Speaking Spanish & Speaking Chinese

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I’ve lived in 2 non English speaking countries so far, and there’s one big difference that I’ve noticed between the two.

This is: In China, people don’t expect foreigners to speak Chinese, whereas in Mexico they absolutely expect you to be able to converse in Spanish.

In day to day living, this is very noticeable when I’m out and about in Mexico.

In a clothes shop: China

Say for example when I go into a clothes shop in China, the workers will timidly come up to me and say “Welcome” in Chinese. Usually I would just reply a simple “I’m just looking” in Chinese. That’s really the only communication that would happen between us. Then for paying, they usually wouldn’t say anything either, just the price of something. So you don’t interact too much with the employees because firstly you probably can’t say much other than basic Chinese, and secondly, the employees usually think that I can’t speak Chinese very well so they don’t try to converse.

In a clothes shop: Mexico

In Mexico, you walk in the the employee comes over and says “yoakekkgnnsiishghghehekdknb”. It’s gibberish to me because they talk too fast. My husband told me that they are usually asking “Is there anything you are looking for in particular?” So then, when I go and pay they might ask MORE things, to which I don’t understand. Maybe they might have a promotion on and they are telling you about it. But of course all I hear is gibberish! Because I’m not Mexican looking, to them I’m either a foreigner who’s learning Spanish or maybe I was born here but from a non-mexican family.

In a shop: China

In Chengdu there are these shops called ‘Hongqi’, and they are everywhere! They sell household things, food, rice…usual things you would find in a shop! I’ve been to these places loads of times, and not once has the employee at the counter asked me anything. They just scanned the item and I paid. That was it. No communication whatsoever!

In a shop: Mexico

Here it’s another story altogether! I (still) haven’t bought anything in the small shops here because usually my husband is with me and he pays. ‘7eleven’ and ‘Oxxo’ are the shops that are very common here. So when we enter and pay, the employee at the counter asks “Do you want to top up your phone?”… “We have a discount on these items today.” Although my husband pays, they will most likely also say the same to me, because to them that there’s no doubt that I can understand them.

In Starbucks: China

Yet again, there’s usually no more communication other than me ordering my drink and paying. And actually most of the staff in Starbucks speak English so you can even just order in English!

In Starbucks: Mexico

We went to Starbucks once and my husband said to listen to what he orders and then I can order it next time. So he orders and the lady asks him “Do you want regular milk or slim milk?’…..”The beans are slightly different because of the time of the year, is that ok?”.

So…..as usual a different experience than in China! I know these questions are good for your listening and speaking practice, but I really just want to go, order my drink in simple Spanish, and thats it. I don’t know what the vocab is for ‘Full fat milk’ or ‘slim milk’, and neither do I understand ‘beans’, so if my husband wasn’t there with me, then I definitely would have been caught out!

So with these different attitudes on languages, I’ve also noticed how Mexican people don’t congratulate me when I say “Hola” to someone. They don’t go “WOW! YOUR SPANISH IS SO GOOD!” No, they don’t do this because they expect me to know the language. To them, it’s not an impossible task for me to learn it.

In China, when I say “nihao”, they will say “WOW! YOUR CHINESE IS SO GOOD!”. To them they don’t expect me to speak the language, so when I say hello in Chinese and the pronunciation is better than average they will be absolutely shocked! Maybe that’s all I can say, but my Chinese is just sooo good to them.

I’m not saying either one is wrong, it’s just I’ve become used to not interacting much with Chinese people, and then coming to a country where they will absolutely talk to me like any other Mexican person just takes some getting used to. I’ve learned more in Spanish in 3 months then learning Chinese in 2 years, so that really says something.

So, one day I know I’ll be able to order things and I’ll be able to answer back in Spanish… I will be able to understand!

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Aisling

 

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Christmas in Mexico & in Ireland

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I’ve had Christmases in Ireland, China and Mexico, and out of all of them, Christmas day in China was the worst. Bar one, where we were both off work and we spent the day eating christmas pudding and opening Christmas presents which my Mum sent me, drinking beer and watching Christmas films on my laptop in our freezing apartment. That was a very special Christmas day for us and I really enjoyed it. The others weren’t very good, with one of us/ or both of us working. (They don’t celebrate Christmas in China).

Of course I LOVE this time of year at home in Ireland. I love my Mums cooking; roast potatoes, roast beef, veg, stuffing, gravy….. oh I’m getting hungry just thinking about it. Then we would usually have pavlova (my Dad’s favourite dessert) and an Irish coffee in the evening. The fire would be blazing, the christmas lights all on, and I just really love Christmas time at home.

