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Oct 04

E-Mail from China

Spending six or 12 months in China seems to be popular these days and it’s always interesting to hear about people’s adventures abroad. I thought this latest e-mail from Kev was highly entertaining:

I went to Pingyao last weekend, which required a 13 hour overnight train from Beijing. Pingyao is a small city with a population of only 50,000 and is the only city in China with a fully intact Ming dynasty wall.

The train trip was pretty memorable. Last week in Chinese class, I quizzed the teacher on Chinese swear words. He was actually quite willing, even when I asked him to grade different words in terms of severity. If you haven’t heard before, “Dongxi” means “things” in Chinese. You can refer to just about anything as “Dongxi”, except people. If you say to someone “Ni bu shi dongxi” or “Ni meiyou shenme dongxi” this means something to the tune of “You’re worth nothing” or “You’re a piece of shit”. My teacher told me it was a ‘cultured’ way of swearing, if there is such a thing. The only more ‘lihai’ or stronger way of swearing is “Cao ni”, which is literally “F–k you”.

Chinese trains have 3 or 4 different classes – “Hard seat”, where the peasants congregate. If you land a hard seat and it’s an overnight train there is no way you will get to sleep because the peasants will be drooling, spitting and smoking all over you. “Hard sleeper” (what we usually get) and “Soft sleeper” – luxury class. In hard sleeper you usually have middle class Chinese. Train trips are good for learning Chinese because most Chinese talk with anybody while on the train, better still if it’s a novel foreigner. In Hard sleeper each section has six beds – 3 beds on opposite sides: 2 on the top, 2 on the middle and 2 on the bottom. The middle-aged guy below me in the middle bunk was dressed quite smartly in a relatively modern suit. Unfortunately this belied his real self.

The bastard started smoking just after the lights were turned off – you’re not allowed to smoke in hard sleeper. Passive smoking is accentuated because of the poor ventilation in the trains. C told him off and he was actually quite apologetic and he put out his cigarette. However later on he lit up again, by then I was in a semi-sleep state and in no mood to do anything about his selfish behaviour – you can’t teach a dumb dog new tricks. In the morning while he was preparing to get off the train (his stop was before ours), the peasant had the brilliant idea of burning his plastic drink bottle and then he started smoking again. This time C again politely asked him to stop smoking. He defended himself, saying he was getting off the train and basically told her to piss off. I chipped in and in my sternest voice said “Ni mei you wenhua. Ni bu shi dongxi.” “You’re uncultured. You’re worth nothing.” He fixed his eyes on me, they looked like they were about to pop out and the veins on his bald head suddenly bulged. For clarity, I repeated what I said: “Ni mei you shenme dongxi.” The inevitable tirade exploded out of his mouth: “Cao ni ma! Tamade! Cao ni ma! Cao ni ma!” Translation: “Fuck your mother! Fuck! Fuck your mother! Fuck your mother!” By this time a small crowd had gathered in our part of the train, bemused by the slanging match, and providing their own commentary on the situation. If he had continued he probably would have started frothing at the mouth, but his wife quickly bundled him out of the train. It was satisfying to get him so angry and worked up.

Our 2 other friends were in the compartment next door and thought I was just practising and learning swear words with locals and didn’t realise that it was serious. In any case, it was good practice.

This incident is not too dissimilar to when we were in Kathmandu and trying to buy stamps. The store clerk (the store was basically a closet-sized booth), a mangy, dodgy Nepalese man, told us there was a commission being charged on stamps and demanded a price about 25% above the face value of them. We were incredulous. When our tour guide, Dorgi, caught up with us, he said he had never heard of commissions being charged on stamps before. The clerk refused to budge, and then Kev, finally letting his annoyance loose, dispensed with the broken English you use when you’re trying to speak with someone who isn’t very fluent in English, and dressed him down with a rapid torrent of insults: “Mate, you know what you are? You’re nothing. You’re nothing, mate. You’re bullshit.” While the clerk was still trying to translate what he had said, we promptly stormed out. We found the stamps elsewhere, no commission.

  6:53pm (GMT +10.00)  •  Travel  •   •  Tweet This  •  Comments (6)