Yesterday I had a completely unexpected interaction that left me feeling so positive about my progress. A week and a half ago, I wrote about some workers who came to do some work in my apartment and that I had a good opportunity to speak with them (on a limited basis). Using pictures and some help from Google translate, I asked about an egg tray for my refrigerator. Last year, there was one that came with the refrigerator so I assumed that I would have received one again. With more help from Google translate, I understood that I would have to buy one from a local shop.
So I was surprised when the same worker stopped me outside the residence, and showed me a picture he found on his phone. Without a translator, I understood that he had found an ice cube tray that cost 5RMB and could buy it for me. He showed me a lot of options and asked how many I wanted. (It seems that he confused the dan (egg) tray for a bing (ice) cube tray.) I asked for one, and he said that he could bring it to me, not tomorrow, but...and then I didn't understand. A colleague of mine who spoke a lot more Mandarin than I came and gave me the missing piece of the puzzle...xing qi yi (Monday). I just learned the days of the week in my class on Thursday, so was annoyed that I didn't catch that part of the conversation, but I was told that he was from outside of Beijing, so I may not have understood the accent. Although I wasn't able to say much back to the worker (aside from yige - one and bu mingtian ma? - not tomorrow) I understood the message during our exchange. Our conversation reaffirmed my desire to learn Mandarin, and realized how some of my most authentic interactions are going to occur in unexpected places and without my bank of vocabulary. My original plan was to carve out situations or experiences where I could use my Chinese, but am realizing now how much they are coming to me! Language really does open doors...