Wednesday, August 16, 2006
Kids on a Wall
Lindsey and I are quickly discovering that the best way to improve our Chinese is to practice with the xiaopengyou. Case in point: two of the kids on our hotel-sponsored tour bus yesterday to the Great Wall. One was a little ham of a boy whose surname Hou (which he explained to us in a very grave tone is also the word for monkey) fits him nicely. I don’t think he stopped moving until the last ten minutes of the trip home, when he abruptly fell asleep on Lindsey’s shoulder.
The other was a precocious little nine-year-old girl named Shuting who, although shy at first, quickly opened up to us and at one point during our tour of the Ming tombs actually reached out and held my hand. This was during a very heated conversation in which she was making it clear that she was absolutely certain that indigo (the English word) was a shade of green and that I must be mistaken in my assertions to the contrary. She entertained herself in the museums at the tombs by repeating “what do you want to learn? I’ll teach you!” and showing us how to read some of the more difficult characters on the signs; when we made tone mistakes in repeating it back to her she would respond with a disapproving grimace and immediately and sharply correct us. She also explained to us the phenomenon of foot binding, the fact that hats (maozi, not daizi) were worn by emperors, and taught us the word for comb. Her expression was so serious and intense that it was all we could do not to laugh.
We entertained ourselves on the hour-long bus ride home by both drilling them on their English vocabularies and being drilled by them on our Chinese. Both were very serious teachers. And curious, too: over the course of the day we were asked, among other things, whether we had chickens, whether we had ever eaten pizza or hamburgers or ice cream, how to say “shorts,” and where Seattle is. We were also instructed in such essential matters as Mickey Mouse’s Chinese name, how to say “crocodile,” and that a horse (ma) says his name (ma) when he speaks Chinese.
It’s a long, steep climb up the wall, and I got what felt like a life-threatening stomachache halfway up that would persist for most of the day. We were exhausted when we got home, and after going out for some food promptly returned to the hotel and literally fell into bed. An hour later, the phone rang.
“Hello?” I answered.
“Wei?” A small voice on the other end answered me in Chinese. “Who is this?”
“This is Becca. Who is this?”
“This is Shuting.”
“Shuting. I taught you some things this afternoon...”
“Oh, from the trip to the Great Wall?”
“Right!” She persisted to jabber away for a few seconds in a rapid Chinese that my half-awake brain couldn’t quite catch. Then she said, “So, what are you doing?”
“Lindsey and I were both sleeping. We are very tired from our trip today.”
“Oh,” she said, sounding a little disappointed. “Okay then. Good bye.”
And she hung up the phone.
Both children were absolutely adorable, and I think it was just what Lindsey and I, still a bit overwhelmed by the prospect of not only being in China but being here for so darn long, needed to help us settle in a little. Sometimes China is overwhelming, and in large groups the Chinese people as a whole can be even more so; it was nice to be reminded of the little things that make everything we’re doing worth it.