Saturday, March 26, 2011

I Though Pregnant Women Were Supposed to be Forgetful

Crap!  She remembers! 

In November I had the following conversation with a pregnant woman who sells fruit on the street near my house.  I am bundled up in Peter's old sweatshirt buying some apples from her, and she is chatting me up about the cool weather.

Fruit Mamma: That's 8.50 RMB.
Me: Here you go.
Fruit Mamma (pointing to the bag in my hand): Did you get that sandwich to go?


The critics might argue that I should have known she wasn't talking about my sandwich.  After all, it was already wrapped up in a bag, clearly "to go."  My rebuttal is that Captain Obvious is alive and well in China.  I offer today's conversation with a taxi driver as proof.  This conversation took place in Chinese.

Me: Please take me to the New Oriental on the Second Ring Road.
Taxi Driver: Where?
Me: New Oriental School.  The one on the Second Ring Road.
Taxi Driver: There's a New Oriental on the Second Ring Road?
Me: Yes, the main campus.  It's right where Hanguang Street crosses the Second Ring Road.
Taxi Driver: I'm not sure I know where that is.
Me: Just head that way.  I know where it is, I can tell you.
Taxi Driver: You're sure you know where it is?
Me: Of course I do.  I work there.  I'm a teacher.
Taxi Driver:  Okay. (Beat) How long have you been in Xi'an?
Me: A year.
Taxi Driver: Are you here for work or travel?
Me: Maybe I should get another taxi...

So.  Obvious questions?  All a part of the game.  Cut back to me and the Fruit Mamma.)

Fruit Mamma: Did you get that sandwich to go?
Me: Um, yes?
Fruit Mamma: Cool.  Me too.  How many months?
Me: Huh?
Fruit Mama: When will it be born?
(At this point, the sluggish part of my brain that speaks Chinese reminds me that the slang for "baby" and "to go" sound awfully similar to me.  I do some fast thinking.)
 Me: Uh, July.
Fruit Mamma: I'm due in February.  Maybe our "to go"s can be friends.
Me: Yep!  Okay, bye!

Fast forward to today.  I haven't seen Fruit Mamma in awhile, because women are usually confined to the house for the last month of their pregnancy and the first month of motherhood.  It's considered unhealthy to go outside during this time.  There's a host of other superstitions that go along with this.  

At the time of my original mistake we had plans to move to another neighborhood before my mythical baby was to be born.  Those plans fell through, however, and Fruit Mamma's back today.  As I buy a bag of tiny, delicious mangoes she looks me up and down and says:

That baby's coming soon, huh?

I experience a lurch of vertigo as all of the above, which I had forgotten, comes crashing back to me.  I should have planned for this.  Of course she'd remember; the strongest bond two heterosexual women can form is that of being pregnant at the same time.  I have a deer-in-the-headlights moment as I try to think of a plausible way out of this situation and come up with nothing.  Crap.  What due date did I make up?  I guess:


She looks me up and down and says dubiously:


I cannot resist trying to read her eyes to see if she thinks I look like I am more or less than six months pregnant.  I am afraid it is more.  Or maybe she's doing some math and figuring out that my pregnancy is lasting an unnatural amount of time...because as I am thinking this I realize my initial calculation may be off.  Did that sandwich conversation occur on a warm night in fall or a cool night in summer?  Am I pregnant with a rhinoceros?  What's wrong with those crazy Americans?  Did you know they actually bathe and go outside less than a month after giving birth?  I feel the tendrils of panic creeping around me, so I blurt out:

Yep!  Okay, bye!

Safely at home, I have Peter, the tiny delicious mangoes, and barbecued fish to comfort me.  We concoct a plan (Peter and I, that is, the fish has no feasible suggestions).  When next I see Fruit Mamma I will pretend that I thought she was asking me about when I was next going home to America.   For some reason I find this mistake much less embarrassing than the actual mistake I made.  I guess I'd rather have her think I mistook "go home and eat tacos" for "give birth."  It's believable.  After all, I did mistake "to go" for "baby."

