Language Barrier Much?

上海 Blog #6

Wednesday May 27th, 2015

Local Time: 7:30 Shanghai Time (Note, China is all one time zone UTC +8:00)

I wish I could sleep past 5am local time. It’s almost funny. I never thought being unable to sleep in would somehow manage to be a problem for me.

Yesterday, the language barrier really came into light. I have choice words for whoever told me plenty of people in Shanghai speak English. Lies, all lies. Of course, this should be good news for me because I am trying to learn the language. But there’s really nothing quite so confidence crushing than walking into a foreign country thinking you’re not bad for just a few months of language training only to realize you can understand next to nothing. The tones kill. They really kill. I can use them in my speech decently, but distinguishing them when natives talk is really taking a toll. That aside, only knowing about 200 words sort of sucks and not being able to read most characters is also a minor major issue.

It started with 早饭(breakfast) at a local street cart. Another American on the trip with 4 semesters of Chinese under her belt ordered for the four of us with her. I kept trying to comprehend what the cook was saying to his eager help. No dibs. I at least could pick up his request for 8块 in exchange for the Chinese version of a pulled port sandwich (for less than $1.50, not bad). I later found out from Zhai 老师 it was 肉折mo (literally, meat folded bread). Yum.

After a brief here’s-what-not-to-do-in-Shanghai to avoid being arrested, robbed, smushed by a car, squashed by a motor bike, artfully conned, or tactfully scammed, we had a 90 min crash course in Mandarin, courtesy of Ma Laoshi. This had me feeling slightly better about my language capabilities, since my pronunciation was good to go and I’d been exposed to most of the material we covered. I felt bad for most of the other kids who were struggling due to lack of prior exposure to the language. No doubt about it, I would have been a deer in headlights as well without my background.

Ordering food round two for 午饭 (lunch) was an even further adventure. After traipsing to the cafeteria (jetlag still has me sluggish), I decided I wanted some noodles, so I found a dish with the noodle characters 面条, pointed and declared “我 要 这 个”(I want this). That was fine and dandy and I was all proud of myself for my four character sentence until the lady taking my order came back with “woxiechongqumandongbangkjfsldjsb##QQ?/!!!! BAO slkdjfldskjf”which basically means she may have been speaking Klingon for all I understood (trivia tid bit of the day, Klingon is the number one most popularly spoken fake language). I forced myself to think under the weight of the immense pressure (** yes, this was a Duh-Duh-Duuuuuuh moment for me). The only context in which I’d ever heard “Bao” used is my Chinese Surname given to me by my Chinese teacher. Recalling the first few days of first semester Chinese, I thought he’d mentioned it meant bread. Hm… maybe this lovely lunch lady is offering me some bread with my noodles? Strange, but I can roll with it. “对” (Correct), I replied, wanting to make quick work of the situation.

Long story short, I received no bread with my scrumcious noodles and instead had order my meal to go. Oh well, there are worse things.

Post lunch, we met our Chinese buddies. They’re all studying to teach Chinese as a foreign language to English speaking students. Each had picked what I perceived to be interesting English names such as Ivory, Kooki, Knox, Su, etc… All exemplified extreme nerves in communicating with us in English. I suppose to learn a language, one really must have no shame. They warmed up to us quickly and became quite vibrant, eager to show us their world… except for the dorms. Dorms are segregated by sex and the girls refused to let us see their rooms due to sheer embarrassment. Could they really be that bad? One of the things that may mark China as a still developing country, I suppose.

Next stop: biggest mall in Asia, known as Global Harbor. This place was absolutely massive, full of Chinese, American, Japanese, French and British stores. By about 7pm, we were all drained and much to our Chinese buddies’ dismay, we headed back to campus and I was out the second my head hit the pillow.

GlobalHarborGroundFloor GlobalHarborInside OurDormEntrance TheSpicyNoodlesInQuestionOrderedToGo SunriseFromRoomWindow GlobalHarbor

Global Harbor Ceiling
Global Harbor Ceiling

1 thought on “Language Barrier Much?”

  1. Your food adventures reminds me of stories of your childhood, little Heather using chop sticks secured with a rubber band at a favorite Chinese Restaurant in Illinois. Do you remember?

Comments are closed.