Jesse knows a couple hundred words in Mandarin, but isn’t anywhere near functionally fluent. This trip he had Helen Tan with him, who luckily is fluent in both Mandarin and English, including technical and business terms.
In my (Kaia, the other half of KBIO) experience you *can* buy things, negotiate, and get a certain basic level of questions answered even if you only speak English. Having a translation app on your phone helps. Being willing to look a bit foolish with gestures helps more. And if you seem like you’re looking to buy a serious quantity, many vendors can run off and get a friend with better, though not necessarily good, English to help translate.