From a New Shanghai Person.
When we arrived in Shanghai last September, I could only say ‘thank you’ in Mandarin and I was puzzled by the variations of pronunciation.
Then I quickly learnt ‘Hello’ and kept hearing different ways to say that as well. But mostly, I became a little stuck on ‘Am I speaking Mandarin?’ or ‘Am I speaking Chinese’ and what’s the most politically & culturally correct? Mandarin or Chinese as the language? But, I’ve gone mostly with what people ask and say to me. ‘Can you speak Chinese?’ they ask. ‘Oh you can speak Chinese! Very good!’
People are very considerate and dish praises for just the smallest phrases. For a few months I was heavily complimented for my pronounciation of ‘Xie Xie’ (Thank you) as (to one woman) it sounded like poetry.
I kept thinking… I should quit while I’m ahead… I’d hate to stuff things up.
But I know I can do better. It is a hard language to learn, but I’m super committed. I can perform for this kind of praise. Chinese class is instead my acting class, where I practice my lines. And real life is the stage and I’m the focus with a sharp audience.
I can do better, to sound like poetry.
Here I am, after six months, now having conversations with people. VERY basic day to day conversations. Thanks to my divine Chinese Teacher. She’s Chinese and she’s teaching me Chinese. It’s of course Mandarin not Cantonese or Shanghainese or any variation of dialect. When I meet people out with my son, I can say he’s my son, a little boy, he’s 2 years old. And then I can say we’re from Australia. All in Chinese, and people understand me. Phew. That’s the chit chat at the park sorted.
There’s a bit of joke going around when we’re at the park or the shops, because my son has long golden hair; he’s mistaken for a little girl. So it’s been fun to point out to people that ‘no he’s a little boy’ (in Chinese) and get lots of giggles and exclamations.
My favourite ‘joke’ at the moment goes like this:
Chinese person asks me (in Chinese): Which country do you come from?
Amelia says (in Chinese): I’m an Australian Person.
Chinese person says (in Chinese): AUSTRALIAN PERSON!?
Amelia says (in Chinese): Yes.
(then I wait a bit for them to look again at me) I am a NEW Shanghai Person.
Chinese person says (in Chinese): NEW SHANGHAI PERSON!?
(and then they lose their shit, laughing at me)
And then they usually say (in English): a NEW SHANGHAI PERSON
(and give me lots of laughter and thumbs up)
Yesterday I had this exact same conversation in the fabric shop with three older women, and I got cuddles as well with my ‘new’ Shanghai person reveal. Arm rubs, thumbs up and cuddles.
I asked my Chinese teacher if I can ever be just a Shanghai person, like now that I’ve been here for 6 months should I stop using that joke? She says I will ALWAYS be a ‘new’ Shanghai person. Most of Shanghai is made up of ‘new’ Shanghai people, because it’s still a newly grown place. It has a long history, of course, but the people are all kinda new (like 100 years old new!). So that’s probably the joke. I will always be a new person here and all the Chinese people I tell this too, will always find it funny for me to say this.
Of course, I do love making people laugh (which is so hard when I’m not fluent in Mandarin) and until I get some more jokes, I’ll stick to this one.
As a new Shanghai person.