Now that my Mandarin skills are developing I’ve been spending a lot more time out and about conversing with locals, and thus far I’ve found the best method for doing so is to bring a good sense of humor to the table.  Chinese people tend to think of foreigners in their country as pretty silly creatures to begin with, so it’s not all that hard to make them laugh, but often times it can lead to a better, more fulfilling encounter.  It eases the tension sometimes felt when meeting a foreigner for the first time, as well as sends a message of affability, so I always try and keep the mood light when I’m talking with locals.

It might look like I know what's going on, but I don't.

People always ask me where I’m from, and though for the most part Chinese people are friendly to Americans, especially young people, it can sometimes bring up some uncomfortable issues.  Chinese people have no issue talking about money, and so when they find out I’m American they usually say something along the lines of, “America is very rich compared to China,” or they ask me something like, “How much money do your parents make?”  While this doesn’t make them uncomfortable in the least, sometimes it makes me squirm a little, especially when I’m talking a person who very poor.  So instead I’ve started telling them that I’m a “Hua xing ren,” a martian.  This is always good for a couple of laughs and some interesting banter.

“You’re from Mars?  What are you doing in China?”

“I just came here today to buy some shoes and then I’m going back to Mars tomorrow. I don’t care much for Earth.  It’s far too cold.”

Sometimes when they ask me where I’m from I tell them and then ask them where they’re from.

“I’m from China of course!”

“Oh really?  I could’ve sworn you were from France!”

By the end of our encounter the boss, the guy on the right, was drooling and stumbling all over the place.

Another question I’m commonly asked is how much alcohol I can drink.  Drinking is somewhere along the lines of a competitive sport in China, and as legend has it Americans are the New York Yankees of drinking.  So when they ask me how many bottles of beer I can drink in one sitting, I usually tell them something outrageous, like forty bottles in one hour.  The funny thing is that at first they usuallybelieve me, as they have no basis to judge my answer against.  They also usually believe me when I tell them I’m close friends with Kobe Bryant and Lebron James, and that I Shaq invited me to his birthday party but I couldn’t make it.  Sometimes I admit I’m lying, and sometimes  don’t, but all in all it always makes for a pretty interesting conversation.

Yesterday I went out for a bike ride and stopped at a gravel yard to take some pictures when I was suddenly surrounded by a gang of middle-aged Chinese men, all blabbering at me at once.  I ended up spending hours with these guys, drinking baiju with the boss, arm wrestling, and even getting the chance to drive one of their tractors.

This thing was actually surprisingly easy to drive.

In the meantime they tried and failed to my ride my bike—apparently I have very long legs—asked me about American women’s breasts, and carried on like a bunch of eighth graders on permanent recess.  They even forced baiju down the throat of their boss when he couldn’t keep up with me. It was all around jovial experience, one I will remember for the rest of my life.