The Hangzhou Di­aries

That's China - - Contents - Text by / Gemma Piali

杭州日记

SET­TING

One rainy af­ter­noon, a group of fresh-faced for­eign­ers gather around the kitchen ta­ble to dis­cuss their funny ex­pe­ri­ences of liv­ing in Hangzhou… mostly about mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tions, mis­takes and un­ex­pected mem­o­rable mo­ments.

Cast (In or­der of ap­pear­ance)

Rick: Korean. Brayan: Brazil­ian. Francesco: Ital­ian. Gemma: Aus­tralian. Luke: Aus­tralian. Homa: Ira­nian. Marta: Ital­ian.

ACT 1: Tales from the seat of a cab…

RICK I think most of the time when taxi driv­ers want to say some­thing to me, I don’t usu­ally ask them any­thing but I just an­swer their ques­tions. For me it is still re­ally hard to un­der­stand their Chi­nese, be­cause of the di­alect. Now this is my sec­ond year in Hangzhou but still I can­not un­der­stand the topic that they are talk­ing about, some­times about pol­i­tics but not al­ways some­thing spe­cific. But still I have to an­swer. I just hear,“什么什么对吗?” (Blah, blah, right?”) I re­spond “啊对,对,对 ”. (“Yes, yes, yes”) And sud­denly those taxi driv­ers al­ways say in such a sur­prised voice,“你的中文真好! ” (“Your Chi­nese is so good.”)

BRAYAN I joke with them and al­ways say, “你的中文不好,我的中文很好” (“Your

nd Chi­nese is bad, my Chi­nese is very good”) and they laugh back.

FRANCESCO Once I was sit­ting in the front pas­sen­ger seat of a taxi and my friends were in the back­seat.We were talk­ing to­gether, but sud­denly the taxi driver reached out and started stroking my arm. I was so sur­prised! I have a lot of hair on my arm, and he was ca­ress­ing my arm. He said “Oh you have so much hair!” He was talk­ing but while he was talk­ing he was still touch­ing my arm…

GEMMA And also while he was still driv­ing! His multi-task­ing abil­i­ties are im­pres­sive.

FRANCESCO Yes, and I was like, could you please stop? But he was fas­ci­nated, and said it was so strange for him for peo­ple to have hair on their arms, be­cause in China peo­ple only have hair here (ges­tur­ing at his head). He went on to say that if you have a lot of hair on your chest, it means that you are a strong man. Sure, I am strong! (Every­one else laughs at this point.) It was very bizarre for me.

GEMMA At times I just don’t know how to re­spond to com­pli­ments I have re­ceived from taxi driv­ers or other peo­ple I have in­ter­acted with. Some­times I have been told I am pretty which is a rather in­ter­na­tion­ally recog­nised com­pli­ment and is lovely to hear, but then other times its “you are very strong”, or “very big”, or “a very

large per­son”… I am think­ing in my head, is that a good thing?

FRANCESCO Yeah one of our lec­tur­ers told us that peo­ple used to tell her,“你很胖 !” (Ni hen pang!) And 胖 (pang) means you are not fat but well-rounded. You are not too skinny but you look healthy. But when we stud­ied the char­ac­ter in class, we stud­ied it to mean fat. Orig­i­nally she al­ways felt un­com­fort­able be­cause she thought peo­ple were call­ing her fat. So it’s okay!

ACT 2: Taste bud ad­ven­tures…

GEMMA The worst mis­take I have ex­pe­ri­enced with food, was when one of my friends was or­der­ing de­liv­ery pizza on her phone and she or­dered was she thought was just a plain cheese pizza. How­ever when the food ar­rived, she opened the lid to one of the boxes, and the smell of durian per­me­ated the whole room. I don’t mind some durian-flavoured

nd foods, like ice cream, but for me durian flavour­ing does not be­long on pizza. I took one bite and could not con­tinue.

LUKE One time I went to a cafe­te­ria, and I pointed to one dish think­ing that look’s good just chuck it on my plate. Then when I was sit­ting down I in­spected what I had or­dered, and thought this looks like teeth. Maybe a goat’s teeth. I thought per­haps it could be squid. I put it to my mouth, and then thought no, def­i­nitely not squid, that is def­i­nitely teeth! (Every­one unan­i­mously squeals)

HOMA I was sur­prised about how the Chi­nese have fried foods with break­fast, and then fruit with their beers or drinks. When you go the bar, they give you very nice cut ap­ples and toma­toes, but I would pre­fer that with my break­fast. Then in the morn­ing they give you such nice fried food, but I want to have that in­stead with my beer.

RICK And they have toma­toes on cake or on fruit salad.

