Do You Speak English?

Recently i’ve noticed that more people have been trying to engage with me in English. It’s probably because the schools are on holiday, and the youngsters that are usually stuck in a classroom for 8 hours a day, can actually get outside and meet other people!
Of course many college students also want to practise their English with the foreigner, and I understand that most students seldom have the opportunity to converse with a native speaker. So I try to be friendly, but sometimes i’m not in the mood.

I have become particularly hardened to this over the last few months and my attitude has begun to change.

They say the environment in which one lives has an effect on how one thinks and acts, and this is what has happened to me.

My attitude is now this: I now generally ignore people that try to speak to me in English.

This is because (outside the classroom) I’m just fed up of listening to bad english, and trying to understand someones meaning when I don’t have either the time or energy to think about it. This is a bit of a selfish attitude, it’s just that too many times i’ve been harangued by people wanting no more than a free English lesson – and the fact is, I really don’t have time to help everyone all of the time.

But I think the real issue here is one of complete ignorance. It seems that most Chinese beleive all foreign people understand English, especially that all White people in the world speak English. This claim annoys me, and so If anyone assumes I speak English without first asking ‘Do you speak English’ I stare back giving them a look as if they are a total moron.

This technique works for most, but it fails to deter the real hardcore element, who will keep asking and asking. For them it is necessary to reply with the simple and succinct ‘我听不动英语’ ‘I don’t understand English’. This results in a confused look ‘but you’re foreign you MUST understand english, don’t you all understand english?! you must be stupid!’

Indeed I have met many people who despite being told ‘我听不动英语’ persist to ask questions in English – it is at which point I tell them I am from Iceland , and to please shut up. Another tactic I have recently employed is to speak complete gibberish back to someone, makes me laugh anyway.

I don’t often eat at McDonalds, but I went there yesterday, and before I reached the counter the lady behind the counter said ‘Hello. How can I help you’
I gave her a confused look and said ‘ 什么?’ ‘What?’ , she repeated the English and I said ‘ 请说汉语,我听不动英语’ ‘please speak Chinese, I don’t understand English’. So I ordered, and she said in in English ‘wait 2 minutes’ I gave that blank stare again and said ‘不动’, she stuck two fingers up at me as if to emphasize the two minutes, which only made me laugh, unfortunately she didn’t get the joke! 🙂
It seems logical to me, to first use the language of the country that we are in (i.e. Chinese), then if the customer doesn’t understand to revert to another language, but to assume this is quite offensive. It’s like seeing someone in the UK who looks asian and immediatly speaking Chinese to them.
Probably some bright spark in the Mcdonalds managment has told their employess to always speak English to foreigners – seemingly even if they don’t understand…

It still astounds me that in the year 2006, how people can remain so insular looking, lacking such basic common sense, afterall Changchun is only 300 miles from Russia and last time I checked they don’t speak English.
I can only imagine how difficult it must be for a Western born Asian who speaks English but no Chinese.

shock horror!

Got a shock this evening as I walked back to the regular bus stop. It didn’t fully register until I was almost upon the bus stop – there was a very long snaking line of people waiting fo the bus, Yes, people were actually queueing.

I should have taken a photo, but I was still in shock, since when did the Chinese learn to queue-up? Had hell frozen over or was I imagining everything; I pinched myself.

So we waited for the bus, it came and there was no scrum not even a mad-dash. So obligingly I pushed in line and got a seat 🙂 And the Chinese left waiting were probably saying ‘ those damn laowai, so rude and impatient!’


Tried something new for lunch today. Gou pi 狗屁 as my friends called it or in english; dog’s bum. I’m willing to give most foods a go, if only once, and a I can now say for certain that I won’t be eating dog’s bum in the future.

And I can only say that it tasted like, well, like a dogs bum. Pretty chewy and greasy, with no real taste, a little like a badly cooked piece of fatty beef.

Surprisingly, I actually quite like the gou tang 狗汤 dog soup, and since I have no great admiration of dogs anyway, I don’t suffer the problems that most westerners have over eating dog meat. Most can’t bring themselves to do it, the idea of eating ‘mans best friend‘ over dinner, conjures up images of cute fluffy doggies being decapitated by the house chef. . .

