Friday, July 02, 2010

The "In the Know" Phenomenon

Yesterday morning, I ventured on my own to our new "breakfast people." New neighborhood, new choices. While I usually send Z to run down and grab some guotie (steamed pork dumplings), he was snoozing and I knew that they close up shop by 9am so it was time to go it alone.

When I reached the big red umbrella, around two blocks away from our apartment, I placed my order by pointing and asking for yi fenr (one order). Then I asked the woman (part of the husband-wife team who were preparing and selling several different varieties of dumplings) what the name of my type is. Jiao shenme? I said. She replied with words that were highly accented and that I could hardly understand. While I know them as guotie, she said something with a "jiao" in it so I just shook my head and smiled (thinking that I guess I'll just point and ask for yi fenr again next time). Anyways, as I stood and waited, the man (the husband part of the team) asked me a question which, again, I could hardly understand. The only part of the query that I recognized was when he held up his hand in a motion that showed "tallness" and mentioned the word gao which means "tall." "Ok," I said to myself, "he must be talking about Z." Since all of us had stopped there on our first morning walk, I figured they had made an association between Z and me. I answered in very poor Mandarin...ah, ta xiaoxi. What I meant to say was that he was asleep (shui jiao) but, in fact said that he's "news." Thank goodness I put my hands next to my face and tilted my head and closed my eyes. Sign language definitely worked better than my Chinese this time, but I refused to give up.

Next the woman seemed to ask me where I was living. While not exactly sure if this was her question or not, I decided to tell her anyway. "We live at Tianzuo Guoji," I said. This seemed to be the right answer so I continued (in better Chinese since I had used these lines before) that my husband is working at Peking University. "Ah," she said. When her husband followed up, "A teacher?" "Yes," I said, adding that he is actually "a professor."

This where the phenomenon begins...

So I continue to wait for my dumplings (which needed to be steamed a bit more) and an ayi (middle-aged woman) from the neighborhood wandered over to the stand. She smiled at me and said something to the man and woman that was, again, unrecognizable to my ears. I smiled back at her and then continued to listen, knowing exactly what was to come next. The conversation that ensued between all of them went something like this...

"Oh, yes, she lives over there in Tianzuo Guoji. Her husband is a professor at Peking University." Obviously this couple was "in-the-know" and proud to spread the word about their new hao pengyou. With more smiles and chuckles, this was a very positive and happy exchange...but not one that was unfamiliar as this was the type of exchange that happened over and over again when we lived here. It seemed that whenever we struck up a conversation with someone, whether we actually knew them or not, any information we provided them was happily disseminated to later passersby.

By the way, the dumplings (whatever they are called!) were excellent...



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