By Valeriya Nikulina (Russian)
For me, cab drivers are one of the best resources for practicing my Chinese language skills, and they can also give me great insights into Chinese culture and daily life. In fact, some of the most interesting conversations I've had in China have been with taxi drivers. They see I'm a 老外 (lǎowài – foreigner), and questions start pouring out. They often ask me where I'm from, though sometimes they take wild guesses. But as soon as the taxi driver knows I’m Russian, conversation becomes more interesting.
Living in China for almost 7 years by now, I have enjoyed talking with drivers who happen to be weather experts, sports fans, political conservatives and even one professional singer. The last one made my 15-minutes taxi ride very special by singing Russian folk songs to me.
Today I want to share with you some funny and interesting questions I’ve been asked by Chinese taxi drivers. I have a huge list of those, but I’ve selected Top 5 that are frequently asked and which I find a bit funny:
1.Do you like Vladimir Putin?
你喜欢普京吗？ (Nǐ xǐhuan Pǔjīng ma?)
Absolutely favourite question not only of taxi drivers, but Chinese people in general. Actually, most of the time that doesn’t sound like a question, more like: “普京很厉害！” （Pǔjīng hěn lìhai! = Putin is really cool!). What is interesting, conversations about Russian president normally are nothing to do with political situation, but more about his personality and charisma. Taxi drivers love talks about Putin’s muscles or his Judo skills.
2.Why do you have blue eyes?
你的眼睛为什么是蓝色的? ( Nǐ de yǎnjing wèishénme shì lán sè de?)
… And the dark hair! Well… It happened! Once I’ve been asked if it was possible to check my eyes through magnifying glass. I didn’t mind, really, but nobody around had one. So just trust me, they are naturally blue.
3.How do you dry the clothes during winter time?
冬天的时候你们怎么干衣服？（Dōngtiān de shíhou nǐmen zěnme gān yīfu?)
I come from the city, where temperature sometimes falls below -30 degrees Celsius during winter time. However, it is not necessary to dry clothes outside after wash. It actually dries very quickly inside the house or apartment (thanks to central heating system!).
4.What time is it now in Russia?
俄罗斯现在几点了？（Éluósī xiànzài jǐdiǎn le?)
“There are eleven time zones in Russia” – I reply. Hard to imagine, but it’s true. Very inconvenient for those who have to do business all around the country, but considering the territory of Russia – 没办法！(méibànfǎ – one can't do anything about it).
5.What do Russians eat? Bread?
俄罗斯人吃什么？面包吗？ (Éluósīrén chī shénme？Miànbāo ma?)
We do eat bread in Russia, but not only bread (same as Chinese people do not eat rice only). Russian cuisine is not as rich as Chinese one, but we still have lots of recipes and traditional dishes. Russian food is mostly based on meat, dairy products and cold-weather vegetables like potatoes, beetroot, cabbage and carrots. The cold climate of Russia also means that grains like barley, rye and buckwheat are used a lot, as these cereals grow well in cold weather.
As you can see, having conversations with taxi drivers in China is a great way to improve your vocabulary and practice your speaking Chinese. In fact, I believe that sometimes you can learn more during 15-minutes taxi ride, than a regular 45-minutes Chinese class. So don’t be shy and 加油! (jiāyóu – make more effort)