Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Day 13

China is bananas.  Giving directions in China is completely different than giving directions in the US.  Overall, Americans are much more precise than Chinese.  Just watch a Chinese cooking show sometime, you'll see.  Chinese people (at least every one I've ever met) are not good at giving or getting directions, and are not good at finding places they've never been to.  

For example, if I were giving you directions to my apartment, I would say, "Do you know where Gaoxin is?  Okay, so from Xiao Zhai head toward Gaoxin.  You'll pass Mei Gui Da Lo on the right, and a Starbucks/Subway on the left.  Right after that you'll see a hotel called the Seven Stars Hotel.  If you get to the park or to Tai Bai Lu, you've gone too far.  Enter through the main entrance to the Seven Stars Hotel.  There's a crawling lighted banner above the door and a hair salon to the immediate left of the entrance.  Take any of the elevators in the lobby to the fourth floor.  We are in apartment blah blah blah."

When we were apartment hunting, I was two blocks away from the Seven Stars teaching class.  Peter wanted me to come check out the apartment.  He called me, and...

Peter: Okay, so to get here you need to come back.
Me: Come back home?
Peter: No, come back from where you came.
Me: Where?
Peter: Like you're coming back.
Me: So I need to exit my school and go...?
Peter: Across the street.
Me: Which street?
Peter: To the park.
Me: Okay, so I am crossing the park block?
Peter: What?
Me: I have to go to the other side of the park?
Peter: No, you are on the other side of the park.  You need to come here.
Me: Okay, I will call you back.
Me: Okay, I crossed the park.
Peter: Where are you now?
Me: In the park, opposite my school.
Peter: On the street?
Me: Um, yes.  At the intersection of Keji Street and the other big street.  Near the supermarket.
Peter: Okay, the building is right on the corner.
Me: Which corner?
Peter: The one with the building on it.
Me: Which building?
Peter: The one with all the windows.
Me: They all have windows!
Peter: Okay, hang on, I am going to come get you.

For the record, the building is not right on the corner.  It is 500 yards up the street from the corner.  Anyway, Peter's mission to come get me is how most Chinese people give directions.  That is, they don't give directions, they tell you a street (not an intersection, just a street) or a district or a building, meet you there, and guide you the rest of the way.  This is how they do for me and for each other.

Does this mean Chinese people are stupid?  No.  The conversation above makes Peter sound, erm, intelligence-challenged, but he's not.  He's really smart and has no practice at this particular skill.  That's true of most Chinese people I know.  And, to be clear, I don't mean "Chinese" the racial group, but "Chinese" the cultural identity.  This is just how they do things in China.

That's why we had so much trouble with the Sheraton Hotel tonight.  Some friends are staying there, and we called the concierge to leave the address of where we're going to meet tomorrow.  Leaving a message at a hotel should be easy, but any time you step outside what is expected (in China or anywhere else) things get weird.  First they wanted to know why our friends didn't just call us on their cell phones.  Well, they don't have cell phones, they are only in China for eight days.  Then they wanted to know why we are such horrible friends we won't come and meet them and go to the restaurant together.  To a Chinese person, letting a friend go to a new place by themselves (and probably get lost) is rude.  Peter explained that all they had to do was show the address to a taxi driver, and we could meet them at the restaurant.

Right now there's a hotel concierge chatting to a maid or someone at the Sheraton talking about how weird these Americans are.  I'm okay with that.

Oh, and the first thing we're downloading on our new phones in the US is GPS apps.  Our relationship runs smoother when we get our directions not from each other.

That's the thing.

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