05
Jun
07

Chinese Proficiency status…

“I’ll get to practice and learn a lot from you guys when you come, though… Well, maybe not. You might just laugh at me.”

“I won’t purposefully make fun of you. Sometimes it’s natural, though. Sometimes you can’t help to laugh, because it could be funny….You can mistake lao se which means teacher for lao shu which means mouse. That’s funny.”– excerpt from a conversation between my mom and me.

So, I’m getting conflicting messages as to my current state of Chinese proficiency. Granted, it’s not what I would have hoped for, since I never actually took formal classes as I’d intended to when I arrived.

Anyway, I’m living in a state of immersion, except for the fact that a lot of Taiwanese people around here speak or understand English with varying degrees of proficiency, and I work in an English-speaking environment all day.

The other weekend, I had an afternoon to myself at a tea shop.

After spending a few hours scribbling, I popped downstairs to pay the bill and found myself on a barstool chatting with the two tea servers about their lives for another few hours mostly in Chinese. Between mangling each other’s languages and pictures and hand signals, I was able to talk about my family and what they do, learn about the tea girls’ studies, discuss the dating mores of Taipei, and learn what songs were playing on the radio.

I felt quite impressed with myself for being able to chat in Chinese as much as I did.

It’s at the point where often I’ll address my suitemates in Chinese and they’ll respond automatically in English. I suppose it saves time since usually the conversation will break down at some point and they’ll need to translate their conversation into English for me anyway. However, when they talk among themselves, I can generally surprise them by understanding something.

So, after being quite impressed with my Chinese abilities after the chat in the tea shop, I went to look for wood cleaner and laundry soap. I popped into my local everything store. I’m a ridiculously laborious decision-maker. I like reading labels, going for the least environmentally damaging product, etc. I can’t read labels here. At all… And I’m paranoid about getting a laundry detergent and unwittingly bleaching all my clothes, or accidentally ending up with hair remover instead of shampoo (a story told by a fellow expat friend– fortunately the mistake was caught by a friend before any hair loss ensued).

I overheard a salesman talking in English with some other foreigners in the store, and went to him to ask about finding wood furniture cleaner and which bar of laundry soap would possibly be vegetable-based so that it could do double-duty.

On the query about wood furniture soap, well, first he took me to the plugs and wires section of the store, then the rags section, then the scrub brush section, then the laundry bag section, then the laundry soap section, the electronics section (where a kind lady understood English and translated for me ), and finally to furniture wipes and furniture cleaning sort of things. I did try drawing a picture, but my artistic ability was hampered by the limited space on the edge of a receipt, so it didn’t really work. As I thanked him profusely for his help, he said kuh ai and something else.

Kuh ai means “cute.” I have been called “cute” quite a bit here by my co-workers and roommates. Actually, people tend to say I’m “cute”– it’s a trend that has been fairly uninterrupted since babyhood. My language-partner Chinese teacher was teaching me various ways to say “pretty”–mei li, pia-liang, and finally kuh ai. She explained to me that that’s what people say when there’s really not much else to say– polite filler if you will. When I burst out laughing that that must be why everyone here calls me kuh ai, she laughed and abruptly ended class.

Perhaps it’s because I’m such a little kid. Or I’ve entered Old-Hag-ness, and am just politely uninformed.

Anyway, so I told him I didn’t understand and then he told me in English that I’m very cute and should come to shop there every day.

It’s interesting the bits of language people actually learn. For instance, my students in Korea, some of them couldn’t have a basic greeting sort of conversation in English, but they would come up to me and swear most cheerfully thanks to watching American movies. I’m slightly equipped in the local colorful vocabulary now myself, but have trouble with the weather, and seasons, describing people, and asking for furniture cleaner.

Of course the other day when my language partner told me in Chinese that class was canceled and I understood her, she was impressed by my improved Chinese and then said something I didn’t understand with nanpungyo in it. My director kindly translated that she thinks I’m ready to be set up with a primarily Chinese-speaking boyfriend.

hm.

I think I should be able to talk about the weather first… Among other things.

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2 Responses to “Chinese Proficiency status…”


  1. 1 countlibras
    June 5, 2007 at 4:35 pm

    “My director kindly translated that she thinks I’m ready to be set up with a primarily Chinese-speaking boyfriend.”

    ahahahahaha!

    anyway…

  2. June 7, 2007 at 6:01 pm

    I appreciate the sympathy.

    😛

    (since we’re being “mature” and all…)


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