Thursday, November 10, 2005

Language Fun

My Chinese colleagues know I speak Mandarin so if they want to carry on a private conversation in front of me they resort to using Cantonese. Since I am somewhat of a smart-aleck I interject some “unknown” English into their private conversations. Here are a few examples:

“Excuse me, I have an engineering question I need to ask. How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?”

“supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”

“Pardon me, I just received an email. Do you know any of these people? Peter, Andrew, James and John, Phillip, Bartholomew, Thomas and Matthew, James the Son of Alphaeus, Thaddeus, Simon the Canaanite and Judas Iscariot?” Of course a good follow up to this one is to recite the 46 books of the Bible.

I also have my own secret dialect. I have taught one of the guys in the office Pig Latin and made him promise not to teach anyone else. Now when we need to carry on a private conversation we use Pig Latin - to the amazement and confusion of the others in the office.

Like teaching “pull my finger” these are my attempts to bridge cross-cultural differences

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Oriental Potato Salad

Necessity is indeed the mother of invention!

This weekend I craved potato salad. So I went grocery shopping: bought potatoes, eggs, onions, mayonnaise, but NO mustard. Mustard was not to be found! I went to another store, NO mustard! What is it? The Chinese do not know about mustard? I panicked! No mustard - no potato salad!

I tried to calm down. think, think, think…what can I substitute for mustard? And then, an epiphany! WASABI - yes, that pungent, green “mustard” that the Japanese use for sushi!

I rush home. Boil the potatoes and the eggs, chop the onion and then in a separate bowl, add 1 cup of mayonnaise, squeeze out about 3″ of wasabi (wasabi comes in a tube like toothpaste). I start mixing the mayonnaise and wasabi. Taste - not bad, but I want a little more spicy - add a little more wasabi. Stir, taste, wow, WOW! I then mix this all with the potatoes and other ingredients, let me tell you it was GREAT!

Mustard? Who needs mustard? I have wasabi!

Friday, November 04, 2005

Medicine Shows-Chinese Style
My Trip to Beijing-Day 2

Remember the old time medicine shows? The one where the medicine salesman would park his wagon and hawk his wares and offer to sell you this wonderful drug that would cure everything from dyspepsia to menstrual cramps?

Wel-l-l…the Chinese have figured out how to bring this to a whole new level! My second day in Beijing, the tour group and I were loaded on the bus and taken to a medicine show tourist trap hospital / museum. We were told that this was one of the oldest and most famous hospitals in Beijing. We were led into a examining room, took a seat and then received a 15 minute lecture from a salesperson nurse, who proceeded to tell us the history of this hospital and of all the famous snake oils medicines that were manufactured there.

After the 15 minute lecture the door suddenly opens and now 2 high pressure snake-oil salesmen doctors come to the front of the examining room and invite any of us with illnesses, conditions, sicknesses, maladies, hen-flu-in-ways, lopsidoodles, etc. to come forward and to tell them “what’s ailin’ us” (as my dear old daddy would have said).

Well as P.T. once said “There’s a sucker born every minute” so several of our traveling group came forward like Baptists in a revival meeting and told the “doctors” of their problems. Of course all the cures were in these little bottles of medicine so conveniently displayed at the front of the room. Some folks bought, I did not. Finally after being exposed to these high pressure tactics for more than a half hour we were released. On our way out, we were shuffled into this huge shopping area and were given one more chance to be cured.

However, our tour guides did not come away empty-handed. They were both rewarded with free samples for diverting our little group to visit this tourist trap famous Beijing hospital and pharmacy.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Random Musings

Last night was Halloween, no trick-or-treaters and no horror movies on TV. CCTV did show “Tora, Tora, Tora” (for you Gen-X’ers this is a movie about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor). It was dubbed over in Chinese so all the actors spoke Mandarin, both the American and the Japanese, and that was kind of weird. I don’t mind the American actors being dubbed over as Chinese, but I want my Japanese actors to sound like Japanese!

The European equivalent of Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi’s recent visit to the war-related Yasukuni Shrine would be for the German Chancellor to visit a church honoring Hitler. At least the Germans apologized for what they did, the Japanese have not…instead they have re-written their history books.

I have seen just about everything here - fast food, discos, garages, car washes, veterinary clinics, shopping malls, subways — everything that we have in America. BUT one thing I have not seen is funeral homes and graveyards. What happens when someone dies here? Does anybody know? Nate Fischer, where are you?

I saw this sign recently at a Chinese factory. “No Quality - No Future!” Think about it. The Chinese are becoming more and more aware that it is not good enough just to produce a cheap product, but they must produce quality products as well.

Chinese love game shows and they will make a game show of anything. They now have a gameshow version of “Antiques Roadshow” where people bring antiques for the experts to appraise. The studio audience is divided into teams and they also make a guess of the value. The team with the most “closest” estimates wins.

What is eaten in the US and is called “Chinese food” is NOT anything like the real food eaten here. Most Chinese prefer white rice to fried rice. What Americans call “pot stickers” is called “dumplings” here. Each province has it’s own unique dishes and styles of cooking. “Sweet and sour” dishes are Cantonese. Spicy dishes are normally found in Sichuan (szechuan) and Hunan provinces. Rice is the staple grain in south China whereas flour is the staple grain in north China. Therefore north China is known more for dumplings, noodles and bread with every meal and south China is known for rice at every meal.

In China, sidewalks and red lights are merely suggestions.

Whoever invented the horn and the motorcycle should have them both put “where the sun don’t shine”. And whoever figured out that you could put an air horn (like from semi truck) on a motorcycle should be doubly cursed. I think more people die here from heart attacks from hearing these horns than by actually being hit by motorcycles.

Everyone here loves to say “hello” (in English) to foreigners. They like to do this while passing you on the sidewalk, while you are in motion. That way they do not have to actually engage you in an ACTUAL English conversation. I call this “hit and run” English. When I first came here, this amused me, then it annoyed me, now I stop, run them down and reply in Chinese, “Dui bu qi, wo ting bu dong yingwen. Wo zhi hui shuo Putonghua. Ru guo ni hui shuo yingwen, ni ke bu ke yi jiao wo?” Which means, “I’m sorry. I don’t understand English. I can only speak Chinese. If you can speak English, can you teach me?” This really confuses the hell out of the “hit and run” English speaker. Sorry, but I am a bit of a smart-ass.

All Asians DO NOT turn the “l” sound into the “r” sound. Chinese people pronounce l’s quite nicely so please do not stereotype Chinese with other Asian languages.