Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Chinese Lesson #1: I’m Not a Prodigy

So I’ve recently decided that it’s in my best interest to learn Chinese, not only because I think it’s important to learn my husband’s other language, but also because I want my children (should I ever decide I’d like to start popping some out) to grow up speaking both Chinese (Cantonese, specifically) and English.

Oh, and I also want to learn Chinese so I can eavesdrop more effectively on my mother-in-law.


Even though I’ve heard spiceboy speaking Chinese for more than 5 years now, I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve learned only minimal Chinese words and phrases, all of which I’ve become quite good at speaking over the years, and all of which were imparted to me by various members of the Spice Family and/or employees of Spice World, and all of which are dirty and not suitable for civilized Chinese conversation:

fart = fung pee

boobs = nai nai

are you horny = ni how ma (this also means “how are you” but it depends on the pronunciation)

fucking crazy = chi gau si

Note: I’ve totally mangled the spelling of the pronunciations here—they are in no way correct, and I apologize profusely for this. But you get the point.

So last night, after a glass (or four) of wine, I decided it was the perfect time for spiceboy to teach me some useful Chinese. I mean, who doesn’t want to learn a new language on the day of our nation's birth after having consumed a huge order of baby back ribs, drinking (at least) four glasses of vino, and watching several back to back episodes of Most Outrageous TV Moments, right?


So spiceboy started with numbers, which seemed easy enough. He slowly and painfully taught me to count to ten in Cantonese, correcting and encouraging me every time I mangled the rather triangular-sounding Chinese pronunciation with my oh-so-round American pronunciation. spiceboy is a good and patient teacher, and I caught onto one through ten pretty quickly. So next, he taught me to count to one hundred. I even made him write down the pronunciations so I could look at them and say them out loud.

Which I did. For over an hour.

You see, when I latch on to something, I don’t want to let it go. Which is why I read the same book a bazillion times and rent the same movie over and over and put my favorite song on repeat.

And so it went with my Chinese numbers. I practiced writing and saying the words for such a long time (pausing frequently to glug more wine) that after awhile, the words ceased sounding like words and became instead a bevy of foreign noises chasing themselves around in my mouth and in my head. I said them aloud as I put dishes in the sink. I said them aloud under my breath as we watched tv. I even said them aloud while I was peeing. And in an attempt to trip myself up, I said them faster and faster and faster, just to see if I could do it.

Soon, I was spitting out one two three four five six seven eight nine ten...and so on and so forth up to one hundred in rapid-fire Cantonese. It was a magical experience--as though my lips were moving independently of the rest of my body. And as I reached yet again for my wine glass, I felt a glimmer of hope that I was more than just a red-headed white girl speaking Chinese—perhaps I was a total Chinese language prodigy!

I turned to spiceboy, sure that he was gazing at me with much adoration and amazement, and that he would sleep well knowing that his new bride is not only dedicated to embracing his heritage, but also that she has beautiful red hair that looks completely natural in color even though it’s from a box, AND that she is an incredibly smart, talented person with an amazing gift for the Chinese language.

But that’s not how it happened. spiceboy was gazing at me, all right. But he seemed more befuddled than amazed. In fact, he was looking at me like I was crazy.

Chi gau si, if you will.

That’s when I started to wonder: Was I really a Cantonese-speaking prodigy? Or was I merely an expert at drinking wine and speaking gibberish?

spiceboy looked at me for a long moment, patted me on the shoulder, and said, “Okay there, Nell, I think that’s about enough for one night.”

Damn! Wine and gibberish.

Tonight, I think I’ll go back to basics:

fung pee
nai nai
ni how ma

Happy Wednesday.


Blogger Robyn said...

Some of the Chinese I know:

da pi gu
bei bei
various food stuffs and common greetings
important one: wo ting bu dong

I never learned the less civlized things. THANKS FOR TEACHING ME! ;D

The reason I don't want to learn Chinese is so I DON'T understand what my parents are saying. Hahaha! Hahaha!...oh god. Anyway, good luck on learning Chinese! :)

7:48 PM  
Blogger Katy said...

don't forget that betty spice should be bilingual, too! maybe you could start learning some chinese phrases to say to betty. she won't think you're nuts.

9:18 PM  
Blogger Style Girl said...

i agree with katy! animals have no idea if you are saying crazy things or not!

good for you though for wanting to learn your groom's language! very admirable. i'm sure he thought it was too cute when you were counting, and he didn't tell you were wrong with it, so keep on keeping on!

whenever i decide to learn the FH's language of hunting (never) i'll let you know, but until then, please keep us posted on your new language!!

happy hump day!

9:59 PM  
Blogger Paperback Writer said...

ESG: You're doing better than I am! If I tried, I suppose my future children can be multilingual (English, Tagalog and Hebrew) but Hebrew and Tagalog aren't necessarily global languages....

Oh, well.

8:45 AM  
Blogger Rebecca said...

At least you're trying. I can mangle the English language quite easily - especially after a glass or four of wine - so I am VERY impressed with your efforts! Can't wait to see how you progress!

10:55 AM  
Blogger threetoedsloth said...

My boyfriend is from Korea, and his dad speaks very limited English and his mom speaks absolutely NONE. I met them for the first time a couple of months ago and spent the whole night smiling and nodding while the whole family carried on in Korean for hours. If I meet them again, I'm hoping my boyfriend will teach me a few key phrases first, so I'll know when they're talking about me, aka "the evil white girl who's leading our son astray" or "the evil white girl who ate our whole bowl of bean sprouts." Or maybe I could at least learn how to say "nice to meet you."

11:42 AM  
Blogger Joan said...

Personally I prefer to speak Klingon to my husbands family, they think I'm crazy anyway.

12:00 PM  
Blogger myboyfriendiscrazy said...

LOL nice. At least you tried and had a fleeting moment of glory

2:16 PM  
Blogger Jami said...

I'd love to learn Mandarin, mostly because of my deep love of the show Firefly. The only chinese I speak is the few swears I've learned from that show.

10:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are you learning Chinese?
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10:12 PM  

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