Zai jian!

It’s official: Kai and I are moving to Mongolia. This time next month, I’ll be there. Now that’s crazy!

I don’t particularly want to leave Jingers; I’ve become quite fond of the place.

I am particularly bummed that I have just gotten a handle on the language. I am by no means fluent, but I have definitely made progress.

Sadly, I had my last Chinese lesson on Wednesday. I didn’t expect it to be so soon or sudden, but my teacher, Wu Jing Sheng, is off to get married (what’s with all the Chinese men I know going off to get married… is it something I said?). But I owe a big thanks to Jing Sheng (the most patient man in China) for giving me adequate Chinese to order my daily latte, and for giving me countless opportunities to entertain Beijing taxi drivers with my commentary on the weather, traffic jams and idiotic driving.

Xie xie Wu Jing Sheng! Zai jian

Blue hair

One of the more courageous things I’ve done in China is go to the hairdresser (I know, I know, I sound ridiculous saying this… I’ll just add it to my #firstworldproblem list).

My first experience did not go so well. I went to a hairdresser that was recommended and trusted by many expats, where the owner speaks English and they always leave with great hair. I left with lousy hair, never went back and vowed I would never get my hair cut in China again.

Of course this was never going to work, because, as those who know me well can attest, I can’t leave my hair alone.

One day when Jilly was in town, I announced that I was going to get my hair cut short. Jilly is great at many things, but she is particularly great at supporting me when I am unsure of a situation and dread the outcome.

“I’ve actually never known a Chinese person to cut bad hair,” she said, matter-of-factly.

“Have you ever even known a Chinese hairdresser?!”

“Well no, but look around, they all have great hair.”

“Yeah, you would say that, because it’s dead-straight, thick, black hair… just like your hair! How will they manage with my wavy, crappy hair?”

“You have beautiful hair! And they’ll manage just fine.”

“What if they don’t speak English?”

“What, they’re blind too? Show them the picture you just showed me. Look, what’s the worst that can happen?” She asked cheerfully.

Really, she was asking me what’s the worst that could happen when I went to a hairdresser that could probably not speak English and was skilled only in a thousand different shades of black.

I don’t know why I picked the salon I did. There are so many less than a two minute walk from where I live, which would make it easier for me to run home quickly after a disaster. But for whatever reason I had this particular salon in mind.

When I walked in, I was the only client there with about nine hairdressers (all men, which hairdressers in China are… very unusual to see female hairdressers). They were just hanging around (this happens a lot in China, but that’s a post for another day). I was the star attraction and/or freak show, which is always very intimidating.

They all greeted me in Chinese, at which stage I understood nothing. After a flurry of chatter, a young Chinese woman appeared at the counter and greeted me in broken English.

It’s a start, I thought.

And a few hours later I left with an invitation to go shopping with the receptionist, several compliments on how beautiful my eyes are and one of the best haircuts I’ve ever had (you were right Jilly!).

I have been back several times, and I was there just yesterday.

The receptionist is always pleased to see me, and yesterday they gave me a free gift (a hairbrush – score!) because I am such a ‘happy, good customer’. There are about three regular staff members who don’t freak out when I arrive, but the others get a little excited and mill around me when I walk to the front counter. Yesterday, I put my book down on the counter while I was talking to the receptionist and when I went to pick it up I found one of the young apprentices flicking through it in amazement. I also had three people applying my colour, and then as it was processing, others would randomly walk up and touch it, pretending they were checking it but paying more attention to my weird blue eyes on my round, pink face.

I have to say though, I am pleased that I have put a little bit of effort into learning Chinese. I can now have small chats with them and can understand simple instructions from them, which I think makes me less of a freak as they feel more comfortable with me.

Also, it helps avert disasters… when I showed the picture yesterday, the receptionist said in her confident broken English:

“Ahh yes, you want dark blue hair.”

I laughed. So it’s not just me who confuses words in foreign languages, like when I told Mika that after my session I was going to his house (instead of my house) or that he was the most expensive person (rather than the best person). It’s ok, I know she knew what she meant, and so did I.

“Correct,” I said in Chinese. “I would like dark brown coloured hair.”

Maybe one of the best Shantasia posts you’ll read (but probably not)

One thing I’ve learnt this year is that the Chinese really, really like to use the word ‘maybe’ and other ambiguous words… a lot.