But this time I’m not celebrating Christmas at home. I’m in Mexico, and the weather itself makes me not think that it’s Christmas time at all! The weather is a balmy 23 degrees, with around 14/15 degrees at night. So not exactly freezing weather!

My husbands family don’t celebrate Christmas either, so the lack of a tree and lights at home also makes me doubt the time of year!

So, let me explain to you the differences between a Christmas in Mexico and Ireland.

In Ireland, usually Christmas eve is busy; we are wrapping the last of the presents, maybe running to the shops to buy that one last gift, and preparing the feast for the next day. Many religious families will go to midnight mass. This is usually in the late evening and not midnight as it suggests.

Christmas day we usually wake and open our presents. Religious families will usually go to mass first and then come home to open their presents. My family aren’t religious anymore so we don’t go to mass.

Then at around 1-3pm we have our big Christmas dinner, dessert and then for the remainder of the day we just laze about, eat crap, drink Irish coffees and watch Christmas films on tv. This is my families routine so maybe other Irish families may differ!

Every shop is closed on Christmas day…. even the airports! You will rarely see anyone on the streets, as everyone will be indoors with their families. (plus it’s too cold to be outside)

So, Mexico now!

From what I’ve gathered, Christmas Eve is when people have their big dinner. Usually it will be later on in the evening, with fireworks being heard outside. The gifts are usually opened after the big dinner, and usually after 12AM, because it’s now Christmas day.

Then, Christmas day is rather strange. I saw that a few shops/ restaurants were open, with employees chatting to each other because there’s nobody actually dining in their restaurants. I noticed that there were a lot more cars than I expected. Why are there people out? Are they not inside with their families celebrating and spending time together?

I prefer the way it’s celebrated in Ireland more, I feel like in Mexico they only celebrate it at night and only for a few hours, and during the daytime it’s just sort of like a normal day, whereas on the 25th in Ireland, that whole day is dedicated to just being with family.

Maybe next year we will celebrate in Ireland!

Aisling

While I’ve Been Back

While I’ve been home in Ireland, there are more and more things that I notice every time I come back. Here are a few since I came home.

Roche Castle

Roche Castle

There really are 4 seasons in 1 day

In China, it’s either sunny or cloudy/smoggy and there is little change during the day. In Ireland, in the morning it could be sunny, at noon it could be cloudy, in the evening it could be sunny and then all of a sudden rain would appear, and then maybe it will be cloudy again. It really does fluctuate here, and I’ve never realised how much it does until I came back here. So you really do have to have an umbrella and coat with you!

Ireland is dirty

Having lived in Chengdu which is very very clean, and then travelling around Japan, which is also spotless, I arrive in Ireland and there’s rubbish everywhere. A bottle here, a crisp packet there….. It’s only now that I realise how dirty it is. While we were in Dublin, I saw two dead rats on the pavement (plus loads of rubbish). I admit I feel quite ashamed of the state of my own country. Why do people think it’s ok to throw rubbish instead of just putting it in the bin? I’ll never understand it. But yeah, unfortunately Ireland is very dirty in comparison to Chengdu and Japan.

More variety in ethnicities.

Having moved from Ireland 5 years ago, I’ve noticed many more different ethnicities here. Even in my small town of 40,000 I’ve seen many more. (I really don’t understand why they would come to where I live, there’s nothing to do here!) I don’t see a problem with them coming here once they contribute to society and not just arrive to receive social benefits. Also in Dublin I’ve seen a lot more tourists about! It’s good to see but I can see in the future that the city won’t be able to handle the big influx. Dublin isn’t a very big city at all, so I feel there may be problems in the future.

More expensive

I was looking at the prices of sweets in shops, and a lot of small bars are like €1! Just for a chocolate bar! I don’t know whether I’ve just never noticed when I lived here before, but I really don’t remember having to pay €1 for a bar. Maybe 70cent. But yeah, I do notice things are expensive here. (Cry)

People are fat

Again, I’ve noticed that there are many bigger people here. Maybe it didn’t register when I lived here before, but I feel there are more people that would border on being obese than before.

Needing a car

My house is literally 5-10 minutes away by car from the town centre. It’s really close but yet I need a car to get there. There are no pavements on my road until closer to the town, and I wouldn’t feel safe walking on the road (it’s quite busy), so the only way to get there is by car. There are also no buses.

