I harbor a deep, dark secret that even the most language-inhibited expats will scoff at. However, I’m a glutton for punishment and all things humiliating, so I will unveil it to beijingkids readers, if not for educational purposes than for sheer giggles.
I have lived in Beijing for almost two years and have never, ever ordered-in. Every time my partner picks up the phone to dial our local Chinese restaurant (zhong guo cai fan dian 中国菜饭店) he looks at me in a way that can only be described as disgust. I know what he’s thinking: two years of living in Beijing and four months of Chinese study, and you still can’t tell the nice person at the end of the phone what your address is.
All of my language skills have been born from absolute necessity, and necessity came knocking the other day. I was at home by myself, it was bloody freezing outside and there was no food in the house. This, coupled with my tendency towards laziness, forced me to do the unthinkable: order my own food. I tentatively picked up the phone the way someone would tentatively pick up roadkill, and dialed (da dian hua 打电话).
I was greeted with, “Hello, welcome to [insert incomprehensible Chinese restaurant name]. What would you like?” Without blinking I said the same thing I’d heard my partner say 1,000 times before: “Delivery” (song cai 送菜). I then listed off the most basic Chinese dishes I learned how to say during my first month in Beijing: “Chinese cabbage and eggplant [or aubergine for the good UK folk]” (bai cai he qie zi 白菜和茄子). Now, some people get caught up with the nitty-gritty of phone conversations in Chinese. My advice to you: just roll with it. If you have no idea what they’ve saying, do what I do and simply say, “Right” (dui 对). The “dui” method of speaking Chinese hasn’t failed me yet.
The tricky part is making sure they understand your address (ni de di zhi 你的地址). There are so many buildings (lou 楼), doors（men 门 , entrances （dan yuan 单元）, and floors (ceng 层). Its like living in a labyrinth except there’s no David Bowie. Unfortunately, learning how to say your address in Chinese is not something I can help you with. However I do know that Chinese goes from biggest to smallest, unlike the western system. Start with the name of your complex, the building number, the entrance number and finally your apartment number. Say this twice just to confirm. Make sure you know your Chinese numbers because the lovely restaurant people are going to ask for your phone number (ni de dian hua hao ma 你的点话号码).
For the next ten minutes, I stared at the door imagining a delivery guy walking around aimlessly with my food somewhere outside.
I was ready to call it a day when suddenly a knock came at my door.
Food tastes so much better when you work for it, and I must say it was a darn fine eggplant.
Flickr photo by SarahR89 published under the Creative Commons licensed content.