i meant to write this about two weeks ago, but i guess late is better than never.
i went wandering my neighborhood the other day in search of winter clothes and, while i didn't find a coat, i did find a wonderful local whose attempts to be friendly completely made my day (and probably hers).
i walked into this tiny little chinese clothing store, said hello in chinese and immediately began fingering the rack of coats. the woman who owned the shop came a little closer and started saying things to me in chinese that i couldn't understand. of course, i couldn't remember how to say "i don't understand" so i gave her my best "i'm sorry but i don't know what you are saying to me" look and turned back to the coats. she kept talking. finally i caught ting bu dong, which means "don't understand" and i was able to at least express to her that i wasn't being rude, i just really couldn't understand chinese. as soon as i had repeated ting bu dong, her eyes got wide and her jaw dropped a little and she sqealed just ever so slightly with delight. the foreigner can say some chines words!
we continued like that for a good 5 minutes as i looked at the clothes in her shop. she would say things to me and i would maybe catch just enough to contribute one or two chinese words until i had pretty much exhausted all of the chinese i know. literally. i think the only thing left were directions, which are really only helpful in the taxi. and every time i said something in chinese, her eyes would get wide and she would squeal all over again. i think it may have been the best thing to happen to her all day. which made it the best thing to happen to me all day. i love encounters like this - happy, friendly people and a little cultural understanding. so priceless.