China Culture Shock: Conversations with a local

Two conversations I had with a local Chinese.

Yesterday our agent came to pick up our passports for registering us with the police department. I still hadn’t gotten a local cell phone yet, so she offered to take me and translate. woo hoo!
I grabbed shoes, and a jacket. It’s cold here already…

As I’m walking out the door.

(E is looking at me with this blank look.) “It’s raining.”

“oh, ok” (I grab an umbrella.)

“We’ll walk. It’s not far.”

(Oh, good. Not far is good. It looks cold out.)

We walk outside… it’s pouring down rain and freezing cold for my SC bones!
“Don’t worry. It is not far. Maybe only a 20 or 25 minute walk.”

“oh ok…. “
…WAIT. how far???
A 20 minute walk does NOT equal “not far” in my book. That’s like… how far you walk for “exercise”. In America, walking from a parking spot in the end row at Wal-Mart is considered a far walk. Not 3 km in the RAIN!

A rainy day in Shenyang

Conversation #2: As we’re walking in the freezing cold rain…

“This big city stuff is very different for me. So many cars and people everywhere.
My home town has maybe 2,000 people.”

(Shenyang is about the same size as NY City. It’s not even in the top 10 in China.)

“Oh, you lived in “toan”

(staring blankly) “huh?”

Toan… A “TOAN”

(still staring blankly)

“T… O… W… N…”

(another 5 second pause while I figure out what that spells.)
“oooohhhh, a T-oowww-n.” (Drawn out in my best Southern accent.)

“Yes… I am from small town too. Has maybe 100,000 people. ”

(ummm. yeah. 2,000. 100,000. That’s almost the same.)


China Life: Things you don’t see in America

As you can imagine, there are a lot of things around here that are just different than we’re used to. We got here expecting things to be different. I think it’s important when you move to a foreign country to not expect it be like home. They are going to do things differently. And rather than let it bother me, I try to enjoy noticing the differences. Most of them, I find very amusing anyway.

Like this, for example.

Lost in translation

Our apartment was unfurnished when we moved in, but the owner had left behind a few things. Most are useful and we appreciated not having to buy them. Things such as the appliances, iron, and mops and brooms, etc. However, this was left behind also.

Now I’m not sure whether this was purposely left here for us to use, or rather falls into the category of something the previous renters just didn’t want to pack. I’m guessing its the latter. At least, I would hope so.


Now, obviously it’s a trashcan. At least I’m guessing. But what is it really used for? It’s only 6 inches tall! Seriously, you can only fit like two tissues in this thing. You’d have to go empty it every other time you put something in. And if you’re going to do that, why not just walk to the bigger trashcan in the first place?

(And don’t get me started on the “bigger” trashcan. The biggest one you can find around here is the size that we normally use in a bathroom. Apparently they don’t produce much trash here, or else they take it out every day. Haven’t quite figure out how to “do as the Romans do” in this case.)

And did you notice the text? …it’s in English! (When you are surrounded by characters you can’t read, this is very exciting.) At first I thought “Great! They’re going to explain how I’m supposed to use this thing.” But wait… when you get a little closer…

It is refinement life

What IN THE WORLD does that MEAN?

Is that supposed to be English? That is not the English I speak. I mean I can read the words individually, but put them all together and… huh? Around here, we like to call it Chinglish. It’s when someone takes text in Chinese, and just directly translates it into English words without paying much attention to meaning.

Can you figure out what this is supposed to mean? If you do, PLEASE let me know. I’ve been racking my brain since we got here. Still have no idea.

This will forever be what comes to mind when I hear someone say “lost in translation”.


Life in China: Don’t push the big red button

So… I’ve been trying to get out of posting this little story. I mean, you don’t really care to know EVERYTHING that happens to us on this little adventure, do you? Actually, I’m not really sure you care to know any of it, but I’m writing it down just the same. I was going to skim over this tidbit, but I realized… I just need to keep it real. Most of you already know what a dingbat I am anyway, and it’s probably unlikely you’ll even be surprised I’d do something like this.