Sigh.  I think I'll be ordering that Rosetta Stone software on payday.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Odd Couple

Peter and I are watching TV.  Except, as usual, we're not so much watching it as sitting in front of it ignoring it and talking.  We are watching an episode of Mythbusters about the 5 second rule.

 Peter: What's the 5 second rule?
Me: That you can eat something off the floor if it's been there less than 5 seconds.
Peter: I would never do that.
Me: I used to believe in that.
Peter: Why'd you stop?
Me: I stopped right around the time I became responsible for cleaning my own floors.  Would you eat off your grandma's floor?  She's really clean.
Peter: She is, but I wouldn't eat off her floor, because she's crazy.  She does mop twice a day, though.
Me: Really?
Peter: Yeah, everyone on that side of the family does.  They're a little anal.  My grandfather used to yell at me for watching TV and reading the newspaper at the same time.
Me: Why?
Peter: He said it was a waste of electricity.  Also he wouldn't ever let me sit on the bed with my pants on.
Me: Pardon?
Peter: He said the only thing that should go on the bed is your body in pajamas.  Your street clothes are dirty.  He also didn't let me put my school bag on the bed.  Or any food.
Me: Is that why everyone takes their pants off whenever they go to your grandparents' house?
Peter: Yeah.  Anal.  I never told you before, but it kind of bothers me, too.
Me: You told me before.
Peter: I did?
Me: Remember when I was packing to go to America and I put my suitcase on the bed?
Peter: It had been in storage for a year!
Me: I dusted it!  You're turning into your grandfather.
Peter: Maybe.
Me: Wait a few more years, then you'll start turning into your father.
Peter: What's wrong with that?
Me: Nothing, but I'm turning into my mother.
Peter: So it'd be like your mother was married to my father...
Me: Yeah, that wouldn't work at all.
Peter: I think we discovered where divorce comes from.

Peter's family are lovely people.  They have a quirk or two, like the rest of us.  Pants are generally removed only when wearing long johns underneath, in the winter, which is not (too) unusual here.  My mother and his father are lovely, caring people, but definitely not made for each other!

Monday, March 21, 2011


I lost my internet access for a few days, but I'm back now!  If you're interested, I finished reading The DaVinci Code and wrote a short review on Goodreads, which you can read here.  If you're on Goodreads, or you like reading, you should become my friend.  I want more people to talk about books with me.

Here are some conversations I've had recently.

Me: What is most important to you?
Harmony: My family.  And books.
Me: I knew I liked you.

Me: Why'd she let you answer her phone?
Howard: She was too drunk to answer it.  We had been drinking Pee...peer...beef... no, beer!
Me: When?  This morning?

Judy and I are guessing words, Catchphrase-style.

Judy: I don't live in a house, I live in an apart...
Me: Apartment?
Judy: Yes.
Me: Okay, go on.
Judy:  That's it.  The word is "meant."
Me: Do you know what it means?
Judy: I'm supposed to know what it means?
Me: Of course.
Judy: Whatever.  I still got you to say it.

I am showing Harmony pictures of American holidays.

Me: Do you know what day this is?
Harmony: (Mentally translating from Chinese) Thank You Day?
Me: Close.  It's called Thanksgiving.
Harmony: English words too many long.
Me: I agree.  (Showing a picture of a plate of cookies laid out for Santa Claus) Do you know what day this is?
Harmony: There is Cookie Day in America?!
Me: There should be.  I think I like your holidays better.
Harmony: You welcome.

We are looking at a map of the world.

Michael: Where's Panama?
Gene: In the White House.
Abbot: That's Obama, genius!
Gene: There's two?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Self-Esteem FAIL

Sheri: I'm going to go to high school in California.
Me: Which city?
Me: Sacramento?
Shari: Yes!
Me: Do you know the name of your high school?
Shari: Loser High School.
Me: Say what?
Shari: Loser High School.
Me: Umm...
Shari: You know, it's spelled L-U-T-H---
Me: Oh!  Luther High School!


About a week ago I had a Who's on First-style discussion with Saul, whose job it is to help me with class-related issues.  You can read the original conversation here.

