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This works, but you need people who don't mind their time being wasted helping you. Usually in China you'll be fine (especially if you are visibly a foreigner), because Chinese people are generally pretty nice, but sometimes it could be considered rude or impolite.


I did a similar thing the first time I came to HK and couldn't speak Cantonese. The first things I taught myself to say were things related to asking for directions, asking for help, and ordering food. Everytime I got on a bus, I always asked the driver if this bus went to [destination], and I found stopping confusing, so I'd often ask the bus driver to stop for me (which they usually would do). Now that I think about it, this was preferential treatment only awarded to confused foreigners.


I can't imagine asking for directions in the smartphone world of HK today though. Locals never ask people for directions, it would be considered socially awkward/impolite to ask for directions or talk to a bus driver when you could just use your mobile phone to check and not bother anyone in the process. You could probably still get away with it if you exclusively target old people though. I'm also more familiar with HK roads now, so I never have trouble stopping and don't talk to bus drivers anymore.

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Do people in China and Hong Kong really mind giving directions in the age of smartphones? When I see people in my city looking at a map or standing at a corner peering at their phone, I actively seek them out to ask if they need directions. I never hesitate to ask random people on the street for directions (and they always help me), and wouldn't in China either. It usually takes less than half a minute, they get to feel good about their knowledge and helping someone and I get closer to where I'm going.


I used to always ask bus drivers to 报站 and they always did. Now I wonder if they wouldn't have done the same for Chinese out-of-towners, was that foreigner privilege? I only stopped because nowadays the buses I ride (or rode, before the 疫情 kept me out of China) have the electric signage inside (don't know the word).


I think ABC's teacher's approach is great. Gives the student practice, with training wheels (teacher is nearby), and makes everything extremely memorable. You might forget item no. 7 on the vocab list, but you won't forget what the bus driver said, or what the auntie who did understand what you needed said to the bus driver to explain. And as long as you ask things you actually need from people who can provide them without a problem, you don't unduly waste people's time. One shouldn't go to the post office to ask the price for every type of stamp and not buy any, but it's fine (in my opinion) to go to the post office and buy stamps and be a bit slow and deliberate about it because your language skills are not great yet.

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On 7/23/2021 at 1:11 AM, Takeshi said:

I can't imagine asking for directions in the smartphone world of HK today though.


A couple years ago I went to a night-time solo piano concert at Hong Kong University. Had seen it advertised in posters on the walls of the metro. I knew what building I had to find and I arrived on campus in plenty of time. But Google wasn't cutting it with the step-by-step last part of getting me to the concert hall. Changing levels was involved. 


I asked a small group of student-age people. I asked in Mandarin, they replied in English. If I had known how to ask in Cantonese, that's what I would have done. They were nice about it and I thanked them, went on my way. Oftentimes asking for directions leads to a little bit more of a casual exchange. Maybe they ask me how come I can speak Chinese and I ask them something, maybe about the place we are standing. 


I like doing that, although admittedly it is all a matter of personal preference. And I gave up years ago on trying to be hip or cool, so I've little to loose. 


The performance was magnificent. The complete Beethoven piano sonatas, played by Konstantin Lifschitz. The audience was also a treat. Quite a few were pianists, several near me had brought the musical score and were quietly thumbing through it while he played. I attended several nights. He played three sonatas per night. 

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