Unlikely Opportunities

Brief Encounters, Tales of Everday Life: Oct. 2012

Since leaving China in June, opportunities to practice my Chinese have become rather scarce, to say the least. Although the streets here are awash with Chinese tourists, my proficiency has most definitely suffered the Mainland withdrawal symptoms.

So I have begun pursuing every possible opportunity to practice, even cornering lost tourists so that I might be able to offer them directions and perhaps get a brief conversation out of it. I like to think it’s a win-win situation.

If I’m not pestering Vienna’s tourists, I use a walkie-talkie-like app on my Smartphone that allows me to communicate directly with many of my Chinese friends. Then on the Straßenbahn, I saw a chance to kill two birds with one stone… Seeing a few Asian people, I recorded a message to my friend back in China hoping someone sitting near me might pick up on the use of Mandarin. The plan: In her astonishment that this unlikely person is speaking Mandarin, she would inquire as to where I might have picked it up.

Unfortunately, none of my potential conversation partners even gave me an upward glance. Disappointed I was about to continue listening to music when a young white guy next to me turned around with a grin and asked in fluent Mandarin: “You can speak Chinese?”

– Philippe Schennach

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