Hanging Out With David

While in Dalian, China, I went to a local pool one day to go for a swim. After a few laps, a boy stopped me and asked (in Chinese of course) if I had any advice.

Anyway, at least that’s what I thought he asked me — I wasn’t really familiar with the phrase he used. I don’t know how to talk about swimming technique in Chinese. “You need to keep your butt up and always use your legs,” I awkwardly told him. “Otherwise, you can’t go fast.”

He looked at me a little strangely. I could tell that he thought my Chinese was a little weird, which is fair; I definitely don’t have a local accent and it must have been pretty funny for me as a twenty year-old Chinese looking guy to be using such limited and ineffective vocabulary. I felt obliged to explain myself, so I told him that I was an American and I was visiting Dalian since my parents were from there.

We talked about a bunch of random things, at first mostly him asking me questions. How long had I been in China? When was I leaving? How old was I, and when did I move to the US (I was born in America lol)? My favorite was when he asked me, “do you know about me-me?”, referring to memes. I laughed and told him, “oh yeah, they’re big in the US. And it’s pronounced meme.” He seemed shocked.

I swam a bit more and then ended up stopping later and talking to him more. I started to ask him some basic questions. Turns out he’s 14 (I actually thought he was a bit older and was surprised). He told me at first to call him David, but upon further questioning his name turned out to be Haoran. He’s entering his first year of high school this fall, and only swims occasionally. After he found out that I was American though, he didn’t really ask me any more swimming questions — he was more interested in cultural things.

“Do you play any games?” he asked. I told him that I used to play a bunch of computer games but not so much anymore, I just study and work all the time because college is hard (exaggeration lol but my Chinese is not so great). He asked me what and where I study, and I told him computer science at the University of Michigan. He’d never heard of Michigan before — “what’s that?”, and I explained that it’s a “state” like California, which he had heard of.

He asked me what programming language we use in school, and if I do “debug”. I laughed out loud and told him yes, I definitely debug and that’s a huge huge part of programming. “Yeah,” he told me. “I feel like debugging is really tough.” I told him that in school we mostly write C++ but I’ve also done apps for Apple phones (and he said “oh, swift!”) and been learning some web stuff in Javascript. He was really surprised at my pronunciation of Javascript and told me he always thought it was pronounced Jay-va script, which had me laughing as well. Then he told me that he learned HTML and a little bit of Python in school. That’s awesome — 14 year old kid getting exposed to computer programming already, whereas I wrote “Hello world” when I was 17.

Then he asked me about console games, mechanical keyboards, movies, and a bunch of other random stuff. By this point I had to tell him “I didn’t understand what you just said” probably every 4 sentences or so, but he assured me that my Chinese isn’t bad, which was nice of him. One of the most specific questions he asked me was about my preferred keyboard keycaps. He actually knew the english word ‘keycap’ and told me it, but I didn’t realize at first that he was referencing keyboards and I was confused as hell. By the way, this was before it had been established that I own a mech board (which I do); he just assumed I did because I said I used to play computer games and programmed (lol). When I told him that he did he asked me what brand, which to be honest I don’t even know, I just told him I had a cheap one (40 USD), which prompted a comparison of mechanical keyboard prices.

I ended up telling him that the only game I still played was Super Smash Bros. Melee, but didn’t know what it was called in Chinese and explained that it’s a fighting game where you play as Nintendo characters. “Oh, a pretty old one, right?” he asked, and I said yeah. He put out some Chinese name that I didn’t understand and I said, maybe. Still don’t know if we were on the same page, but it was at that point that I realized — holy shit, this kid is younger than SSBM (released 2001) LOL.

He also asked me about Facebook, and I told him that Facebook and a bunch of other social media are a really big deal in the US. He told me about WeiXin (WeChat) which I knew already was a huge deal in China (even bigger than FB in the US). I told him that I was a really big YouTube fan, which is also blocked in China, and asked him about YouKu, which I thought was the equivalent. He told me that YouKu is really more for shows, though, and that they use something called BiliBili for video surfing.

Sorry if I bored you with a lot of random details. This was probably the longest Chinese conversation I’ve ever had in my life, but it was a ton of fun. I’m really glad that David approached me about swimming and that I entertained him for a while. If he hadn’t been so amicable, there’s no way that I would have sought out random strangers to have a conversation in a language that I’m super not confident about. Ultimately, I had a lot of fun in this cultural exchange and I could tell that David was super stoked too, probably even more than I was.

I’ve felt that approaching strangers in China is really hard, and one of my big disappointments up until this conversation was that I didn’t get to absorb much of the culture through interactions with local people. David was a chill dude and a total game changer — easily one of the highlights of my two week visit.

Good luck in high school David, keep swimming, and keep being a friendly and curious guy!

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