Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Chinese Connection

I was telling Tarrell this story last night . . . but during the cruise, I got a chance to practice my Chinese once again. Lisa and I had missed our early seating for dinner one night, but were able to be accomodated at an unoccupied table clear across the dining room from our usual spot. The assistant waiter was a very young and pretty lady who I somehow knew was Chinese without first seeing her name tag and country of origin.

I told her thank you in Mandarin, and she was genuinely surprised and delighted to hear it. Her name was Huang Lan, I found out. She asked me if I spoke Chinese, and modestly I said "just a little". She seemed lonely and for want of somebody to talk to in her native tongue, though, so for the duration of our dinner we spoke nothing but Chinese to each other. It was really cool.

Funny thing is, for the remainder of the cruise I would suddenly find myself bumping in to her wherever I went. And each time she would smile and start carrying a conversation in Mandarin with me like we were old friends. She asked me once if I were Chinese. And I laughed and said no. Then she asked if one of my parents was, and again I said no. She had this confused look on her face, so I told her I had learned Mandarin at college. I then asked after her own family and which part of China she was from. It was hard to get into too deep of a conversation, however, as she was constantly on the clock and crew were discouraged from mingling with the guests when off shift.

Still, I looked forward to running in to her whenever we were onboard the ship. After a while, Lisa starting asking me: "so, where's your Chinese girlfriend? Go say hi to her!" LOL!

But it was really neat meeting Huang Lan. She was cool people. I tried to get a picture with her, but the last night of the cruise was hectic and I never got the chance. Bummer!

Still, it was fun getting to speak Chinese on a fairly repetitive basis. However, while I found the old skills were still there, I was alarmed by the moments when I would struggle for a certain word or phrase. It sobered me to realize that I really *do* need to get back to taking classes again. I also need to do a better job of immersing myself in the language -- like watching Chinese cable channels and reading Chinese newspapers whenever I can.


Kim Kasch said...

Very cool - my husband speaks five languages - I try to speak English without looking too ignorant

David Batista said...

Most Europeans speak more than one language, I've realized. It makes sense when you see how crowded the countries over there are on a map. :)

Speaking some Spanish myself, I've discovered that French and Italian are made even more the easier since all three share some pretty obvious links to Latin. I hear the same can be said for English, Dutch, and German--as well as the Scandinavian trio of languages--which all share the same Indo-Germanic roots.

So, yeah, it's not surprising to me that most Europeans are polylingual.

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