Wednesday, July 20, 2011

On Speaking Chinese While Out Doing Research for Articles

I've noticed that while playing journalist, my Chinese falls apart. For example, on Monday, I went downtown to interview the doctor who'd performed the microsurgery. The patient and I got into a taxi, and though I knew I knew how to say all the words for where we were going, I couldn't get the driver to understand me at all. "二号医院," /Èr Hào Yīyuàn/, I kept saying, "Number 2 Hospital." But he just stared at me. The patient just spoke English, indicating 2 with her fingers. Finally he understood. He said I'd said "{hospital}" wrong, but I was staring at my dictionary as he told us, and I swore it was right. Far be it from me to tell others how their language ought to go. Still, the school downtown is across from a hospital, and every time I go down there (I'm there now, in fact), I say, "医院," /yīyuàn/. It's written on the hospital itself. But maybe I was getting the tones wrong. I did keep ending my questions with "吗," /ma/, the question particle, even for non–yes-no questions, which you don't do. When we got to the hospital itself, the doctor asked, "Do you speak Chinese." I indicated that I did but only a little, not enough to do an interview in, especially one about heart and arteries and new procedures for getting inside people. Usually I have someone along with me when I'm out journaling (or whatever the verb may be), and it's usually someone who's been here longer and who speaks better, an editor or a photographer. The patient had been here seven or eight years, but I spoke better Chinese than her. Perhaps, though, I was nervous. I always picture journalists as the intrepid sort of people, asking question after question. Here I find myself more the bumbling kind of outsider who doesn't really know what to ask. Maybe I shouldn't write that, but it's true. And to come up with questions in Chinese—that would be even harder.

1 comment:

  1. Turns out it's 医大二院, /Yīdà Èr Yuàn/, 医大 being the Chinese for "college of medicine."