Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Written on my bed, first morning

I love being a flexible traveler. Wouldn’t you know it, the plan from the last post began to change right away and may just keep changing. I had planned to take the “AirBus” into the city center. When I managed to get off the plane, get through the visa people, get my bags, get through customs, and get to the part of the airport where you find your transportation into town, y’all I had been traveling for over 24 hours nonstop. When I did this backpacking shit last time, I was 21 and full of vigor and spunky and shit. Not that I don’t still have spunky vigor, but damnit, I’m knocking on 30’s door now, and when the nice man smiled at me and said, Taxi? I said YES.

I wasn’t sure whether I should try to chat up the taxi driver. I want to call him the taxista, but I’m not in Mexico anymore, Toto. There are, in my experience, four or five stages to language learning, and they go like this:
1) No Idea What The Fudge.
2) “Well I can speak it better than I can understand it.”
3) “I understand it better than I speak it.”
4) “I feel like I’m doing pretty well.”
I went through these with Spanish. First you don’t know what the Eff. Then you know enough words to put together a sort of sentence that conveys what you want to say, but when folks respond in their rapid-fire mother-tongue way, you go blank. THEN you know enough to understand them, and enough to hear how pidgin your words sound, so you get shy about talking. Finally you find a comfortable place in which to converse and from there can work your way to fluency.

I’m at #2 with Mandarin right now. I spent the whole taxi ride (1/2 hour or so?) thinking in my head the things I would say to my taxi driver if I thought for a second I might be able to understand his response, but they just stayed in my head. Finally curiosity got the better of me (which, if you know me, you know how bad my curiosity can be) and I pointed at this structure I’d seen a few times and asked, What is that? Zhei ge shen me? He responded… and yeah I didn’t understand a word. So I smiled and said Thank you, xie xie, okay, hao, and left it at that.

Here’s what’s funny. No matter where you are in the world, if you’re near a hostel the people there know what you’re there for. I saw the sign to the place but not the door to get up. I walked around the corner for a while until the red-eyed kids chillin’ in front of the tattoo shop pointed to it for me. Thanks, guys.

Y’all I slept the sleep of the DEAD last night! I woke up at one point and zombied my way to the bathroom, then back to the mattress. Met a few folks staying here, so far all males which is strange, but I’ve made plans to go on a pub crawl with them Thursday night. Which will be Thursday morning for those of you reading this back home in the States. Hello from the future. When I got here, the owner was out, so I helped myself to a shower and by the time I got out an employee was back, so I settled in and pretty much fell out. It’s now just before noon here, and I’ve had some coffee and a nice toasted sandwich with peanut butter (which was sweet and tasted hazel-nutty) and jelly (which was current jam I think?) and am about to get changed into some real clothes and pack a shoulder bag and head out to explore. And yes, I will be taking the sheet of paper with the address in Chinese so I can ask the locals “Where? Zai nar?” when I get lost and follow their pointed fingers back to my bed.

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