I may be starting a tad later than your little ones, but it’s back to school time for this little black duck. Last year I made the crazy decision to commit myself to two semesters (xue qi 学期) of Chinese study (xue xi han yu 学习汉语). It’s had its rewards, but mostly it’s just prevented me from going to post-work drinks on Friday night because I was chained to my desk writing characters (han zi 汉字).
This semester round, my good friend Dominic has decided to study with me at my university. But with barely a skerrick of Mandarin, he needed me to play Chinese translator (fan yi 翻译) to help him with the enrollment (zhu ce 注册) process. I can’t believe my name and “Chinese translator” would ever go together in the same sentence, so let’s be quite liberal in our understanding of the term. By “translator” I actually mean someone who’s willing to use a lot of hand gestures and vigorous nodding to get their point across.
After negotiating the strange holiday hours, we managed to show up at the foreign students office (liu xue sheng ban gong shi 留学生办公室) at the same time it was actually open.
With very minimal Chinese under his belt, my friend left the talking to me. Despite the plethora of information he’d been sent, the material was all in Chinese, making it a touch difficult for the poor lad to figure out what it all meant. His main problem: When do classes start?
I explained to the nice man behind the inquiry desk that my friend was a new student (xin de xue sheng 新的学生) and that he had some problems (you de wen ti 有的问题) understanding the documents（biao ge 表格）that had been sent to him. I summoned up my courage and asked two simple, yet very important questions: “When to classes start?” (shen me shi hou kai xue 什么时候开学) and “What time do classes start?” (ji dian shang ke 几点上课). (If you ever need to use these phrases, make sure you don’t get the two questions confused. I did that once with disastrous effects.)
Good thing I asked too. As it turned out, he started a week later than he thought he did.
With my mission complete, my buddy bought me a cup of coffee to celebrate the fact that I didn’t completely stuff it up. See, speaking Chinese has its rewards.
Flickr photo published under the Creative Commons licensed content.