Crazy and Wine

For the past two weeks we’ve been working on an organic farm in Kuşadası – it’s a summer resort town on the Aegean coast of Turkey close to Izmir. Yerlim farm is the largest organic farm in Turkey, and in part supplies Değirmen Restaurant which is on the grounds of the farm. We’ve been helping and observing the team with their daily tasks, like picking tomatoes and eggplant or collecting mulberries. The team consisted of small groups of mostly teenaged girls led by an older (usually male) foreman. One of the most frustrating things was the language barrier, seeing as we didn’t know any Turkish and nobody really speaks English. So it was really difficult to ask anything beyond rudimentary questions and just straight observation.

At the same time, it gave us an opportunity to learn some Turkish, more than we had been since we had mostly been spending time with English speakers. And it gave us (and the farm team) endless hours of amusement, as we often tried to pantomime what we wanted to communicate. Best of all, our names were “Crazy” and “Wine” – at least that’s how it came out whenever anyone was trying to get our attention. “Crazy! Gel!” meaning “Tracie! Come!” What’s even more hilarious is that it was usually a teenaged girl saying it. And whenever they wanted to talk about me amongst themselves my nickname was apparently was “japon”. Probably meaning “that asian chick who says she’s american”. Mehmet, one of the farmhands, would randomly shout across the field: “Wine!” to get Wayne’s attention. I’d snicker but no one else got the joke.

Img_0900

Did Wayne just kill someone? Oh wait we were picking mulberries.

We accepted our new names and tried to learn as many Turkish words as possible in the meantime. (Please don’t ask us to conjugate any verbs.) We had probably the most crappy dictionary for doing farmwork seeing as our dictionary was actually a phrasebook geared towards tourists. At least Turkish is relatively straightforward to pronounce once you know the rules, it’s very regular so at least we could sound it out from the phrasebook. We also used lots of hand and body gesturing to get our point across, and luckily one of the interns spoke enough rudimentary English that she was able to help us figure out more words. The teenaged girls were a bit more mischievous, as they’d try to get us to call each other names or tell each other to shut up when we had no idea what we were saying. We wised up pretty fast and turned the tables by telling them to “sus”! “Shut up”!

(can anyone tell us what “çani başi” means? I think that’s how it’s spelled, and means “how are you?”. and apparently the reply is “başim tu çani”. please correct us if we are wrong!)

Img_0989

The girls at work.

One of my favorite Turkish phrases is “çok güzel”. It literally means “very beautiful”, but Turks say it all. the. time. Once we learned the phrase I could hear people saying it across a restaurant, on the beach, on the dolmuş, basically everywhere. It seems like you can use it to describe the taste of something, the beauty of a place, the weather, a girl (not boys though!!), an experience. And often a hand gesture consisting of putting your fingers pointing upwards, with your palm facing you, and your thumb touching your forefinger, accompanies the phrase. I think it’s the earnestness with which it’s said that really appeals to me.

çok güzel!

We even surprised other Turks with the amount of Turkish we had picked up. Last night we were trying to get back into the center of Kuşadası to move on to Selçuk but the dolmuşes kept passing us by because they were full. So just for kicks we put our thumb to hitchhike. And a car actually stopped! Three Turkish college students were super nice and gave us a ride into town. And as we were chatting and telling them about our experiences, we listed off a whole bunch of Turkish words for various fruits and vegetables and describing what the farm was like. (“çok sıcak” – “too hot” – was an all encompassing phrase.) They were like, “uh, wow you know a lot of random words in Turkish. And by the way why did you want to be on a farm??”

More about that next time.

Img_0918Img_0770

Standard

Face It

This is the first time that I've been to China in my whole entire life. I was born and raised in the States, a Jersey girl at heart. When I was really young, all I spoke was Cantonese. But basically when I hit nursery school, the rejection started. I hated going to Chinese school on Saturdays, I just wanted to be like the rest of the kids. I wanted to fit in and speak English, goddamn it! So my Cantonese slowly declined to the point where now all I can do is order verbally at restaurants in Chinatown. And forget about Mandarin, I can barely count to ten even though I took a semester in college. 

So I knew it was going to be tough traveling through China without being able to speak or read. But the actual experience has been a lot more nuanced than I thought it would be. Weirdly enough in Hong Kong I felt like I fit in. I could understand at a basic level what people were saying, more than I thought I would. People didn't bat an eye if I spoke to them in English or if I replied in mangled Cantonese, it was all good. Being illiterate in Chinese was not a problem, there was usually some sort of translation into English that was good enough. The only places where it was an issue were some of the small restaurants, but perhaps if I had had enough time I would have gotten up the courage to go in and try to ask for recommendations.

