5 Reasons You Should Learn Chinese (Part 2)

In the previous episode of 5 Reasons You Should Learn Chinese (found here), we made it abundantly clear that learning at least a little Chinese can really help you in a variety of situations when you go to China (or Taiwan). If you move to China, you’ve no excuse! There are an abundance of classes available (and they are usually pretty affordable) or at the very least you can find a language exchange partner who wants to exchange Chinese lessons for help with their English conversation skills. I found a language partner who wanted to speak Chinese and Portuguese. We did a half hour of Chinese and then a half hour of Portuguese. I don’t speak a word of Portuguese, so it was interesting to say the least.

Here are a few more reasons you should learn Chinese when moving to China:

 

4.You can actually talk to people

Salute!

Talking to people is interesting and fun! Unless you’re a mime. I hate mimes. But almost anyone else you could encounter in China more than likely has lived their life in a radically different way than you have. Why not talk to them and find out what their life has been like? It’s almost always interesting. Your Chinese doesn’t have to be good enough to talk about politics (best avoided anyway) or Chinese history. With some bare basics you can talk about everyday life, their family, food, and the things in life that matter. You might even learn something…

Now let me illustrate this with another long-winded example! Once, my wife and I were at The Great Wall section called Mutianyu. By some strange alignment of the stars there was almost nobody there. No crowding, no pushing and jostling, no grinding my teeth and wanting to be far away from billions of tourists. It was probably due to the fact that it was extremely cold out. -10 degrees Celsius, to be precise. But it was sunny and gorgeous and we were stoked to have The Great Wall Of China all to ourselves! We hiked all over the place (including out of bounds, where all the fun usually is) and came upon a woman selling snacks and souvenirs. It only took half a second to tell she was no ordinary vendor. To start with, she was dressed in full Mao military garb, which I thought was exceptionally cool. Very authentically Chinese, if you know what I mean.

We hiked up to her and saw, breathless after climbing, that she had beer and only beer for sale. I ordered one for each of us, and negotiated it down to only 10 rmb each, a third of what she was asking. This beer goes for 3 rmb usually at any store not located on the biggest tourist attraction in China. Touristy inflation taken into account, I was beyond caring, really. I wanted cool, refreshing liquid and she had it.

Yanjing Beer from ChinaIt was then that I noticed the other items she had for sale, momentarily blinded by beer evidently. She had snacks, water, and souvenirs. How did I miss those? I guess we see what we want to see. There was no one else around for hundreds of meters. It was a gorgeous day with no clouds in sight, no pollution (!!!), and barely any people. And I was on The Great Wall with my wife. I was feeling euphoric, and I had a beer in my hand. We rested for a minute to take in the surroundings. Breathtaking. I noticed that the vendor had things stashed under her folding table in addition to the items on display above: big bags, a large backpack, a large Styrofoam cooler, her lunch, a big thermos, a small stool, and some personal effects. I wondered how she got all that stuff up here. We decided to ask.

It turns out she was really friendly and amazed that we could communicate with her. She happily talked about her life and asked us all about ourselves as well. She pointed off in the distance to the forest beyond the great wall. That’s where she was from, a small village just out of sight. She walks an hour every day fully laden to the wall, then hikes up it to reach this spot. Her grandson helps her carry some of the items on his way to school. She was very cheerful and told us the walk back was easy because the load was a lot lighter. She had been doing this for the last eight years.

Great Wall of ChinaWe were having a great time, and when some other Chinese tourists arrived we had them take our photo with the vendor, wearing Mao hats and saluting. One of my favorite moments ever! Then a group of out-of-breath Italians arrived and she resumed her work, listing the items and their prices in English, the only words she knew. My wife went up to help them order since their English wasn’t very good either. The vendor shooed her away with a cheeky smile, saying, “Hey, let me work here! Don’t worry, I’ll give you two a good price!” She returned to helping the group, selling them beers and water and Chupa Chups for astronomical prices (40 rmb for each beer!). I chuckled to myself and thought, it sure pays to speak a little Chinese. To be honest, I thought the vendor deserved all she could get. She certainly works hard for it. She must make a killing off of these fools. Suckers!

