Four Semesters of Learning Mandarin Finally Paid Off

Four Semesters of Learning Mandarin Finally Paid Off, April 2, 2011

Day 81

Ever since I got to Stuttgart I looked for a few Asian things that I always took for granted back in Vancouver. Today, I fulfilled two of these things, which was finding an Asian hairstylist to cut my hair (since I doubted that the local hairstylists in Gerlingen could do Asian haircuts) and finding authentic Chinese food.

I figured after growing my hair for 3 and a half months, the time to get a haircut came. Some time ago, someone recommended a Chinese hairstylist for me. Now I don’t speak German and I doubted that the hairstylist knew English. This meant I would probably need to speak Mandarin, although I hoped that she knew Cantonese. I grew up learning Cantonese in Canada, which means that my I lack proficiency in the language (similar to learning a language that one doesn’t receive a lot of chances to practice). If I lacked proficiency in Cantonese, surely my knowledge in Mandarin suffered even more. The only practice in Mandarin I ever got was practicing it in four classes for it almost four years ago. Everybody knows practicing a language in class is drastically different than using it in a real life setting.

On Thursday, I gave the hairstylist a call to book my appointment, and as I expected, she spoke Mandarin. Luckily I prepared myself for this. I looked up certain words that I knew I’d need to know like ‘haircut’. I drew upon what I learned almost four years ago and said that I wanted to book an appointment for a haircut. She said something back and I had no clue what she said. The only thing I could say back was, ‘sorry, my Mandarin isn’t so good’. Then she figured I knew German and started speaking that, in which case I replied ‘my German is worse’. She knew neither English nor Cantonese either.

Luckily, she started speaking slower and so I managed understand her words a lot better. I didn’t understand every single word in the sentence, but I understood enough to say something back. Less than a minute later, I successfully booked the appointment. After hanging up the phone, I realized that my heart rate rose to point that it felt like I ran a marathon. I guess I felt real nervous for my first real conversation in Mandarin.

On Saturday, I showed up at where I needed to be to get my haircut. I didn’t feel nervous speaking in Mandarin this time. In fact, I barely had to think about what I wanted to say. When people don’t have a lot of experience in a particular language, they end up thinking about how to say something. Although some questions did stump me though. I didn’t really know how to describe the haircut I wanted. I couldn’t even do that in English. So in the end, I just said to keep the hair the same style, but shorter. That’s what I wanted, and I didn’t have to describe the style.

While she cut my hair, we made random conversation and the topic of professions came up and I tried to tell her what people in my family did for a living, but I had no idea how to say that. Luckily, Google Translate helped me out with that.

I found it super ironic that my Mandarin would get better in a place like Germany, but I guess that is the difference between the Chinese community in Vancouver and Stuttgart. Most Chinese people in Stuttgart come from Mainland China, while in Vancouver, there are people from every part of China. As I left after getting my haircut, thoughts in Mandarin kept buzzing through my mind for a little while. I guess all those classes in Mandarin really paid off!

After the haircut, I went to meet up with my friend for some authentic Chinese Dim Sum. Yet again, another situation requiring me to speak Mandarin revealed itself. However, this time, the lady at the restaurant could understand Cantonese although she didn’t know how to speak it. She spoke so fast, that at the end of her sentence, I stared at her with a blank face and I had no idea what just happened. After that, she spoke a little slower and then everything became clear.

Maybe I’m overgeneralizing, but despite the fact that this definitely was an authentic Chinese Dim Sum restaurant, I felt that the quality of Dim Sum in Vancouver greatly surpassed that of this restaurant, if not Germany as a whole. It wasn’t bad, but Dim Sum in Vancouver is just better.

After lunch, we went to the Japanese Festival organized by the German-Japanese Society in Stuttgart. Here, I saw the Japanese people prepare rice cakes (Mochi). They put a large clump of rice into a wooden barrel and beat it with giant wooden mallets until the rice turned into the paste that they use for the rice cakes. They let visitors hammer the rice too, and afterward we all got to enjoy it.

Later in the evening, I went to another friend’s flat for his welcome party that was two months overdue. There I met up with the rest of my friends as well and everybody got their drink on, except for me because I only drink in moderation. The others there had a really unique way of drinking Vodka shots. They’d use these packages of powder intended for mixing with water to make juice, and they poured it in their mouth and took the Vodka shot. With the Vodka and the powder mixed together, they slosh it around before swallowing it. I tried one with the orange flavored powder, and it tasted so good, but I knew not to drink too much otherwise I’d end up puking on the floor or something.

They also introduced us to one of their drinking games. It involved pouring water into a cup floating in a bigger container of water. Each person took their turn to pour any amount of water into the cup, so long as the cup didn’t sink. The player that causes the cup to sink, must take the shot.

As the night went on, everyone got more and more intoxicated, except for me though. I just felt like going home. Unfortunately, I missed the last train back so I had to take the night bus. It took me about two hours to get home, when it would have taken me 40 minutes by train.

2 Comments

  1. hey. what was the name of the salon. I need an Asian to cut me hair. Please share ~~~

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