Posts Tagged With: bilingual

Essaouira a.k.a The Best Language Day Ever!

I’m pretty sure if you know me and we’ve seen each other within the last six months you will have heard this story. It’s one of my all time favourite travel stories. And one of my all time favourite days. It goes a little like this…

We were settling down nicely on the bus from Marrakesh to Essaouira when I noticed an Asian man on the seat opposite and in front of us. He was alone, and swiping his finger across the screen of his phone at lightening speed. After a few seconds of watching him I realised he was writing Chinese characters with his finger, which were then being registered into the phone and put into a text message. Incredible.  If you’re reading this and do this on a daily basis you’re probably slightly stumped by my awe. I apologise. Small things, small things. 🙂

I pointed out my amazement to Hannah (who was pretty amazed too, I’d like to add!) and we thought nothing more of it. The journey was simple and hassle free. Until we reached Essaouira and were met by a gaggle of touts. Armed with our well practised “laa, shukran” (no, thank you in Arabic) that came in very handy with Marrakesh ladies taking our hands to give us Henna tattoos, we Laa-Shukran-ed our way through the crowds and headed with a small group of English tourists towards what their map said should be the city.

The Chinese man followed loosely with his troop of touts snapping at his heels and clearly exploiting the fact that he spoke no Arabic, French or English.

“I’ll be back in a minute,” I said to Hannah.

I headed towards the Chinese man, mentally dusting off my Chinese knowledge.

“Thank you but he’s with us.” I explained in French to the tout, indicating to the Chinese man to follow us. “He has a reservation with us.”

“I speak a little Chinese.” I said to the Chinese man. His eyes lit up. That gave me the strength to stay strong against the tout.

“No, he doesn’t! He doesn’t even speak English! Now you come over here speaking Chinese! This is my life! I have a family to feed!” I clearly wasn’t going to make it onto the tout’s Christmas card list any time soon.

“Thank you, but no thank you.” I replied in French. I walked the Chinese man away with me and back into the group of English tourists, “Let’s go, quick!”

“What’s your name? I’m Lindsay. She is Hannah.” I asked him on our way into the city.

“I’m Shounian. Thank you.” he replied.

Fortunately the tout didn’t follow us. Unfortunately, the hostel we had reserved wasn’t easy to find. After about an hour and a half of dragging Shounian around, we stood almost defeated in the hustle and bustle of market day. He pointed to a couple stood with a map.

“Ahh! Very good!” I smiled at him and we headed over to the tourists.

“English?” They shook their head. “¿Español?” Another shake of the head. “Français?” Shake number three. “Italiano?”

“Sì!” They replied gleefully.

I opened the Italian box in my brain, “Perfect! I speak a little Italian! We are lost. Can we borrow your map for a moment?”

The Italian couple were wonderful and even offered to help to take us there. When we got there, there was nothing. A local boy even came and showed the Italian man exactly where it was. But there was nothing. Just a door. We knocked. We waited.

“What do we do?” Hannah asked.

“Well, how much is it?” I asked.

“8 pounds. We’re paid about 80p deposit so they have our card details.”

“I’m happy to pay £8 not to stay here. And we’ve dragged poor Yang around for hours now.”

We headed to the main street from our dark side alley and straight into the first hotel we saw. I switched my language brain back to French and asked if they had a room for 3 before realising that after all of this, Shounian might want nothing more than to get away from us! I flicked back to Chinese and asked him if he wanted his own room. He was happy to share so I asked the receptionist in French for the price and if we could see the room. When I told Shounian the price, he instantly pulled his wallet out. Me and Hannah burst into a chorus of ‘no’ insisting we see the room first. He took some convincing but eventually agreed to wait downstairs while we took a peek. He also took some convincing to let us pay and as it turned out, the best we could offer was to pay for dinner that night.

Walking around with him for the rest of the day, we learnt Shounian is a travel writer and photographer and has been to a grand total of 42 countries in his 68 years of life – all with no other language skills whatsoever!

Essaouira itself is a really nice place and definitely worth visiting if you’re in Morocco for any length of time. It is a complete contrast to Marrakesh!