Besides, LeftBrain is making me. He has literally asked me at least twice a day since it happened… “Have you posted it yet?” And so, begrudgingly, here is the story of the big red button…

Security in Shenyang
On Thursday morning, we met the realtor, Echo, at the apartment. She is Chinese, but speaks English ok and was appointed to answer questions and translate for us. When we arrived, a friend of the landlord was also there getting things ready, setting up the phone and internet, etc.

I went to the kitchen first to check out the appliances and make sure everything was in working order. I was pleasantly surprised to see that this apartment, like the first, had a little TV in the kitchen. Both times, the realtor seemed really excited to show us this. To be honest, the first time I was unimpressed. Who has time to watch TV in the middle of cooking anyway? Besides that, most of the channels are in Chinese and the screen is only 6 inches across. Tiny.

However, I knew from the first apartment that the TV wasn’t just a TV. It was also a security camera! So cool! I know it may not be that exciting to you. But I was impressed.

When I asked Echo about it, she mentioned that this one also had that capability, but she wasn’t quite sure how to work it. She pushed a few buttons and we never could quite figure it out. I got bored for the moment and moved on. When I got back out to the living/ dining area, I noticed another screen mounted on the wall next to the door. I was sure this was a camera too. And I was determined to figure out how to use this thing. Not that I ever think we’ll need it. I don’t. But still, I must know how it works. It’s just the way I am. No gadget can be left untouched.

Our China Apartment: Front DoorThere are 6 buttons on the panel. One of them has to work the camera, right? They are all labeled with Chinese characters, which I can’t read of course, so without rhyme or reason I just decided to push them all until the camera came on. Easy enough.

The very first button on the right has red writing, looks the most to me like it would be a power or “On” button. Wrong! As soon as I pushed it, it starts blinking red and a deafening alarm starts going off. I’m in total “Oh Crap” mode and start going down the line pushing every button on there to try and get it to stop. Well, Echo walks up beside me at that point and as I’m going back down the line of buttons, frantically trying to find a combination that would shut the thing up. I start to push the same red button again, and Echo stops me.

“Don’t push that one. It calls the police.”

Ummm, WHAT?!? Did you say police??

So, I really didn’t know much about China before we moved here (still don’t, as a matter of fact), but the one thing I do know, is you want to steer clear of the police. (That really goes in just about every country, I think.) And I’m pretty sure, you definitely don’t want to call them to you, with a flashing red light and a blaring siren loud enough to wake the dead, for NO REASON! At this point, I’m pretty much mortified. All the while trying to play it off like the siren just started going off by itself or the guy messing with the wiring set it off, and I was just “helping” by pushing buttons to try and shut it off.

About this time, I decide it’s high time to head outta there. My plan at this point is to slink into one of the bedrooms and get my pointer finger ready. I’m also racking my brain trying to piece together enough of the Mandarin I’ve learned to say “He did it!”

As it turns out, I had very little to worry about. The alarm continued to go off for over an hour with no sign of the police. The landlord’s friend did manage to reduce it to an intermittent blaring somehow. But it would only stay quiet for about 2 minutes before it would start again. I have to admit, about 45 minutes in, I’m over the panic and getting a little annoyed. What if there really was an emergency? What good is that stupid little thing, except to trick button-happy foreigners into bursting their ear drums?

Well, someone did eventually come and turn off the alarm. I was conveniently in another room at the time so I didn’t get to see them fix it. I’m not sure exactly how Echo explained the situation but it probably went something like: “That crazy white woman in there got all geeked out over the security camera. Apparently they don’t have those in Iva.” Yeah well, maybe not. But we have tractors. And cows. Where are your cows?

On the up side, I learned a couple of new Chinese characters that I’m not likely to ever forget. For your reference, when you come to China, don’t push buttons marked

(unless, of course, you mean to call the police.)

On a side note, none of the buttons actually turned on the security camera. We found out later, it comes on automatically when someone pushes the doorbell.

So how do you translate… ummm, oops?