Lessons in Mandarin

Nicholas Quirke was the centre of attention on the subway carriage on 12 September 2020 when an old gentleman, with his wife and son, sitting opposite was surprised by the presence of a laowai and pointed directly at him and started speaking. Nicholas guessed that he must be asking where he is from, and told them “Wo Shul Ying Guo”, (I am English) more questions were asked to which he answered “Wo bu mingbai”, a useful phrase meaning “I don’t understand.” They managed to communicate a little through using google translate and the limited English of a couple sitting next to him. The conversation became something of a community event before a hearty an happy goodbye. He was actually travelling with Peng who found the attentions of the Chinese to the his presence a little annoying and Nicholas made sure that he did involve him in the exchange. But it did make him feel frustrated that despite spending six months in the country ha was not more familiar with conversing in mandarin. This compelled him to start trying to learn more Mandarin from Peng and having already mastered some basic phrases and counting he decided that knowing facts such as, dates, days of the week, the months, being able to give his birthdate would provide another useful piece of vocabulary. His major problem was trying to understand the questions people would ask him and learning to identify the sounds of the common enquiries would also really help. Peng tested him throughout their outing to Tai Koo Li, thier tea at Page One bookstore and their late lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant where he enjoyed vegan Pho and on the journey home. By the end of the day he was proficient in giving dates and was able to put together a quite complex sentence regarding his friends birthday. It had not been a very active day and his morning in particular had been very lazy, as he expected to be suffering more from his accident. Binge watching ‘Ted Lasso’; and ‘For All Mankind’ was just the relaxation he needed and even though his day was interrupted with a trip to the mall, once they were home it was straight back in front of the television to watch a very silly and funny horror ‘The Babysitter. With a promise to himself to really try and learn some mandarin and some serious nursing of his injuries he took to bed and invited they sandman in.


  1. Be confident…..after six months you know more Mandarin than you think; it’s putting listening, speaking, reading, writing and understanding in the right order for you. We all do one or the other of those better than the others.
    Sending good wishes from Brighton.

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