Chinese Hand Signals: A Guest Post by B

Before we knew our numbers very well, we’d ask how much something cost and instead of writing it down or typing it into a calculator, the clerks would tell us a number and then, if we didn’t understand, use a hand signal.

One through five are straight-forward enough, but six through ten are esoteric. Our local newsstand guy said, “Ba,” then held up his hand with his index finger and thumb extended in the (I thought) universal signal for, “I have a gun.” It turns out that making a gun out of your hand means, “eight.” (Naturally.) And “hang loose” means “six.” And “I’m about to tickle you” means “nine.” It’s all very intuitive.

Anyway, we had to look up the hand signals on the Internet. This was how we became aware that, for simplicity’s sake, multiple hand signals correspond to a particular number. So there are two ways of showing seven, and three ways of showing 10. (Too bad there aren’t 10 ways of showing 10; I think I’d like the recursiveness of that.)

Saturday, January 17, I took three of the kids to lunch. (The other kid was busy doing something else. I didn’t leave him home because I’m a jerk. My jerkiness manifests in other ways.) As we walked past an alley market, we saw a guy selling pineapples. One of our family’s favorite parts of Thailand and Cambodia was street pineapple, so I said, “If he’s still here on our way back, when I have change from lunch, remind me to get a pineapple from him.”

He was still there on the way back, so I stopped and asked, “Duōshao?” He held up a single finger, which, according to everything we’ve seen online, all our previous experiences, and all God-given common sense, means “one.” But one yuan for an entire pineapple didn’t seem like a believable price. Even in Thailand, they start at 30 baht, which is about five yuan. So I said, “Yī yuán?” and the man nodded and held up his solitary finger at me again. He bagged our pineapple and handed it to me. I pulled out some bills and offered him a one-yuan note and said again, “Yī yuán?” Finally, he pointed at the ten-yuan note in my other hand. Because one finger by itself means “ten”?!

As for him not responding with words or responding correctly to my words, I’ve found that many Chinese people are so unaccustomed to encountering a foreigner that speaking Chinese with any accent AT ALL is unintelligible to them. Especially lower-class workers. It’s just like all my frat-boy classmates at Kansas who couldn’t understand any non-American professors. But my pineapple salesman had to know I wanted to know how much it cost, and for some reason he thought one finger was an excellent way of communicating “ten.”

It was really good pineapple.


Random Pictures

Picture 1: Escalator warning pictures inside an elevator on B’s campus.
Picture 2: the Christmas tree in B’s building.
Picture 3: Apparently, the students didn’t really get dressing-up for Halloween but it turns out they dress-up for New Year’s. And the majority of the costumes are military with realistic guns.
Picture 4: The group of students B mentors were supposed to pick out a costume for him.  He showed up at work the day of the carnival and his costume was this pink wig.  Visitors from other Chinese schools lined up to have their pictures taken with him.  The teachers/staff of the other schools.
Picture 5: The school had a carnival for their New Year’s celebration.  There were some fun rides set up on the field but it was super frigid that day and each ride had a long long line so we skipped it.
Picture 6: For some reason, a lot of shrubs/bushes had these wooden frames built around them for the winter and then were covered with tarp.
Picture 7: B and I took Buddy with us on a trip to Sam’s Club so he can be my GPS/navigator on future trips.  We found this giant stuffed dog.

Siem Reap, Cambodia- Day 6, Dec. 28 – Elephant Rides and Angkor Wat

We’d packed the night before so we’d be ready for our flight home from Cambodia in the afternoon.  The hotel was nice and held our luggage for us until we returned in the afternoon before heading to the airport. B and I ate a delicious breakfast of Cambodian (Khmer) fried rice while the kids ate toast with weird jam on it and we waited for our tuk tuk driver.

The hotel pool.  No time to swim. 😦

Our first stop was riding elephants, which is available until mid-morning.

From B:

The first place we stopped had all their elephants already engaged, so she recommended a different place. They charged me $45 ($15 for each of the adults and the kids were free, I guess), so I paid with a fifty. Then the woman asked if I wanted to buy a pineapple. I said, “No we just ate breakfast.” It turned out she was selling whole pineapples to feed to the elephant. We rode our elephants around a temple. It was fun, but not a very smooth ride. Afterwards, we bought pineapples to feed to the elephant.

Feeding the elephant pineapples:

As we walked away, the elephant trunk came towards Squirt sniffing around for pineapple, Squirt looked at the trunk and hurried past a little more quickly.

From B: Then we went to Angkor Wat. On the way, we passed some monkeys sitting on the grass. We asked our guy to stop for us to see the [macaque] monkeys. While we were stopped, a monkey got into the basket on the front of an unattended motorcycle and stole the owner’s breakfast. That was fun to watch.

