How to Get By in China
(Or, Yet Another Language Tutorial)
The Chinese have now progressed to saying "hi!", so it is perfectly all right to say "hi!". If, however, you wish to be polite, you may say "Ni hao ma?" which translates to "How are you?" The normal answer to this is "Hao, ni ne?" (Good, you?) and the reply to that is "Fei chang hao" for Very Good, or "Bu hao" for Not Good At All. However, the second reply will inadvertently lead to them asking you why you are Not Good At All, in which the case you will have to explain that your dog has died, your lugagge is stolen, and you strongly suspect that what you ate for lunch was not, in fact, chicken, but rather some rare and entirely illegal tiger from Siberia. I can't help you with this, as I don't know the Mandarin world for Siberia either.
Where is the toilet?
I firmly believe this to be an Important Part of the average tourist's vocabulary. Fortunately, I do know the word for toilet - Che Suo. The entire sentence would be "Qing wen, che suo zai na li?" and the answer could be "Na li" (There), accompanied by frenzied pointing or "Zuo bian" (Left) or "You bian" (Right). If, however, your informer replies that "Zhe li mei you che suo", you should probably start looking for A Very Nice Bush, as he has just told you that there are no toilets in your general vicinity.
The Chinese are big on manners - everyone must be very polite. "Xie Xie" is thank you, and "Bu ke qi" is your welcome. If you happened to do something terribly wrong, a mere "Dui bu qi" (I'm sorry) is insufficient, and it should be backed up with "Yuan liang wo ba" - a plea for forgiveness. "Excuse me" would be "Qing rang yi rang", and if you just ran over their cat, don't bother sticking around. Run. Very fast.
Chatting people up.
So say you're at a bar, and you meet a really Good Looking Man who happens to speak not a word of English. What do you do? Do you say "Hi! Yao bu yao gen wo tiao wu ne?" (Hi, would you like to dance with me?) or do you plunge in and say "Hi! Wo men hui dao ni de jia qu wan ge gou ba!" (Hi, let's head back to your place and have fun till we've had enough!) Or, if you meet a really Pretty Girl, you could say "Ni hao piao liang wo!" (You're really pretty). If you wish to announce to the pub that you are Horny and ready for Action, you will most likely be directed to the nearest brothel, where the sex is cheap and no fun at all, so really, don't bother.
Ah, cursing in Mandrin. It's a stress reliever, as most of the syllables are pronounced in a sharp, short and vehement manner. Take, for example, one of the most common Mandarin curses: "Qu si ba ni!" Spit the words out. Savour the anger in your speech. You've just told someone to go to hell. Also, "Ni zhe ge wang ba dan!" (You bastard!), "Ni zhe ge chou po niang!" (Literally: you smelly old woman!), "Ni she ge mei yong a dong si!" (You useless bum!) and "Bay bi wu chi sia liu!" (The meaning of which, I'm not too clear, but all the female stars seem to like to direct it at men who have just cheated their feelings for money.) If you wish, "Ni feng le!" (You're crazy!) "Ni jiang she me pi?" (What crap are you sprouting?).
If the universal wave is not good enough for you, you may choose to say "zai jian!" (see you) or "dang huer jian" (see you later). If, however, your goodbye is more of the "I hate you and I never want to see you again!" variety, then you may wish to say "wo chong jing tian kai shi jiu gen ni yi dao liang duan!" A phrase that literally means "Form this day forth you and I are split in two."
A little bit more...
The Chinese like their four-word idioms very, very much. So much, in fact, they sometimes have long, elaborate stories to explain how these idioms arose. Here are a few a I can remember. The idioms, that is. You can go find out the stories.... maybe next year. Alternatively, if you sponsor, I'll email you AND tell you the stories, every single one!
An bu jiu ban -- Literally: Following the rule book. In other words, BORING.
Bai fa bai jong -- Literally: A hundred hits from a hundred throws. In other words, Don't mess with this fella, coz he gottem deadly aim.
Chong dao fu zhe -- Not learning from your mistakes; repeating them.
Dui niu tan qin -- Literally: Playing the lute with a cow for an audience. In short, Don't waste your time on these ignorant beasts. It must be noted that my teachers loved to use this on me.
Hai di lao zhen -- Literally: Dragging the ocean for a needle. In short, Looking a a needle in a haystack; very difficult to find.
Hua long dian jing (Do not pronounce 'long' as the English word for 'opposite of short'. You will be laughed and pointed at. It's more of a Luuuooong thing. Try to pronounce the uo in one syllable. I know it's difficult without proper training, but try.) -- This my favourite idiom, so I shall tell you the story: Once a famous artist Zhang Seng You drew four dragons on the walls of An Le Temple, Jin Ling, but he left the pupils of the dragons unfinished. Someone asked him the reason of the omission. In answer, he said that if he put the pupils therein the dragons would become alive and fly away. The questioner did not believe it and requested him to complete the work. The artist nodded assent. But as soon as the two dots were drawn, all of a sudden, there were thunder and lightning and the dragon became alive and instantly flew away, while the other three without pupils still remained there. Literally, the idiom means "adding eyes to a dragon picture". In short, finishing what you've started.
Zhong yan zi er -- Literally: Advice grates hard on ears. In short, Good advice often sounds awful to the person who needs it the most.