The other week-end, I went to Nanchang to visit some friends. I took the train all by myself, but I wasn't that nervous because I was on what I like to call the "posh" train. It almost feels like you are on an airplane only there is more room to move around in on the posh train. On the way to Nanchang, I sat by some very pleasant college students who were happy to make small talk with me in Chinese.
On the way back, however, I sat by a group of co-workers who were all heading to Changsha for a week-end conference. I had more trouble understanding them for several reasons. First, there were more of them so they just started to throw out random, unconnected questions about American culture, money, the economic crisis, etc. My Chinese is getting better, but it's not that good yet. If there's no logical connection to the questions, it's easy for me to get lost. At each train stop, more coworkers got on the train. Plus, at the first stop, the newly boarded coworkers had brought hard liquor. As the train ride progressed, so did the debauchery. I could see the man's face across from me turning redder and redder. Their questions were getting louder and the words were slurring together. This kind of language immersion is a little stressful, and I was feeling pretty flushed by the pressure.
One of the women coworkers offered me liquor, fresh oranges, and pickled animal innards. Don't worry, I only accepted one of the above. After awhile, I started to intently read my novel realizing that the coworkers were possibly talking to or about me, but feeling perfectly content to let them think I couldn't understand them. As we got off the train in Changsha, one of the coworkers said to me in Chinese, "Good Bye American friend." I felt happy to receive an endearing parting and equally relieved to be getting off the train.