Thursday, December 13, 2012

Another Reason to Study More

I had convinced myself that I was making progress in understanding Chinese. Why, the other day, I actually figured out that my ayi was telling me that on Wednesday, I needed to stay home because someone would be delivering a new packet of coupons to buy bottled water, for which I needed to have 800 RMB handy.

Impressive, right? So I dutifully stayed home all day Wednesday, with my 800 sitting in a neat pile on the coffee table.

Except that I was mistaken.
It turns out that what my dear, helpful ayi was trying to tell me was that on Wednesday, the water to the toilets would be turned off during the day.

So the bottom line is that I picked up two words from her “conversation” with me the other day: “water” and “Wednesday.” There was also some “conversation” about buying a new packet of coupons for our water bottles, but apparently, that information was not related to the information concerning the toilets.

When I couldn’t get the toilets to flush on Wednesday, I went over to the Seasons Park management office to see if there was some outstanding bill for toilet water we needed to pay. (Don’t laugh: China charges different rates for tap water and toilet water. Since the tap water is undrinkable, I can’t even imagine what that says about the quality of the toilet water, water that Smudge enjoys drinking when I’m not looking. It’s either going to kill her or preserve her in a kind of formaldehyde-like state.)

I used my vast reservoir of Chinese words with one of the management people. “Mei you shui,” (no water) I said, making a flushing gesture with one hand. Then I realized that the toilets in our apartment flush with a button on the top of the tank, not with a handle, so I may have been making the wrong gesture.

But I was immediately understood. She said, “Jintian repairs,” mixing Chinese and English in a way I could easily understand. “Wu dian,” she added. Okay, so the toilets would flush again at 5 o’clock.

There’s a lesson here, and it’s a good life lesson, or at the very minimum, a Debbie lesson: Don’t embroider, don’t exaggerate, don’t assume, and don’t feel smug that you know something in China.

Because you don’t.

As for the mysterious water coupons, I’m still waiting.

No comments:

Post a Comment