Saturday, October 03, 2015

A change in coversation

My parents know a man, let's call him Cal, who occasionally does some work for them. I've heard them talk about Cal here and there for years, but living overseas I never had the pleasure of meeting him, but I finally got the chance the other day. Our encounter was in some ways odd, at least for me, though I fear it may soon become the new normal.

As I had heard of Cal, he had also heard much about me. He knew my history with the PRC, so right after shaking my hand, he started with The China Questions. Note: I am happy to answer questions about China. Don't be afraid to ask! Most people don't bother, so it's nice when someone shows a little interest. However, don't believe that saying, "There are no stupid questions." Trust me, there are. I've been asked all of them, at least twice. I'm sure I'm even guilty of asking them. And so are you. This small talk stupidity is human nature and not nation-specific either. Chinese people like to ask if I can use chopsticks and American people want to know if I eat a lot of rice. (The answers are "yes" and "yes.")

Cal was no exception. His opener was the most common, but most dreaded request. He wanted a parlor trick.

"Speak some Chinese!" he commanded.

I. HATE. THIS. It is incredibly awkward. People get so excited to hear me speak Chinese, often asking me to curse at them. I then turn red, squeak out whatever pops into my head, and feel like a hooligan for telling someone I just met to go screw his mother. The worst part is, people always seem so let down after I do it. I don't know what they are expecting--entertainment? It's not juggling. Maybe the hope they'll magically understand Chinese? This isn't a fairy tale.

After I finished cussing Cal out, my dad walked by, chiming in, "Ching chong chang ching." I think he was being facetious. I hope he was being facetious.

"It really does sound like that, doesn't it?" Cal asked rhetorically.

"No, it really doesn't," I told him.

"They really hate us over there, don't they?" he continued.

"No, they really don't," I replied. I began to explain Chinese attitudes towards the US and Americans, but Cal's eyes started to glaze over. I let my sentence taper off....

"They know they, like, own us, right? That they're going to take over the world, right?" he cut-in enthusiastically.

"I don't know about that,"I replied, already having realized that he wasn't interested in my assessment of Sino-US relations.

The conversation veered into another direction and he told me about his Chinese roommate in college whom he believed to be a spy. It was actually a very convincing story and I was happy to let him do the talking. At that point, I just couldn't take anymore questions.

Now that I'm in the US, the conversation has shifted. I have to grow accustom to a new set of questioning. So what questions do you have for me?


Autumn said...

I HAZ questions!

1) Best thing about being back?
2) Worst thing about being back aside from doing the Chinese parlor trick?

rosieinbj said...

1) I don't even know where to begin. If I had to pick one thing that is not obvious or obligatory (family! friends! food!) it would be big, puffy clouds in a blue, blue sky.

2) The not knowing what the future holds. There are still a lot of question marks.

cat (talkingofchinese) said...

My fiance is Chinese and I have been learning Chinese for a while (my level is only elementary, 2-year-old native speakers could easily out talk me) and people ask me to do this as well. I have even found that some sentences "sound more Chinese" to them while others seem to leave them disappointed. Anything with the pinyin sound "x" in it seems to sound "Chinese" to them - maybe because this is a sound we don't really have in English...