During some meeting of some committee of some sub-organization at the United Nations in Vienna, I got to know a young lady from China.
Qian was doing an internship as a simultaneous interpreter for Mandarin and English. Simultaneous interpreters are those super-brains who listen to several participants in a discussion about the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and at the same time (!) interpret all speeches, questions, answers, interruptions and arguments into Chinese. Then, in the afternoon, they do the same about fishing policy or an agreement on tariffs and trade.
She suggested that we should meet for dinner or something like that.
Because Qian had mentioned that she had only arrived in Vienna a few days earlier and because I wasn’t quick enough to think of anything smarter, I asked if she already knew her way around the city.
“Of course, it’s a really small town.”
There are around 2 million people living in Vienna.
“Ehm, it’s the largest city in the country,” I replied, not really trying to correct, but to understand her.
“Oh yes, you are right,” she said with a smile, “I am sorry, I still have to get used to that.” The look on her face was like that of a titan who had come to a country full of mini-dwarfs, accidentally stepping on some of them, and fretting about it terribly.
She was from Qingdao, a name which didn’t ring any bell, until Qian patiently explained that this was Tsingtao, the capital of the former German colony of Kiautschou, and that they still had the best beer in China. More than 8 million people live in Qingdao.
There are hundreds of cities in China larger than Vienna. I could name only two or three of them, which shows that despite all my travels, there are still very large white spots on my map of the world. And Hainan province alone, one of the smallest provinces in China, has as many people as Austria.