We bought a Mao hat for 30 rmb. The original price was 60 rmb. We talked with her some more and then proceeded to see the rest of the Wall. Speaking with her had been fun and enlightening in many ways. She had talked about Chairman Mao as if he were still alive. Did she really not know he is orange and frozen now, a Mao-sicle? She had a fiery personality, and we would never have had the pleasure of talking with her and sharing stories with her if we didn’t speak Chinese. It is experiences like this one that have made my journey such an epic one. This is the really fun part for me; connecting with other humans and learning from their stories. All possible because I can blunder my way through Chinese.

The next day I saw the same Mao hat in a store in Beijing for 10 rmb. Dammit!

 

5. It’s a great life skill for later

Bounty Hunting School - Language CourseImagine this: You go to China for a year or two. You go back home. You look for other jobs. What have you gained? Well, international experience, for one. Another year or two of teaching experience on your resumé, a good addition. Respectable, even. A fun year or two abroad. Not too shabby.

Now imagine this: You go to China for a year or two. You learn Chinese. You go back home. You look for other jobs. What have you gained? Not only can you put down the international work experience on your CV, but you can add another language to the tally of accomplishments. That looks fantastic on a resumé, and makes you a lot more marketable for a lot of jobs. Now you look like a genius (assuming you have a few other good tidbits on there). A prospective employer will look at your file and say, “Oh, my! Throw away the other applications, Smithers! We’ve found who we’ve been looking for!”

If you still can’t see that learning some Chinese could benefit you in some way later in life then I can’t help you. You may now slap yourself. Let’s move on, this is too obvious to talk about any further.

6. No genders to learn

My good friend Miller reminded me the other day about one of the great things about the Chinese language: no gendered nouns! One of the most frustrating things about learning French for me was that nouns are assigned a gender. What possible purpose could this serve? How can a rock be female? How can time be masculine? And who decided which words were assigned which gender? It’s silly. I was always getting these genders wrong, and my vicious professors gave me regular lashings (verbal lashings, that is) for my many mistakes. I took a German class only to discover that German has three genders! What?

The great thing about Chinese is there is none of this tomfoolery involved. Now, I’m not saying Chinese is easy or anything, but gendered nouns are one less thing you have to worry about. It’s a good thing, too, because my friend Miller is actually allergic to gendered nouns.

 

 7. Did I mention how fun it can be to talk to other people?

How can you joke around with people if you don’t speak the same language? This may shock you, but I am a bit of a prankster. I like a good joke. Even though my humor, especially sarcasm, is often misunderstood, the Chinese like a good joke too. Imagine living abroad and having to give up joking around? What an awful thought! Learn Chinese and you can joke and joke to your heart’s desire. Well, you might not actually be funny, but as long as you have a good laugh that’s all that really matters, right?

chineseThe other day I was at a store buying a futon. A futon the store didn’t have on site, it had to be brought in from the local distribution warehouse in a few days time. In cases like this, you take a piece of paper to the cashier instead of the actual item. So with my wife holding the paper (she likes to be in charge, and usually she is…) we proceeded to said cashier and waited in line. The store was busy. Our cashier took care of the man in front of us, buying a coffin, I think, and then it was our turn.

I had positioned myself in front of my wife so the nice woman couldn’t see the paper in her hands. The cashier looked at me expectantly. I shrugged and held my palms up and said in Chinese, “I don’t want to buy anything.” I kept a stupid, blank look on my face (some would call it my natural expression).

Her expectant look changed to confusion to wide-eyed panic as I counted silently- one…two…three… She was on the verge of a mental breakdown. I could see the questions in her eyes: What’s going on? Why is he here? What do I do now? Why is he so handsome?

“My wife wants to buy something!” I said with a grin, as my wife punched me in the kidneys and shoved me aside. The girl regained her color and laughed heartily, as did six other people in the next line over who had been keeping an eye on me. She smiled through the rest of our transaction.

I do things like this a lot because I think it is hilarious. While I admit that it is usually done for my own amusement, usually I get a laugh out of it. And sometimes a bruised kidney or two. If I didn’t speak any Chinese it would be just another boring trip to the store. Hopefully, I usually make someone smile, and these days we could all use an extra smile or two in our lives, right? Am I right? Of course I’m right.

What did we learn today?

So there you are, 5 reasons to learn Chinese (Part 2). If you move to China or Taiwan and don’t make an attempt to learn Chinese, that’s your prerogative and I respect it. I will, however, ridicule you. That’s my prerogative. There are so many benefits to learning even just a few basic phrases (surely you can do that). Why just get by when you could fly?

stopWhat are you doing still reading this? Stop reading and get out there and learn some Chinese!

 

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