As previously stated living in China has its ups and downs! As a British man living in the arse end of nowhere I’ve struggled. From the day I arrived, back in late August I have not been able to communicate with many of the locals. Google translate and charades only go so far. Basics I totally took for granted were non-existent. BaiBai.
I have spent the last twenty-five years traveling the world and every country I have visited had some basic and more than basic English levels. I could get by, by. Not here. I totally expected this, but I was not fully prepared for the struggles until I started experienced them on the ground, in reality. One particularly memorable moment was the first day I went out to buy vegan vegetables to cook in my vegan pan, with my vegan vegetable oil, chopped on my vegan chopping board with my vegan hand. I selected some greens, peppers, ginger and garlic and approached the till. After paying I suddenly realized that I would need a knife to chop with. I obviously could not ask for one, so I did a chopping style motion with my hands. Left hand holding an “air carrot” , right hand in motion, “air chopping”. This came with a confused stare, even though I pointed to the items I had just bought.
Thinking on my vegan feet I quickly came up with my second act. My right hand suddenly gripped an “air knife” which I plunged into my chest, tilted my head, groaned and pretended to die, right there in public, in front of the till, in front of complete strangers and a shop assistant I didn’t know from Zhang Jianguo (Chinese equivalent of Adam!) I was led to the knife promptly, with a smile. Tick. This was the start of my acting career here, in built-up, massively overpopulated, rural China.
A day or so later I acquired a painting by a student from a local University, to hang on the filthy walls of my filthy apartment. The painting was of a beautiful Chinese lady, seated and looking off into the distance. I occasionally cover her face these days, when I have my non-Chinese days at home alone. BaiBai.
Carrying the painting home I needed to buybuy some nails and a hammer. (yes, this may sound like a normal, everyday activity but let me assure you it is not). I entered what I thought was a hard-ware shop and held up the art with one hand; I did “air hammering” with the other. My skills were obviously quite strong with this short performance as the shopkeeper immediately presented me with a large nail. After a moment or so of reducing the space several times, between my finger and thumb to get to the required size; I bought six nails. There was absolutely no verbal communication whatsoever. Only confused looks, movement, staring, rolling of eyes, acting and ‘air motions’. I turned to leave, following my latest social interaction of sorts, and to my surprise the shop keeper let out an almighty, BaiBai…………BaiBai!?!….. So she does speak English…she just said Bye-bye!!
As the days and weeks continued and the more interactions I had, the more I heard this BaiBai word. No other English words, Just BaiBai. Shop keepers, students, teachers, taxi drivers, conversations I heard on the street. Everyone said it. EVERYONE. My ears were constantly full of conversations I could not understand a word of, then I started hearing the BaiBai’s. BaiBai!; I took comfort in this. Thinking about it today I now realise that it was something for me to clutch onto, in an environment of not understanding anything and that makes me a little sad. In the early days I was so very alone here and BaiBai was all I had. Friends baibai, family baibai, food baibai, vodka baibai, anything that I found remotely normal, baibai.
I would go back to certain shops for certain BaiBai’s, and I would mentally take note of the tone and the enthusiasm of the BaiBai delivery. I would go fishing for BaiBai’s, like I was addicted to them. I became a BaiBaiaholic, and I still am to this day.
The are low Baiabai’s, high baiBai’s, soft BaiBai’s, deep baiBai’s; baibais that you never expect to come out of certain peoples mouths. Sometimes it can be a shock and othertimes a dissapointment. I’m always gutted when people don’t respond to my BaiBai’s. Fast BaiBai’s, slow BaiBai’s…basically every BaiBai imaginable and its the element of surprise which has kept me in China for so long. Not the money, not the culture. My employer has the word, BaiBai to thank for my presence in school today…that and Wechat stickers. Oh, and the stupid duvets they wear on their motorbikes!
Thailand is known as “The Land of Smiles”, and for me, China will always be “The Land of BaiBai’s”. BaiBai!