Some of the more unusual things I’ve tried here in Changchun are: Dog, Camel(!), Deer, Rabit, Ox, Pigeon and Sparrow. I’m serious, there are various types of birds available. I’ve had Dove (rather chewy, mostly bones), the regular grey pigeon – like the ones that used to be in Trafalgar Square (tasted the same, no real meat), and the sparrow (that’s what It looked like anyway, just like chewing on a bag of tiny bones)

I’m yet to try snake or shark as it’s very expensive and difficult to obtain in Changchun and I draw my line at insects. I won’t eat bugs.

On Holiday

Many of the Japanese era buildings built for the Manchurian government have been turned into hospitals by the communists, smartly distancing there own government from the previous tenants. These buildings stand out against the more recent constructions and look a class apart. Many apartment blocks built only 5 years ago are already crumbling and look more like they were built 50 years ago. I didn’t believe it at first when I was told that my apartment was only 5 years old; ‘ it can’t be ‘ I said to myself. If a building looks about 20 years old it’s actually 2 or three years old, if it looks 10 years old it’s probably more like 30.

Anyway, there are only a few of these impressive buildings left in Changchun, which is unfortunate, as they add unique character to a city that would otherwise be architecturally bereft. Indeed, I’m willing to bet that not many of the newly constructed high-rise bocks will still be standing in 70 years time.

I’m writing this because, I went into one of these old buildings to visit a friend who is in one of the hospitals. Inside the building once you walk through the large doorway it could be any other building in Changchun. dark hospitalDark long corridoors, walls painted brown up to waist height, then light blue up to the ceiling. My first impression was somthing like: ‘I hope I never get really ill here’ ‘I don’t want to ever come here as a patient’ and ‘if i’m ill, i’m on the first plane out of here!’
I’ve been told the medical facilities are good and up to western cracking wallstandards, But I think I’ll take their word for it.
I saw cracked flooring, dirty walls and lumps of paint falling off the ceiling – not particuarly hygenic.

There’s no such thing as visiting hours either. People come and go as they like and there are no restrictions on the number of visitors, it’s considered part of the responsibility of the family to look after the relative

Of course being China, many of the men were smoking taking no notice of the signs plastered on every smoking! In many ways, there are far more freedoms in China than in the UK – as here most of the laws are not enforced, and even if they were i doubt anyone would take much notice.
Also there seemed to be no problem using a mobile phone, even one of the nurses was chatting away, I noticed most of the staff had phones in their top pockets. I walked upstairs to the thrid floor past lots of rooms crammed with beds, 6,8 even 10 to a room. lots of bedsAnd past beds out in the corridoor itself, I started to think of something i’d seen on TV, this wasn’t quite a field hospital but it wasn’t far off.
Unlike hospitals back home I was free to roam pretty much where ever i wanted, on some of the walls there were posters of people’s internal organs – too graphic by far to show and shocked me at first.corridoor Also there were lots of government looking health related posters and some wonderfully elaborate english translations for the names of the departments. The ‘anus dept’ sign made me laugh.

Up on the top floor there was a large steel door. the steel doorBeyond this I could not venture, it’s where the operations are conducted and from looking through the glass window, looks just like a hospital back home. Clean floors, that smell or disinfectant and for the first time I saw something that looked modern; some sort of machine. Outside this door were waiting about ten people, and when the door opened they jumped up and out came a stretcher. The people – relatives and friends – took the stretcher and walked towards the lift, no porter or hospital staff here – self service. Also you get to see the goods. Surgeons would come out with a plastic see-through bag full of whatever body part that had been removed from the patient, as an indication that the work had actually been done.

In China, despite being a so called ‘socialist’ country, nothing in the the health system is free. Everything costs. payment As far as I know the government provides little of no free medical care, though most people are covered by their employer’s medical insurance. However this does not cover the cost of everything and those without good paying jobs i.e. those in the countryside, can’t afford it. Also you will probably have to pay up front, then claim afterwards.

The Landlord Continued…

The weather has got really damn hot over the last few days, and for the first time this year It’s uncomfortably hot and i’m finding it hard to sleep at night.  I have finished my job and are now free to do whatever I want, which is great as last month I didn’t have one day off.

