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
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
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!