Walking Chinese amazement to church

Before I go to a foreign country I like to try and learn to speak the language, or at least enough of it to make a complete idiot out of myself. You’ve all been there; boning up on French, arriving in Paris and asking the waiter while your heart is pounding like an 8-year old on the piano, “May please good morning eggs of soft nice weather,” and he replies in perfect English “Could you repeat that in English, please?”

I’m never deterred by coming across like a fool. If I were I wouldn’t practice law or ride a bicycle in my underwear duded up like superman without the cape or the special powers or the muscles or the good looks. And since we’re going to Taiwan next year I decided to crack out the ol’ Chinese textbooks I’d used in college. Unfortunately, they had been tossed somewhere between Move #12 and Move #35, so I ordered a new set of Practical Chinese Readers and got to work.

You may have heard that Chinese is difficult, but that’s only if you want to appear non-imbecilic. Otherwise it’s not that hard. Each morning as part of my masters bicycle racing workout I walk around the complex for an hour or so, listening to Chinese tapes on my iPhone 2 (gonna upgrade to 3 any day now!). We have a lot of Chinese neighbors and it’s been hot so they all sleep with their windows open.

I bet it’s weird to hear someone stomping around outside at 5:00 AM muttering, “My name is Ma Da-wei. I am Canadian. I met a beautiful girl. Are you busy? Let’s have cake. She is my sister. He is my grandfather on my mother’s side. Beijing is very big.”

Walking every morning is good exercise, too. It builds bone density without destroying the bone like running does. It’s also not filled with pain, as running is. Because walking is good exercise I have a longstanding habit of parking on French Street when I have court in Santa Ana. That’s about a mile from the courthouse, so I save on parking and get to stretch my legs before getting abused by judges and opposing counsel.

This morning as I was walking to court I came up to the stop light at the same time as a group of people. I immediately realized they were speaking Chinese. They were staring at a map and arguing about how to get to the Methodist Church, which was a block away. I knew this because they kept gesticulating at the map which said “Methodist Church French Street” in English.

They ignored me of course.

“Excuse me,” I said in my best Chinese. “There house walk walk to go.”

Shit got quiet pretty quick. “What?” said one of the tourists in Chinese. “You speak Chinese?”

“Yes,” I beamed. “My book teacher every day talk walk Chinese practice. Taiwan go.”

They began smiling and laughing and congratulating me on my complete mastery of this rather complicated language. It didn’t hurt that I was wearing a suit and carrying a fancy leather briefcase. “See you later!” they said, waving as they marched off to the Methodist Church. “Thank you for your help!”

“You’re welcome Thursday!” I blurted out. Then I checked my Timex and hurried off to court.



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18 thoughts on “Walking Chinese amazement to church”

  1. Any time you can communicate like that without insulting the other person’s mother, it’s a good thing.

  2. Barbara Radnofsky

    Hmmm. Believable only if I’d missed the facts that we’ve been in business meetings where you simultaneously interpreted at request of all parties from French to English to Japanese and back for two hours; saw you in animated discussions for ten minutes outside the Disney Concert Hall with tourists asking specific questions… in a Chinese dialect that you finally told me about when I asked what the heck language were you speaking; practiced Spanish with you on the way to interviews; and know you’ve translated German documents in your spare time as a trusted German translator when you weren’t doing simultaneous interpretation. I have reason to believe your Arabic is good, but of course have no idea what dialects bc you won’t fess up.

  3. Duolingo man! They have Chinese. I told you about that on a ride a bit back. I sit on the front porch sometimes saying “hallo Schöner” and “Tu es mannequin?” and suddenly realize that walkers going by are probably wondering who the heck I’m talking to. :/

  4. I found a mirror in your post today
    “I’m never deterred by coming across like a fool. If I were I wouldn’t practice law or ride a bicycle in my underwear duded up like superman without the cape or the special powers or the muscles or the good looks.”

  5. We took great pleasure, as parents often do when it concerns their offspring, of walking into one of only two Chinese restaurants on the Island of Barbados, where we expected daughter #2 to handle all the negotiations in Mandarin. She is two years in China, and all we really wanted was to hear her speak conversationally, and in the mean time, get a couple some beers.

    So, after a lot of talk back and forth, I never once heard a word go by that sounded like “My father would like a beer”, I finally could contain myself no longer. “Hey Corinne, what part of all that jibber jabber actually ordered me a beer?” to which the kind woman replied, “Oh, you all speak English.” :).

  6. I used to hear these two phrases a lot:
    Maak kennis met de voorzijde


    Trek! Motherfucker!

    I bet you didn’t know ‘trek’ means “pull” in Dutch.

    1. “Get acquainted with the front!” according to Google translate. And I didn’t know “trek” means pull …

  7. Swahili for Fart is Jamba.
    So next time you do the Wheatgrass Ride don’t forget to stop and get some Fart Juice.

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