First, before I go into anything, I need to explain KTV because I said I would in my last post then realized that I forgot to. KTV stands for “Karaoke TV.” Karaoke (卡拉OK) is VERY popular in China, and you can find KTVs all over the country. Basically, you go and pay for a room and sing karaoke with your friends. In fitting with the Chinese idea of privacy, every party gets its own room, so a KTV has many, many rooms of all different sizes to accommodate lots of people. You can order food and drinks, often alcoholic drinks if the members of the party are old enough. (The drinking age in China is 18, but as American students on a government program, there is a strict no alcohol policy for all of us, even the 18 year olds.) In the room, there is a couch, a table, a large flat screen on the wall that displays music videos and lyrics, and a low podium-like touch screen on which you can search hundreds and hundreds of songs and artists (most Chinese, some foreign) for w hat you want to sing. You can choose a duet song or a solo, and choose to turn the original artist’s voice on or off. I sang some English songs and some Chinese ones, and was actually rather proud of myself for being able to use the characters to remind myself of Chinese lyrics that I didn’t know well. I was really entertained by some of the English music they had available. They had everything from Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift to Whitesnake and Guns ‘n’ Roses (who I thought were banned in China??). A lot of English-language artists had only one song available under their name; seeing Train made me really excited, but all they had was “Drops of Jupiter.” Good song, don’t get me wrong, but I was hoping for something a little more… recent.
Now to the title of this post. The first part, “Do you understand?” Is about all I hear these days. “听得懂吗？“ ”看得懂吗？“ (Both mean “Do you understand?” but the first is for listening and the second is for reading .) I sometimes even hear, “她听不懂，” or, “She doesn’t understand.” Sometimes people say that and I do understand, so I tell them indignantly that I DO 听得懂, and they usually just laugh. We laugh a lot here: when I understand, when I don’t understand, and when my host parents give me a mini-lecture about how I have to speak more and not just nod if I really want my Chinese to get better. I tell them that I know, but it’s just hard and scary. I rarely talk at home where I can speak English, so I’m even quieter here. I do feel like my listening has gotten better just from being here, though. As long as people enunciate clearly, they can speak at a reasonable speed, and I can get at least the general idea of what was said. Sometimes, if the sentence and vocabulary are simple, normal native speaking speed is even ok! For example, I sit and watch TV with my host sister after school. There are no English subtitles, so I often lose interest because I don’t know what’s going on, but I sit there listening and sometimes realize that I understood what a character said. I’ve also picked up some rather interesting vocabulary from television shows. I’ve learned the word for annoying/troublesome (麻烦) and the word for kill (杀，only because my sister watches a crime drama and a show set in ancient China), among other words.
And towels. Well, first, let’s talk about laundry in China. Most Chinese homes have washing machines, which are often smaller than American ones, but I’m not sure there’s a single dryer in all of China. I have never seen a Chinese dryer, ever. The Chinese hang their clothes out the window or in an outer deck area to dry. Yes, this does include underwear, which gets put out for the world to see. Most Chinese do a load of laundry every night — at least during the summer — because (1) the washer is so small and (2) clothes get dirty and sweaty during the day. BUT, in China, people believe that you should wash yo ur more personal items, like underwear and towels, by hand; they say that to put them in the washer with other clothes is unclean and also not appropriate because other people should not wash those things for you. Now, in China, all bath towels and face towels are roughly the size of what we would think of as hand towels, sometimes a little smaller, though bigger than a washcloth. That makes them very easy to wash. But, I am American, and I brought my own towels. My washcloth could be washed in the sink easily enough, but my bath towel, that was interesting. I started in the sink, only to decide that that was too small, so I moved to the bathtub. I used the laundry detergent and washed it out, and when I was done, I was rather proud of my accomplishment but was left with the question, “Now what do I do with this sopping wet red thing??” I tried to hang it out my own bedroom window (I do have my own room here, in case I haven’t mentioned that), but it was too long and too hea vy (and I’m glad I didn’t because it started to pour rain at 5:00 this morning). So I took it to the deck thing where my family hangs the rest of the wet laundry, looked puzzled-ly around, and came dejectedly back to the living room, where I luckily caught my host sister and managed to convey that I had washed my towel and wasn’t sure what to do with it. We went back out to the deck where she also looked around a little confused and pointed out that my towel was rather big. It was kind of folded at the time, so I opened it up, and she got this surprised look, “Your towel is SO big!” I couldn’t think of anything to say, so I just said, “Yeah, American towels are too big.” (In Chinese of course!) Finally we got it hung up… But it’s still damp, lol.
And now, to end my novel with another note about driving in China. We had a class yesterday on Chinese traditions and customs. The teacher was fluent in English and really interactive, and instead of lectu ring us on what HE wanted, he asked us what cultural differences we noticed and then explained them to us. Of course, the first thing to come up was driving, and the teacher made a really great point: There ARE traffic regulations, and people DO get traffic tickets. But, what Americans consider crazy driving is for the most part considered acceptable in China because there are SO many people and SO many cars that if everybody stopped to wait for everybody else, nobody would ever get anywhere! E-bikes (electric/motorized bikes) and bicycles often run red lights, and there are crosswalks painted at intersections where there is no traffic light (红绿灯，literally “red-green light”). That doesn’t really make it any less dangerous, but it’s effective in China, so it’s not bad, just different.