Chinese Stories in English
Last week I mentioned how difficult it can be to learn to read and write Chinese. Learning to speak, on the other hand, is a comparative walk in the park. Let me give you an example.
I was standing outside the Gubu branch of the Bank of China talking to an American. He was complaining about the new Pizza Hut across the street, and I told him I knew a better place.
"Cross Flying Goose Road there," I said, pointing to the crosswalk, "and go through that entryway with the English word 'Vanguard' above it. Take the escalator down one level. Make a U-turn when you get off the escalator, walk about 20 yards, and go out the exit on your left into the underground shopping plaza. Walk another 30 yards or so and you'll see the pizza parlor on your right, just past the noodle shop."
Whew! All that verbiage just to get the guy to a nearby restaurant. Then it occurred to me how much simpler it would have been in Chinese. I could have just stuck out my chin in the general direction of the street and said "Ahead" (qianmian). Wow! One word in Chinese to say something that required 68 words in English! See how easy speaking Chinese is?
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If you've ever asked for directions in China, you know exactly what I'm talking about. The Chinese are famously terse and won't say two words if they think one will do. In fact, they won't say two words if they even suspect that one might suffice.
You'll probably have more luck asking for directions if you're able to use the local dialect. If you ask in Mandarin, the "average Zhou" on the street might find it easier to brush you off than to try to formulate a reply. ("OMG," he could be thinking, "how do they say 'escalator' in the National Language?")
Also, the Good Samaritan story is not part of the standard Chinese grade school curriculum – maybe it's one of those "subversive Western values" that the Party is constantly grumbling about. Whatever the reason, many Chinese act really put out when a stranger has the gall to pester them for uncompensated assistance.
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By the way, please note that I said this restaurant was better than the Pizza Hut. That's very different from saying that the pizza they thaw out in their microwave is any good. However, if you've been in Liuzhou long enough to start going through withdrawal, you might find it good enough.
By the way #2, the pizza parlor is scheduled to move downtown to the Diwang Building in the near future. The current location is rather out-of-the-way, and they assume that's the reason they don't get many customers. I can think of a couple of other possible explanations.
By the way #3, I'm not sure whether they're moving to the new Diwang building or the old one. The waitress said they were moving downtown, and when I asked her where, she said "Diwang Building" in a tone of voice calculated to deter any bothersome further questions from ignorant outsiders. She may have been worried I was going to ask for directions.
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At long last, the time has come to announce the winner of my "Pick Your Favorite Post" contest. It's, ta-da, Capitalist Roader. (It received one vote – my own. I didn't publicize the contest in advance because I wanted to make sure that my candidate won.)
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