Saturday, October 10, 2009

Strangers on a train

What a crazy little world is this?!

I was catching the London underground this evening with two Chinese friends, heading out to dinner - we were speaking a mix of English & Chinese. Sarah & Jessica were telling a funny story about a time soon after they arrived in London,  when they were gossiping in Chinese about someone on the train.

To their embarrassment, that person actually could speak Chinese!

And the funniest thing happened tonight.  While they were telling the story to me, a Westerner turned to us and spoke in really good Chinese, "Can you speak a little louder, I can't hear everything you say."

Turns out he lives near me, and is married to a Chinese woman from Yunnan Province.

It really is a small world!


  1. Sure it is.
    I am so sad being part of this joke.
    Now I really need to think twice before I want to say something directed specifically at some person on the train/plane/bus...Because there might be some Greg listening with both of his ears, biting his lips and trying not to laugh out.

  2. Yeah, but this is a story we'll both be telling for years to come!

    (Is the correct expression: 天涯咫尺 / tiān​yá​zhǐ​chǐ?)

  3. I think so. Both 天涯咫尺 and 咫尺天涯 are right.
    Do you know what it means?

  4. I agree with you. This is my own version of 老外说中文 joke. I have told you three jokes about 老外who understand/speak Chinese, but this time, when repeating the third one, the foouth one happened to me.

  5. You should have seen your face when he started talking Chinese to us :-)

  6. I grew up in a super multilingual environment. I didn't learn my parents' languages very well (three Philippine languages), but I developed a very keen sense of when people are talking about me in their secret language. So I'm a little gun shy about talking about people....

    Amber, however, is not. If you run into us in the elevator, see her talking Chinese and me blushing and giggling, you know she's talking about you....

  7. This is a great story. (Not the Hitchcock classic I was expecting mind you.)

    When I was at Notting Hill Carnival at one point some Chinese boys were just up from me, and I picked out short bits I could understand, but didn't know enough to join in.

    I can't wait until I can surprise some people.


  8. JP: Amber gossiping? Surely not! Great to have you pop past.

    * I was thinking of a Hitchcock ending ... you know, "As the other non-Chinese guy was about to say something, a huge flock of man-eating birds swooped in ..."
    * And good luck with surprising people. Take some time to think about how satisying that will be, then use that motivation to quickly go learn some more sentences.

  9. Recently in Beijing I was with Lucas in a state-owned bank waiting to withdraw some cash. In order to get our conversation encrypted to some degree we chose to talk in English. I assumed that by talking really fast nobody else in the queue would be able to understand me, with most of them being the elderly.

    When we talked and talked I somehow mentioned the story happened in this "Strangers on a train" post, and later I was speaking a bit of Japanese that I learned in UK. Suddenly from behind us the peaceful old man with grey hairs cut in by asking in English: "How many languages do you speak?"

    Then he started to bomb me with Japanese, French, German. Later I learned that he was from a good university and stayed in UK for a year.

    When will I ever learn that: every time when we tell an interesting story, something similarly interesting might happen to us.

    有一天我和Lucas一起去某国有银行取钱。为了在一定程度上给谈话加密,我们选择用英文交谈。我认定,只要说话快一点,队里就没有人能够听懂我说什么,再加上他们中好多是老年人。谈着谈着我提到了Greg的博客文章 "Strangers on a train"里发生的故事,然后我说了几句在英国时学的日语。忽然我们身后那位安详的白发老人用英文插话问道:”你一共说几种语言?“ 然后他开始用日语、法语和德语轰炸我。之后我了解到,他来自一个很好的大学,并且在英国生活过一年。


  10. Classic! You were overheard telling the story about the one time you were overheard telling the story about being overheard. Or something like that :-)