For the first time in my life I am living in a place with a language that I cannot decipher. When I lived in Texas it was easy enough to figure out what rednecks were talking about although I must admit that the terms 'noodling' and 'gigging' had me stumped for a while. (For those of you that don't know Noodling is when you stick your hand inside a catfish hole and grab the fish and pull it out and Gigging is when you go out catching frogs for bait, or maybe to eat... I'm still not really sure). When I lived in London I was fortunate enough to mix with a sophisticated bunch so I had no issues as there was no slang. It was the Queens English and I was forced to soften my Australian accent and use my vocabulary. In France and Greece I got around easily enough. Whilst not fully understanding conversations I could pick up words and particularly in France I could read and understand signs. However, here in China I have absolutely no idea what is going on. The language is so different and the way the Chinese use their mouths and throats to project words, which sounds like various grunts and groans to my unfamiliar ears, is quite extraordinary. It really shows how monotoned the English language is. I only really know 2 words, 'thank you' and 'hello' and let me tell you I bust out those as many times as I can. There is usually little response especially when you say hello. I walked down the street yesterday morning with Greg and he challenged me to say hello to as many people as I could and see what my strike rate was with a reply. One! One lady said hello back AND she smiled. Totally made my day! She was a recycler sorting through her gains from the morning haul and she looked up and I caught her eye and said 'ne hao!' To my surprise she cheerfully responded. The rest of my 'ne hao's' fell on stone cold faces topped with a sprinkle of disgust.
After my epic three hour journey home it was sitting on the couch reading when there was a knock at the door. I was immediately panicked as;
1. I don't know anyone in China
2. I was sitting around in my underwear
3. I can't speak, read or understand speech in Mandarin
At that moment Greg called and said that the landlord was coming around as there was a leak and the man downstairs complained. He explained the landlord was a happy fellow and not to be concerned. I called out to the landlord that I was
"Coming, just hold on a moment!"
Yeah because he can understand every word I just said! 'Great work CJ!' I thought! I threw on some clothes and opened the door. And there he was, a smiling waving happy fellow. He kicked off his shoes and entered saying something to me. I just smiled and belted out my 500th 'ne hao' for the day. He replied! I don't know what he said. He walked onto the little balcony and started speaking to me. I just smiled and nodded. Then to my surprise an older man kicked off his shoes and stormed in and out to the balcony. My 'ne hao' went unnoticed, there was fury in them there eyes! I guess he was the guy from downstairs who was being leaked on. And then a third man. Smaller than the others strolled in. He had a screw driver in his hand and looked a bit dirty. My assumption was that he was the builder who had come to fix said leak. He was super friendly. I timidly churned out another 'ne hao' hoping that he would respond. He did with a huge smile and a wave... And then he said something else. I just smiled and nodded. He could have just asked if I was a prostitute and I just said yes, and that is why he was smiling so broadly, I will never know. I looked for more people and there didn't seem to be any so I closed the door.
The discussions out on the balcony were heating up. Voices were being raised and there were hands waving about. The builder was half in and out of the doorway and he would smile and give me the thumbs up at various points in the loud speaking. I just sat on the couch and watched, phone at the ready in case some kind of chinaman brawl broke out. Then to my surprise there was a loud thumping on the door. I jumped up to answer it. A lady with grey hair, perfect milky olive skin was standing there about as tall as a ten year old, fists clenched and flailing about whilst she yelled at the men. All of them stopped speaking, turned, straightened up and looked at her as she stormed through the apartment and out to the balcony. She was having a right old word to the men by my calculations. My 'ne hao' was in all honesty a whisper compared to the volume this lady was projecting her fury onto the men. I think I stood at the door with my jaw on the ground for a moment before I once again closed the door and went and sat on the couch. I just watched and listened to the rabble of voices and words and grunts and groans. The builder would look at me and his concerned face would change to a smiley face and he would give me the thumbs up, this is how I knew everything would be ok. Or would it? I'm not going to sugar coat it, I was nervous.
Then suddenly they all left! The lady on her way out waved and smiled sweetly and said thank you. Hmmmm that was nice I thought. I waved back and smiled. The builder said something to me, I just smiled and nodded like a bobble head doll. They were gone. I said to myself
"Right then, time to change book reading location, I will go and sit on the bed and read." I was just getting into the ins and outs of 'The Narcissism Epidemic' when the door flung open again and the builder and old man walked through to the balcony. I jumped up again and had a look at what was going on. This time no speaking. They ripped up two floor boards and started concreting. The old man went to the kitchen sink and filled a bucket with water, went back out handed it to the builder and this went on for a bit. They nailed down the boards, they both stood up, they both smiled this time and they both left. I stood there jaw, once again on the floor, processing, giggling to myself at the comical situation I was once again in. Is my time in Shanghai going to be like this a lot? I thought to myself the answer was 'most likely!' At least for the first few months until I start to understand how things work around here. I locked the door, the leak was fixed and all was well in building 25 of lane 169 Jiashan Lu, Shanghai... I think.