January 31, 2008

Expats Anonymous

I have learned and memorized the phrase Wo ting bu dong Hanyu, or, "I don't understand Chinese." This is true. While I feel my vocabulary is crap and my pronunciation is okay, I have such trouble understanding people when they speak to me. Also handy is the phrase "Please speak a little slower," which I can't remember at the moment, but um ... I should :-)

Last night a couple of the expats and I went to the ShanghaiExpat mixer at Malone's in Puxi. We just wanted to see what it was like and what kind of people showed up. We got there around 8:45 and sat at a table talking. Around 9 or 9:15, people started showing up and milling around, but my co-workers and I were just sitting at our table - they were nursing drinks and I was eagerly awaiting my ice cream sundae (yes, the simple pleasures). It was taking awhile, and more people were showing up and talking in small groups, and I just felt stupid sitting there with these people I already know, like, you know, middle-school boys at prom. So I wandered over and started talking to people, pretty randomly, and I'd say that was very worthwhile :-) Definitely far more outgoing than I'd be in America (shit, I almost typed mei guo. It's going to be really hard to go back to thinking & speaking in English all the time in a couple months.)

Let's see: I met two Americans, a handful of British people, one Indian guy, and one Italian girl. Everyone was new to everyone else, so introductions were handled all around. It was pretty interesting talking to everyone about their experiences in Shanghai, why they came here, what they do here, when/if they plan to leave, and so on. Two of the British guys sort of just moved here randomly, one without even finishing high school. He dropped out, bought a one-way ticket to Beijing, stayed there for a week, then made his way down to Shanghai. He was only 18 at the time (he's 19 now) and didn't know anyone here or any Chinese at all. So, I mean, that's pretty impressive. I admire people who have the guts to do things like that. But that line of travel is definitely not for me :-)

Most of these people have been here at least six months: I think the Italian girl has been here the longest, one year in Xi'an and one year in Shanghai. So I think that when I spoke in Chinese to them I sounded like an overeager kindergartener showing off a new toy. (Actually that's how I feel anytime I speak Chinese, haha.) But lucky for me I have no shame, and even though some of the others were giggling, I kept on trying.

I mean, I'm not here to speak English -- not even at an expat gathering. The only way I'll get better is if I practice, and, you know, the whole city gets to be my scratch pad -- whether they are Chinese themselves or not :-) Expats, taxi drivers, waiters, random people on the street (okay, not them) -- I don't care. You're getting an earful of my Chinese, whether you like it or not :-) Especially if you are walking past me on my walk home from the metro, haha. That's when I'm apt to be practicing my tones and pronunciation, lol.

One of the other British guys has been here about a year and professed he cannot speak Chinese at all - he has been focusing on reading. He recently finished the latest Harry Potter book in Chinese, and he said it was extremely difficult. (Really??!)

Around midnight I realized what time it was and since I had to get up at 8 AM for a call from Austin, I decided to 23 skidoo.

(Okay, the only reason I wrote that sentence was so I could include "23 skidoo" in this blog. I need to convince my Chinese co-workers that people in American actually say that, so maybe they'll start including it in emails, hahaha.)

Anyway, so most of the expats were nice, but a couple definitely were jackasses. A microcosm of the universe if I ever saw one :-) I might go back this Wednesday, just because we're out of work and I might be able to enjoy myself more. But who knows.

I'm looking forward to spending a whole week exploring Shanghai and taking tons of pictures!


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