One of the most useful Chinese phrases is pronounced “can ee can”. It means “just looking” or in my case “Quit picking up merchandise and banging it against my glasses. I can be trusted to find any items in plain sight.” Once a little bit of Chinese is heard, the vendors usually stop pulling items off the shelves and under our noses, and start a rapid fire of questions.
Frecsa and I were in a local tea shop trying to find a present for her mom, and when the shopkeeper asked what we were buying, we said “just looking”. Instead of asking us the usual questions, from “Are you Russian?” to “Are all foreigners as fat as you are?”, he asked us to have some tea.
The shopkeeper called over an interpreter from another shop, a younger man who said he speaks English. He speaks English the way some of us can remember a bit of bit of our high-school French or Spanish, only his high-school English teacher was not only not a native speaker, but had probably never met a native speaker. Anyway, he was able to ask us questions as long as we wrote down the answers in block letters. The two men were shocked to find out how old we are, and then the interpreter started to practice his next question.
“Marry. Marry? Marriaige? Marring? Marry?” he says to himself. Just when we think he’s going to propose, he asks us if we’re married. The shopkeeper is telling him a list of questions for us, at least I keep catching “wen ta men” (ask them) in the paragraphs of Chinese questions.
After some more tea, the interpreter returns to his store. The shopkeeper takes the pen and paper and starts to write down another question. Fresca and I just look at each other. He’s got to know we can’t read Chinese. The old man finishs his question and passes me the paper.
And I read it. In Chinese.
The shopkeeper had written “Do you like China?”. Actually, due to the peculiarities of Chinese grammar, he wrote China good question signifier but that’s close enough! He wrote it, and I understood! I read Chinese and answered in Chinese!
Then we bought tea for Fresca’s mom, and walked to dinner. Ok, Fresca walked to dinner. I skipped down the street singing a little song about how I’m the smartest person ever and I’m practically bilingual!