I have now moved to another place – and with the help of a few friends – it was surprisingly easy.  My new place is cheap, very cheap. For only 500元/30pounds a month it’s a decent place – I don’t plan to stay there long it’s primarily for storage.   and so I have no net access at home, which is a bummer as I’ve become so reliant upon it over the last few months and I hate the smoke in the internet cafes.  Here’s the rest of the post:

Written in the heat of the moment, might annoy some people.

Almost finished the semster, just one more day left.  Been busy marking exams and getting all the final grades sorted out, ready to hand to my boss in exchange for my last salary. 

So I arranged to meet the landlord on Saturday, for him to give me back my deposit and to sort out exactly when I will leave etc… 

This proved to be troublesome, and  soon bacame a shouting match – well more of one sided match, I wasn’t going to stoop to his pathetic level. As a race the Chinese are loud (just go to any busy restaurant), and when they get angry they shout even louder and the the Chinese language is a great argueing language.

Essentially he wanted ME to give him the remainder of the deposit (2100yuan); in what could only be considered an attempt to steal the money from me.  Of course this shocked me, afterall I was expecting him to pay me back what I am owed since –  the contract is about to end. 

  The problem is that I am forgetting where I am, and that I am gageing things from a Western perspective. I must remember that whether a persons actions are right or wrong is not important; I should have been more cynical in dealing with the landlord, as the more he said, the more clear it became that he is not going to see 1 fen of my deposit back. 

What can I do? 

Nothing, zero, nil, zilch.


However I have a plan.

 I will take measures into my own hands, by siezing assets roughly equlavent to the value of 900yuan.  Unfortunatly there isn’t much worth taking, most of the stuff here is a few years old or too big or heavy to move.  So to recoup my losses the only thing woth taking is the washing machine, worth 1500yuan new (now worth 200yuan second hand re-sale value).  I believe this tactic will give me leverage – I don’t want a washing machine anyway – and the landlord will have no choice to give me the deposit back.       

This keeps on happening to me here.  Maybe it’s my own fault , maybe I’m just unlucky.  But whatever the reason, there have been three constants to all of my troubles: 

  1. I am in China
  2. I am a foreigner
  3. Money

 It is now clear to me that some Chinese believe it is their duty to cheat the foreigner.    Many exercise double standards – one for us one for them – sadly,  of course, this is still being propogated through mis-education and furthermore,  is perpetuated by the government. This does work both ways, sometimes the foreigner is given unwarrented special treatment – it should be a level playing field.
I also beleive that many Chinese think from the assertion that foreigners are plain stupid and don’t understand. (i’m not just talking about language).   That we are incapable of doing things for ourselves, without (Chinese) assistance – hense the shock from my students when I actually tell them that I don’t have a translator and that I can do things for myself. University students – not uneducated people unexposed to other influences – I’ve lost track of the amount of times i’ve been asked ‘ when you go out how do you buy things?’ ‘what do you do?’ People asking me if ‘I know how to get home’ after i’ve told them i’ve lived here for over a year – the list goes on. Maybe it’s a lack of a way of thinking, not joining the right dots together to get a complete picture…

Furthermore, I have come to the rather stark conclusion that China is a nation of  many racists.  I am not usually a fan of such sweeping statements, but I believe this is the only explanation.  I used to think it was a question of curiosity, interest, and nosiness.  I think I was misguided (too considerate, too naive) it’s not about interest or curiosity, it’s about mockery, sneering,  to make fun of, and maybe even disdain or contempt.  This does not apply to everything, but i think if money is involved then it is safe to assume such.  In the western sense of the meaning, there is much discrimination or prejudice based on race, in transactions that involve money.

Another thing I have learnt is that being the nice guy here gets you nowhere.  If you are polite and honest the Chinese think you are weak and so will try to screw you; unless they are a good friend or family. You will be taken advantage of.
On the other hand, if you are firm, loud and obnoxious, and insulting (by western standards) people will pay respect to you, because they think you are tough, and strong willed. 

As much as this may seem difficult to believe,  It is the conclusion I have come to.  One may say it’s a cultural difference, I used to think this too, but I don’t buy it anymore.