I had realized that, while I had learned the names of various dishes I enjoy, whenever I wanted to pair them together I would say, “y”. I knew nobody could understand “and”, so the logical jump was to speak Spanish. Perhaps it would be better to describe it is as an illogical logical jump…
So, I asked a student how to say “and”, and I learned about “huuh”. While I can begin to imagine how to write out the sound, I am not altogether sure if I am saying it correctly, so you will have to be content with “huuh”. Much like “hungry”, the sound comes across, to an American like me, as some sputter of breath, “hungry” being “urr” or something of the like. I tend to say “urrla” without any idea what the “la” conveys.
In any case, having learned how to say “and” I was very excited to go and showoff my newfound fluency at the various restaurants I frequent. I had great success in ordering “tofu and rice”, though it may have had more to do with them understanding “tofu” and “rice” rather than “tofu and rice”.
While I was out, I remembered the security personnel had invited me to drink as I had left the campus that day. Personally, I hate drinking, so I declined, but the offer reminded me that a month had passed since last I’d given them a gift.
I like to think of myself as a strategic soul, so roughly once a month I give the cooks in the canteen, the staff in the finance department, and the security personnel some gift of food. Always sweets. While I understand that can be seen as rude in China (the message being you think them poor), I do it anyways. I’m an American, dammit!
At the store, I picked up a large bag, all bright and colorful, of French Bread Rolls, or, to anyone from Europe or North America, pound cake. By the time I had returned to the campus, all but one of the security personnel had left to patrol the campus. I offered the lone sentry the bag of pound cake, which he refused with a smile. Now, in China it is polite to refuse a gift two or three times before accepting.
This was not politeness, however. He did not want to accept.
Perhaps it was crass of me, but when he would not accept the pound cake, I left it on the table and bowed myself out of the room. In truth, I feel rather embarrassed ‘speaking’ with them. There are few others who realize how little Chinese I have learned since arriving.