From B: We toured Angkor Wat. A guy tried to sell me a guide book that, the day before, I saw someone else selling for a dollar. He started off noting the MSRP on the back is $27.50 and offering $25. I figured I’d pay about $10, so I said no. He came down to $20, then $15, then $12. After a long time of following me, he offered $10, but by then I’d already established that I wasn’t going to buy from him. Inside the temple, a different guy was selling it for $12. I wanted to keep my ones, though, so I actually preferred a price of $15 to $12. He was thrown off by my offering more, so he gave us some postcards to go with the book.

My camera lens must have gotten sweaty, or condensation on it at this point because the next batch of pictures are blurry and the lighting is weird.

Little Guy read a Jack Stalwart book that is set here and he’s pretty sure this is the lake into which Jack Stalwart parachuted.

From B: N made friends with a shopkeeper named Plee, and we were going to come back to her stall and buy something because she was so friendly and chatted with N about their kids, but when we got out of the temple, we couldn’t find her. Meanwhile, my first guidebook seller was offering $10, then $5, then $1. Lots of the stalls had numbers, but Plee’s didn’t have a number. She had told N, “I’ll see you if you come back,” but she didn’t get our attention as we walked back and forth, while everyone else tried to sell us everything they had.

From B: We bought a pineapple and a mango from a woman, and N [tripped] almost dropped Simon on his face getting into the tuk-tuk. We asked our driver where else we should go, since we still had several hours until we had to leave for the airport. I thought he would suggest another Angkor site, since we’d already bought tickets for it. Instead, he suggested the war museum. I did not want to see a Khmer Rouge atrocity museum myself, let alone take my children to see one. I told him, “That would be too sad.” So he took us to downtown Siem Reap to do some shopping. I bought some software that I’m pretty sure won’t work, and I got a Manchester City jersey for Little Guy. We bought some more ice cream, then bought some Tintin artwork for our house, then went back to the tuk-tuk. Again, we had time before we needed to leave for the airport, but our driver suggested he take us back to the hotel, even though we’d checked out already. But we didn’t really know what else to do, we went to sit in the lobby area (the ground floor was wall-less and had cafe seating and a swimming pool) for an hour and use the hotel wi-fi.

Two tuk tuks took us to the airport (B heavily tipped them since it was a $5 ride and all he had left were 20s and we’d wanted to heavily tip OUR tuk tuk driver, his friend just had a lucky day).  We waited, at a Kit Kat Blizzard from Dairy Queen, tried not to think about the missing Air Asia flight that went missing that morning from Malaysia, and eventually boarded our plane back to Bangkok where we’d have a few hours layover before our evening flight to Beijing. We arrived at Beijing after midnight, spent a long wait in line to re-enter the country.  By the time we got to the train to take us to baggage claim, Squirt was hysterical (he’d fallen asleep on the first, hour flight, from Siem Reap) and it took forever for him to fall asleep on the flight to Beijing.  We got our bags and found our driver we’d arranged ahead of time.  I think we got back to our apartment around 3 am… not quite what we had thought about when we booked a flight that landed at 12:45am. B taught the next morning at 7:45.

Siem Reap, Cambodia- Day 5, Dec. 27 – Ta Keo & Angkor Thom

Next our tuk tuk driver took us to Ta Keo.  This temple had a lot of steep steps, it was tough for Squirt, but he made it to the top. (Even with a shoe that we’d just discovered was falling apart and we had used a hair rubber band to reattach the flappy part of the sole to the shoe.)

From B: Next, we stopped at Ta Keo, which was very tall and had a lot fewer people. We climbed up to the top. When we were again at the bottom, I bought some more water. The woman was selling both the large and regular size bottles for a dollar each. She must make so much money from her mark-up that she can afford it. Also, since coins are heavy and difficult to import, they use Cambodian money for less-than-dollar prices, but most tourists don’t have any Cambodian money, so the smallest unit of account is the dollar.

We continued on to Angkor Thom. On the way, we spotted wild monkeys in the jungle. Pictures and videos of the monkeys will be in tomorrow’s post.  And a Google search teaches us they are macaque monkeys.


From B: At one of the temples, immodestly-dressed women were not allowed. A young French couple in front of us were flabbergasted. Instead of buying something to cover up with (one of the reasons there are clothing sellers around), they just backed up a bit, allowed us to get our children turned away (no one under 12 allowed, they said), and then the French guy palmed some cash, shook the man’s hand and said, “Sir, please.” They let the immodestly-dressed woman in.