HOMA I was or­der­ing a birth­day cake for my friend and the worker said,“We don’t have a straw­berry, is it okay if you put a tomato on it?” No, it’s not okay!

LUKE I saw some­one walk­ing on the street just eat­ing a tomato like an ap­ple.

GEMMA I could do that to be hon­est, eat a whole tomato by it­self.

HOMA Me too I love toma­toes, but not on cake.

LUKE Well, tech­ni­cally it is a fruit.

…Con­ver­sa­tion leads into ir­rel­e­vant dis­cus­sion about why tomato is ac­tu­ally a fruit and not a veg­etable.

ACT 3: Mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tions…

RICK When I came to China my Chi­nese was ter­ri­ble. One night I went to eat din­ner but it was pretty late, maybe 9pm, so all the restau­rants near cam­pus were clos­ing. I asked my friend, what do I have to say if I want to or­der a bunch of dumplings? He said, “睡觉一晚多少钱?” I was mem­o­ris­ing and mem­o­ris­ing it, and af­ter I ar­rived at the restau­rant, I said “睡觉一晚多少钱?”, which means how much is it for one night.

GEMMA Haha. Were they taken aback or did they just laugh in­stantly?

RICK The cashier was a man, and his fa­cial ex­pres­sions paused for a mo­ment, “啊,什么 ?” (“Ah, what?”)

ACT 4: Pleas­ant sur­prises…

FRANCESCO Chi­nese peo­ple are very kind peo­ple, al­ways try­ing to help you.

MARTA Yes. When I went to Yun­nan, I had no idea where to go be­cause the guide at my ho­tel said you can just go to the main street and there are a lot of taxis there that can take you where you want to go. But when I ar­rived, it was not at all a main street, just a very small street so I just stopped a ran­dom car at one point be­cause af­ter half an hour of look­ing I could not find any­thing.The driver agreed to take me to a view­point I wanted to see. I thought he was just go­ing to take me to the one stop and maybe I would pay him some­thing. In­stead a he brought me to a lot of other places and said ,“I know of another place where there is a good view.You are sup­posed to pay but I know a way where we can just go, so I will go with you”. He took me to the best views and he did not want any money. Af­ter­wards he told me he was go­ing in the op­po­site way from my ho­tel, so he called his friend and he took me back to my

nd ho­tel, all for free for around two hours. RICK Be­fore I came here I knew K-pop or Korean dra­mas were pop­u­lar in China, but I never knew just how pop­u­lar. Last year, I was at a café on cam­pus with my Korean friends and we were speak­ing Korean with each other. The cashier no­ticed and she asked me, “Are you Korean?” And I said yes, and sud­denly she brought her phone and said lets take a pic­ture to­gether. I told her, we are not celebri­ties. But still she wanted to take a pic­ture, so we said okay. Then sud­denly she said, “你们的咖啡都是免费 ”(“Your cof­fees are free of charge”)

BRAYAN I felt the same when I went to Nan­jing to watch vol­ley­ball. And all the games I went with my na­tional shirt and flag, and peo­ple would say,“Oh you are Brazil­ian, can I take a pic­ture with you?” And one of the se­cu­rity guards said,“If you want I can let you in.You don’t need a ticket. I like Brazil. I like soc­cer. So you can go”. I felt so spe­cial. When they see a for­eigner es­pe­cially if you are from a coun­try that they re­ally like, they treat you so kindly.

ACT 5: Risky busi­ness…

RICK Be­fore win­ter last year I didn’t know the tem­per­a­ture would be so freez­ing…

HOMA It is be­cause of the hu­mid­ity.You don’t see snow, but the cold goes in­side your bones!

RICK …I did not have any de­cent warm cloth­ing, so I went to Wal­mart to find a heater, the one where you turn it on and it be­comes red. There was one, ex­actly what I was look­ing for and it was 26 kuai.

GEMMA Oh sounds dan­ger­ous! I am al­ready scared about where this story is go­ing.

RICK nd I thought, “This is even cheaper than to­day’s lunch. 26 kuai! What is it made of?” All my friends were say­ing, if you buy that then you will blow the whole build­ing so don’t buy it, it will cost your life. But I bought it be­cause I was so cold. I used it for a month, and it was nice.Then I sold it.

GEMMA Wow, you sold it for how much?

RICK 20 kuai. I sold it and one of my friends bought it. He used it and he thought “Wow for 20 kuai this is nice”, but then a week later an ac­ci­dent came. He for­got to pull the plug out be­fore he left the room in the morn­ing. Any­way he turned it off so he thought it would be okay but af­ter he came back up, it had gone “boom” and the whole room was black.

GEMMA Was he was okay?

RICK Yes, but his room def­i­nitely was not. THE END

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