Once, while recovering from pneumonia over hot pot in Beijing, I tried everything I could to order water in the restaurant. Eventually, an old man a few tables over helped out--he had lived in Vancouver for a few years and spoke some English. But he was the exception: if you've given up on other means of communication and you really want to ask something in English, the populations most likely to speak it are well-to-do and under 25. Students are often excited to practice their English, and people are extremely helpful: One woman on a Beijing street corner was so kind as to actually use her iPhone to call the restaurant we were looking for and ask where, exactly, it was. Even young kids learn English in the cities; at that same hot pot restaurant, we'd ordered using the food section of owner's child's English homework. Which brings me to my final point.