Yesterday a Canadian was giving me a hard time at work because I threw away my plastic drink bottle instead of putting it in the recycling box. I thought this was kind of funny. Oftentimes in China you see waste receptacle with one side labeled “for garbage” and the other side labeled “for recycling.” Then you look inside the thing and you realize that both sides just go to one big garbage bag. Now, tell me… are you really going to make sure you throw your recyclables in one side of the garbage bag, and your garbage in the other?
At most other places, anytime you throw anything out in China, it’s going to be picked through later for valuable recyclables. I simply threw away my plastic bottle in the office because I felt very sure it would be rescued for recycling by someone whose livelihood depended on it, and they’d be going through the same garbage whether I threw away that bottle or not.
Don’t get me wrong… I’m all for recycling. But what’s the point in empty gestures when you know what’s going on? Let’s recycle when it counts.
> A friend was taking a cruise on the Yangtze River in China. He was enjoying the cruise, but disgusted to see many passengers throwing their garbage overboard, into the river. Determined to do the right thing, he made sure to always walk all the way to the far end of the deck to the one garbage can to dispose of all his trash. It was a pain, and he was only one person vs. the littering masses, but it was the right thing to do.
> Later in the cruise, the garbage can filled up. A custodian went over to take care of it. To the friend’s horror, he lifted the garbage can and upended its contents into the Yangtze River.
Hmmm, on the one hand, always “recycling” (even when it’s pointless) reinforces good habits. On the other hand…
> When China becomes more powerful, we’ll make all the foreigners take band 4 or 6 exams! Classical Chinese would be too simple; it’ll all have to be answered using calligraphy brushes, but that’s going easy on them. Going hard on them would be a knife and a turtle shell for each person, and they have to carve in the oracle-bone characters! The essay topic would be: discuss the Three Represents! For the listening comprehension section, it would all be Jay Chou‘s songs, two listens for “Shuangjiegun” and one for “Juhua Tai“. We’ll tell them this is a totally normal speed that Chinese people speak at! Reading comprehension will be all government work reports, the spoken component will require Beijing Opera, and the practical component will be wrapping zongzi.
I love the humor with which the poster handled (1) the frustrations of being forced to learn English through a horrible impractical exam, and (2) the ridiculous complexity of his own native tongue, while (3) it was all set against the backdrop of China’s coming ascendancy as a world superpower, which isn’t a joke at all.
I just found these on YouTube. Hilarious. Just watch.
The amazing thing is that there are apparently over 30 of them! The camera work and pedagogy don’t get any better over time.
The full description of the first one led me to believe that the whole thing is just mocking a well-meaning old Chinese man, but then why would it go on for over 30 lessons? Plus more and more effort is clearly going into the on-screen presentation with the later clips.
My family has a ball with misheard English (“dancing plaid” being a favorite), but a whole new world of hilarious confusion opens up when you switch to a different language. These two were heard the other day:
– 香橙 (“fragrant orange”) mistaken for 香肠 (“sausage”) as an ice cream flavor
– 谢谢光临 (“thank you for coming”) mistaken for 西瓜 (“watermelon”) as a farewell greeting
Given China’s myriad of dialects/topolects/languages and the resulting substandard varieties of Mandarin, one can expect this kind of thing to be quite commonplace in the PRC. The miscommunications seem especially bizarre when you translate them into English. Have you heard any good ones in Chinese?
> As with their invention of the modern game of soccer, the probability that two different civilizations could separately invent such dauntingly complex things as voting or kicking a ball around is so small as to be almost impossible. “The only likely conclusion,” says Professor Wang, “is that these things, like pretty much everything in the world, were invented in China, and spread to the West through trade routes or magic.”
It was early evening, shortly after dinner. I was on the outskirts of Shanghai trying to find a cab to get home. As I walked the streets I was vaguely aware of a guy standing facing a wall, having a conversation with another nearby guy in a car. I’ve learned that (especially in China) it’s best not to pay attention to guys facing walls on the side of the street, so I never gave him more than a glance. As I passed by, though, I couldn’t help but overhear a part of the two men’s conversation.
> Guy in car: [something annoyed and impatient-sounding]
> Guy at wall: Hold on! I just saw a foreigner so I can’t pee!
I couldn’t help but laugh. Up until that point I hadn’t realized that one of my laowai superpowers was my antidiuretic presence.
> The landlord was sweet as pie. She was wonderful. Her boyfriend was charming, all smiles, a real modern guy with “Starbucks” latte in hand. And then in walked “Auntie.” She was a dumpy, troll-like figure with a sour, peasant visage that betrayed no sense of warmth or mirth. It was quite a miracle when I saw her face actually begin to brighten into a grin when she met me… if only I knew.