I was angry. The conventional wisdom around the world is that Americans are rude, presumptuous, and condescending, but everyone we saw on our trip who was rude was European. At our Thailand hotel, an Australian couple was nice to us, while a young Spaniard was rude and took food intended for our kids. In Cambodia, the very few Americans we saw were appreciating the foreign culture, while the Europeans we saw were put out that things were up to the standards of Europe. I’m sure this French guy knows all the talking points about Americans thinking money solves everything, but when it came down to it, it was the Frenchman who disrespected Buddhism and Khmer culture because his girlfriend couldn’t be bothered to not wear shorts.

N stayed at the bottom with the boys while PS and I climbed to the top. At the top, some Cambodian teenaged boys asked to take their picture with PS. Afterwards, as we walked away, I said to PS, “You know what they’re saying to each other right now? ‘I didn’t know a person could be that pale without being a ghost.'”

It was a long, hot, sweaty day so we went back to the hotel around 3 or 4pm.  Squirt fell asleep in the tuk tuk on the way. We relaxed in our hotel for a little while before heading out to find diapers and dinner.

After getting diapers (pull-ups, sold individually from a street vendor was the best we could find), we hired a tuk tuk to take us from our hotel (the In Miles Boutique) part of town into the downtown, touristy streets and Pub Street where we found a French/Cambodian restaurant called Le Cafe Grand to eat at for dinner. It was Brandon’s birthday (starting in Bangkok, ending on Pub Street in Siem Reap). We ate: spring rolls, satay, Khmer noodles, fried mango and chicken with rice, and green curry soup.

Since it was B’s birthday, we got gelato for dessert. Yum.

Siem Reap, Cambodia- Day 5, Dec. 27 – Ta Prohm

Our flight from Bangkok to Siem Reap, Cambodia was at 8am.  We needed to meet our ride to the airport at 5am, so we needed to wake up at 4am.  Unfortunately, my cell phone didn’t auto adjust to Thailand time when we arrived in Thailand and Bangkok is one hour earlier than Beijing.  We went down to the front desk of the hotel and checked out only to have the clerk inform us that is was 4am and our shuttle wouldn’t arrive for another hour.  She was nice and let us return to our room where we spent the next 50 minutes playing/reading on devices.

The flight between Bangkok and Siem Reap is one hour.  B spent the entire flight filling out the immigration forms and visa applications for Cambodia.  The one hour flight also included a full meal (we’d just eaten at the airport).  Thailand doesn’t require a visa for tourists for under 30 days because were were American.  Cambodia requires a visa so after landing we finished filling out our forms and waited in line. In Cambodia, we dealt in US dollars.  For change smaller than a dollar, they’d give us Cambodian money, but most places quoted us both currencies or only US dollars.From B: We got to the front of the line and the man looked through our papers, then said, “One hundred eighty dollars.” A guy from church had said the Cambodian immigration agent had tried to charge them full price for their kids but after some arguing, he had relented. I gestured to the three littlest kids and made a “they’re small” hand signal (hands close together), and the man said, “Ninety dollars.” So Buddy, Little Guy, and Squirt went from being full price to being free.

We’d arranged with our hotel to be picked up and to store our luggage until check-in time.  There were two tuk tuks waiting for us at the airport.  I spent the ride to the hotel taking in everything we went past as well as worrying that our tuk tuk driver had lost B’s tuk tuk driver and who knew if we could trust these people.  Luckily, we all ended up at our hotel where they presented us with orange “juice” and an ice cold wash cloth.  They let us take our stuff up to our room (shoes off in the lobby, no elevator, 4th floor).  Then they arranged for the 2nd tuk tuk driver to be our driver for the day and he took us out to the sites.

The tuk tuks in Cambodia are a trailer being pulled by a motorcycle and have two benches (instead of the one bench and a little step that the Thai tuk tuks have).  This was much more comfortable for our entire family to ride in one.  For $15-20/day, you have a tuk tuk driver to drive you to the sites and wait for you while you get out and walk around the temples.  We had the same driver both days, his English wasn’t perfect and we sometimes had to explain things in different terms, but it was pretty good and he was very nice.

From B:  We got our visas, then our luggage, then exited the airport. A man was waiting for us, holding a sign with my name on it. He had a friend with him, but it seemed the friend knew very little (perhaps no) English. They had the Cambodian version of tuk-tuks, which are two-wheeled trailers that attach to the back of motorcycles. They have two benches, one facing forward and one facing backward, so they can seat six pretty comfortably. We only needed two to get out of the airport because we had our luggage with us. Anyway, I went with Buddy and Little Guy and a suitcase and two carry-on bags, and N went with PS and Squirt and the other suitcase and two carry-on bags. We drove down the highway from the airport to Siem Reap, past giant luxury hotels and tiny hovels. Eventually, we got to our hotel, In Miles Boutique. It was down a small driveway from the road between Siem Reap and Angkor Wat. (Sometimes I feel like Jay Gatsby, always on the wrong side of the harbor. N and I like the things we see and do, but they are always slightly off from the version that everyone else does. A woman from church told us some fabulous hotel in Siem Reap that we HAD to stay at, but instead we ended up staying at kind of a weird retrofitted hotel that no one visiting Siem Reap would even see by accident.)

