A few days after our arrival in China, (and many trips to Walmart later) we hopped on a public bus and made our way to Xiamen University where I was to sign up for my Chinese classes. Little did I know I was about to get my very first lesson right there on the bus.
My husband started teaching me to count along with the hand gestures that represent the numbers from 1-10.
It was clear that I was having a difficult time remembering the correct tone + sound + hand signal, so the college student next to us decided to offer her services. She joined in, correcting my pronunciation and holding up her fingers for each number.
And then the grandma chimed in…
The 奶奶 nǎi nai (grandma) sitting on my other side must have thought it was good fun to play “teach the foreigner Chinese”, because she got in on the action too.
We counted to ten over and over again, laughing and bonding over the complexity of this seemingly simple endeavor.
I felt so silly because here I am, an adult, fully capable of getting on a plane and moving across the world, yet I’m requiring the assistance of several locals to complete a child’s task. Good thing Chinese are quite good-natured and understand that their language is extremely difficult to learn.
By the time we arrived at the university, I could (almost) do it by myself. At least we entertained the rest of the passengers.
I’m forever grateful to my impromptu “teachers” and think of them whenever I use those hand gestures at the market or wherever I’m at.
The wonderful thing is there are “teachers” EVERYWHERE in China! Your taxi driver, fruit vendor, or friendly person on the street are all willing to tell you how to say something and are generally quite patient as you practice and make mistakes.
Don’t be shy like I was.
I would whisper thank you in Chinese (谢谢 xiè xiè) SO quietly when getting out of the taxi that there’s no way the driver could hear me.
As we get older, we are less willing to make mistakes and really go for it. Be like a child. Point, say, repeat. Make friends with the people around you 🙂
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