February 17, 2008

Words & Food

Today was the first time I've been able to say it's actually warm. I even took off my big heavy jacket on the walk from the Thumb Plaza to the metro station. Of course, it's all relative, as today's temperature was something like 7 - 8 degrees C - hardly "warm". But given the past month of crappy weather, I'll take it. Oh yeah, and the sun came out. It was pretty nice :-)

I went to the Shanghai Art Museum today. Half the stuff my guidebook said to visit wasn't there, haha. Either that or I was just not good at finding it. There's not much English or Pinyin to be had, so I just walked around and looked at all the pretty pictures for awhile. There were a couple of which I wanted to buy prints, but the gift shop didn't seem to have them. I need to learn the word for "buy". Um, I'm sure it's in my phrasebook. I also need to learn "live", "need", "with", "there", "here", "after", and "like". Probably all also in my phrasebook.

The great thing about having a language tutor is that I can come to her and say "Help me learn these words." In fact I might text message her with these words and ask her to come up with sentences designed to help me learn and remember them. Word. (hah! no pun intended!)

I'm getting better at recognizing words I know when people say them to me. That's pretty cool and empowering. So I am having more mini-conversations with taxi drivers and waiters. In the morning when taxi drivers have talk radio on, I'm starting to recognize words like "today", "want", "have", "you", "me", and so on, from the vocabulary that I actually know and can speak. Baby steps man -- baby steps. Today I saw a billboard for Heilongjiang - and immediately knew that means "Black Dragon River". That's a pretty badass name for a province, if I say so myself.

In fact I was watching a bit of TV this morning, and there was some commercial for skin moisturizing cream on - Garnier, I think. (Amusingly, the announcer pronounced it "Gar-nyer", where in America it's pronounced "Gar-nyay", which I guess is the correct way to say it in French.) I heard the phrase gao keji, and immediately went - ahh, I know what that is! Because two metro stops I say the most are Shanghai Keji Guan and Zhangjiang Gao Ke. Ke is technology (first tone, anyway), ji (fourth tone) is science, and gao (first tone) is tall. (We all know why I know this word.)

So gao keji, in the commercial, literally means "tall science and technology". In this context though, gao probably means something like "advanced". Combined with my knowledge of how these commercials are all the same, e.g., they all try to convince you they've uncovered the secret formula for eternal youth, I could infer that the voice-over was using this same technique of persuasion in China. Not that there's anything especially interesting about that - I'm just happy I was able to recognize the words in a normal, everyday context.

Another funny phrase involving gao is Ni he gao le. This literally means, "You drink tall" which makes no sense. But colloquially, this phrase means "you're drunk", and if you think about it, it kind of makes sense (at least to me, anyway). This one is easy to confuse (when either speaking or listening) with Ni hen gao le, which simply means, "You're very tall". A way to make it easier is that he is first tone and hen is third tone, so if you get your tones right, I guess there's less of a chance of insulting someone accidentally.

In other, smaller triumphs, I went shopping yesterday at Carrefour and bought vittles. It took me a couple trips to load everything into the taxi, so I knew I wouldn't be able to carry everything up to my apartment by myself, not in one trip anyway.

Solution, you ask?

As we stopped at my door, I said to the taxi driver, Wo gei ni er shi kuai bang wo. This translates to "I give you 20 kuai help me." I could have added zhe ge ("this") while pointing at the bags, I suppose, but I got my point across. He understood and helped me carry all my bags upstairs. Victory :-)

Speaking of er ("two"), it's pronounced like "ar" (as in "yard"), and it's first tone. So every time I say it I'm reminded of the sound a dog makes ("arf arf!") and I feel a little silly because I feel like I'm barking at someone in the way a small dog would, haha.

Also speaking of er, you only say that when you're saying the numeral two. When you want to say "two of <something>", you say liang. So if you want two bottles of water and you say Wo yao er ping shui, you'll confuse people. What you need to say is Wo yao liang ping shui. But if you're giving a street address, you'd use er. Don't ask me why this little rule is in there. But it's confusing :-)

Back to Carrefour, or Jialefu as it's called here, I bought a pot and a pan. So now I can boil (and fry!) the frozen jiaozi that I bought, which is way better than microwaving them. They also make for a much better dinner than a pack of Bugles and some rice crackers. (I'm such a bachelor.) I'm really starting to enjoy all the different kinds of dumplings - jiaozi, xiaolongbao, and wonton. They're cheap and delicious. Good times. I guess it's in my blood, and all, given that I grew up being served kreplach every so often :-)

I'm not sure if now's the time to explain how I've been living here almost two months and my refrigerator was not plugged in -- but, I guess I just did. The funny part is, I didn't even notice, because it's so cold here. All the bottles of water I had in there were cold, so I had no reason to be suspicious. Yesterday I dropped something behind the fridge and had to look back there, so I noticed, hey, this thing's not plugged in! Now the fridge light turns on when I open the door, and I'm like -- oh, right, that's supposed to happen -- I forgot.

Back to Jialefu. You know you've made it in China when your company or product is blessed with a Chinese name. For example, KFC is known as kendeji which, when said out loud, vaguely sounds like "Kentucky". Same thing for places like Washington DC, Houston, Italy, Canada, Budweiser, Coca-Cola, Starbucks, McDonald's, et al.

Aaaaand I am looking into booking a trip to Beijing at the end of April. Randomly enough, a friend of mine who I used to carpool with to Hebrew School in 3rd grade is in a play that is touring through China this spring. The tour is not coming to Shanghai, so I'm going to plan to meet up with them in Beijing.

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