Monday, August 21, 2006

Market'ing

One thing about China that I really like is the markets. Tang Shan doesn't seem to have many, but there's one about a ten minute walk away. Alistair, myself and Grace headed there after watching three episodes of Lost, and were down there for about an hour and a half.

Chinese markets, more than anywhere else, remind me of where I am. That's a necessary thing in a city as developed and 'recent' as Tang Shan. The 1976 earthquake destroyed the city, so everything is new, so while it's China, it's likely one of the most un-Chinese places in the country.

Regardless... the market was quite nice. As per usual, they have all kinds of craziness: fresh vegetables and fruit stalls, live seafood (I swear a shrimp tried to jack my wallet), pigs' tails, noodle vendors, 'bits&bobs' places that have everything from old army blankets and used shoes to little trikes and sauce-pans, lots of hotpot places, jewelry (sketchy at best), etc. We wandered from one end to the other, and then back again, picking up 7 skewers of grilled squid (5 yuan), fried tofu and coriander (1 yuan), and Alistair and Grace got hotpot and we sat down. Hotpot, by the way, is basically oil or a broth in a huge basin (I hesitate to call it a pot, though it is) and they cook skewers of whatever on demand: cabbage, shrimp, tofu, blood cubes, pork, chicken, beef, squid, and lots of stuff I couldn't make out. 2 skewers for 1 yuan, so they got quite an assortment.

In the morning, I wandered down to a restaurant called Byone International, and had breakfast cheap. Then headed to the bank for some mullah, and then wandered over to a department store to get a head-shaving aparatus. After that, we needed more coffee and I figured some beer was in order. The lockers outside the grocery store had a sign that said, in English, "Scan your sex here". There isn't a lot of "Engrish" here, but damn... I started laughing. Two girls gave me a side-long glance, wondering what I thought was funny. I'm not exactly sure how they got "sex" from "ticket", but hey.

At one point in the store I had like 6 women who worked at the grocery store gathered around me. I was trying to ask where the tea and coffee were: "Ummm... cha, kefe nali ma?" Not even close to being right, except for 'cha'. Finally they found a girl who spoke English and I asked her. She asked someone else in Chinese, and that person said "cha".

Sometimes Chinese people bug the hell out of me. You can say something 10 times, then they get it and say the exact same fucking thing back to you as a question. Half the time they're surprised you're speaking Chinese (or attempting to), but half the time I think they're just culturally dense (not to generalize, but what else can you call it when 6 women don't understand "cha" + making pouring and drinking pantomime?). When I say culturally I mean that if there's no full sentence and you aren't saying it exactly exactly right, they just don't get it. There's no attempt whatsoever to listen to the word and work it out. And that happens everywhere: in taxis, restaurants, on the street. They have no concept of progression with the language, and simply don't seem able to deduce what you're saying. If a Chinese person comes up to me and says "it good" and points at my shirt, I know he's trying to say "I like your shirt". I don't stare at him like a mentally-challenged psychotic, which is what we foreigners get. It's all or nothing here: either you do speak Chinese or you don't. If you say a few things in Chinese, they'll go off like linguistic Roman Candles. They don't tone the speed down, and they just pour it at you. One of the few things I can say that irritates me here. Also, if you're with someone who is Chinese, say in a cab, a good many Chinese people will ignore you and wait for them to speak.

That's my only gripe, really, which I hope to assuage with Chinese language lessons. I understand that the language is extremely tonal (4 tones - flat, rising, rising and falling, and falling) but the inability to understand even with the addition of circumstance and context can be very tiring.

Pictures here and a few up on Flickr courtesy of Alistair, by the way. He lost some photos from his camera, so he was replenishing them.

Chinese tidbit of the day: roads. Most main roads in Tang Shan are made with thin, rectangular stone like something you'd see outside a hotel or something. Very odd, as they seem to crack and heave up frequently enough to force lane closures, etc. I'm not exactly sure why they use them, but they are quite nice compared to asphault or concrete.

13 comments:

Hypoxia said...

In my experience, French people can be the same way with language, even those that speak English really well. If you don't pronounce the word perfectly they look at you as if you are from another planet. Then, when they finally figure out what you are trying to say, they go "oh, you mean ____", which is exactly what you said in the first place! It's like they can't think outside the box. Maybe it's not the language but simply the individuals in question...

Engrish! You must take pictures when you see signs like that and send them to me - or post them on Flickr.

PG said...

Uhm! Sounds like Paris! (grin)

PG

PG said...

LOL! I should have read the previous comment! Indeed, I think it is much more Parisians than French in general, but yeah, in general, the whole country is pretty anal. They even look at French-Canadians like we're speaking a different language, when in fact there are dozens of different accents and ways of speaking in France depending what region you're from.

PG

Wayward Mind said...

True, so why are most English speakers more accomodating as a whole? That's what I don't get. People should just be bloody thankful that other folks are trying. I do my best with intonations, but I could easily not give a shit and butcher everything I say since it doesn't seem to make a difference. When a Chinese person says something really weird or wrong in English, I don't scowl or laugh (unless it really is funny) - I know what they mean and I correct them and respond. I don't keep repeating their broken English back to them as a question and feign stupidity until they ask someone else or get it right.

PG said...

Uhm.... Most English speakers?

I have said some pretty run of the mill stuff down here and people gave me the frown like I was from another planet. And I don't have the strongest accent here!

I would say that for one, the Canadian mentality is more used to the whole idea of a mosaic of people from different cultures and speaking different language, so the pantomime method is wideky accepted. The Americans are also adapatable, but I would say to a lesser extent.

It may be that long-standing ciilizations (including the French and British "empires"), have grown less adaptable, a strange thing to say about explorers who came face to face with people who spoke completely different languages (think of the Jesuits missionaries who went to the New World and the Far East).

All that being said, I have seen francos from Quebec who pretended not to understand

PG

PG said...

Oops, didn't finish what I was saying... a word from an anglo who spoke french with a thick accent, and vice versa in Ontario and BC with francos trying to speak English to anglos who didn't try to put 1 and 1 together.

My point is that even though we can observe trends in certain cultures, there are dorks everywhere, and there are people willing to go the extra step everywhere... Maybe you just have to be patient and look a bit more in China, but I am sure you will find some people glad to see a foreigner trying to learn and speak their language.

PG

Wayward Mind said...

Yeah, I know that Beijing is a lot more open that way, and willing to try because they have more foreigners there, and they love foreigners (apparently). There is even an unofficial foreigners corner in Tian'namen where people will ask to take pictures with you and talk to you if you're sitting there.

Guess it's just Tang Shan and Shijiazhuang where people aren't much willing to put in effort. Still a pet peeve of mine, though.

PS: the only time we've looked at you funny, PG, is when you did your Scoobie-Doo voice for that wolf. I think that was one of the funniest things I've ever seen. You will never live that down (up?). :)

PG said...

Eh! Eh! What's silliest.... the guy doing the voice, or the players getting spooked by it and shooting at rabbits with barbed arrows????

PG

Wayward Mind said...

... I seem to recall that was Angela. 'nough said. >;-)

PG said...

While we are on that obscure thread... who was it that stabbed a friend in the darkness through that window??? (You know, in the abbey)

Wayward Mind said...

That was Adrian, I think. I was too busy succumbing to darkness, remember?

Angie said...

I thoroughly enjoyed the deep, dark, dorky secrets.

Wayward Mind said...

Oh oh... we've said too much!