I just need a sign that says “我不想跟你照照片” (I don't want to take a picture with you)
By the way, for those who heard about the flooding in Beijing and, as my parents made me realize, might be a little worried, I'm fine. The district I live in didn't get hit badly and I was in Qingdao during the storm anyways. The apartment complex is totally fine and so are Christina and her family.
A couple of days ago, Christina, Grace, and I went to 中山公园 （Zhongshan Park), right next to the Forbidden City. It's full of enormous, ancient trees that I can't even fit my arms halfway around. To put that in perspective, my armspan is 5'4". Big trees. The park was really beautiful and it was fun to wander around it. It takes you away from 20 million people of Beijing. We also looked at 前门, which means "Front Gate." It's an ancient structure that's on the opposite side of Tiananmen. Christina and Grace were hoping to find kite vendors at Tiananmen, but apparently the government banned them because the kites block the view.
Then yesterday we went with their mom to see 天坛, or The Temple of Heaven, which has been on my list of must-sees for this whole trip. It may have been one of my favorite pieces of architecture yet. I'm not sure why. It was just really pretty. The temple itself (The Temple of Praying for Good Harvets, or something to that effect) is smaller than I had realized, but there are a lot of other buildings and it's all in a big park full of cypress trees. There was also an echo wall, which I wanted to try out because of the one at W&M, but apparently you have to stand really close to it and they've blocked it off because of graffiti. So I could see it, but couldn't get close enough to try it. Still, I learned a lot about the religious practices of the ancient Chinese while I was there. I hadn't realized that they used animal sacrifices. I'm not quite sure why that came as a surprise to me. That's common in tons of religions all over the world, but I had never associated it with China. That's what they used the Temple of Heaven for, though.
The sacrifices reminded me and Christina of the signs that we saw at the Ethnic Groups park last week. There was a sign about each ethnic group giving some information about them- where they live, how many people they have, religions practices, foods, etc. A lot of them said, "This group practices primitive religion." We couldn't figre out what that meant. When we saw the information about animal sacrifices at the Temple of Heaven, though, we realized that many of those ethnic groups may very well still do something similar, since a lot of people consider those kinds of religious practices "primitive." It's still a guess, though. We're not quite sure.
These outings all resulted in more Chinese coaching from Christina. Whenever my Chinese professor says that two words mean exactly the same thing, I'm skeptical, because true synonyms are really rare. Sure enough, they're different. After my adventure with trying to explain to one woman at the Forbidden City that the students working at the embassy weren't allowed to take pictures with her, I told Christina about it and she explained that I had used the wong verb. I had said "不会" when I should have said "不能". I had been told that both mean "can," but Christina said that 能 is closer to "may," which would have been more appropriate in that context. That lesson had been reinforced at Beihai park, were I had to deal with a ton of people wanting pictures. While at the Temple of Heaven, I was asked by an entire family (apparently extended family, because there were a ton of them) if I would take a picture and, flustered by how many of them there were, I had jumped back to that lesson and told them "我不能" "I may not [take a picture]." They laughed bit and seemed confused, so I repeated myself and they left. Christina was laughing, too.
"What, were my tones wrong?" I asked.
"No, but you said '不能'," she explained.
"I thought that was the right one," I said, confused and hoping I hadn't switched them mentally. Undoing that can take forever.
"It is, but the way that he asked the question you should have said '我不想' which is 'I don't want to'," she said.
"Oh. Gotcha." Truth be told, I hadn't actually caught what the man had said to me, because I had been distracted by something and hadn't had time to catch up with him. I had just seen the camera in his hand and the way he was gesturing and guessed at what the question was.
So that's how I learned to pay very close attention to which verb people use when they ask me a question. Because there's no way to just say "Yes" or "No." You have to use the verb they used and either affirm or negate it. If you use a different verb than they did, while they may be able to understand you (they did, after all, leave me alone), it will sound really awkward.
That was the only time anyone asked me for a picture in Chinese that day. The other two men who asked both spoke English. The first time I was so surprised that he had asked me in English that I answered in Chinese reflexively ("不想" this time). He understood me perfectly and left. I think Christina thought that was even funnier than my incorrect Chinese.