Somedays to be perfectly honest, I don't really feel like conversing with people. I answer the same questions over and over, and a lot of times I don't actually really need to listen to what people are asking because it is nearly always identical:
-Which country are you from? 你是那个国家的？
-How long have you been here? (This is usually followed by the encouraging, but completely unfounded statement, "Oh, your Chinese is so good!" or "You have learned so fast"...even though in reality at this point they have only heard me speak really basic phrases....my Chinese is so-so..definitely not super impressive. haha)
-What do you do here? Are you a teacher?
If it's a longer conversation it will also include:
-Do you like Chinese food?
However, on days when I actually do get into longer conversations with people who are patient with my bad grammar, it really is fun. Today was such a day...I spent the afternoon at the hair salon...I was long overdue for a cut (it had been almost a whole year!), and my friend was also there to get her hair chemically straightened.
Now, mind you, my hair vocabulary is not particularly extensive, but with the help of the amazing itouch Chinese dictionary, and a lot of describing things/hand gestures, we got things done. Having a photo with you of the cut makes all the difference too.
Some interesting things about hairdressing in China:
-it is still dirt cheap to get a haircut. As in under $4.
-the hairdressers are almost exclusively men. I've had my hair washed by women, but men always seem to do the cutting.
They did get me to spend a bit more money by selling me a giant bottle of conditioner that you leave there and then can come in and get a free hair wash/head massage with it anytime you want for as long as the bottle lasts (and judging by the size, mine will last until I die).
Anyhow, the conversation with my hair dresser started with the basics and got more and more amusing. At one point, he leaned down. "How old are you?" (In China this question is often considered impolite, but as I am a foreigner I usually have to answer). "24" I answered. In reality, because of how Chinese usually count years, I would actually say I am 25...but I never own up to that. "How old are you?" I countered. "About the same as you." he answered somewhat evasively. The conversation got more amusing from there. By the time my haircut had ended, I had given English names to all the employees, and even an Arabic name to one. As I was waiting for my friend to finish her chemical straightening procedure, my hairdresser, "Tom" called my name in English and patted the chair next to him. I sat down.
"So, why did you pick your Chinese name?" He asked, supressing a giggle. (my Chinese name translates to White Moon)
"Because...." I rolled my eyes. "It's easy to write. And it's an old name...it is fitting for my personality."
"Hm. It is pretty...but....not very modern. I think I should give you another name."
He proceeded to think for a long time, scratching out various names and soliciting the advice of the other hairdressers. At last he settled on one. After renaming me, he shouted "Boss! Change the name on her conditioner bottle!" In case you were wondering, my new Chinese name is "何佳欣" (He Jia Xin) Jia=excellent. Xin=happy. Honestly I am known by so many names that I am really beginning to lost my sense of self. ha
We chatted about travel.
"Where do you want to visit next in China?"
"Oh, I have been there...it's no good. Winters are extremely cold, summers extremely hot."
"But it's beautiful."
"If you want beautiful you must visit Hebei."
"Where are you from?"
*sheepish grin* "Hebei"
"Where in America is the best?"
"What other places?"
"Hmmm....I can't think of any. Texas is the best." (Sometimes I just have to say that). "No, many parts are good. Texas is just my favorite."
"May I?" He twisted my ring, examining it, then said, "It's probably made in China right?" Yep, I'm sure it was. Still looking at my finger, he bit his lip awkwardly and proceeded to ask..."Ahhh...in America...at what age do a girl and boy, uhm, you know, get together?" Oh dear. In America, you almost never have to worry about accidentally flirting with a male hairdresser....but in China, most of them are straight. "你的意思是。。什么时候结婚。。是吗?" Your meaning is, what time do they get married?" I clarified. I wasn't about to answer if the meaning was more awkward. "Yes yes." I launched into a discussion about how people in the south often get married younger, many right out of college. "So, you are from the south?" He said. "Why aren't you married?" "I'm not old!" Laughter.
"Do you like your work?" I asked to change the subject. His answer was really sweet. "Yes, I really, really love it...because I can see so many people change to be even more pretty, and to get to help with that! I love it." He beamed. It was a sweet answer.
"So what do you like to do for fun?" He asked.
"Uhm...karaoke...uhm....is there anything else to do here?"
"No. But I really love to sing. Every week I go to KTV."
"Me too."(I did not add, "against my will". Haha. truthfully, KTV has grown on me and now I love it as much as the next Chinese person). I added, "I really love Jay Chou."
He grinned. "Which songs?"
"All of them"
"Which do you know how to sing?"
"Silence"(the name of a song)
"Ah. Your friend is almost done with her hair...sing it now! Sing for me. I want to see how good you are."
"No. I don't want to."
I murmured a few lines under my breath, and was saved by my friend's hair being finished and her needing me to translate something.
As a foreigner, I love the moments of random...making instant friends because of curiosity. As much as I usually hate all the stares, I remember that I am grateful for those friendly people that I get to stumble through conversation with. And I can't get to come back for my free hair conditioning scalp massage!