I took an 8-hour day bus to Puno, which I enjoyed much more than any of the night buses I’ve been on. The Andean mountain ranges provided a spectacular backdrop to complement my often recurring imagination of Incas dancing everywhere to the beat of Lady Gaga.

(Rocket Number 9 take off to the planet…to the planet…Venus.)

Upon reaching Puno, I was famished. I proceeded to walk to the city center to find some food. Saw a few Chinese “chifas” around so that gave me ideas. I stumbled upon one called “Chifa Shanghai” and in front of all the pots and woks stood 2 actual Chinese cooks. As this was quite rare, in I went.

Here’s the deal with menus in chifas. They are all in Spanish. I am a visual guy and without pictures, I was lost. (I was looking specifically for white rice + some stir fried chicken.) Sensing my predicament, one of the cooks, a middle-aged Chinese lady, came to my rescue. I was happy to see her. Until she spoke to me in Mandarin.

I am sad to say I have lost most of my knowledge of Mandarin which I acquired between ages 8 to 11. So I communicated with her in what I’d call “Spandirin” or “Spanish and Mandarin”.

“Wo yao che pollo con verduras con arroz blanco”. (I want to eat chicken with veggies with white rice.)

Miraculously, she understood and I got a meal that was close to what I had in mind. (Let me just say that eating white rice in a chifa is never recommended. This is because every dish is usually served with fried rice. It is a chifa staple. And any Chinese cook worth their salt knows that quality fried rice is usually made with leftover overnight white rice. And leftover overnight white rice is not the best. But that’s what I got.)

I then asked her, in full Mandarin, how many years she has lived in Puno. She showed me ten fingers. I then said “Shi?” and meant “Ten?” but the accent I said it in meant “Four?”. She corrected me. I felt silly.

But hey, I invented “Spandirin”.

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