Since I am not in China I am doing all I possibly can to create an “immersion environment” with some interesting (somewhat unexpected) results…
I have never been so pleased when someone tries to sell me something
I have moved to a part of the city where a large number of Chinese immigrants live.
Usually, even in this area where a lot of people speak Chinese, people will see my white face and speak to me in English.
A few unfortunate souls make the mistake of talking to me in Chinese, however, and I am learning to take full advantage of this.
The first time it happened I was woefully unprepared:
Someone was handing out brochures trying to sell something – he spoke to me in Chinese and before I had time to think about it I simply said no.
Realising my mistake at missing the opportunity to practice Chinese I then walked past him at least another three times in the hope that he would try again (I didn’t want to get his hopes of making a sale up by talking to him first though!)
He didn’t talk to me again. And I looked like a creeper.
Next time I was prepared:
A waiter in a restaurant saw my fiance’s face before he saw mine and started speaking to us in Chinese. As soon as he realised I was white he stopped.
I then explained to the poor guy (who it turns out wasn’t even a native Chinese speaker but had learned the language for the benefit of his many Chinese customers) in my terrible Chinese that my fiance is Chinese and that I am learning Chinese.
I’m pretty sure he only said my Chinese was better than his so that I would stop talking!
I eat A LOT of food
I order a 蔬菜包子 shūcài bāozi (vegetable bun) from my favourite little takeaway place around the corner pretty much every day just so I can talk to them.
I go to breakfast at my favourite Chinese restaurant pretty much every weekend so I can talk to the people who run it at a time when the restaurant is almost always empty and they have time to chat with me ( while I get fat on 皮蛋 瘦肉 米粥 pídàn zhōu – preserved egg and lean meat congee, 油条 yóutiào – deep fried dough sticks and many other delicious foods).
They now know not just me but my mother (who I took their once), my friends (who I dragged their for several meals when they visited) and of course my fiance (who they chat to me about on the weeks he is working overseas in his FIFO job).
They literally treat me like part of the furniture – even mopping around me if I am there early enough.
My favourite TV shows have changed radically
I started watching Chinese TV shows for obvious language learning reasons but now I am genuinely addicted to an extremely popular TV show in China where dads take their kids on (somewhat extreme) adventures – 爸爸 去 哪 儿 bàba qù nǎli (Where Are We Going Dad?).
I also have a celebrity crush (and I know I am not the only one!) on Le Jia from 非诚勿扰 fēichéngwùrǎo (If You Are the One).
I have become a creepy eavesdropper
I constantly listen out for people speaking Chinese – whether it’s on the train, in the street, at the shops.
I also feel a weird affinity with people who clearly feel none with me – when I am around Chinese speakers now I feel weirdly at ‘home’ but unlike when you have something obvious in common with someone “hey, look we are wearing the same shirt” this is a one way connection.
I have noticed, however, that when I am with my fiance Chinese people will often look at us – in Chinatown in Singapore once a Chinese man even made a comment to us about being happy to see a couple like us.