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Travelling in China - the Language Challenge

Updated on May 31, 2010

The language challenge

Travelling alone can have its challenges at the best of times, but travelling in a country where your grasp of the local language is minimal, is more than challenging.

It was with a little trepidation that I set off along from Shaoxing to Hangzhou, and on to Xi'an - on my own.  Now I knew the that I would make it OK to the airport, as I'd done that before, but traveling to Xi'an, and finding my way around was going to be interesting.

On the plane it was OK - always Chinese and English translation of all announcements, so no problem there, and I found the service on the plane excellent.

When I arrived at Xi'an itself, I was able to read all the signs (Chinese and English) and found my way to the shuttle bus that runs between the airport and the city.  I reasoned if I got into the city, I would get a taxi to go to the hotel.  In any case I knew it was not far from the city centre.

On the airport bus (it takes about an hour) a fellow from behind spoke with me.  Turns out he was an American, of Chinese descent, who was a professor and was lecturing at one of the universities in Xi'an.  His Chinese had an American accent too - which was funny.  Anyway he offered to help, so I showed him my piece of paper with the Chinese and English details of my hotel.  It was not far from the shuttle bus stop, so when we arrived he checked with some tour guides that were touting for business, and they all agreed it was not far away.  I could walk there.  Just go down this street and when I see a little street turn left.

Mmmm.  "Oh, I will get a taxi"  says I. To which the reply came that no taxi would take me.  It is not far enough for a taxi!!!  So I set off dragging my luggage, and laughed at my little adventure while hoping that I had followed the right path.

Sure enough I came across the hotel, walked in and checked in.  No problems.

My room was OK.  The biggest bed I've seen in a while, and a great bathroom (in fact, I'd say the best one I've had in a hotel in all the times I have stayed in China!!)

But the smell of the room.  Clearly not a non smoking room!!!  But it was late, I was tired, and  put more fragrance on and tried to manage.

When I complained in the morning about the smell, they were rather amused.  A couple of the staff spoke rudimentary English, and we agreed that they would try and find a room for me.

I had booked on a tour, and after a short walk around the area, I was back to catch the bus.  Th bus was air conditioned, but it was not "on", and I sweltered in the heat while the guide left us to do some business.  She came back.  Her English was not too bad, but as usual I found myself giving English lessons.  She'd ask me for word meanings etc, and at one stage had me confused about a "paid".  There was a French man who spoke a little English, and the guide spoke a little French, but we still had some challenges.  Neither he or I could understand what she was saying.  Then I worked it out.  She was talking about Pit 1 and Pit 2.  Not Paid 1 and Paid 2!!!!!

On the bus were six other people - all Chinese, and we found that most of the conversation was in Chinese and we'd get a few words seemingly tossed at us from time to time although I must say when we got inside the Tera Cotta Warrior area, she was particularly helpful and the Chinese folk went on their own way.  (They could read all the signs.)

After the tour I went to the hotel, freshened up and tried to find my way to the Big Goose Pagoda.  A taxi took me there without any trouble.  When I wanted to leave, I hailed a few taxi's and showed them the details fo the hotel, but they refused to take me.  I have no idea why, but eventually I found one.  Again, I had to walk.  He dropped me off nearby, and I did have mybearings so found the hotel without any worries. 

And no, the hotel did not find me a different room, but they did a massive spray that dulled the old smoke smell!  The staff on in the evening did not know of my complaint and request.

Next morning I set off on my own and found the ancient wall that surrounds the city, and here I had language problems again.  The entrance to the wall is in the middle of a roundabout, with peak hour traffic hurtling around.  I hunted for another entrance, and found a young man to ask.  He said "follow me" in quite good English and I did as I was bid. But he got lost.  Eventually he took me across the busy traffic to the entrance.  That was the only way to get in!!!  I chatted with him for a while - in fact he was the only English speaker I encountered to have a chat with!!

I went up the many stairs to the top of the wall, and then had the challenge of finding out where the mini bus went that takes tourists around the top of the wall.  Eventually I found it.  not much English here, but I managed to get a ticket. 

On the mini bus I was the only English speaker - even the driver and the guide did not.  Still it was an interesting trip.

Another taxi back to the hotel after wards from a different part of the gate, and then I had to check out and find the airport bus.  I'd worked out that it did not "go" from where it left me the night before, so I asked at the hotel.  The hotel staff all stood around me, speaking Chinese and the only advice I got was a swing of the arm and "not far".  Again I set off with fear and trepidation dragging my luggage.  Luckily it was true. It was "not far" and I safely made it onto the bus, and to the airport.  Trying to listen and comprehend any airport announcement was fun, but in the end I got back safely.

Quite an adventure. 

Some Chinglish


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