It's all Chinese!

I drift like a cloud,
Across these venerable eastern lands,
A journey of unfathomable distances,
An endless scroll of experiences...
Lady Zhejiang here we must part,
For the next province awaits my embrace.
Sad wanderer, once you conquer the East,
Where do you go?
— Tom Carter, China: Portrait of a People

I was warned that it would be very difficult to communicate in China since I don't speak Chinese. From buying train tickets to asking for vegetarian food, 'you're going to suffer', I was told. So I went armed with pre-translated sentences about not eating meat and arrived at train stations many hours in advance, prepared to get lost and make mistakes.

Chinese is reputedly one of the hardest languages to learn for speakers, like me, of Indo-European languages, such as English. Chinese is a tone language, meaning that the meaning of the word changes depending on its tone, something alien to us. And, of course, there's the whole new alphabet. That said, for speakers of similar languages it is not that hard, nor is the grammar too complicated - there are no cases, nor obligatory plurals and tenses. But using words from the romance, germanic and semitic languages I do know, would not get me anywhere here as it would elsewhere.

Yet despite this barrier, I managed to get by, often thanks to very creative gesturing and miming, but also thanks to translating apps, which my friends obviously didn't have just a few years back. In pharmacies, taxis, restaurants, both linguistic parties often whipped out their phones and so we managed (though not always!) to communicate our thoughts.

In such situations one becomes ever more grateful for translated menus and signs, yet if the Chinese will forgive me - for I'm sure my app also told them quite a lot of rubbish too - here are some translations that I could not help but giggle at:

Thankfully, the water was clean!

Thankfully, the water was clean!