As part of the Beijinger’s daily Mandarin Month series ahead of our June 25 Mandarin Mixer, we are posting a series of blogs about Chinese language learning. Today's segment focuses on a language learning column in the pioneering expat magazine Beijing Scene.

In the mid-1990s, if you lived in Beijing and wanted information on live music, restaurant reviews, and interviews with underground artists...you were out of luck. China Daily published a local newsprint weekly called Beijing Weekend, which featured all the acrobats and Peking Opera performances they could find around the city, which was usually two.

Then, in 1995, an independent newspaper broadsheet called Beijing Scene appeared at bars and cafes around town, and the local scene, along with Beijing's English-speaking expatriate community, began to coalesce. Founded by American reporter Scott Savitt, the Scene was first published weekly, then fortnightly, then weekly again. Beijing Scene was highly sought after and in some cases collected. Beijing Scene is the great-grandfather to every other expatriate publication in Beijing that has come since, including this one.

One of its best regular features was Comrade Language, an irreverent language-learning column. Most readers never knew the Comrade's identity, but we can now identify not one but two writers, Hank Sheller and Greg Ray, that produced it. So as Mandarin Month meets Throwback Thursday, we are pleased to present, with permission, a full column of Comrade Language. Follow this link to the original column to read more of the Comrade's contributions. A note to the reader: Comrade Language appeared in print with both Chinese characters and pinyin with tone markings. However, at the time the Scene was published, rendering double-byte characters online was technically difficult and presented font issues, and as such, only pinyin without tones appears here.

Practical Chinese Lesson

Let Gubo and Palanka, stars of a slightly dated textbook for foreigners, show you the joys of Chinese language study.

You may have noticed that the language environment you thought you were going to have when you came to China simply bu cun zai (doesn't exist). Try as you may to learn Chinese, your progress will inevitably be thwarted by fangyan (dialects), kouyin (accents), and English-speaking Chinese people who think that all foreigners are walking talking English dictionaries. Even if you already speak Chinese and are simply hoping to improve your language skills, you may feel like you've reached a plateau. The Comrade is sympathetic with the plight of his "foreign friends," and that's why I've prepared Chinese 101 (Practical Chinese), a course designed to cover useful Chinese words and phrases that you're sure to hear and use on a daily basis.

Lesson One: Being Ignored
(Gubo is with his Chinese friend Wang. Wang introduces Gubo to his friend Zhang)

Wang: "Xiao Zhang, gei ni jieshao wo de pengyou Gubo" (Zhang, let me introduce you to my friend Gubo)

Zhang: "Ta hui bu hui shuo putonghua?" (Does he speak Mandarin?)

Wang: "Hui" (Yes)

Zhang: "Ta shi nage guojia de ren?" (Where is he from?)

Wang: "Fei Zhou" (Africa)

Zhang: "Ta chideguan zanmen Zhongguo cai ma?" (Does he eat Chinese food?)

Wang: "Chi de guan" (Yes)

(Conversation about Gubo continues between Zhang and Wang)

Lesson Two: Answering the Phone
(Phone rings. Palanka picks up)

Palanka: "Wei?" (Hello?)

Mystery Caller: "Wei?" (Hello?)

Palanka: "Ni sh nali?" (Who is this?)

Mystery Caller: "Ni caicai kan" (Try to guess)

Palanka: "Wo ting bu chu lai" (I can't tell)

Mystery Caller: "Wo bugaosu ni!" (I won't tell you!)

Palanka: "Ni shi shui?" (Who are you?)

Mystery Caller: "Ni zhen buzhidao ma?" (You don't know?)

(This conversation continues indefinitely until either/both parties become exasperated)

Lesson Three: "It's For Your Safety"
Part I
(Gubo and his Chinese girlfriend walk hand-in-hand into Gubo's dorm building. The fuwuyuan (attendant) on duty looks up from her newspaper)

Fuwuyuan: "Dengjiba!!!" (Sign in!!!)

Gubo: "Danshi ta tiantian lai zher" (But she comes here every day)

Fuwuyuan: "Women zher you guiding" (We have rules here)

Gubo: "Ta weishenme meici lai dou yao dengji ne?" (Why does she have to sign in every time she comes here?)

Fuwuyuan: "Weile ninde anquan" (For your safety)

Part II
(Palanka is buying a ticket for admission to the Forbidden City. Noticing that there is a "Chinese price" and a significantly higher "foreign price", she becomes puzzled)

Palanka: "Weishenme waiguorende piao name gui?" (Why are foreigners' tickets so expensive?)

