Lost in Translation

Mama's Losin' It

This week’s prompt sounds like so much fun that I had actually started typing this on Wednesday afternoon while Lil’ A is busy playing contently by himself.

Nothing more fitting, more appropriate to the first prompt than my short time ‘living’ in Guangzhou, China. Oh you wonder why? Simple, because I don’t speak Chinese!

Other than “Xie xie” (thank you) and “Ni Hao Ma” (How are you/Hello) I have absolutely no idea how ‘miserable’ the first month there was going to be.

My third magic sentence is “Bu Ming Bai” (I don’t understand)…well it’s not really that magical because the local Chinese would only talked louder even after slowly and politely told them “Bu ming bai.” My sarcastic mind worked on the same radio wave with Mr. X because he too found this amusing. Most of the locals would only talks louder as if by half screaming would make us understand Mandarin.

It took me awhile to had the nerve to venture outside our compound alone (well with Lil’ A)…to the supermarket we went! That was an experience . Remember that show from early 90’s? What do you call that…the supermarket race where people were given names of items and they had to scour the alleys to find it? Oh yeah, Supermarket Sweep, except this time it was in a super slow motion and I can’t ask for any help!

One day, after been craving for some good ole’ homemade hearty beef stew (perfect for winter dinner, yes?)…I decided to use an online dictionary to translated the ingredients I need into Mandarin – copy & paste into words – print and voila!….it works like a charm! All I had to do was showing it to the sales associate at the supermarket.

Beef Stock

Armed with that new trick up my sleeve I even ventured out to the wet market not far from our place.Traditional Market

The worst least appealing experience was when Mr. X urged me to try a local spa at the mall nearby on one weekend. Off I went…although he already taught me – yes sadly he speaks fluent Mandarin now – what to say when I got there, my brain went blank! Had to call him and handed over the cell to the receptionist.

That’s a moment where ‘body language’ was put to the test to it’s max.

The traditional Chinese massage itself wasn’t that bad but wasn’t great either – or maybe I just got a very petite girl – but I was uncomfortable. The room or lack of it was too small and in the middle of the massage – yes while I was laying on my stomach, face down – I started hearing chit chats in Mandarin and saw not one, not two but 4 sets of feet!

Maybe they were gossiping about their boyfriends/husbands/whatever – but laying there half naked and most importantly not understanding a word – I wonder if they were talking about me, if my masseuse called her friends and said “Hey, look at this laowai (foreigner) she’s as huge as a beached whale

Despite those lost in translations moments, I really had a once in a lifetime experience there.

— Join the fun at Mama Kat’s



  1. May 27, 2010 / 9:03 am

    Hahahaha… at least you got the bu ming bai all ready! And at least you get to ‘enjoy’ your massage! I’ve never had one in my life!

    Seriously, one of this days I gotta pick up Mandarin… after all, what’s a Chinese when she doesn’t even speaks Mandarin?!
    .-= I’m a full-time mummy´s last blog ..β˜… Giveaway – Artiwood Letters β˜… =-.

    • May 30, 2010 / 11:27 am

      Oh boy you should go get a massage, lady! πŸ˜€ You’ll get addicted hahaha. I don’t know why but I just can’t seems to pick up on Mandarin, while it seemed so easy for DH. How unfair is that? Hahaha

  2. May 27, 2010 / 9:56 am

    I’m going to start saying that all the time now. And it’ll be true. Of course, the English people won’t understand, but they don’t understand me anyway. πŸ™‚ BU MING BAI!
    .-= Paige´s last blog ..a few things I forgot =-.

    • May 30, 2010 / 11:28 am

      Hahaha Paige I bet they would be like Bu what???? LOL

  3. May 27, 2010 / 12:26 pm

    OMG! I absolutely love this post! It’s too funny! You totally remind me of my husband when we go to Hong Kong and China. I speak Chinese fluently so I had to teach him a few phrases just in case too and I taught him “wo bu ji dao” (means I don’t know) just in case he ever goes anywhere without me.
    .-= Jen C.´s last blog ..Oh, it’s just a dream =-.