That day in Essaouira was a real highlight to me of the importance of language learning (if you don’t know, I teach languages when I’m not speaking them to Chinese men and touts in Morocco!). Having some knowledge of foreign languages had helped me save a man from paying over the odds for a room, got us to our “hostel” and given us a free night in a nice hotel. On the other hand, there was Shounian. Making his way around with his camera paying far too much for accommodation and transport by throwing his money at someone if they give him a figure. I hope as he travels on, he doesn’t get exploited like he nearly did that day, but it saddens me to think that he probably will.

Moral of Essaouira? Keep learning languages.

Have you ever ended up speaking any unexpected languages on holiday? I’d love to read about it in the comments below! 🙂

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Categories: Africa, Morocco | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

Shanghai: Land of lights in tunnels and dogs in zoos.

We were expecting things to get a lot more difficult by the time we got to Shanghai. We were prepared for much less English writing, and a lot more Chinese. But no! Still plenty of bi-lingual signs to help us navigate our way around. Excellent! When we arrived at the hostel, the men were wrapped up warm in their coats, sat in the dark.

“Ni hao. We have a reservation, under Williams?”

“Ahh yes. Budget private double? I’m afraid we have no power, we have a power cut. So we need your passports and we can give you the room card and your passports back at 6pm, the power should be back then.”

We offered a copy of our passports but I think they needed the visa bit. So we left our passports with 2 men in a dark room, headed up to our room and back down and out to explore. Our journey to the hostel had transferred us through People’s Square Metro station, which was quite busy and seemed a good, central starting point. We were greeted with a mass of neon lights, mega malls and offers of hashish. Things I would expect in Vegas, New York and Amsterdam respectively. It wasn’t what we expected. It was huge and relatively modern, yes, this we were expecting. However, it also felt quite spacious and if you look down the backstreets, the mega malls soon vanish.

At risk of spending 5 weeks in shopping malls, we made our way down one of these back streets, to find what can, perhaps patronisingly, be called “real China”. What you’d really expect, where the majority of the population probably shop, eat and socialise. It didn’t take long to find a baked sweet potato stand, and it didn’t take long to get confused by Chinese finger numbers once we’d ordered. Instead of using all ten fingers in order, they somehow (in a way we haven’t figured out yet) do it all on one hand.

By dark, we headed to the Pudong area on the other side of the river. Now this was what we’d expected. Uber-modern buildings, skyscrapers galore, an amazing pedestrian high walkway around the roundabout and a beautiful array of lights on the buildings. We found somewhere to eat, which was surprisingly cheap for the calibre of the shops and the size of the mall we were in – I think it’s fair to say, food in China is cheaper than Hong Kong. About half the price. Yay!

On our second day, we started at Shanghai museum, which was free and not bad considering. We then went to the Bund with the potential aim of doing the “Bund Sightseeing Tunnel” to cross the river and walk around the Pudong area in daylight. Well. The Bund Sightseeing Tunnel costs £5 one way or £6 return. I’m telling you now, don’t worry about the return. Ashley made a video of the…experience…. I’ll let you know when it’s online. I think it says more than I could with words.

Ashley and me have something that seems to have become a “thing”, you know, a “thing”. Could be called a tradition, could be called …well, a “thing” really. We go to zoos. That’s our thing. We went to Budapest zoo, we went to London zoo, we went to Hong Kong zoo and now, we’ve been to Shanghai zoo. What can you say about Shanghai zoo? Hmm. It’s an interesting one. It starts well, with a small aquarium and a reptile house – aka, lots of sea turtles and tortoises so I’m a happy bunny. Then there’s the goldfish section. Genuinely. Then you find the main attraction – the pandas! They’re really funny to watch, they sit around like slobs, legs apart, belly out,  chomping on bamboo! The type you’d imagine on Jeremy Kyle. Most of the enclosures aren’t actually too bad, including the panda enclosures. However, “Pet World” is a little bizarre. If you see a sign at a zoo saying Pet World, you would enter expecting…little fluffy bunnies? Guinea pigs and hamsters? Maybe even some more goldfish (borrowed from the goldfish section)? Well you’re all wrong. Unless you guessed dogs in glass suburban houses that is. Yep, different breeds of dog all in their own little concrete and glass “houses”. It was a very depressing place. The mating porcupines didn’t seem to care though. I know, I don’t know anyone with a porcupine as a pet either.

All in all, Shanghai is alright. It’s not as modern and shiny as it’s often billed but it gives you an idea of what China seems to be about – spitting, shoving and staring. Not necessarily in that order.

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Categories: China, East Asia | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Burmese Days – Part Four

Bagan – Sand Paintings and Sandy Feet.

Day nine.

Day nine began with a seven hour bus journey on the worst road I’ve seen in this country. I didn’t feel great before I got on the bus. I couldn’t stomach breakfast. I was sick at the first stop. I wanted to come home. I arrived here. I went to two guesthouses. Hassled by taxi  and horse cart drivers all the way. I wanted to come home. I got lucky with the third guesthouse. I slept from 3.30 to 5.30. I woke up. I felt a little better. But really, I still wanted to come home.

Day ten.

Exactly what I needed after yesterday. I’d agreed with a British guy I met on the bus, who from now on we shall call Chris for ease, to meet at 8 and if I was feeling better share a horse cart for the day – half the cost. After a solid twelve hour sleep from 5.30pm ‘til 5.30am I felt ready to take on the world! After a brilliant breakfast, I set off to meet Chris at the bus station.

There were two American girls on the bus too, who from now on we shall call Brihanna and Rebecca, and it turned out they were staying in the room next to Chris, so we decided to get two horses and spend the day as four.

After spending just three days in Thailand a week ago, I’m still pretty templed out. You get the big ones like Borobudur in Indonesia and Wat Pho in Bangkok but once you’ve seen one mediocre temple, you’ve seen them all. Think about it, you may go and see Salisbury Cathedral, or Canterbury Cathedral on a little day trip but would you really cruise Northamptonshire for a tour of it’s village churches?

The individual temples of Bagan are just mediocre temples. Like I said, seen one, seen ‘em all. But once you climb to the top and look out, the collective view is amazing. Why you would need to build so many temples in one place is still beyond me but it makes for a good view.

I am undecided as to what I saw more of today; temples, coin collectors or sand painters…. Every big temple you go to is surrounded by stalls and people who will follow you up and inside for the chance of selling you their wares. At the beginning of the day, it’s plain annoying, by lunchtime you play the game, and by sunset it’s back to plain annoying. Our horse cart driver even found us a fab place to watch the sunset, not a tour bus in sight, not even a lone bicycle. But guess what? A family waded through the puddles and up the dark stairwell to try and sell us their lacquer ware.

Then there’s a different breed of temple-hanger-around-ers; the money collectors. I’d discovered early on that my trick of answering “Where you from?” with “No English, sorry, parlo italiano” was redundant in Bagan when a woman replied with “Buongiorno, molto bello!” This discovery was reiterated later on when I saw some Burmese kids babbling away in Spanish to a Spanish tour group! So I was trying a new tactic, picking an obscure European country they definitely wouldn’t have heard of. I’d already used Andorra, now it was Liechtenstein’s turn.

“Where you come from?” asked a little boy towards the end of the day.

“Liechtenstein.”

“I know your country. Very nice.”

“You know it?!” Damn. “Where is it?”

“I don’t know. Do you have money from your country?”

“No, I’m in Myanmar. I only have Myanmar money. I leave my Liechtenstein money in Liechtenstein.”

This is one of many examples of this conversation.

Another conversation I had a lot today;

“Hello, where you come from?”

“Andorra/Liechtenstein/England (if I liked them and was prepared for another Manchester United themed conversation)”

“Very nice country. You want to look at my sand paintings?”

“I’ve already bought two, sorry!” This was true, I had, and they came in very handy to wave at the seller at this point in the conversation.

“But one more? It is different design.”

“I’m sure it is, but I already have two!”

“But three is the lucky number!”

“I know but I have no more money. Sorry!”

These people don’t give up easily.

Despite the persistent pestering and seeing more 45 Kyat notes than horse carts and more copies of George Orwell’s Burmese Days than Waterstones’ British stock, it was a very good day, one of the best so far. I met three lovely people (Chris, Brihanna and Rebecca, not the sand painters) and it really was exactly what I needed after yesterday.

Day eleven.

I’m writing this during a second evening of power outages. Thankfully my laptop was fully charged so I’m sat here before dinner with my headlamp on typing away! But without air con. Can’t have it all I guess! I’ve decided Burma is a country they should send ungrateful school kids on a trip.

Anyway, I was going to start with an apology for 13 pages worth of reading material for you. I’m sorry. And it’s not over yet!

So without further ado, here’s a brief description of my day: I relaxed, watched some Karl Pilkington clips on my iPod, and even had breakfast at NINE! Well late for Burma. I read some Stephen Fry, I set out to meet Chris and possibly the American girls for lunch. I ate a ridiculously small amount of my noodles and then we hired bikes for the afternoon. Sadly the American girls couldn’t join us because they had to get their bus to Yangon, to arrive at 4am, to fly to India at 8am!

So in a nutshell, we got bikes, saw some temples, saw some postcard sellers, saw some money collectors, had some sugar cane juice….that was pretty much it!

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Categories: Burma, South East Asia | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Burmese Days – Part Three

Mandalay – The Road To Mandalay

I will now tell you some interesting tales of the road to Mandalay….

  1. A woman dropped her baby. By that, I don’t mean she gave birth, I mean she dropped her already living, breathing, screaming baby. There was a thud, I turn around, and a woman is picking her (quite rightfully) screaming child up off of the floor. I didn’t know whether to laugh or tut. I chose to laugh, a lot, and on the inside.
  2. They played bad music videos with lyrics running across the bottom of the screen – nothing new there – but one of them was HILARIOUS. There was a man, I assume sad and depressed and in love as they always are in these videos, and then he laid eyes on a woman, I assume his girlfriend, in a wheelchair. He looked really sad, as if she’d had an accident and then he pushed her and there was a close up of his hands on the chair and everything as if he was having to swallow some serious pride to push that chair. Again, I didn’t know whether to laugh or tut. Again, I chose to laugh, on the inside.
  3. Around 1.30am, after hours of bumpy riding in the rain with people being sick all around me, we stopped. I hot footed it out to pee and hot footed it back to the bus so as not to miss it. Only, it turns out we were going nowhere fast. We had a puncture. What do you do when you have a puncture on a tyre that big? It’s not like you can carry a spare, surely? Do they not have an AA equivalent in Burma? (By AA I mean the car related acronym, I don’t think Alcoholics Anonymous would have been much help. Besides, they’re probably all drowning their sorrows at 1.30am.) We sat for 2 hours and 45 minutes. As painful as it sounds, it was actually a bonus 2 hours and 45 minutes sleep on solid ground with no one being sick around me – oh no, I’m sorry I retract that last bit, one woman was still puking up a weeks’ worth of dinner. If you’re that ill, get off the bus and get some fresh air while you can! Crazy.

Day seven.

I arrived, gladly, nice and early and made my way to the hotel. I settled down, had a shower and headed out for breakfast – but the hotel has no maps! So I had no idea where to go, which meant after 2 banana pancakes and seeing Daniel and Sarit from Yangon again, I had to head back to carry the Lonely Planet around with me all day. So I got my backpack, which means sweaty back. So I hired a bike, if I’m gonna get a sweaty back, I may as well make it worth it.

I am by no means of the definition an urban cyclist. I suck at riding a bike with cars, motorbikes and lorries all around me. It even takes a bit of courage to ride on the road on my tiny, quiet, 20mph estate. So to get a bike in a city like Mandalay was quite brave of me! Luckily, there appears to be no rules of the road here – there are definitely no traffic lights at 90% of the crossroads – so I fit in just fine!

I set out for some food and ended up in the midst of a market. A lovely woman offered me some sweet, sickly lemon thing, which I tried and was then met by a homeless woman with a big bag on her head and her little son. The lemon lady told me to go and that the woman was crazy, but I wanted dinner across the street! So I pulled up my bike, put on the padlock and sat down for some 50p laksa. All the time the woman with the bag on her head was watching me. I was beginning to feel sorry for her, but knew I wouldn’t cave. Eventually she pulled out some bread and had a nibble and left! If she has food, what was she after from me?! I’m not gonna buy her a house!

In the evening, I went out for dinner with Daniel and Sarit and we ended up at the chapatti stand recommended in the Lonely Planet. It was really good food, and just like last time we ate together, we got a table full of the stuff! I need to find Daniel and Sarit more often!

Day eight.

Today has been nice. After an easy (but sweaty) morning meandering around the market, which was rubbish, I headed to the post office to buy some post cards from the vendors I’d seen yesterday. I counted on my fingers how many I’d need – eight – and she said they were 100 Kyat each (10p, so 80p all together – bargain!). Then she said she’d give me 10 for 800! Woo!

So I settled down to a lovely papaya juice a few blocks away and spent an hour writing them all out. Speaking of blocks, I’m useless with them. Blocks, grid systems. Can’t cope. Give me windy little country lanes any day.

I decided to set out for a slow lunch, and I found a little side street café selling noodles. I hovered over, not literally, and said hello and asked how much it was in Burmese. The older woman was unphased by this and answered back in Burmese with the price. The younger one, however, looked shocked and amazed that I was speaking Burmese! When I nodded in agreement with the price and went to sit down, her face was a picture.

The following conversation took place in Burmese, but I’ve put it in English so it means something to you!

She said, “Three hundred?”

I nodded, “Yeah, three hundred!”

She laughed in amazement.

I said, “One, two, three!”

She laughed some more, even more amazement!

I spent the next hour or so chatting away in Burmese with the three ladies (the third was a customer). For that I whipped out the phrasebook!

Then guess what? I saw Daniel and Sarit walk past!! What are the chances?! They came over, sat down, had them some noodles and then we agreed to meet again for dinner tonight. I’ve seen three people twice so far but never two people thrice! Incredible!

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Categories: Burma, South East Asia | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

So long, Singapore!

So tomorrow I head off to Bali and leave Singapore. Having been here 2 days longer than originally planned, it’s beginning to feel quite comfortable.Singapore really is the perfect place for first time Asia. I think! Remember, this is my first visit to Asia! I am expecting things to get a little tougher from here though – visas being stricter, transport being less frequent etc…but we shall see.

Yesterday I headed down to East Coast Park. In an attempt to save my MRT money to leave me enough (including the $5 deposit that I can get back and spend on a cheaper ticket) to take me back to the airport, I decided to walk it. It didn’t look too far on the map from my hostel – but that was the country map, not the city map. Either way, I decided it’s not a big country, it’s only 5 MRT stations, and because they’re raised overground and not underground this far out of the city, it would be easy enough to follow the track and then turn right, keep going right and eventually hit the beach. And it worked!

It’s a really cool place. The beach itself isn’t worth writing home about, but what they’ve done with it is respectable. There’s plenty of bike hire, inline skate hire and weird two board scooter hire. There’s a cable water ski, an amazing and very clean “emo”-free skate park and a great hawker centre. It’s not very easy to get to even from the MRT closest it’s a little walk but it’s worth it for a relaxing afternoon.

Here’s my overall opinion of Singapore:

  • Clean. If you were getting fined $500, you wouldn’t eat or drink on the MRT either. Although it’s not an overly helpful rule when you’re having a coughing fit on a train.
  • Less people speak English then you would think from the signage. And unleash the linguist in me, if language is boring to you, skip to the next bullet point now…..Most signs are at least bilingual, (even quadlingual in some cases!) which is what I was expecting from what I’d studied about Singapore’s linguistic ratio. However, sometimes, they’re not. Sometimes, the signage is just in English, or just Chinese if you’re in a Chinese community area. This would be fine, but then from the locals I’ve needed to speak to, I can’t recall more than 5 who have been completely fluent in English. Proving that Singapore is not as bilingual as I thought. If you don’t speak English, it would be hard living here in my opinion unless you were in a Chinese/Malay/Tamil etc community. If you do speak English, you’ve got a great advantage. Essay over.
  • Safe. Even roaming the big sights in the city at night, Singapore feels very safe.
  • Just. Plain. Awesome. Singapore is cool. There’s no denying it.

And so, my Singapore fling is over. (Geddit? Singapore Sling/fling?…It was weak, forgive me.) Tomorrow brings Bali and I’m preparing myself for a very different experience…

Categories: Singapore, South East Asia | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

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