It’s hard to believe that Mandarin is a language at all. It is so absurdly foreign, so screechingly unnatural that I marvel that anybody can communicate with it. It is also tonal and bone china-delicate, and our attempts to enunciate a hotel address to an open-shirted, big-bellied cab driver must have looked piteous. ‘Chaoyang?’ we ask, referring to the district name. The cabbie looks as if I’ve asked him for a slow waltz. ‘Chaoyang?’ we repeat louder. Cabbie’s frown deepens and his eyes cast around for a compatriot. After half a dozen more attempts he asks; ‘Chaoyang?’, ever so slightly hardening the ‘ch’ and turning the second ‘a’ into a ‘u’; a tiny linguistic nuance which I suppose would mean the difference between Baker Street and Barnstable.