Fuwuyuan: "Wile n'nde Šnqu‡n" (For your safety)

Part III
(Gubo has just checked into his hotel. The fuwuyuan brings him to his room and unlocks the door for him)

Gubo: "Wode yaoshi ne?" (What about my key?)

Fuwuyuan: "Women bugei keren yaoshi" (We don't give the key to the guests)

Gubo: "Weishenme?" (Why?)

Fuwuyuan: "Weile ninde anquan" (For your safety)

Lesson Four: Comparisons
(Gubo and Palanka are having a conversation with Lao Liu, one of their Chinese friends)

Lao Liu: "Gubo, nide zhongwen shuode bi Palanka hao" (Gubo, your Chinese is better than Palanka's)

Gubo (awkward and embarrassed): "Nali, nali" (No, no)

Lao Liu: "Danshi nimen dou meiyou neige Jianadaren shuode hao" (But none of you are as good as that Canadian guy)

Lesson Five: Checking Into a Five-Star Hotel
Fuwuyuan: "Hello, sir. May I help you?"

Palanka: "Nimen you kong fangjian ma?" (Do you have any empty rooms?)

Fuwuyuan: "Yes, we do ma'am. Would you like to check in now?"

Palanka: "Duibuqi, wo buhui Yingyu. Wo shi shuo fayu de" (I'm sorry, I don't speak English. I speak French)

Fuwuyuan: (continuing in English) "Sorry ma'am, I don't speak French."

Palanka: "Wo tingbudong. Qing shuo Zhongwen" (I don't understand. Please speak Chinese)

Fuwuyuan: "Ni yao shenme ya?!" (Well, whaddaya want?!)

Lesson Six: Answering Questions With Questions
Part I
Gubo: "Qingwen, cesuo zai nar?" (Excuse me, where is the bathroom?)

Person being asked: "Xiaobian dabian?" (Are you peeing or taking a dump?)

Part II
Palanka (calling Gubo on the phone): "Qing zhuan yixia Gubo" (Please get me Gubo)

Operator: "Ni shi nali?" (Who are you?)

Palanka: "Ta zai ma?" (Is he there?)

Operator: "Ni you shenme shir?" (What do you want to talk to him about?)

Lesson Seven: "Meiyou"
Part I
(Gubo is at the local State store trying to buy a light bulb)

Gubo: "Nimen you diandengpao ma?" (Do you have lightbulbs?)

Fuwuyuan: "Miy(tm)u" (No)

Part II
(Palanka is at a local Chinese restaurant)

Palanka: "Qing lai yige dan chaofan" (Please bring an order of fried rice)

Fuwuyuan: "Meiyou fan" (We have no rice)

Palanka: "Zenme keneng meiyou mifan ne?" (How can you not have rice?)

Fuwuyuan (ignoring the question): "Ni yao shenme ya?" (What do you want?)

Part III
(Gubo is at the New China bookstore looking for the official "Little Red Chinese-English, English-Chinese Dictionary")

Gubo: "Nimen you Ying-Han Han-Ying cidian ma?" (Do you have English-Chinese, Chinese-English dictionaries?)

Fuwuyuan: "Meiyou" (No)

Lesson Eight: Coming Home Late and Waking Up the Guard to Open the Door
(Once again, Gubo and Palanka have returned to their dormitory past curfew. The door is locked and the guard is sound asleep. They knock on the door until the guard finally wakes up)

Palanka: "Duibuqi, Xiansheng" (Sorry, sir)

Gubo: "Buhao yisi" (We really feel bad)
(Guard crawls out of his "bed" (two chairs put together facing each other) and stumbles to the door without a word)

Palanka: "Buhui zai fasheng zheige shir" (This won't happen again)

(Guard, still half asleep, fumbles with the lock until the door opens)

Gubo: "Xiexie nin" (Thank you)

Palanka: "Wanan" (Good night)

(Guard closes the door and goes back to sleep)

Editor's note: Steven Schwankert was the managing editor of Beijing Scene from April to December, 1996.

Don't miss out on TBJ's free June 25 Mandarin Month event. Pre-registration is required; click here to do so, in order to take advantage of free booze and other goodies.

In the meantime, follow our month-long Mandarin Month series here.

This post is brought to you by Pleco, Project Pengyou, and Ninchanese.

Photos courtesy of Beijing Scene


Visit the original source and full text: the Beijinger Blog