inside thoughts on China and beyond

Talking Chinese

I’m traveling quite a bit for meetings, conferences, trainings and sometimes I’m not even sure why.  I love it. It get you out there; meet other people. The best of it is though that here in China, flying is a door-to-door business. Taxi drivers fly you to and from the airport in a way that is really strengthening your prayer life and pilots take care of whatever distance is in between. And they –the pilots- are apparently doing a good job at that because statistics show that although the Chinese aviation industry has seen a doubling of its flights, it can boast of being in the top ten most safe air traffic. And believe me, Chinese like to boast! The increase of road traffic has put them on another top ten list though.

Reading about this safety record that is hanging in the air surprised me much. Fresh are my memories of Chinese co-passengers who would start a telephone call just after the announcement to turn off the phones; or hordes of passengers who would unbuckle after the flight attendant had specifically told them not to. Often passengers would stand in the aisle dropping their suitcases out of the overhead compartments long before the plane comes to a stand. But, they are among the safest in the air, so who am I to comment on this.

I love these flights. Alone in the crowd. Served at the blink of an eye or the push of a button. “Could you give me the English paper please”; “Another coffee please” or if I’m in the mood “A red wine please”. All this drinking makes me a regular toilet visitor, but that is OK since I am also an aisle person. Nothing worse than having to climb over your sleeping neighbors when the pressure is up. Armrests are an issue.

Sichuan taxi

A serious issue. I don’t want to end up having one of my armrests being taken by the one next to me. It upsets me. How can he be so arrogant? Who does he think he is, stealing my armrest? Wait until you go toilet boy!! All the more reason to put on the  earphones to further retreat into the seclusion of my own world. No need to say a word. Or should I?

But sometimes it is time to talk. With taxi drivers – and this is impossible to avoid.

I remember a time I was on the way to the airport. I got a talkative taxi driver that was quite impressed with the numbers of years that I have lived in Chengdu now. Why only Chengdu? Because I love it! Most shiji (taxi drivers) are pure Chengduren, so what else could I say? We talked for about 6.2 minutes. I wished my Chinese  language teacher was here now; it would have impressed her and above all encouraged her: it is possible… But then again, she would have noticed that the driver was the one doing most of the speaking, while I was bravely nodding my head. She would surely also have notice the driver’s eyes in the rear mirror rolling upward wondering why he had complimented me on my Chinese already after my first sentence, (a common politeness they utter as quickly as saying ‘hi’), after I clearly crossed the line of my linguistic boundaries followed by an awkward silence. I would tell myself I didn’t want to talk anymore and do some writing; she would say I blundered. But then; she wouldn’t say that since she’s my teacher and I employ her. And she would not want me to lose face –at least, not more than is good for me, that is.

Hainan taxi

Talking with drivers can be a challenge. I learned that during a trip to Tianjin for a meeting at TIS. A choir team also going to TIS traveled on the same plane. Driver Feng would pick me up from the airport, holding a big sign with the letters ‘TIS’. Walking into the arrival hall, there it was: TIS.

Ni shi Feng shiji ma? “You are driver Feng?” I asked in Chinese.

“Yes, yes, I’m the driver. One person?”

“Yes, I’m alone.” A short strange look -I should have known!- and he signaled me to follow him. And so I did, across the parking lot to his vehicle. A huge bus.

“Are you sure you only need to pick me up; not the choir team as well?” Confusion. “So your surname is Feng?”

Chongqing taxi

“No, I’m Huo.”

Arg, I walked away with the wrong driver! We quickly headed back to pick up his choir and I, my driver Feng. We found driver Feng, still with his huge TIS sign in his hand, somewhat confused with the choir team jet-legging around trying to figure out how he could get these 20 students in his VW Passat…

Feng; Huo, it does sound the same…. When I say it…

One response

  1. What a fun, funiversally understood travel story. Thus far, my efforts at the Chinese language begin and end with ‘hello’ and ‘thank you.’ So, “xiexie” for sharing.

    November 27, 2012 at 9:36 pm