It’s actually quite annoying. My fiancés parents also said that they wouldn’t like to live here because you need a car. So it’s nice to live in the countryside but that means you will need your own transport to get around. The transport system here is crap, and unless you live in a big city like Dublin then you need a car to go pretty much anywhere.

I’m sure there are more that I can’t think of right now. It’s nice being with the family though. I love going to bed in my own bedroom and sticking something on to watch while I’m surrounded by all my own things. I couldn’t do that in China.

Aisling

Their English & My Spanish

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I’ve been dabbling in Spanish for the past few months, but I’ve only really been putting an extra effort in it since I came back from Mexico. I can have a basic conversation and I say I’m about A2 right now. I can understand more than what I can say. So I think I’m gradually getting better with it! I don’t think my pronunciation is bad, but I need to learn the conjugations and what not. Plus increase my vocab.

As I teach English to Chinese students, I’ve been meeting up with every student and asking them “Where are you from?” “Where do you want to visit in China?” “What country do you want to visit?” and ” What do you do in your free-time?”.

Simple enough questions. But I noticed that so many of my students have atrocious English! Some of them don’t even understand “Where are you from?”.

I actually realised that I can speak better Spanish than they can speak English…… and they have been learning English since they were 4 years old!

I understand English is similar to Spanish, but these kids have been learning it since they were little. They really should be more fluent. Plus many, if not all of my students get basic tenses wrong. they would say ‘She get’, ‘Yesterday I go….’

Like this is very basic grammar, but yet they struggle. In Chinese they don’t have tenses. So for ‘I eat’ is ‘Wo chi’/ 我吃.

‘I ate’ is ‘Wo chi le’/ 我吃了.

You add ‘le’ 了 and it changes to past. So there is no conjugation needed in Chinese. So I do understand that changing tenses and what not is difficult for them, but come on, it’s not as if they only started learning English!

I think a huge part is how they are taught it at school. They are made to learn long boring passages in English from their books, and it’s just not useful for them. They don’t do enough/or any speaking in class, and they focus too much on grammar. So the way they are taught doesn’t exactly help them.

Plus many just don’t want to learn English. They don’t plan on leaving China, so why should they bother? Personally I think they are crazy; they are wrapped in their own bubble here and they have no interest in exploring the world. They are taught that China is best…. so why would they want to leave that?

Many know that English is important, I’ve asked them. They all say “It’s an international language and it’s very important to learn”…… but many just don’t learn it.

So when I compare my Spanish to my students’ English, I’m definitely progressing faster than them!

Aisling.

Being an interracial couple in: China

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Having met my wonder Mexican fiancé in China and both being foreigners to that country, we have encountered a few things while we have been together here as an interracial couple that I will mention!

So in China, I know that both of us our foreigners, however my boyfriend has brown skin, black hair and brown eyes. As do Chinese people. Me being white, I definitely stick out. But my fiancé really blends in, so much so that many Chinese people sometimes think that he is Chinese.

One day we were waiting for our friend outside her apartment complex. This really old Chinese man comes walking up and starts blabbering in Chinese to my fiancé. At this stage we only knew basic Chinese phrases, so he kept telling the man “I don’t understand, I don’t understand”. Still, the man kept chatting in Chinese to him, and all my fiancé could do was smile and hope he would leave soon.

When we go to a restaurant, the waiters usually come with the menu to my fiancé, as me being an obvious foreigner, I won’t understand the characters. When speaking, they will direct their attention to him rather than me.

A lot of Chinese people don’t know where my fiancé is from. We have heard people say he is from India, Indonesia, Peru, Philippines and from Arab countries. On two occasions people actually said that he looked like Barack Obama! When we visited the Philippines, many Philippines actually thought he was from their country as well, and were shocked when he told them that he wasn’t!

When he shows photos of his family and asks a person where do they think they are from, they will say China. So yes, in China I have a feeling that many people think that I’m going out with a Chinese person!

So it’s kind of strange in a way; I know both of us are foreigners, but I sometimes feel that Chinese people think that I’m going out with one of their own…. that’s until he opens his mouth and tries to speak Mandarin and then they realise “Oh, this man’s not Chinese!!?!… then where is he from!?”

But I really don’t blame them. When we first met, I don’t think I would have known where he was from if he didn’t tell me! He can blend in with people from many countries!

Aisling

What I Learned About Guangzhou

What I Learned About Guangzhou

Before arriving in Guangzhou, I didn’t really have an idea of what to expect. I knew it would be more western and there would be more foreign people living there, but here are a few things I noticed while I was there.

