Tuesday, February 12, 2008

An interview and a restaurant

Today I had a meeting with a company about a job. The initial part went well and I was taken to meet the founder of the company. After introductions were made and the door was closed the dialogue began like this:

Him: Languages?
Me: English, Spanish, some French

Him: Birthplace?
Me: Massachusetts

(He nodded his head)

Him: Heritage?
Me: French and Irish

After that the exchanges became much more conversational. I was quizzed about my experience working on I.P.O.s, and told that I might get to work on one for the company.

Not bad for a meeting that I didn't know about until shortly before it was to take place.

When I got back to my neighborhood I was hungry and didn't feel like cooking. There are many restaurants nearby where I can eat for under 15 RMB (A little more than US $2) without feeling that I'm wasting money. One place where I'd eaten last week was a Mongolian restaurant next to the canal near Dawanglu, across the street from the open air produce market near my apartment. The place is clean and the food was good (and their menu has pictures on it) so I went back. As I was sitting down I heard a man and a woman from the next table say 'hello' without a Chinese accent. I walk buy this restaurant every day and had never seen non-Chinese here so was startled and pleased. We started to chat and when it became clear that they were struggling with English I asked where they were from - the Democratic Republic of Congo. My broken French came in handy.

The young boy who was my waiter came for my order but was upset when I pointed out what I wanted. The sign for the restaurant is in Chinese and Arabic so I'm doubly unable to communicate with him. At first I thought that he didn't understand what I wanted but one of my neighbors interrupted to interpret for us - the restaurant was out of bok choy. That's an easy problem to fix: I chose another vegetable. It turns out that my interpretor is with his country's embassy. I have good luck with interpreters. His friend and I spoke more and we may be doing a language exchange - she'll help me with my French and I'll help her with her English.

They soon left the restaurant and their table was taken by a party of three - two men and a woman, all of whom looked local. One of the men tried to start a conversation but that was the extent of his English and my Mandarin does not yet support chatting. He asked the woman to interpret - she speaks Russian. That wasn't going to work. Sign language and facial expressions it was going to have to be. The man indicated for me to show him my hands. He looked closely at them, following the lines with his fingers, then pointed at a spot near the base of my right hand, pointed at me, put both of his hands to his lower back and grimaced (to indicate that I've had serious pain in my lower back). I was shocked but nodded at his spot-on read. He tried to tell me a couple of other things but they required words. Our meals were enjoyed with smiles and laughter but little conversation.

Never a dull moment...

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