    • May 30, 2010 / 11:29 am

      Thanks Jen! OMG I remember my husband trying to teach me “wo bu ji dao” too but I could never remember it, yes I can pronounce it but a split 2 seconds later I’d forget about it hahahaha.

  4. May 27, 2010 / 2:38 pm

    First of all, love your new look!!

    Secondly, you’re hilarious!! This was a great post! I couldn’t even imagine trying to live somewhere that I didn’t understand the language…I would probably just stay in the house constantly!
    .-= Natalie´s last blog ..The Wedding of My Dreams =-.

    • May 30, 2010 / 11:30 am

      Thank you Natalie! I’m loving the new look at Mommy Of A Monster too! Great job!

      Hahahaha you know they do have a name for that in our guide book about living in China to encourage the expatriate wives to go out and do stuffs instead of being a ‘bungalow bunny’ I kid you not that’s exactly what it says on the book

  5. May 27, 2010 / 3:00 pm

    LOL! This one is hilarious. It reminded me of my first days in Caracas. I didn’t speak Spanish and everytime I didn’t understand I asked them to speak more slowly. But instead of speak slowly and try to use another words, they spoke louder. Good that I speak Spanish now, not perfect yet but at least it’s good for surviving.
    .-= Mindy´s last blog ..Martha Stewart’s Ultimate Chocolate Cake with Ultimate Chocolate Frosting =-.

    • May 30, 2010 / 11:32 am

      You my friend, Mindy is one wonder woman! So now how many languages are you speaking? Indonesian, English, Germany, and Spanish? Impressive! Hahaha I guess it’s an instinct for to talk louder huh?

    • May 30, 2010 / 11:32 am

      LOL Jeanette I can’t tell you how many times I spent at the groceries store there going back and forth just because I was trying to find something but couldn’t ask for it. Thank you for your visit! πŸ˜€

  6. May 27, 2010 / 5:02 pm

    Great post! I am so intimidated to ever travel to any Asian country because I don’t think I could ever fake my way through any sort of conversation! It made you a stronger person to be immersed in a culture where you don’t speak the language!
    .-= gigi´s last blog ..Home. =-.

    • May 30, 2010 / 11:34 am

      Thanks Gigi! It’s harder I think in China because the writings are not Latin-based like Erica said. It sure is interesting to learn about their cultures and traditions and what a shocker it was to try and understand some of them.

  7. May 27, 2010 / 5:45 pm

    This is so funny… I know I could get by in countries that have Latin-based languages… but China? No way! My head would be spinning too.

    PS- love the new blog look πŸ™‚

    • May 30, 2010 / 11:37 am

      Thanks Erica! Happy you stopped by πŸ˜€

      Their roads does have Latin-based translation and on some other places too. My guilty pleasure when I was there was the laughing my behind off reading some of the Chinglish (Chinese – English) translations. I wish I would’ve taken more pictures there but seems like every time I saw something funny my camera was left at home.

  8. May 27, 2010 / 6:37 pm

    I’m sure it wasn’t fun at the time, but looking back, what an amazing, eye-opening experience! Thanks for sharing!

    And thanks for stopping by my blog
    .-= Cheryl´s last blog ..A foreigner in my own kitchen =-.

    • May 30, 2010 / 11:38 am

      Thanks for visiting me, Cheryl! Oh yeah, at the times I felt so ready to bolted out the door but now I can laugh at it hahaha

  9. May 27, 2010 / 8:46 pm

    You are much braver than I am. I get nervous about letting people touch me when they speak my language…but flying deaf? Huge props.

    Over from Mama Kat’s.
    .-= KLZ´s last blog ..Wearing Suspenders =-.

    • May 30, 2010 / 11:39 am

      LOL thanks KLZ! I’m so addicted to massage so I guess I just pushed myself although it seems daunting. Thanks for the visit πŸ˜€

  10. May 27, 2010 / 11:58 pm

    This is awesome!

    I love those “lost in translation” moments in a foreign country–well usually I love them after they’re over & I’m not having to deal with it anymore! lol

    • May 30, 2010 / 11:39 am

      Hahaha so true, Kate! A few months or weeks later we can actually laugh at these lost in translations moments right but it’s not so fun when it’s happening in the fist place.