Saul: Oh hey, Christense, I found out that you probably do need a specific textbook for that IELTS class.
Me: Great, what is the name of the textbook?
Saul: Sorry, I don't know.
Me: How can I buy the textbook if I don't know the name?
Saul: Yeah.  I'll try to find out for you.
Me: The class manager at the IELTS center could probably tell you.
Saul: Yeah, I should go back and ask him again.
Me: I happened to be at the IELTS center this morning.  I talked to the class manager myself, and he said there is no textbook for that class.
Saul: Oh.  Really?
Me: Yes.  So you don't need to bother talking to him "again."
Saul: (Sincere) Great.  Let me know if there's anything else I can help you with.
Me:  I sure will.

The Uniforms Would be More Interesting

Emmy: Your student Harmony is going to have an interview to get in to a private high school in Florida.
Me: Great!
Emmy: If she doesn't get in, her family says she will have to go to the anime.
Me: Anime?
Emmy: Yes, go to the...anime?
Me: Enemy?
Emmy: Take part in the know, where they make the soldiers?
Me: Oh, the ARMY!

Friday, March 11, 2011

My Chinese is Getting Better...Great

To be fair to the Chinese, this is not an insult in China.  Not all the time, anyway.  This conversation took place in Chinese, except my first thank you.  He caught me off guard.

Punk Sitting on the Curb Drinking a Bag of Milk: Hey, look at that fat foreigner.
Me: Thank you.  Xie xie.
Punk: Dude!  She speaks Chinese!

Monday, March 07, 2011

A Little too Progressive

12-year-old Judy and I are playing Catchphrase with words from a list that I made.  Note that a lot of teachers in China begin class by saying, "Are you ready?"

The word is "ready."
Me: Before class, the teacher will ask the students are you...?
Judy: Are you students?
Me: Probably not a bad thing to ask, but no.
Judy: Are you female?
Me: What about the boys?
Judy: Oh yeah.

Later, the word is "alive."

Me: What's the difference between a plant and this desk?
Judy: Plants are green.
Me: What if the desk were green?
Judy: It would be ugly.
Me: What's the difference between this desk and an animal?
Judy: The animal is more interesting.
Me: Ok.  Animals can run, play, eat and poop because they are...?
Judy: World citizens.
Me: What are they teaching you in school?
Judy: I don't know.  Our desks are brown.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Refrigerator Physics

Two days ago I scrubbed the heck out of my refrigerator.  For those of you who don't know, The Heck is a fungus that lives in the refrigerators of lazy people.  You've probably heard of it, every so often somewhere in the world someone opens a refrigerator and says, "What?  The Heck is in here!" and someone else says, "Get The Heck out of my fridge!"  If that's not ringing a bell for you, you may be asking yourself "What The Heck is she talking about?"  You'll just have to take my word for it.

So I scrubbed the refrigerator within an inch of it's life (In An Inch Of Its Life is the best cleaner available for getting The Heck out of your fridge) and now it's all pearly and shiny.  However, because I have a memory like a---what's that animal?  Well, like something---I forgot all about it until I opened the fridge tonight.  I don't get in the fridge often because all that's in there is an iffy ear of corn, a package of bacon and a pitcher of ice water.  So it was nice to surprise myself with cleanliness.  It beats the heck out of a dirty fridge.

Seriously.  Surprise is very toxic to The Heck. Ta ta!

Who's on Question 24?

Harmony and I are working through a list of conversation questions about personality.  Harmony, along with other students who are beginners at English, has a habit of saying "no" when she means "I don't understand the question."

Me (reading question 24): Is there any part of your personality that you would like to change?
Harmony: No.
Me: No?
Me: The answer is yes?
Harmony: No.
Me: You mean no.
Harmony: Yes.
Me: No, you don't understand the question or the answer to the question is no?
Harmony: No question.
Me: The question I just asked?  Or question 24?
Harmony: Um...
Me (pointing to question 24): You understand this?
Harmony: Yes.
Me: And the answer is no.
Harmony: Yes.
Me: Okay, I think we got it.  Next question.