Over at ChinesePod we’ve all been amused lately at the comments left by Japanese learner “Changye.” He has taken to posting rather poetic musings. Here are his thoughts on our recent Valentine’s Day Gift lesson:
> Doomsday is just around the corner.
Now I am eating chocolate in front of my PC.
But I am sorry that it is “not” a Valentine’s Day gift.
I have no choice but to count on the family gift exchange.
1. A sound uttered to show contempt, scorn, or disapproval. (source: Dictionary.com)
2. Boo is a term that is derived from the French word “beau” meaning beautiful. In 18th century England it meant an admirer, usually male. It made it’s way into Afro-Caribean language perhaps through the French colonisation of some Caribean islands. [Boo now means] girl or boyfriend. (source: UrbanDictionary.com)
It’s not new, but it was too good to go unlinked to:
> BARTHOLOMEW FRANKS AND THE SPECIAL FEW—A STORY OF FAME AND CELEBRITY IN THE NEW CHINA
> BY PABLO
> CHENGDU, CHINA—Bartholomew Franks knew he was a Seriously Important Person the first time he was recognized on the street by a complete stranger.
> “I was just walking around, thinking about velcro, when suddenly this complete stranger walked up to me, all smiling, and said ‘hallo.’ ” The man was a local seller of steamed buns who, Mr. Franks explains, recognized him by the fact that he wasn’t Chinese, and had a big nose. “‘Chang bizi’ that’s what he kept on saying to me, laughing. ‘Chang bizi.’ I thought it was pretty cool, so I gave him five kuai and a flourish of my hair, which is long, and flaxen”
A: They all have the Chinese name 黄雪, which in English means “Yellow Snow.” (Comedic gold, this is!) The surname Huang is fairly common, and it’s not unusual for girls’ names to include the character 雪.
If you want to see more Chinese yellow snow, you can do a Baidu search for 黄雪. Unfortunately, the term more often seems to refer to snow in northern China (and Korea) that mixes with the yellow dust. Not as funny.
Thanks to John B for bringing this Chinese name to my attention!
There’s a hilarious entry on a blog called Long Legged Fly about playing soccer in China. An excerpt:
> But the best part of this whole experience is that you cannot play soccer on this field without getting hurt. The ground is too hard. The ground is too slippery. The ground has too many divets and weird ditch like things that zigzag across it. Plus, the Chinese players are very grab-happy and kick-your-shins-happy. So essentially what the Chinese have done is invent something that yet again the world can imitate–an open-air factory that produces injuries. Playing here I have injured my groin, my wrist, my left ankle, my right ankle, a number of my toes, my shins, my face, as well as other parts of my body that I didn’t even know existed until I got them injured, such as my bozon and my kleptok.
Thank you, Andy Lau (刘德华), for one of the funniest Chinese music videos I have ever seen. Greg and I witnessed this amazing recording of a live concert while lunching at the “Kowloon Ice House” in Zhongshan Park’s “Cloud Nine” (龙之梦) mall. A search on YouTube turned up nothing, but thankfully the Tudou.com results had a clip of the exact video we watched:
For those of you too lazy or too foolish to watch that clip, let me recap the hilarity contained therein:
1. Andy Lau is wearing a white cowboy hat and a wifebeater-blouse.
2. The song is a Cantonese version of “I Hate Myself for Loving You” called 我恨我痴心 (literally, “I Hate My Infatuation”).
Well, that’s all, really. It’s funny.
Oh, and just in case you need it, there’s also a karaoke version of 我恨我痴心 set to random boy/girl scenes that have absolutely nothing to do with the song.
On ChinesePod we recently did a podcast lesson about being misunderstood because of incorrect tones, and then getting corrected (in Chinese). It prompted quite a few comments, including this amusing little anecdote in a comment from lostinasia:
> The only time I can recall when I had a substitution problem like this was asking for sauce (jiang4 [酱]) and instead saying ginger (jiang1 [姜]). (Ginger wasn’t totally out of place with the hot pot, but I still wished I’d received the sauce). Oh, and for the longest time at tea stands I asked for “jiao4 tang2″ [教堂] (=church) tea instead of “jiao1 tang2″ [焦糖] (=caramel) tea. They understood me, given the context, but when I finally got it right they commented that for weeks they’d been enjoying my mistake, and I’d become known as “Church Boy”, or something like that. But there are countless other times when people simply haven’t understood me, and my tones are surely a big part of that.