It happens in the most unsuspecting of places, this spontaneous attack of the old Chinese language skills I've acquired.
I was in J&R purchasing my next game, inFamous (see sidebar), for the PlayStation 3, when the cashier ran afoul of some technical glitch on her machine. Suddenly she started speaking rapid-fire Mandarin to her co-worker, and me not quite realizing I was doing it, tuned in to the conversation as I dug for my cash. Then the co-worker asked "well, how much did you ring it up for?" And immediately I replied in Mandarin: "six dollars and forty-nine cents." Whoa, just like that!
Now, it's been some 11 years since I've last used Chinese on a daily basis, and to be honest I've forgotten a lot. So I was as shocked as the cashiers to hear those words come out of my mouth, let me tell you. Both cashiers were suddenly all smiles. The woman still responded to me in broken English afterwards, but every now and then she peppered in some Chinese words as we concluded the transaction. I told her "hao le" when she counted out my change, then thanked her in Mandarin as I left.
As I walked towards the escalator, I heard the one cashier say to the other: "He said 'xie-xie,' but I don't think he was Chinese."
Anyway, that was an interesting encounter. Makes me want to go and take remedial classes so that I can re-learn all the stuff I've lost -- like how to read and write.
NYC is a cool, diverse place to live, I tell ya!
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