‘Your Chinese is so good!’ The two Chinese men laughed and congratulated me as I made my way around the supermarket trying to focus on buying my vegetables.
‘How would you know how good my Chinese is?’ I muttered to myself, ‘all I’d said was hello and that was in English!’
Do As I Say, Please
‘First we will climb the mountain, then afterwards we can relax by going to Church and getting a coffee. Later you can help me with my English practice. I really want to build a school to help the humans.’
The eager, smiling, middle-aged Chinese man was exactly the same height as my shoulder.
I didn’t know how to respond as I looked down on him from what seemed to be a great height but was only five feet and two inches.
Was he giving me an order or asking me out? Perhaps these were mere suggestions, I couldn’t tell. I just knew that from now on I wouldn’t be accepting any more apples from a man I’d just met on the subway line. This innocuous present had too many strings attached. (and why was everybody inviting me to church all of a sudden? Isn’t China a communist country?)
We Don’t Take No For An Answer
‘Can you help me? I need a teacher for Saturdays.’ She was my friend and she’d recently started running an English school for young Chinese children aged 3-8.
‘Well, that’s my rest day.’ I countered, not wanting to appear rude by giving her an outright no.
‘So you’re free? You’re not working? You can come?’
I’m not working, but I want to relax.’ Now I was thinking that I should have said no after-all.
‘You will help me?’ Boy was she persistent. ‘You are free, you can come?’
‘Okay,’ I said, mainly to get her off the line. ‘Just for a couple of weeks until you find someone else.’
It was another reminder that no often means yes in China and Chinese people do not stop asking for what they want until you give in or walk away.
Get Fit, Be Healthy, Be Happy!
‘You need health!’ The young Chinese guy took a split second look at me and decided I’d be a good candidate for his gym promotion. He waved a leaflet in my face, pointed at a building, presumably where the gym was, shouting in badly accented English, ‘you need health, you need health!’
‘Mei tian? Zhen de ma?’ I replied in badly accented Chinese. ‘Everyday? Really?’ An attempt to express my frustration at being continually harrassed whilst on my way home by the gym flyer distributers, who seemed to pounce on me more than anyone else. Were my fellow commuters really so fit that they didn’t need the gym, or did the guys think their commission from signing up a foreigner would be more substantial?
The guys waving the leaflets laughed at my response and I knew it was because they were embarressed. Hopefully that would be all it took to stop the shouting at me in the street and making me feel fat and unhealthy.
For more conversational humour, see