

Whew! So with that experience behind me, I proceeded with the Nintendo DS reconnaissance mission. After searching floor after floor of small, squished-together electronics stands, with vendor after vendor shouting to me to come see their wares, most of which are identical to the stands on either side of them, I finally found the hand-held gaming counter. Side note, prior to leaving the apartment I actually took time to look up the Chinese words for Nintendo and wrote them down best I could, but turns out no one understood what I was saying or the words I wrote down. Apparently they call every kind of game console the same thing…"yóuxì jī" (游戏机 / game consoles). Ok, learned something new, cool.

Luckily I went during a very non-busy time of day, and the kind lady at the counter took time to speak slowly and deliberately with me. We were able to communicate effectively (even if not so efficiently), and she even wrote down all of the information for me so I could take it home and do more research on prices and see exactly which DS systems my nieces and nephews may or may not already have. She even took all of the different DS models out of the case and lined them up for me (in order of oldest to newest, even!) so I could take photos.

Despite the taxi cab conversation finale, I'm going to call today's adventure a major success, especially in the language department. Heck, I even learned some new vocabulary in the sexual relations category. Bonus!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


  1. This was all sorts of awesome :)

    Re: the DS -- I'm all about the Sony PSP, so am not speaking from experience, but US-bought DS may have issues playing pirated games if the unit isn't cracked/hacked/flashed/rooted/jailbroken (or whatever today's term is).

  2. I've bought the hacked DS cartridges for Chip and all of his buddies in the states. They work fine. Just make sure you get the right cartridge for the right console (there's a difference between DS, DSX, DS3D, whatever the heck they all are)