The Hangzhou Diaries
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