  11. May 28, 2010 / 4:27 am

    Your experience of China sounds similar to mine in the old USSR. I could say “how are you” and “where is the bathroom” in Russian. And of course all the scientific terms which were phonetically the same in both languages.

    I was so glad a college spoke English!
    .-= Dan´s last blog ..Two for the Challenge =-.

    • May 30, 2010 / 11:40 am

      WOW Dan, Russian must be hard! Being in a foreign country and meet someone else who speaks English makes it feel less ‘lonely’ huh…I feel the same way hahaha.

    • May 30, 2010 / 11:41 am

      Hahaha Nami! I love me some beef stew!

  12. May 28, 2010 / 7:53 am

    I was in Taiwan and Japan and don’t speak on bit of either language and yes it was funny and not so funny. I too was sure that the gal doing my facial was exclaiming to her co-worker how horrid my complexion was. And sometimes the food, oh the food, I loved some of it and some of it was just too close to breathing still. Or I couldn’t recognize what it was at all. Really, not at all. Or it would stare back at me. Or I would eat it and still not know what it was. I even discovered my alltime most dreaded profession…being the one at the end of the slaughter line at the local open market that gets to pick apart the entrails and bunch them together for sale. Yack. Ah…the joys of being an adventure girly.

    • May 30, 2010 / 11:46 am

      Hey Lisa, oh the food yes! The food is Guangzhou really are delicious but most of them are very greasy (thanks God we walk a lot there!). I remember my very first dinner there, DH took us to a really nice fancy restaurant…he ordered for me chicken in a hot clay pot it looks and smells delicious. I eagerly bit the chicken and guess what…what I thought was boneless turned out to be still in bones & marrows hahahaha. One thing I couldn’t eat there are dog meats and scorpions.

      Oh Gosh, a facial is something I don’t have the nerve to do there in the land of porcelain like skin! Was hard enough to find my regular facial soaps there as most comes with whitening ‘miracles’ hahaha.

      Love that “The joys of being an adventure girly” πŸ˜€

  13. May 28, 2010 / 12:58 pm

    That must have been miserable! There is no worse feeling than being in a foreign country and not being able to communicate. I can’t imagine China. I’ve only been to Europe, so at least the alphabet was familiar!

    The spa experience–wow. I wonder what on earth they were all doing in there? Did you ever find out?

    I’ve definitely noticed that people of all cultures and languages seem to respond to people who can’t understand them the same way you describe: by speaking louder. Sometimes louder and more slowly. Either way, it’s no help, and it ends up being ridiculously funny after the fact.

    This is a great piece.

    • May 30, 2010 / 11:49 am

      Hi Angie, no I never found out what they were saying/talking about because when I was done I just walk out as fast as my feet allowed me to hahaha.

      Yes, now I realized that too about speaking louder…maybe it’s instinct but it’s no fun. I remember the first time we were living in Dothan, AL and I was at a store…the poor old cashier had to repeat himself like 4 times before I could vaguely understand what he was saying behind his thick southern accent hahaha.

      Thanks for the visit, Angie! πŸ˜€

    • May 30, 2010 / 11:50 am

      It was, Crystal, I just wish we had more time there to explore other parts of China like taking the train to Shanghai then go see the Great Wall. We’ll be back for sure one day. You should visit it’s so richly beautiful in cultures and history.

    • May 30, 2010 / 11:51 am

      Hahaha Mama Kat, yeah I was and I wished I could’ve taped them to then ask my husband’s co-worker to translate them LOL

  14. May 31, 2010 / 10:02 am

    LOL what an awesome post!

    I can imagine how hard it must be to have such a strong language barrier!
    .-= Sarah @ OneStarryNight´s last blog ..Basic Shutter Speed =-.

    • July 21, 2010 / 1:15 pm

      Thanks, Sarah! Sorry for the really late reply. My bad πŸ˜€

  15. August 12, 2010 / 4:20 am

    I responded to this same writing prompt a few months ago. I wrote about living in Thailand. Great post, great stories. I love all expat stories!

  16. Lilian
    August 30, 2011 / 5:42 pm

    Yeeeennn, you’re super talented! Love this post, love your blog and love that part when you saw 4 pair of feet under your massage table hahaha. Hillarious! I’m a big fan!

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