Archive for the ‘neurotic’ Category

Shanghai: Not Lost in Translation

October 21, 2007

Shanghai – By Les Lothringer

There is nothing special about the street I live in, here in Shanghai. Once you move off the glitzy streets like HuaiHai Road or NanJing Road, Shanghai resembles most other “modern” Chinese cities with their concrete block buildings ?endless, featureless and overbuilt.

My small street is a typical Chinese street. Not too far from the police complex and police cars and motorbikes sometimes patrol it. Here few people speak any English. There are no other Westerners. We have some cheap sidewalk cafes, three hairdressers [legitimate], three fruit stalls, a few traders in copy DVD’s [mostly from Russia], one legitimate massage salon and seven brothels. As I said, it is a typical Chinese street.

I’m alone at a small table by one sidewalk cafe eating. A mid-20’s Chinese girl with pretensions about her sits down opposite avoiding face contact. I think – now why don’t you just go and sit inside. You do learn to pick them.

Many Chinese come to this sidewalk cafe, including young girl students from the high school near by, all so chatty. This one is different. She has that irritable, bitchy, condescending air about her that you do see here – girls with issues. In two minds about it, I eventually say in Mandarin, do you speak English? She indicates no with minimum effort.

Some time later her friend comes along and sits down, next to me. The table is so typically quite small and we are seated very close to each other. She acts far more pleasantly. She does speak some English. So we chat. She works in a bank. When my English gets too hard for her, she checks with her friend, who speaks better English! Now she is talking too and there is no stopping her.

The issues one asks me which hotel I live in. I said I lived right here. She repeats the question. Eventually she gets it. Other questions follow about how long I’ve been in China.

Miss Issues seems intent on educating me now. I am already far too over-educated for my own good. She will have to try hard and I am quite keen. I established that both girls are aged 25 and work in the same Chinese bank nearby. She says some very interesting things.

Chinese people are very complex. VERY COMPLEX! OK ?got it. She adds- they are very difficult to understand. Got that too. I say they are not so complex, in fact, quite easy to understand. I think – whenever I hear that a group of people are “complex”, I imagine how neurotic they well could be. No point trying to explain that concept.

She says that foreigners are unable to understand Chinese. This is a telling point from one so basically naive and “young”. I said you are right; most do not. But I do understand Chinese, as I live amongst them and have made an effort to understand them. She is none too keen to accept this.

She raises the conversation stakes. She says that when a Chinese compliments a Westerner, at the bottom of their heart, right at the very bottom, they think the opposite. I say I know this [even though not strictly true of everyone] and what’s more, this means that you are saying that all Chinese are liars. Silence ensues.

It looks like my education lesson is over. A while after she asks me if I could explain to her what a treasury note is. The question comes as no surprise, but then I did say Chinese are not complex.

Both these women live with their parents [= enmeshed, controlling families who infantilize their daughters and more]. They expect to remain there until they marry. They have no boyfriends and never had. I appreciate being instructed by unworldly virgins. She must have read my face. My instructor starts the lesson again. Miss Issues tells me that this is how Chinese live. I point out that this is how some Chinese live and that it is changing. Just last Sunday, a young unmarried couple was sitting with me here at the same table and they were quite open about living together, even though it is strictly illegal. She grudgingly admits that, yes, things are changing in Shanghai.

I just couldn’t resist it. I say ?You know, you two girls must both move out of home, shack up with some Western guys [ideally weight trained alpha-males], learn how to live, stand up to your parents [who will turn on one of their well practiced and most definitely biggest tantrums] and stop them interfering in your lives. Lost in translation.

PS: The chances of these two girls attracting any guys like that are, well, frankly zero.   

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