Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Neither Coke nor Water

Sometimes I really don't understand why people can't understand my Chinese.

Don't get me wrong, I'm sure I use the wrong words, the wrong tones, the wrong facial expressions a lot of the time. But still, if you don't understand a person, don't you sit there trying to work out what they might have meant?

Of course, it's not just with Chinese - this is an English problem too. Let me start with an example that happened in Boston USA about a year ago. A small group of us were sitting in a restaurant (including my cousin, who had been living in Boston for 10 years).

The waitress asks us what we'd like to drink, my cousin orders a coffee, I order a "Sam Adams" (the beer is actually called "Samuel Adams", but this waitress is so smart, so she managed to work out what I wanted), and Charlie orders a water. She orders water using her English accent, saying "water" very clearly.

"Sorry, what?"

The waitress is really struggling to understand the word "water", in spite of the fact that she just asked us what we'd like to drink. "Wheelbarrow" would not have made sense, but "water" seems quite obvious.

My cousin interrupts: "She wants water."  Lynn says this with a Boston accent, which sounds more like "wadder" than "waw-tuh".

"Oh wadder?  Sure, no problem," and off the waitress goes.

Seriously. This really happened.

And so to Chinese.

A couple of weeks ago, I was in Shenzhen. I'm in a restaurant, and wanting to order a Diet Coke. Dammit! I can't remember the Chinese word for diet Coke - so I say ​kě​lè​ (可乐)(可樂)('cola'). This part she understands.

I remember that the word for "lose weight" is jiǎn​féi (减肥), which kinda rings bells. I know it's not quite right, but it's close ... so I take a guess by asking for "jiǎn kě​lè".

She doesn't get it. I clarify by saying "méi​yǒu​ táng​" (no sugar), then I repeat "jiǎn kě​lè".  This is not going anywhere, and after another minute of trying, I give up and just order a normal coke.

Now the truly frustrating part is that the word I was looking for was "jiàn​yí​ kě​lè" (健怡可乐)(健怡可樂). When I looked that up back in HK, I was dumbfounded - because she knew I was looking for a type of cola, it doesn't contain sugar, and it sounds like "jiǎn kě​lè".

Wouldn't "jiàn​yí​ kě​lè" be an obvious guess?  I guess not.

tom-A-to is different to tom-ah-to,  but people can work that out.
water is almost the same as wadder, but people can't work that one out.

And I know that what I speak is is waaaaay different to proper Chinese, but still ....

Monday, October 4, 2010

Now blogging from Hong Kong

Hi all

I was shocked to notice that I haven't posted in nearly two months!  Thanks for the emails from those of you who were wondering if I was still "around" ...

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I had plans to move to Hong Kong. And in fact, I have moved to HK. Indeed, this is me now, blogging from Hong Hong.

The picture you see to the right is from my current apartment window, in the heart of Wanchai. This coming weekend I will move to my permanent apartment further east.

In the last couple of months I got tied up with the process of moving, using up some leave that was still due to me (in the US & South Africa), and coming across here. I've also been settling in HK, doing 'domestic' things grocery shopping and getting haircuts.

I've not had that much opportunity to practise my Mandarin (well, more than London, but less than I would want) - except for the last two days which I spent in Shenzhen for China's 61st birthday. I've also been having to re-learn some of my reading, because HK uses the Traditional character set, whereas I learned the Simplified set - but I've done this learning "in the wild" and not from books.

So, following soon, I'll be writing more articles. I've got so many ideas in the last couple of weeks. Keep an eye out for my next post called "Neither Coke nor Water".

If you're still reading, drop me a note below to say hi. (And if you're based in HK, let me know - it would be fun to meet up.)