We started at an entrance gate where we showed our passports and PS, B and I paid (12 and up, $40USD for a three day pass) and got these tickets which we had to show at the “entrance” to each site.

Our first stop was Ta Prohm. Ta Prohm is famous from Angelina Jolie’s Tomb Raider movie and is a favorite among tourists because it is very much still in ruins (trees growing through the buildings, etc.). People selling stuff to tourists in Cambodia is a bit annoying.  They follow you and walk alongside you for a very long time trying to sell their souvenirs/water/postcards, etc. Their English is really good.  It was really hot and humid.  I was happy to see that in our pictures, you can’t see that we are completely drenched in sweat.

This map should give you an idea of where we were traveling:

From B:

We started at Ta Prohm, which I guess is famous for being the site left most in its “natural” state, with giant trees growing all over it. It was in the “Tomb Raider” movie, evidently. I was very frustrated by the constant picture taking. Instead of coming to Cambodia to see things, everyone was there to take pictures of things. And everyone expected the other visitors to get out of the way of their pictures. One group of tourists wanted a picture down a long walkway, so they were holding up large groups of people to get the walkway empty.
Lots of the people were French. Almost none of the tourists were American. Outside each site was a gathering of locals selling bottled water, trinkets, clothing, guidebooks, and food. When we got back to our tuk-tuk, I bought some water and a pineapple (which was so delicious, like the one in Thailand), and a magnet from an adorable little girl who was probably four years old and just kept saying, “You buy, one dollar.” Of course, as soon as I bought anything, I had a giant crowd, so we had to make our escape in the tuk-tuk pretty quickly.
Squirt got in a “smile for the camera” mood, so I took advantage of it:
We bought water bottles, pineapple, mango and a magnet from street vendors.

Bangkok, Thailand- Day 4, Dec. 26

After all the walking and hot weather for the previous days, we decided to relax a little for our last day in Bangkok and get ready for Cambodia.  We thought about trying to get to one of the beaches nearby, but even the closest ones would take a couple hours of traveling so we decided on taking advantage of the hotel pool… except it was FREEZING water.

Since the kids only lasted in the pool for a little bit, we decided we had time for the Snake Farm and some souvenir shopping. We stopped at Mango Tango again and found Pad Thai at another restaurant.  For souvenirs, the boys each picked a little toy tuk tuk, PS chose a snow globe with a tuk tuk in it, B and I chose a statue of Ganesh and a Thailand magnet for our fridge.

I was hoping the kids (especially Little Guy) would let them drape the snake across their shoulders. They barely touched it, I’m amazed they were touching it long enough for us to capture a picture.

Bangkok, Thailand- Day 3, Dec. 25

The first morning in our hotel we opted to sleep in (having arrived from the airport very late the night before).  The second morning we figured out how to take advantage of the free breakfast.  After breakfast we went one floor above our own to the roof to check out the pet garden and to take pictures of the cool buildings we could see from our hotel room. I also added some picture of Thai money (baht, divide by 30 to get a US dollar amount) and some pictures of the apartment/hotel room.

Fun signs we’ve seen around Thailand:

1st, on an escalator

2nd, a “give up your seat for monks” sign, on trains and buses

3rd, on the door of a bathroom stall

Back at the Snoopy mall, inside this time, trying to capture a Snoopy #selfie in her new Snoopy #selfie tshirt she got for Christmas.

Exploring the mall, we found a store with an adorable whale for Buddy, Little Guy’s favorite How to Train Your Dragon dragon and a minion and some other fun statues for Squirt. We also found a Mexican restaurant and fed Squirt ice cubes (he is his Grandma L’s grandson) while we waited for our food.

We bought Princess Sparkley this little Santa hat hair clip to commemorate that it was Christmas Day and so we’d always remember that when we saw these pictures.  Our first stop after the mall was The Golden Mount or Wat Saket.

And for the awkwardest picture of the trip (at least that we captured):


In a tuk tuk, waiting to leave The Golden Mount.

No photographs were allowed inside where the Emerald Buddha was, but this is outside, a very jewel encrusted building.

After taking the above picture of B and I, Buddy said, “It looks like we’re at Disneyland.”

After finishing up at The Grand Palace, we took a tuk tuk and went in search of Pad Thai.  We ended up wondering around a mall, eating yummy mango smoothies, mango pudding, mango and sticky rice and mango ice cream at a place called Mango Tango and finally finding some Pad Thai for dinner.