For example, maybe your washing machine will be fixed within 7 days. Maybe your water will be delivered in 10 minutes. Maybe he will come after lunch. Maybe the bank will be open tomorrow, or maybe it won’t.

I appreciate that it’s about saving face which is very much embedded in their culture. But you know, sometimes you just need a straight-up, direct answer. For example, will you or won’t you be able to get me a visa to allow me to stay in the country?

And even though the ‘maybe’ is usually superfluous, it always casts doubt in my mind. This is probably because when your parents used the word ‘maybe’ it always meant no. (Yes, I intentionally used the word ‘probably’ then.)

Restaurants have also jumped on the obscurity bandwagon and use it as a way to circumnavigate false advertising claims. I guess with over 70,000 restaurants in Beijing alone, it would be a pretty big claim to say they were the best. But again, it really makes me question the legitimacy of their claims. What do you reckon?!




FYI: It is not even close to being the best duck in town, and not sure about the Bleu Marine as I haven’t eaten there.

Big mouse

When my Chinese teacher drew this the other day I had two thoughts:

1) Chinese characters really do look like little pictures.

2) What the hell is it?

When he told me it was a Kangaroo, it reminded me of a conversation I had with Mika many months ago.

“Australia is famous for big mouse, no?”

“Rats?” I thought it interesting that my 24 year-old Chinese personal trainer even knew about our Prime Minister.

“No, not rats…” he raises his hands to his chest, palms facing outward and curves his fingers over and down… and then begins to hop.


“Yes! Kangaroo!”

“Where did big mouse come from?”

“Chinese characters for Kangaroo kind of the same as for big mouse.”

I guess that’s why my Chinese teacher drew a picture of an ant on the belly of big mouse that was standing upright and throwing a yo-yo.

Speaking of a logographic writing system (I kind of was), here is a snap of some of my fine Chinese writing:

My teacher insisted I take a photo. I am not sure why. Maybe he thinks it is worse than his drawing of a Kangaroo.

Chey Chey, Chey

My first trip to China was last August; rather than Kai coming home after his first rotation, I got to come visit him instead. Moving here was not even a thought at this point, and my knowledge of China was pretty limited.

I especially didn’t know any Chinese; Mandarin, Shanghainese or otherwise.

Kai assured me that a simple hello or thank you would get you a long way. I conquered ni hao with ease, making me think this Chinese thing was going to be rong yi (easy). But no sooner had I convinced myself I was a natural linguist, I was very much struggling with xie xie (thank you). C-eh? See-E? Sy-ee? She-eh?


Out of the blue, Kai asked: “What is your friend’s name that we did the $5 Walmart challenge* with in Lincoln?”

“That’s Chey! You know that!” I said, thinking Kai might have early onset Alzheimers.

“What is his name again?”

“CHEY!” Great, Alzheimer’s and deafness.

“Yep, that’s how you say thank you in Chinese.”


“And again.”


“Now put it all together.”

“Chey, Chey!”

“You’re welcome.”

I’ve known Chey for almost 15 years. I met him when I was an exchange student in Nebraska. We were the best of friends for my second and final semester there. We’ve stayed in touch over the years, with some years being a little more barren on the communications front than others. But one thing is always certain when we do speak: conversation is never forced or insincere.

Not long after I hit the publish button on my previous post, an email from Chey turned up:

“I don’t know if this would be what you want from your posts being gone, but I have all of ’em on my iPad like [the last post before Shantasia died] below. If you want them, let me know and I can email them to you.”

Ok, so I might have played down just how ok I was when I found out all of my posts were gone. Truthfully, I was a wee bit sad. So imagine just how freakin’ excited I was that Chey could magically access them all via Google Reader. Can’t imagine? Here’s a hint: I just about wet myself!

So Chey, I really only have one thing to say for emailing me and letting me know copies of my posts could be retrieved: Chey chey!

And, a big ‘chey chey’ to my friend Jen back in Bris Vegas, who also offered to send me the posts she could access on Google Reader. I gave her the promise of red wine when I visit in December and she said she would happily do it for no wine. Thanks Jen – you’re a star. Also, check out her blog: Paddington Pantry – she is one cool cookie.

*Please don’t ask me what the $5 Walmart Challenge is.