Most nights, I go to dinner with my co-worker, Zorro. (Dave, we miss you!) He’s really fun, loves talking about our students, and he’s been really helpful with my Chinese. Of course, when we go out, no one will listen to my Chinese.
Waitresses can understand my halting Chinese when Zorro’s not there, but when he is, they check with Zorro on every request I make. Sure, my Chinese is terrible, and customer service is just different here, but sometimes I feel like the hapless victim in a Monty Python sketch.
Zorro can also read a lot of characters so I’m always asking him for help. Me walking down the street in China is a lot like a car trip with a kindergartener, but instead of shouting out letters and numbers, I look for characters I can read.
I ask questions like “What’s that character? Second from the left? It looks like bu written on top of tian… I think I’m going to call it Hell.”
I can’t imagine what China must be like for Zorro. He has an entirely different set of assumptions than I do. He doesn’t get the foreigner price, or giggles everytime he speaks. He does get paragraphs of rapid-fire Chinese, based on the assumption that everyone who looks Chinese must speak it fluently. And it’s hard to be a foreign English teacher when you don’t elicit theHELLO!!! LAO WAI! greeting.
Last night, we went to the local sushi place. After the waitress double-checked my order and left, I realized Zorro was looking over my shoulder.
“A guy at the table over there has been staring at you for almost ten minutes!” he said. “That must get really annoying!”
Behind Zorro, I could see a sushi bar full of diners openly or covertly staring at the foreign girl.
“Yeah, it happens.”