Monday, November 28, 2005

Easing me back into the culture

I had to pull my Chinese out prematurely this morning. I went to the Chinese embassy to get my rush visas done. I was already running a little later than I hoped, so when the guard met me and informed me that I couldn't go in, I was a bit perturbed. I asked him where I could park, but he just gave me a blank stare.
"Fujin you mei you car park?" Is there a carpark nearby?
"Mei you. Ni yingai qu 70 meters nei bian." There isn't one. You need to go 70 meters that way.
"Wo yinggai zai nar park?" Where can I park?
"Wo bu zhi dao." I don't know.
Wow. That was incredibly helpful. I drove in to turn around and was told by an official looking embassy person that I could park up there. I parked, got out, realized I had amazingly and beyond all conceiveable stupidity forgot our passports, and then saw the same guard coming up to tell me that no in fact I could not park there.

Ok, I have to insert a little PR hint for the Chinese embassy: If you want people to come, you might want to provide a place to park. Either that or inform them of the need to taxi.

We rushed home and hopped in a taxi on the way back. I decided that since the driver was listening to a Chinese radio station, I should try out my hua yu, as Mandarin is called here. We had a nice conversation - one of the first where a taxi driver here actually compliments my speaking rather than criticizing me for not being fluent.

Back at the embassy, I tried to go to the same place, but my guard nemesis redirected me again "70 meters" away. Sure enough, he knew what he was talking about. We got the number 390. Not good when they're on 355 and there's only one window. I quickly realized though that old habits of the mainland die hard because many people either hadn't taken a number or just weren't bothering to follow them. Neither was the woman behind the counter at all phased that when she rang for 358 four separate groups of people showed up at her counter. Finally, I decided to stop being the obedient queuer and went up between numbers.

All this is preparing me for our trip tomorrow. I hope I'll have more of the pleasant hua yu conversations and less of the frustrating stuff.

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