Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Sunday, August 04, 2013


Pavel. I met him last night in a local restaurant. He is the only Russian I have met in this town who speaks English. That isn't surprising actually. The folks who come across the border to shop in Manzhouli are mostly local folks from the countryside of eastern Russia. They don't speak English. They don't speak Chinese. In Beijing they have a joke about Americans..."What to you call someone who speaks two languages? Bilingual. What do you call someone who speaks three languages? Trilingual. What do you call someone who speaks one language? American." But even the notoriously monolingual Americans are somehow able to order food and buy things in Beijing. Local shop merchants in Beijing don't speak English. In Manzhouli it's very different. The Russians you meet in Manzhouli are not here for thier "China experience." They are not studying Chinese. They are not working in China. They have no reason to be here except to take advantage of the significant price differential between their home community and China. So in Manzhouli, if you don't speak Russian, you don't get their business. The ability to speak Russian is literally a matter of life and death for local merchants in Manzhouli. The reverse effect of that is that most Russians do not learn Chinese, because they don't have to. They can buy things, go to the bank, go to a restaurant, get a hotel...basically anything they want to do..in Russian. Walk into a restaurant, the menu is in Russian. Signs on stores are in Russian. And Chinese. Sometimes. But sometimes even Chinese takes a back seat, since many local people can also speak Chinese, but most Russians cannot.

Except Pavel. His friends don't speak English. He has no English teacher. But he is determined not to let his life be defined by the rural environment into which he was born. So he learned English on the Internet, and presumably by watching American movies. He is friendly and outgoing, and his English is pretty good considering how he learned it. It is very interesting to meet young people like him who are determined not to be limited by the situation into which they were born. And the door out is English. There are more English speaking people in Asia than there are in the United States. Mind you, I didn't say there are more native speakers in Asia. But more members of the English speaking world. And Pavel is determined to be one of them. Hats off to him. As we were ending our conversation, he said, "Do you in God we trust?" Yes. Amen.

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