A mandarin milestone – traveling and translating

20 Oct

I have been lucky to have had a visitor in town for the last week or so.  Each visitor is a gift – I know that crossing the pond is a big thing and I do everything I can to try to make the trip memorable.

This time, as I have been blessed with some free time I took my guest out of Shanghai to Hangzhou during the middle of the week.  I haven’t had that opportunity for a couple of years as most guests have been in the city while I’ve been working so I can only grab a day or two to  spend with them.

Going to Hangzhou was a revelation – not only because it is a beautiful place but because how I communicated during the trip.

Because my friend doesn’t speak any Chinese – I was on my own in terms of setting the plan, asking questions, ordering food, etc.  I wasn’t with a group of colleagues who let me follow along and I wasn’t with my husband who typically plans our travels within China.  If I didn’t get it right – we weren’t doing it.

I rocked it.

We ate at restaurants where the only menus were listed on the wall.  We successfully navigated the Hangzhou bus system – three times – with me looking at the bus diagrams in characters, choosing the right bus and getting us off at the right stop.  I bargained for gifts and I even chewed out a taxi driver who just didn’t want to take foreigners because they were “too much trouble.”

What I found really interesting was that even outside of my “comfort zone” in Shanghai, I was still able to function – people understood me and helped me and I finally asked questions to make sure things were right.  Sometimes having a guest makes you fearless.  For yourself you can accept certain elements of discomfort – but for your guest – no way!

Over the years I have noticed that this time of year – autumn – tends to be the time when I notice a significant change in my Chinese ability.  I remember my first phone call, my first meeting where I “got it” – my first presentation to a big group in mandarin.  All of those were milestones at the time.  This one was unexpected and very validating.

Have you had a language milestone recently?  Have you ever had others dependent on your translation ability?  It can be stressful – or it can be a gift.  This time, it was a gift.

To read about past mandarin milestones I have had, try the posts below:

Mandarin Milestones

Another Mandarin Milestone

Another Mandarin Milestone (2)


19 Responses to “A mandarin milestone – traveling and translating”

  1. Every Day Adventures in Asia October 20, 2013 at 11:36 am #

    The trouble is when you’ve achieved a milestone and then… slip! That’s what happened with Urdu and even I know my Hindi skills are not at all what they used to be. 😦

    Congrats on both your latest milestone and vacation time with a visitor.

    • gkm2011 October 20, 2013 at 2:54 pm #

      Very true – my Spanish has slipped like that for sure – I remember people in Spain asking me if I was Spanish – that certainly wouldn’t happen today! Has been a great week with the visitor.

  2. pollyheath October 20, 2013 at 3:44 pm #

    Yay! I love getting that feeling of being in control while living abroad! Congrats on the success.

    • gkm2011 October 20, 2013 at 8:14 pm #

      Thanks! The milestones make up for the days when you stumble through. Need to document both types!

  3. Giovannoni Claudine October 20, 2013 at 4:06 pm #

    Your friends have certainly had so much pleasure! I dare not not even think about the idea of taking the responsibility to go into regions of China where isn’t spoken anything else than Mandarin or Cantonese. These are languages ​​that I do not know… and so difficult to learn (I’ve at least tried).
    I have a vivid memory, several years ago in Hong Kong. I went there often for work and we stopped with the crew for 2 or 3 nights before heading to Beijing or Manila. Wanting to make a “spin” on the various islands around the HKG, I ended up losing the route… the sunset arrived and there were no more boats to return to Kowloon. The following day there was the flight .. Fortunately a fisherman found in the small port, was able to understand the pictures I had drawn on the map, gave me a pass and did not even want to be paid (but I left him a small fortune, that much I was thankfull). From there, I was very careful to choose my adventures when in rotation, even if by myself 😀

    • gkm2011 October 20, 2013 at 8:19 pm #

      Wow- sounds like a real adventure. I always thought that if flight attendants had a sense of adventure they would have so many opportunities for fun. Seems like it was true!

  4. ladyofthecakes October 20, 2013 at 6:34 pm #

    I was only thinking yesterday, while reading my book, that I don’t actually need the dictionary anymore to understand what’s going on. The few words I don’t know I can guess from the context. I still like to look things up, because I’m actively trying to increase my vocab, but it’s no longer essential for following the plot.

    • gkm2011 October 20, 2013 at 8:20 pm #

      Congrats! That is a big step. I remember reading an Agatha Christie novel in Spanish that I picked up at an airport and just enjoying the story. That will not be happening in Chinese any time soon!

      • ladyofthecakes October 20, 2013 at 8:23 pm #

        Aw, the blasted writing system…! Do you not long to be able to do it? Or is is simply not worth the momentous effort…?

      • gkm2011 October 20, 2013 at 8:27 pm #

        I don’t write, but I am slowly continuing to work on my reading – hence managing the bus system in Hangzhou. I just don’t have the time to spend to really figure it out as character memorization is just a very timely exercise. Give me another six years!

      • ladyofthecakes October 20, 2013 at 8:32 pm #

        Why did they have to think up such a complicated system?!? Well, I know why, it made sense back then, guess… but now it’s just an impediment to progress on all fronts. Who can retain 60K odd characters?!?

  5. expatlingo October 21, 2013 at 9:44 pm #

    Awesome! Glad you had a nice visit to Hangzhou and also had the chance to feel great about your Mandarin. Nice to realize how far you’ve come!

    • gkm2011 October 22, 2013 at 7:31 am #

      It was special – one of those times to take a look back and just bask in the moment. No time though! Starting a new job and just trying to keep my head above water!

  6. Naomi Baltuck October 22, 2013 at 12:04 pm #

    That’s so impressive! Isn’t it great when it comes back to you in such a way, what you have learned and how far you have come and what you are capable of? Awesome!

    • gkm2011 October 24, 2013 at 6:59 am #

      Yes – it requires a good memory to continue to appreciate how much I have learned instead of just taking it for granted. I think the blog helps me slow down and capture those moments.

  7. sarahinguangzhou October 22, 2013 at 2:19 pm #

    Yeh it’s true that when you have someone else there you tend to feel more responsibility to do things I think. When I’m on my own I often have quick look at the buses, think ‘;oh no I don’t understand’ and give up.

    • gkm2011 October 24, 2013 at 7:00 am #

      Very true – or I would say – maybe I should walk (even though it was a couple of miles and would take over an hour). With a guest I feel braver and probably stick my neck out more.

  8. christie007 November 12, 2013 at 1:44 am #

    I like traveling to China, especially in the small towns where I used to visiting, people are really nice and friendly, they are mostly curious about foreigner. they also like to talk to me so that they couldn’t know more about the world.

    The taxi drivers actually didn’t think that foreigner are too much trouble, probably they couldn’t understand your Mandarin, and they couldn’t speak English as well.

    • gkm2011 November 12, 2013 at 9:56 pm #

      I have only had one taxi driver in China even attempt English in the last six years, so I agree.

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