Friday, March 04, 2011

We've got Baseball and Apple Pie, too

Party Animal and I are looking at a map of the US, locating famous landmarks.

Party Animal: Where is the free woman?
Me: Pardon?
Party Animal: (poses)
Me: Oh, you mean the Statue of Liberty!
Party Animal: Yeah, the free woman.  It's famous in America.
Me: So they say.

That's Why They Have Stripes

Gene: So, all the information for each part should be displayed on a tiger?
Me: Huh?
Gene: Oops, I meant on a tag.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

A Moment of Panic

A popular method of practicing English in China is to choose famous speeches or monologues from movies and memorize them.  Neil and I are looking at a map of the US, choosing destinations for his trip to the US this summer.

Neil: Oh look, Texas.  They lynch Negroes in Texas.
Me: What?!?
Neil: It's from the movie, The Great Debaters.
Me: Sweetie, I gotta explain something to you...

Here's something lighter.  Candy and I are looking at the map of the US, preparing for her to go to high school in Tampa, Florida next year.

Me: Here's Tampa.  Here's LA, Washington DC and New York.  I come from here, Portland.  That's the best city.  Here's Forks, where vampires come from.
Harmony: Where's Denmark?
Me: Denmark?
Harmony: Wait, never mind, that's in Europe.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Lost in Translation

One of Saul's jobs is to help me with questions I have about my classes or my schedule.  This conversation is not to make Saul look stupid (he's not) but to demonstrate why things take longer when we're not all speaking our native language.  Sometimes nobody says anything wrong but things still don't get across exactly right.  In retelling this I have improved his grammar for clarity.  Also, even if someone speaks to me in bad grammar I tend to remember it in correct grammar.

Me: Last Friday a girl called me and wanted to give me my new class schedule.  I had to leave before I met her because I apparently got some bad Moo Shoo Pork.  I forgot her name.  Do you know who that might have been?
Saul: I think they're making the schedule now.  I'll print it out and give it to you when it's done, don't worry.
Me: She said it was done.  She wanted to give it to me right then.
Saul: Oh really?  Let's go see.
yadda yadda yadda and...
Saul: Here you go.
Me: What's this class?
Saul: It's an IELTS (English test) class.
Me: I've never taught one of those before.  Does it have a textbook?
Saul: Probably.
Me: A textbook assigned for the class?
Saul: I think so.
Me: Do I teach from the textbook? (sometimes I don't.)
Saul: I think you can.
Me: But am I required to?  Do I have to, or I can?
Saul: You have to.  Probably.
Me: So what's the textbook?
Saul: I don't know.
Me: Could you find out for me?
Saul: If you have a minute we can go down to the bookstore downstairs and find out now.
Me: Okay.
In the bookstore...
Saul: All the books on this shelf are IELTS books.
Me: Which one is for my class?
Saul: Any of these would work for your class.
Me: I'm choosing the textbook?
Saul: You could use any one of these to prepare for your class.
Me: Of course, but does the class have a textbook assigned to it?
Saul: Oh, sure.  Probably.  Almost certainly.
Me: And I need to use that textbook.
Saul: Yeah, you'll need to buy that textbook.
Me: So which one is that?
Saul: I don't know, I'm sorry.
Me: Could you find out for me?
Saul: I have a class starting in ten minutes.
Me: I don't mean right now, maybe in the next week?
Saul: Probably I can do that.
Me: Just get me the name of it, is all.  The name of the textbook.
Saul: Sure.
Me: So I can buy it.
Saul: Sure.
Me: And use it.
Saul: Okay.
Me: Okay. (I go to leave the bookstore)
Saul: So you don't want any of these books here?
Me: Nope, I'm solid.

What's Another Word for Thesaurus?

In class we had been studying about satellite repair stations, repair stations that generally function independently but are managed by a main repair station.  The two are separate entities but rely on one another.

Stella: What's a thesaurus?
Me: If we look up a word in a thesaurus it tells us other words with similar meanings.
Abbot: So it's a dictionary.
Me: Close.  A dictionary tells us the meaning, a thesaurus tells us other words with the same meaning.
Abbot: So it's a satellite dictionary.