Another book that I’ve just finished reading on the Kindle is Dreaming in Chinese by Deborah Fallows. I had purchased the hard cover edition a while back on the recommendation of colleague Ron Talmage but hadn’t got to reading it. I was glad to then see the Kindle edition of the book appear. I purchased and read it and loved it.
Deborah spent three years recently living in Shanghai and has documented many of the struggles she had with coming to terms with learning Mandarin and with getting used to Chinese society. I imagine that part of the hassle she would have had was dealing with Shanghai-ese rather than the Mandarin that she would have learned before heading off to China but I could relate so well to so many things she spoke of.
The book is also quite funny. I particularly liked the part where Deborah described trying to talk to an employee (who was wearing a big sombrero) outside a Taco Bell restaurant. She wanted to know if they offered take-away food but her attempts to pronounce the words (even though she had the correct words) ranged from asking for a big hug, to discussing hail.
My favorite part was where she discussed Chinese names. Chinese people will often adopt English names when they move to an English-speaking country, and of course, English-speaking people will often adopt Chinese names when they move to a Chinese-speaking country. The most common way to do this is to try to find a set of Chinese words that are like a transliteration of your existing English name. But it’s also important to try to find words that mean something sensible in Chinese, like “Harmony”. Deborah made me laugh out loud when describing one of her young friend’s boyfriend who decided to choose a name to ward off gui (or evil spirits). He chose the name Fendui. Unfortunately, while it sounded like his name, it directly translated to “pile of shit”. Beautiful!
If you have any interest in understanding Chinese society, even if you don’t want to tackle Mandarin, this book is a great read. Highly recommended! (10 out of 10)