Day 56 - Café 16mm and The Gaping Girls

Sunday, April 3rd, 2016
Smog Level: 3/3 Mountains

Work on stuff at home until it’s time to ship out to tutor Maggie. Shimou’s sleep schedule is what mine used to be: late, morning and night. I automatically wake up early, robbing sleep and gifting plenty of alone time to sneak in work. After tutoring, Shimou meets me in an Uber to go to Nan duo guxiang, that favored hutong (walking laneway) where we always seem to end up.

Goddamn is it crowded, even for Beijing.
Hutong Washroom: No door, barely obscured views, and no toilet paper.
Upside: at least there's a western toilet!
Usually this area is 70% this crowd level, and has a lot more foreigners. Despite normally being of high-foreigner density, I’m getting stared at a lot again today. We alternate between slowing down, taking our time, and playing a game of seeing how fast you can weave through the people. I had a particular cafe in mind, but we never found it.

Instead, we stopped by a stand that sold stinky tofu, scratching Shimou’s eternal itch with two servings of it. It tastes just like fried tofu, but smells like garbage. While waiting for Silvia to arrive, I ask one of those balloon candy guys how much his wares are. He compliments me on my pronunciation, and I somehow understood it. Part of it at least. The candy was too expensive for me until I get paid, so… Sorry, friendly salesman!

Café 16mm
I grab an “Uncle milk tea” which sounds… suspicious… but it’s just bubble tea with tapioca pearls and red bean*. I reflect on the fact that people keep telling me I pronounce things well, even though I’m often just guessing. Maybe I’m just getting lucky. While considering this, a couple girls walk by, wide-eyed, mouth agape, staring at me. Shimou rolls her eyes. One at a time, ladies… 

Part of being so tall means people look up, and when they have to look up, sometimes their mouth naturally hangs, making the staring that much funnier. Kind of like fish, gasping for air. Sick of being a piece of meat to be gawked at (I'm a person, too!), I suggest we try this alternate café that we’d passed. It was mostly empty and movie themed, “Café 16mm.”

Girl's Gabbing
(naturally mirrored posture = rapport)
Good choice, I gotta say. Warm lighting, cozy atmosphere, and the glass storefront somehow kept the noise of the hordes at bay. Silvia arrives. Initiate "girl talk" in Mandarin. That’s my cue to drill myself with the abundance of Mandarin that's been thrown at at me like so much undercooked spaghetti - it has yet to stick.

Silvia eventually dips for a date, and Shimou runs me through the words, first from Mandarin to English, then English to Mandarin. Damn, I’ve got this. I’m actually surprised at how quickly I took that in!

Buddy Cops and Fried Chicken
Y’see, learning a language is this hill covered countryside where you reach the peaks and think you’re on top of everything, then you immediately take a tumble and think you’ll never be able to master the goddamn familiar sounding terrain! Am I mixing metaphors? 

Climbing and falling can happen within the span of a single day, in fact. One time I had the class lesson and felt completely lost. Same day, I had a 1-on-1 lesson and felt competent. I can also see why being surrounded by the language is helpful, as it’s always on your mind. What did that person just say? Did they just swear at each other? Those ones sound and look angry, but their words didn’t seem to reflect that… that sort of thing.

Once we had enough studying, we grabbed some froyo and spicy chicken, then took the train back to ye olde apartment. Their chicken is spiced very differently from ours, and is quite delicious!

*Red Beans are often a dessert in asian countries and taste much better than you'd imagine. Red bean buns are another example. Try it if you get the chance, it's quite good!

Words of the Day
English - Mandarin [pronunciation]
Stinky Tofu - choù dòufu [ch-oh doff] (Ignore the u)
Smog - Wù mái [oo-my] (almost “oh, my!”)

Editing Music
I'm Yours
Jason Mraz

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