March 30, 2008


Last night at dinner I ordered napkins. Yes, when you go out to eat in Shanghai, there are places that do not have napkins there for you. If they do, they are most likely sealed in a plastic pouch. Unbeknownst to you (until now), opening that pouch will cost you 2 kuai (about 28 cents). Anyway, where I went Saturday night, they didn't have napkins, and the meal was a bit messy. (or maybe I'm messy, either way is probably accurate.) I just learned the Chinse word (canjinzhi - sounds kinda like "tsahn jeen jhur" with first, first, and third tones respectively) at my tutoring session on Wednesday. So I was like hey, I can practice ordering napkins here! However it took me like, five minutes to build up the nerve to do it, haha.

That's one interesting thing I have to contend with here - the fear of being misunderstood and thus feeling dumb. Already on Friday night the waitress had trouble understanding me when I ordered a bottle of water. But, I mean, the only way to learn is to speak as much as possible. Plus, although I might speak Chinese only one way -- there'll be tons of different people listening to me. Not all of them are as perceptive and/or able to understand lao wai as I'd like. So you gotta keep trying. And I've only been here three months. I shouldn't expect to be fluent at all, no matter how much I'd like to be :-)

So I built up the nerve to say fuwuyuan, you mei you canjinzhi? (Fuwuyuan is what you say when you want to get a server's attention in a restaurant -- if your server is female, you also can say xiaojie, or "little sister", but colloquially it is equivalent to saying "Miss!" But be careful where you say that, because it can mean something completely different depending on where you are.)

Anyway, she smiles and responds "yi kuai qian!" (One RMB!) So, woohoo, she understood me! I happily pay my 1 kuai, considering it the price for confirming that I know how to say "napkin" in Mandarin. She gave me a cool little pack with like 10 napkins in it. I took the unused ones home with me. C'mon man -- that's 14 cents!! ;-)

You might wonder, and I'll applaud you if you are actually wondering this because it means you're paying way too much attention to this blog, how you can ask a question in Chinese without using ma? The deal is, you mei you literally means "Have don't have". When you say it like that, it becomes like a question: "Do you have ... ?" So you don't need a ma here. Jeremy calls this the "multiple choice" way of asking questions, so I stole that way of thinking about it :-)

But this statement is the equivalent of Mei you ... ma? which also is correct. Either way is fine. One more example:

These two phrases are equivalent:

Neng bu neng ... ?
Neng ... ma?

Neng being the word for "can", as in, "can you speak English?"

You can do this with any verb. Yao bu yao biede? means "Do you want anything else?" Notice again the lack of ma when asking a question. Also notice that bu and mei both negate whatever comes after them. You sorta have to remember when to use which one.

Another interesting thing about Mandarin is that, there's no real way to say "yes" or "no". If somebody asks you Yao bu yao biede, you say either yao ("I want ...") or bu yao ("I don't want ..." ). Notice you're just repeating the verb there, maybe plus a negation word depending on your actual answer. Dui is a very commonly used word, but it's more of a "that's correct" answer than a "Yes". But it can get the point across. Today at Garden Books, the waitress asked me Hai yao yi bei shui ma? "Do you want another glass of water?" I said dui, but I should've said yao. Luckily she understood :-)

Stuff like this is fun.

After dinner I came home and watched Southland Tales. Horrible movie. Don't bother.

Today I went to go read at Garden Books. Going there is great because I get outside, but only to do some reading. So it's a great mix of leaving the house and staying inside all in one activity. Afterwards I walked down Ruijin Road to Taikang Lu. The alley in between Taikang Lu and Jianguo Lu is filled with these narrow little buildings, every one of which is either a 1) art gallery, 2) cafe, or 3) knicknack shop. So I had a lot of fun wandering around there. I normally detest shopping for the sake of it, but Taikang Lu was the first place I've been here that actually made me want to spend money. So at some point I might just go and do that :-) I even saw a bunch of Threadless shirts on the rack in one store, including one I own, which made me laugh. I guess someone is just buying Threadless shirts and reselling them here -- I wonder for how much, because they're already pretty expensive from the web site. Unfortunately they didn't have the one I really want.

I had lunch at this narrow, NARROW cafe called, appropriately enough, Bohemia. The waitress there spoke excellent English, much to my surprise. Normally when a Chinese waitress/waiter talks to me in English, I try to keep it in Chinese -- as much to practice my Chinese as to avoid their non-native speaking and understanding of English. But as soon as this waitress spoke to me, I responded in English automatically, so I kept doing it. It was strange, but nice. Rarely do I compliment people here on their English, but hers was very good, so I told her so. (And no, she is not ABC.)

Side note: I order in Chinese EVERYWHERE I go, including places like Starbucks and the nicer/upscale-er places. These places are packed with lao wai and so the staff is usually halfway good at speaking English. So you can get away with saying "I'd like a grande cup of coffee" at Starbucks. But I insist on saying Qing lai yi da bei ka fei. Every other time I've heard a lao wai order something, it's been in English. I don't know if I'm being annoying by ordering in Chinese or not. I know that the staff probably wants to practice their English. But, I'm the customer, and I want to practice my Chinese, so I win :-) I'm sure I'm not the only one who does this, but it's definitely a difference that I notice.

Back to Bohemia -- The food was way overpriced, but it was still probably cheaper than in Xintiandi. Actually Taikang Lu reminded me a lot of Xintiandi -- a lot of hip (read: trendy, expensive, and filled with lao wai) stuff goes on in both places -- but whereas Xintiandi's hipness is a result of extensive planning, security guards to keep out the riffraff, and forced relocation of residents, Taikang Lu's hipness is more organic, as the whole thing kind of sprung up around what's already there, which includes "real Shanghai residents!". At least that's what I gathered from some quick Internet research.

Anyway I'm really glad I went because a) I have a new weekend hangout spot and b) a new place to take visitors. Supposedly there's another cool spot like this on Moganshan Lu. I'll have to go there sometime as well.

No comments: