Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Define 'erinaceous'.

As time goes by, I have found myself more able to overcome my embarrassment at my grasp of the Chinese language, which, despite my fairly good exam results at Birmingham University, has proved to be fragile to say the least. I am now proficient in gesticulating in the direction of what I want and tentatively uttering '这个' ('this one') and after having got whatever I require, smiling and saying '謝謝' along with a slight sigh of relief. Unfortunately, even though the term at BLCU has now started and we now receive four hours' Chinese tuition a day, I cannot see this helping us much for the forseeable future due to the tedium and low standard of the classes we have been set in. It's not that we are far above our peers in terms of ability- some of my classmates have lived in China for a year already- but the tutors just seem to think that the incredibly pedestrian pace they have set is the right one to help us on the way to becoming competent at Chinese. This morning we had to sit through our classmates standing up at the front and introducing themselves numerous times, so much so that if I hear another '你是哪国人?' ('which country are you from?) I think I will cry.

That slight disappointment aside, I think Beijing and I are slowly making friends, albeit friends with the kind of relationship where the other person always proves slightly confusing to you but you still like them, all things considered. Until today I had never seen someone riding as a passenger on a push bike whilst standing bolt upright, an example of many things I have seen here which would seem stupid or dangerous to us in the West but which here are just considered handy ways of getting about life. One novelty I have yet to get over is the incredible cheapness of pretty much everything: the most expensive shop I have been to so far is probably IKEA, which I imagine is seen as a rather luxurious, aspirational brand intended for Beijingers who want to give their home that proper 'western' look.


Lastly, the four of us had an amusing but completely unexpected early-evening adventure last night: after having escaped the Cernet shop (which provides all the internet across campus) after two and a half hours of queuing, my friend Emma and I were dragging ourselves exhaustedly back to Building 17 when we were approached by an anxious-looking Chinese woman who asked us 'you English?' We nodded and told her we were, which seemed to make her day judging from the broad smile which crossed her face as she handed us a piece of paper each. It read, 'iPhone recording part-time job. Just 30-40 minutes' recording and the payment is 100 kuai' (about £10). Thinking this might be a nice little earner, we told her we'd be back in ten minutes after we'd dropped our laptops off. It then crossed our minds that this might not be all that it seemed, and so hoping for a little protection, we enlisted our friends Alex and Jack who also seemed keen to join in on the action. We rejoined our Chinese lady, who seemed very excited that we had doubled in number since she last saw us, and attempted to flag down a taxi. After a few failed attempts, we finally found one to take us to our 'studio', our lady telling the driver where to take us.

Upon getting out of the taxi we were pounced upon by a young man who had probably been told to look out for four bemused-looking English students. We were then led into a large office building, shown into the boardroom of an establishment with a name along the lines of 'Kings Data Recording Ltd', and told that we would be split off into twos with two of us doing the recordings whilst the others were taken by a colleague to have a bite to eat. Alex and I, feeling hungry at the time, decided to go for the latter, and were taken by the excitable woman to this fairly respectable-looking fast food restaurant next to the office block. She recommended us a beef dish which looked strange in the picture and even stranger in real life, but it was tasty and she was footing the bill so we couldn't complain. Our hunger now satisfied, we were led back up to the office, told to sit at separate desks and given an iPhone each. We were then given a list of commonly searched phrases to read out into the phone which ranged from the mundane 'weather in the West Midlands' to the mildly amusing 'search Bieber Fever' to the frankly bizarre 'define 'erinaceous''. We both struggled to hold back giggles at various points but the staff seemed satisfied that we'd done an adequate job and after having read out all of our phrases we were all handed our 100元 and, feeling that we'd done well for an evening which would otherwise have probably been spent in the bar, we walked out into the balmy Beijing evening with smiles on our faces.

The definition of erinaceous, if you had been wondering, is: 'of, pertaining to, or resembling a hedgehog.'


  1. I like how in the picture, your pointing seems to be distorting the building.

    Also well done, you're learning english in china!

  2. Yup, accidentally used my warpy finger again!

    Also, that is a very good point. Hopefully my Chinese should improve sometime soon as well.