  1. Chinese people still stared at me.

I was surprised by the amount of Chinese people that stared at me while I was there! Because it’s very close to Hong Kong, I presumed that they would be used to seeing foreign people in the city. But that didn’t deter the older Chinese people from having a good look at me.

2. No tissues in restaurants.

In every restaurant in Chengdu, you will always find a box of tissues at your table. In Guangzhou however, we found tissues in only one noodle restaurant we ate at. Sichuan food is quite oily, so most people need to use tissues while eating. In Guangzhou, their food isn’t as oily, so maybe they feel that they don’t need them. I’ve gotten used to having tissues at hand while eating now, so we always needed to make sure we brought some with us!

3. A mix of Cantonese and Mandarin

With Guangzhou being in southern China and the fact that they speak Cantonese, both myself and my fiancé were surprised that we heard quite a bit of Mandarin being spoken! I’m guessing these people were Chinese tourists, but I thought that I would only hear Cantonese being spoken. I’d say we heard 50% Mandarin being spoken and 50% Cantonese.

4. Quite dirty

Like our visit to the city of Xiamen, which you can check out here;  Chengdu Vs Xiamen     we noticed that Guangzhou is also quite a dirty city.  I’ve said it before, but Chengdu is the cleanest city in China that I’ve been to so far. You will see a road sweeper on every road here, but in Guangzhou, it was a struggle to find any. Rubbish would pile up beside bins that were full to the brim, and it’s such a shame because it’s a nice city.

5. Cyclists on the footpaths.

One thing that really annoyed us in Guangzhou was the amount of people cycling on the footpaths. We kept wondering why this was, and we realised that it was because many roads in Guangzhou are one way. Obviously the cyclists can’t cycle down the wrong way, so they go on the footpaths instead. Many footpaths in the city are narrow, so that makes it even worse. So when you’re constantly hearing a bell ringing behind you to move, it does get quite annoying after a while.

6. Small portions

We’re not sure if this is really true, but on two occasions we went for noodles or wontons, asked for a big portions, but they brought out a bowl which to me is only a small portion. In Chengdu a big portion is BIG. We thought we ordered the small by accident, but no, they were big.. So we were still quite hungry after our big noodles and wontons.

So they are a few things that I noticed about the city. I know every city has it’s charms and it’s negative things, but overall I really liked the city!

Aisling

Trying Dim Sum

With living in Sichuan province, we have undeniably been spoilt by food; hot pot, maocai, spicy dry pot, chuan chuan… we will certainly miss these when we leave!

We knew that in Guangzhou they rarely eat spicy food, preferring sweet things instead. They eat a lot of Dim Sum; bite sized pieces of food served in bamboo baskets or on plates. Not having tried Dim Sum before, we were eager to try when we were in Guangzhou!

With a Dim Sum restaurant 20 seconds walk away from where we were staying, we ventured in and were given a table. No English was found on the menu! So we had a bit of trouble ordering anything! We asked the waitress what she recommended. Two dishes. Ok, so we ordered those.

And they were very nice! One was a small steamed dumpling with meat, and the other was a dessert with a coconut custard filling. We thought it was weird that they came out together, so we ate those and we realised we were still hungry. We weren’t really sure how ordering dim sum worked; did we order lots of things at once, or wait and and see if are hungry and order more. In Sichuan usually if there are two people eating, you order 2 dishes, if there are 3 people, then order 3 dishes. So with Dim Sum, we weren’t sure how we handled this!

We realised that 3 dumplings and 3 dessert pieces were definitely not going to fill us up! So we ordered another basket of dumplings. So all in all we only ate about 4/5 small dumplings each and a piece of coconut dessert. We were happy to try them but we definitely needed something else!

After our experience, we learned that we can order as many as we want! If you ordered 4 types of Dim Sum, and you are still hungry, you can easily order more. The next time we visited there we ordered many more types of Dim Sum! We also got a Chinese friend to help us translate the menu so we were spoilt for choice then!

We enjoyed all except one! The one with the green veg at the side wasn’t our cup of tea sadly. There was meat and egg inside and it was just too gooey for our liking! The one that I was mixed about was the white one that looks like a dessert. I bit into it and the bread part was sweet, but then in the inside there was savoury meat! So to me it was a weird combination! My fiancé like that one, but I wasn’t too sure! The meat was nice but I couldn’t handle both sweet and savoury together.

So it was a nice experience trying food that are from the region and that are the real thing. Now I’d like to see if there are any Dim Sum restaurants in Chengdu to have a try!

Aisling