Pretending to understand (and not fooling anyone)

Chinese is harder first thing in the morning.

It’s 8:30am on a holiday and we’re sleeping in. The phone rings. Nine times out of ten I’d just let it ring (my college roommate hated this), but this time for some reason I jump out of bed and answer it. It’s someone speaking Chinese. What are they saying? I can feel my heart rate thudding to compensate for my sudden leap-sprint out of the warm covers. I guess (correctly) that it’s one of our neighbour’s daughter-in-laws. She’s arranging a time to meet for something – I can’t tell what. Tuesday, 6pm? Right, got it. Ok. But all that other stuff she’s saying I don’t have a clue. I just woke up! My brain’s not in gear! I say ‘Ok, great, Tuesday, 6pm,’ just make sure I heard that part right, and we hang up. I assume it’s about going to the neighbour’s and making pizza and 饺子 because we’d all talked about that last time we were over there. So that’s what I tell Jessica the phone call was about. And that’s what we plan on.

Turns out it wasn’t at the neighbours’ or even with the neighbours. Their son’s family owns a DIY baking shop and because of our connection I’m writing a Thanksgiving article highlighting it for the local expat magazine’s November edition. They’d phoned to ask us out to dinner, I’d said yes, but Jessica and I were all set to show up at his parents’ place with pizza baking supplies.

The only reason we found out in time was because Jessica just happened to be taking some friends over to their store yesterday afternoon and mentioned looking forward to making pizza with them that night. The daughter-in-law made a confused face, and soon they were laughing about the mix up.

We went out last night to dinner at a cool restaurant called 1928, which recreates a Tianjin feel from that period, complete with traditional forms of entertainment popular in Tianjin. This of course meant me drinking with the boys at one end of the table; good thing there was tons of food and we were there for hours (maybe that’s part of the plan). It’s not a cheap place, and they bought us a gift as well. I’m relieved that so many of our foreign friends bought stuff at their store that afternoon, and that I’ve got the magazine article coming up, or I’d feel like we’re in some guanxi debt.