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  Beijing Scene

Things that make you go hng!

Does it ever seem that things are happening around you without rhyme or reason - wu yuan wu gu? Do you ever wonder about something and wonder if anyone else is wondering about it too? Does it seem as though this article is making absolutely no sense? Well, chances are you're not the only one who feels this way. Sometimes life can be pretty confusing here in China, and all the Beijing Scene Guidebooks, Comrade Language articles, Lonely Planets and white lightning - erguotou in the world can't help you make heads or tails of any of it. It's only natural that you'd feel perplexed - mo ming qi miao about some of the goings-on in our fair Northern Capital, and that's why your humble Comrade has taken the liberty of explaining - jieshi some of these oddities. These are a few of the many things that make you go "hng!" and I've even taken the liberty of speculating on a couple of possible explanations.

For starters, did you ever wonder why Chinese guys insist on rolling up their pant legs all the way past their knees rather than just wearing a pair of shorts? The reason for this is because if they were wearing shorts and suddenly got called to a formal business meeting - jinji huiyi they'd be screwed. By always wearing pants and just rolling them up when it gets too hot, they're prepared to "come when called" - suijiaosuidao.

It's always confusing when people are wearing sweaters in 36 Celsius weather. Actually, this is a very common occurrence in most socialist countries. You see, since all of the state enterprise, post office and bank employees have nothing to do all day, all they do is knit coasters, sweaters and those things you slip over tea jars (my British colleague says they're called "cosies"). Then they give them away as gifts to everyone they know. That's millions of sweaters being given away every day! Have you ever been watching a Western movie on Chinese TV, it gets to a dirty part and all of a sudden those scenes of Tiananmen Square and Mao's wart come on the screen with the Chinese National Anthem playing in the background? One time I was watching Baywatch, and just when David Hasselhoff was about to kick it to some broad in a bikini, a big still picture of a flower appeared on the screen accompanied by Kenny G. in the background. Hng! By the time the show started again, Dave was already out of the bedroom and out on the beach rescuing his next love interest. It's got to make you wonder if you're dreaming when a cab driver takes you to your destination without complaining, trying to rip you off or asking you where you're from. How about when you call your friend's dormitory, begin asking for the extension, and before you're even finished the operator says "It's busy" - zhanxian and hangs up on you. Actually, there happens to be a very simple explanation for this phenomenon - xianxiang: all telephone operators - jiexianyuan are telepathic - weibuxianzhi. They know what extension you want before you even ask for it, and what's more, they even know if it's busy or not!

Another thing that's sure to make you go hng! is when someone from someplace like Tianjin says to you: "Your Mandarin is pretty good, but if I were to speak to you in Tianjin dialect, you wouldn't understand." Of course, Tianjin dialect is as different from Mandarin as Canadian English is from American English.

How about when you go someplace on vacation where they speak Mandarin (albeit badly), such as Nanjing. While you're there, you speak Chinese to the locals and they tell you that your [nonexistent] Nanjing dialect is "not bad" - bucuo. Of course, in Harbin your same mispronounced Mandarin would be unintelligible in Harbin dialect as well!

Let's say you live in a dormitory and your phone number is ridiculously long and complicated like this: (8610) 6342-5612 extension 4369 room 5782. The phone rings one day, you pick it up, and it's your Mom. Hng! Assuming your mother doesn't speak Chinese, how does one explain how she could possibly get through the corroded phone lines, telepathic operators and hostile Koreans who always get to the phone before you and tell everyone who calls you that there's no such person as you?

How do you explain it when the food you order in a Chinese restaurant comes exactly as you ordered it? Beware! Someone may be behind the scenes manipulating people and events in an attempt to confuse you. Have you ever gone out for so-called "Western food" - suowei "xican" and had your appetizer come after your dessert? How about when you ask for rice and the fuwuyuan says meiyou? That would be like no snails in France, no overweight Americans, no hockey pucks in Canada, nobody named Kim in Australia, no soccer in Third World countries and no stupid idiot foreigners on Chinese TV during the Spring Festival.

If any of the above phenomena have confused or befuddled you in the past, fear not: you are not alone! A big part of being a China Hand - zhongguo tong is being able to "go with the flow" - shunqi ziran and then adapting to your environment. Remember that the next time you see an attractive young girl in her 20's running around with some fat ugly guy old enough to be her father!

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