Getting By in Beijing
Three days to go in Beijing, and I'm just killing time. I've discovered a new way to annoy the relentlessly helpful volunteers: keep one shoe untied. It drives them batty. They emerge out of every crevice of the building to tell you about your urgent shoelace problem. I just wave and keep on risking potential bodily catastrophe.
Which is not to say that our hosts' kindness isn't appreciated. Like, as I was walking over to tonight's men's handball semifinals (ongoing), I finally got my hands on the "Get By in Beijing" booklet, available free of charge in the lobby of the Intercontinental Hotel. Had I seen this booklet three weeks ago, would probably have convinced me to leave Beijing immediately. Highlights:
Pirate-speak: "Listening to Beijing people talk, you may notice they seem to say 'Arr', a lot. This is a peculiarity of the Beijing dialect, whereby the final part of a syllable is replaced by a hearty '-arr'. Some visitors compare this sound to the exclamations of pirates and salty sea-dogs in old movies."
Yes and No: "Nod your head and smile enthusiastically for 'Yes'; shake it for 'No'. To really underline a refusal, try simultaneously waving your right hand as if vigorously polishing a dirty mirror."
Veggie trouble: "You can't be too clear about what you want. And if your vegetable dish still arrives with extra pork or dried shrimp, don't hesitate to send it back. But stay cool!"
Be ready to compromise: "Minor disputes between visitors and locals occasionally escalate to involve discussions at the nearest police station. In such cases, the police often prefer to broker a compromise in which one party pays 'compensation' to the other. Foreigners occasionally feel aggrieved at such compromises, especially when asked to pay despite feeling that they are the wronged party. It's best to just swallow such feelings, pay and leave."
* At the internet Cafe: "Would you mind not looking over my shoulder?"
* At the market: "Is anyone going to serve me?"
* At the post office: "I'm sorry, I didn't know I wasn't allowed to send CDs."
* At the hospital: "Please use a fresh needle. Show me the packet....I don't want an IV drip....It itches here....I have venereal disease....I have blood in my urine....I have blood in my stool....I haven't had my period for four months."
* At the dentist: "Give me an anaesthetic!"
* Concerning politeness: "I'll do it with you another time. [This is the king of polite refusals, instantly understood to mean 'No, and I don't want to talk about this any more.]"
* At the police station: "He hit me first."
I actually haven't had cause to use that last one yet, but I've still got three days left, and if I keep leaving my shoelaces untied, anything's possible.
August 22, 2008; 9:01 AM ET
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