In a country where our pronunciation and tone of the word “ma” could mean we are saying mother, hemp, horse or even swearing, it’s no wonder we try to speak Mandarin in China with some trepidation. But giving it a go is all part of the fun and as Intrepid’s Rachel Wasser knows well, when all else fails, laughs prevail…
“One of the cities we visit on our Silk Road trip from Beijing to Kashgar, through the Xinjiang province in northwest China, is called Jiayuguan. Travellers in my groups often find it hard to get their tongues around this name. I don’t know if people can’t say Jiayuguan, or find it difficult to remember, but I pride myself on my Mandarin pronunciation skills and still when I say it to a local, they have no idea what I am talking about!
Jiayuguan is home to the westernmost section of the Great Wall, which means on our Silk Road journey we actually get to walk on two different stretches of the Wall that are thousands of miles apart. We visit the Jiayuguan Fort and the First Beacon Tower for which the town is renowned, and from here have a great view of the Gobi desert as well as the snow-capped Qilian Mountains. At the fort we get to see a small parade of people in traditional soldier costumes and can practice our defense skills with some archery from the top of the fort.
On a recent visit we had fun meeting up with a Chinese tour group. They asked if each member of their party could individually have their photo taken with us. We were definitely the main attraction and the only fluent language spoken was laughs. Back in the city, we continued the fun and feasted on dumplings at a local chain restaurant. I think we ate our body weight in vegetable dumplings, pork with cilantro dumplings, beef, lamb, chicken… you-name-it dumplings! And the grand total was a dollar per person – now that was something my group could get their tongues around easily!”