After feeling a bit demoralised about my Mandarin skills I decided to just plough on regardless of whether I was understood. This has been transformative – I have had several short conversations with my driver and Lucy is showing signs of realising when I have said something in what I believe to be Chinese. Today I fended for myself in a cafe (and helped a couple of Germans to get what they wanted) and in the restaurant this evening I ordered food and got the bill without having to repeat myself.
We went to see another huge area of rice terraces this evening – 900Ha of sublime beauty. While we were admiring the sunset, I learned that, of course, Chinese people have exactly the same difficulty remembering European vocabulary as we do learning Mandarin – there are almost no words in common. There are many French visitors to this part of China (due to proximity with Vietnam) and the way the Chinese remember ‘bonjour’ is to think if the Mandarin phrase ‘ben zhu’ – similar pronunciation, but it means ‘stupid pig’. You couldn’t make it up.