Urgent Crash Course in Mandarin Required.


The Chinese do NOT speak English.  I suppose this should not have come as a surprise since the demand for English teachers in China easily outstrips the demands of other countries.   Maybe I was lulled into a false sense of security after effortlessly negotiating the hurdles of my lack of knowledge of Malayalam in Kerala; there was always someone in the vicinity whose English vocabulary just about stretched far enough to overcome the language barrier.  Not so in China as I found out on my second day in the country…

An afternoon hike on a hill overlooking the town started off pleasantly enough.  There were six of us (mostly recently arrived teachers), chaperoned by Eddie and Klaus, two guys from the office who had taken it upon themselves to familiarise the newcomers with the highlights of Hangzhou.  We strolled along the manicured lanes and walkways chiselled in the side of the hill to make the climb easier and the experience more palatable for the Chinese weekend amblers.  Personally, I was expecting something a little more strenuous from a hike up a hill, and whereas everyone was huffing and puffing like the three little pigs (especially the younger ones), I kept ahead of the rest, not a bit out of breath!

The sights were indeed amazing:  views over the famous West Lake, the Hangzhou skyline dissolving in the mist, the rocky outcrop at the summit a picture perfect location for a wedding shoot,  the ancient Boachu pagoda towering over the treetops.

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It was somewhere at this point that things started going distinctly wrong.  All being adults we had not thought it necessary to exchange contact numbers; surely we were not going to go off in all directions like little, unruly kids…  But I lingered just a little longer than expected to take more photographs than the rest so that by the time I ended up at the famous Pagoda, there was no one else in sight. Was I ahead of the group, or had I fallen behind?  I hung around just for a while, but as dusk was hinting its presence and the moon began to glow more brightly against the darkening sky, I felt it prudent to venture to the exit in the hope that I would meet the others there.   But which exit indeed?  Not an English word in sight, it looked all Chinese to me… Not sure which way to head, I took the most obvious and easiest route: straight down, of course after checking with a friendly Chinese couple that I would indeed end up at an exit.

Where was I staying, they enquired.  Unfortunately, the name of my hotel sounded gobbledegook to them, even though I pronounced it as it was spelled in English…  ‘Hanting?  Hanting…’ Helpful Chinese Man With Little English mused.   I duly showed him the spelling on my phone, which did not seem to shed any more light on the matter…  He sent his wife off  to a nearby store in search of a Chinaman Who Knew A Little More English.  In no time at all, she rushed back, gleefully shouting ‘Ghanting!!’  Well, how was I supposed to know that the ‘h’ had acquired a guttural sound!!

Did I have the address of the hotel, Helpful Chinese Man With Little English prompted.  I really did not want them to go out of their way, they had been very kind so far,  and said I was happy for them to show me the way to the metro.  From there I could work out where I was staying;  I had used the metro the night before and vaguely remembered the name of the station.  After some insisting, I recalled that P in the London Office had indeed sent me the address of the hotel.   Helpful Chinese Man With Little English studied my phone intently, making head nor tail of the English letters, nor understanding the address when I read it out.  But Wulin Road rang a bell.  So when we crossed Wulin Road on our way to the metro,  Helpful Chinese Man With Little English decided to accompany me to the hotel, which should have been quite close…  But walking down the road, I sensed something was amiss… This did not look like the road of my hotel.  This road was busy, flash with expensive shops and unlike the drab, dreary, grey road where us poor teachers stayed in cheap hotels… And indeed, when we reached the hotel, it was the wrong one.  Same chain, but different location…  Let’s face it, I was picked up at the airport and only needed an address to put on my landing card.  So did it really matter that P in the London Office had given me the wrong address???  So there I was in the midst of Hangzhou, without the address of my hotel, no contact phone numbers, and when I finally hit a WiFi spot, the only person I could reach, did not answer her phone…

Helpful Chinese Man With Little English dutifully accompanied me all the way to the metro, another mile or so, with wife and daughter in tow.  He kept on reassuring me that they were going in that direction anyway, and also needed the metro.  But when I finally arrived and bought my ticket after counting the number of stops (I was convinced the number seven played some part in my return on the metro the night before), I did not see them get their tickets, nor board a train…

I made it back in one piece and the first thing I did in the hotel was grab one of their cards, with the address on it IN CHINESE….  And the flat I live in now???  I have taken a photograph of the front of the building with the name both in English and Chinese.  I learnt my lesson and do not fancy a repeat experience.  I shall persevere with learning some USEFUL Chinese words and steadily add to my Chinese business card collection!!  Some lessons are learnt the hard way….



2 thoughts on “Urgent Crash Course in Mandarin Required.

  1. Doreen Frusher

    Oops …. as you say, lesson learnt. Someone told me that Mandarin is spoken throughout the western world more than french these days and should replace french as a subject in schools. Food for thought!


    1. lievelee Post author

      I can assure you that learning French is a lot easier than learning Mandarin, but it is essential to have a few words of Mandarin up your sleeve…. such as numbers, the names of various kinds of food., to name but a few.



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