Mainland China is a whole other ballgame. Sometimes it's been so frustrating I want to cry. Or at least have a giant sign that says "我不会说中文" ("I don't speak Chinese") so I don't have to say it again for the ten millionth time. Everyone automatically assumes that I speak Chinese, which is fine and normal. At first I would say "I don't speak Chinese very well" and they'd talk a mile a minute and still expect me to understand. So I switched to "I do not speak Chinese". Period. End of story. However, they still launch into a whole long dialogue. Very unhelpful. 

In Thailand people mistook me for being native – which I was surprised about since I don't think I look Thai, but I soon found out that people thought I was Chinese Thai. So people would start speaking in Thai, but at least when I indicated that I didn't speak it, they backed off a bit, tried English or hand signals, and things worked out. They weren't rude in their reactions, maybe a bit curious, but it was easy to deal with.

In China people are totally confused and have no idea what to do with me. It has never in their minds occurred to them that a Chinese person could be Chinese without speaking it. So I've gotten to the point where I've figured out how to say "My grandparents are from Guangdong, I speak Cantonese, but I was born in America, I'm an American" in Mandarin. (Of course, being in Western China, they snort at the Guangdong part.) And they STILL don't get it.

If I don't open my mouth I look like every other Chinese person on the street, even if I dress slightly differently. In fact, when I'm not with Wayne it's like nobody sees me, I'm just part of the crowd. I think it confuses them even more that I'm with Wayne. Just tonight, I was sitting on a rock waiting for him, and this little kid comes over and starts climbing on the rock next to me. OK, no problem. Wayne shows up and we're talking, and the little kid looks over and I swear he fell off the rock with the most horrified look. (The "OMG I've never seen a white person before in my life and I'm going to stare at him for an uncomfortable period of time" is a whole other blog post completely.)  "White person with Asian person? DOES NOT COMPUTE!!" and you see smoke coming out of their ears. Sometimes I think they think I'm his tour guide or something. 

The most frustrating thing about it is that I want to communicate. I want to be able to ask about how the noodles are made, if they like the city they live in, where's a good place to eat, what they recommend doing, what's village life like. But I can't. So I have to stay in my role as a tourist, just passing on through and gawking. Which is fine for now, but I'm looking forward to being able to converse on a deeper level with people like we had the opportunity to in Thailand and Hong Kong.
Standard

Want a train ticket? Good luck.

We said goodbye to Hong Kong yesterday and headed to Guangzhou, where we needed to get train tickets. Guess what? Nobody who works in the train station speaks Cantonese! Crap. So we were stuck with stringing together Mandarin from our phrasebook. We wandered around the station until we finally found the long distance ticket sellers, but we had no. idea. how to to read the schedule. After staring at it for about 10 minutes while waiting on line we sort of deciphered it, but still had no idea if we were in the right line.

We were super lucky though – two girls (who only spoke Mandarin) took pity on us and tried to figure out what we wanted, and helped us with communicating with the surly ticket seller. It almost certainly would have been a gigantic fail otherwise – it was almost the end of the day and there were people crowding around the window trying to cut the line, and the ticket seller certainly would not have had the patience for foreigners who spoke no Chinese.

So we're off on a 35-hour train ride to Chengdu in a few hours. Wish us luck!
Standard

Five quick thoughts on Hong Kong

Thought #1: Why have I never visited Hong Kong before? It is awesome. 

Thought #2: It's actually fine that my Cantonese sucks, it's the effort that counts. Trying to talk to people has helped me remember random words and phrases I thought I didn't know. Eggplant! Good morning! These pants are too long! And it's totally fine to mix in English words, people do it here all the time – "blah blah blah anyways la" – as long as you say the English in a sing-songy Cantonese way. And tack on "la" at the end. It also works in reverse: I'll speak to someone in English and they'll reply in Cantonese and it's all good.

Thought #3: This place is a shopaholic's paradise. Everything from gigantic luxury mega-malls to tiny back alley sock vendors. I have never seen so. many. people. in one place – Mong Kok in Kowloon is this giant river of humanity that I can only describe as a clusterfuck.And they're ALL SHOPPING. After twenty minutes we were so overwhelmed by the number of people that we jumped back on the MTR with our tails between our legs.

Thought #4: I love the mountains. It is insane how all of these high rises are built directly into the side of the mountains. We're staying in Mid-levels, and there are all these twisty lanes with 30 story highrises sprouting from either side of the street. It makes walking around a lot of fun, and everything feels so layered. Even though we've walked past the same streets a few times, I keep seeing new things. And walking versus riding the double decker buses versus a taxi versus the old trams opens up even more views. 

Thought #5: The food is YUM. We had the best of bowl of noodles + wontons + fish balls + beef EVAR. And dim sum really does rule here. The variety is astounding – although with Western food you really have to pay a premium for it.
Standard