Maria Holland

My Inch or Your Inch?

In Uncategorized on January 6, 2010 at 1:06 am

Today started with one of those discouraging moments where I realize even Chinese people don’t speak Chinese that well sometimes.  This came up once or twice in ZhaoAn as well, when our friend asked us how to write a few characters.  Our teacher told us that a character in the book, 呆, was wrong and should have been 待 (same pronunciation) . . . but that Chinese people mix them up all the time so it has basically become right. 

Of course as always, there’s a parallel with English.  My friend Wang, a Chinese studying at TU, recently asked me about when to use ‘-er’ and when to use ‘more’.  I told him that Americans mix them up sometimes too.  Then I started thinking of other parts of English that Americans frequently mess up – there are those homonyms like there/their/they’re and your/you’re and effect/affect; there are countless spelling mistakes, some more forgivable than others; there are the awkwardly conjugated verbs like drink (drunk? drank?); there’s the plurals of octopus and syllabus and cactus; there’s sentences starting with “buts” and ending with prepositions; there’s the constant butchering of the subjunctive tense . . . what am I missing here? 

Sometimes such lists are comforting to language learners, maybe because it sets the bar low, but sometimes it’s just downright discouraging.  If a real Chinese person can’t remember the characters for simple food items, how on earth can I be expected to remember how to write 喷嚏??!?

After a slightly discouraging class and a busy afternoon of running errands and gettin’ stuff done, I had a wonderful evening – definitely laughed more than I have any day yet this year.  My Korean friend Eunjeong returns home on Friday, so I went to dinner with her, Aleid, Yong Zhi, and a Chinese classmate of hers, Xiao Dan.  Dinner was really good, including the 田鸡 dish.  (Literally, it means “field chicken”.  XiaoDan told us it was like a frog but not, which really left me at a loss.  According to, it’s . . . a frog.)  Then we went over to Aleid’s apartment for a game of Catan.  There were so many funny moments, but due to the risk of the humor being lost in translation, I’m only going to record one here:

“I said mài, not mǎi!  Watch your tones!”
– Aleid, after I confused on a trade.  Instead of using the words for “want” and “have”, which are a little more distinguishable, she used the words for “sell” and “buy”, which differ only in tone (so basically, to my ears – not at all). 

It was great playing with two actual 中国人 (Chinese people) because they . . . well, speak Chinese so well!  It’s a lot of fun to hear the vocab that we learn in our boring lessons used in more fun situations.  Like when Eunjeong only had sheep and she said “我买不了”(I can’t buy [anything]).  Or when Yong Zhi drew another sheep and said “我受不了”(I can’t bear it).  Or when no one would trade for sheep and XiaoDan said “可怜的羊,谁都不要”(Poor sheep, no one wants them).

It was also really hilarious when Yong Zhi ate one of the dried fruit things that our ZhaoAn friends gave us and nearly started crying, but still said it was 很好 (very good).  We need to find a way to offload four bags of these things . . . I think my teachers may be getting presents!

When I got back, I talked to my dad on Skype for a little bit.  They’re finishing up preparations for their trip here, departing in almost exactly a week!  I told them it would be really easy for them to borrow a phone in Beijing and call me, then realized they don’t speak Chinese.  Oops!  Also, when I was measuring something for my dad, the measurements seemed off a little bit so I took a closer look at my measuring tape.  I was using the “inches” side – in quotation marks because each “inch” is over 3cm (instead of the “standard” 2.54).  But who’s counting?

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