As most of you know, I have been studying Chinese now for the past years. My best teacher is Wallace, although (if you read my earlier posts) he is not always terribly impressed with the results.
I was realizing the other day that when I am running about by myself or with westerners, I do all the talking and get us what we need or where we need to go. Mostly. I am actually pretty impressed with myself (except for the whole Wallace – Cai Hua – thing which I am still embarrassed about).
Anyhow, aside from Wallace, I have a secret weapon which helps me learn and remember my words and pronunciation. I have a notebook that I write the words down in pinyans (western adaptation of Chinese characters), then I write the definition and finally the phonetic pronunciation. Works like a charm. Mostly.
Shray = water = shra (long a)
And then numbers like:
Yee = 1 = as in yipee (same sound)
Ar = 2 = like ARE
San = 3 = sand without the d
I have lots and lots of words and phrases in my book and can combine them as needed to make sentences, and, purportedly, make sense as I am getting around.
As mentioned, I am the one speaking Chinese when I am with westerners. It is alot of fun to put my colleagues in the taxi and advise the driver to go to “Shiliton Hua Shan Lu Puxi” (the Hilton on Hua Shan Road in Puxi – right Janet?) or to tell him “Pudong Geecha” (Pudong Airport). But the most common thing I find myself asking for is water, as in Shanghai, we are walking or taking the metro everywhere, basically building up a healthy thirst wherever we go.
Sooooo – if you and a friend are walking in Shanghai and you both want a bottle of water – here is a quiz – what would you say?
Ar shray – right?
Ar = two (2)
Shray = water
Totally makes sense right?
Now – if you say this once, and get a blank stare it is certainly because the kind water vendor is shocked at this western lady speaking such amazing Chinese – right? I mean I half expected him to get out the phone and call the Chinese version of Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader and sign me right up.
Now – the one thing you have to understand is that I learned the words for water and numbers YEARS ago. Yes – for the past few years I have been able to walk up to a water vendor and ask for ar shray.
In typical western fashion, and to be 100% clear, at the same time I ask for “ar shray” I provide the numeric indicator with my left hand (visualize the peace sign) to be 100% sure we understand each other.
I was walking with Wallace when we decided we needed a couple of bottles of water. I suddenly realized that I did not need Wallace to take care of this little chore. Nope. I, the Chinese speaking wonder of the western world could take care of business. We walked up to the kiosk and I said “Wallace – I’ve got this. Been doing this for years.”
To the kiosk operator I proudly said: ”Nihao. Ar shray” (accompanied by the hand gesture for clarity).
Wallace got this horrified look on his face and grabbed my hand and said something very quickly to the kiosk operator. I have to admit, I was a little put out. I mean, how hard is “ar shray” to say? I was 100% sure I got it right.
When we moved away from the kiosk (with ar shray by the way) Wallace scolded me very seriously.
Apparently, I have been walking around Shanghai saying to each and every water vendor something like “you stupid”. Seriously. For years.
Now if you are teaching a foreign person your language and there is a particularly – um – nasty hand gesture when accompanied by a certain word that sounds like ar – you would probably mention that to your student right? OK – I do recall some discussion about “ar” and “leeowngkeh” – and the two meanings of 2. But seriously, if you could say ar or leeowngkeh – which one would you use. Right?
So another serious fail. For years. So many water vendors, so many insults. I cannot believe it.
But there is one thing. I have not gotten my butt kicked – not once. Yet.