Issue May 13, 2008

Chairman Wao (AN AMERICAN INVADES CHINA): The tones, Ivan, the tones

OK, I recently explained my predicament/opportunity. I’ll parlay what it’s like over here in China to you good people. Now, I’d love to delve right into the heart of the situation, but look, I’ve only been here a few weeks, so we shall start with an easy one. Let’s analyze a recent “TO DO list”:
1. Learn Mandarin
2. Make the groceries
3. Find place to watch March Madness
4. Start psychedelic music revolution
5. Register at local police station
6. Order at restaurant in Chinese and get what I was aiming for

Learn Mandarin: This one could be on there a while, especially given my track record with French. Honestly, though, Mandarin is probably easier than a romance language. There are no gender applications or tenses, and way less vocab, but them tones are a muther! Next!

Make the groceries: God, living in New Orleans really effed up my grammar. There, we make the groceries. Don’t ask. OK, I’m in the grocery, and this is kinda freakin’ me out. What is that?! Is that a rabbit or a poodle?! It’s hard to tell when they’re upside down and inside out. Things are fresh, but maybe a little too fresh.

March Madness: This is easy since I’ve already watched the NFL playoffs. I just go to a bar at 5 in the morning — sadly, this is nothing new to me. I definitely cheered the Cards on in real time, while simultaneously relishing in the Cats’ failures! You’d think living this far from home and being such a KY nut, I’d finally root for UK. Nope! This reminds me — I need to score Olympic tickets, so I can witness a Kentuckian being crowned “world’s fastest man”! I hear getting tickets had the same odds as a white guy winning said crown. (Note to self: I wonder if Valeri Borzov is still alive?)

Psychedelic music revolution: Probably the easiest on the list, given my job and background. China’s underground music scene is just beginning to bubble with life — I WILL be a catalyst. They’re into punk and Joy Division a little, but no psyche yet. Plus, I’ll do it without the drugs those pansies in the ’60s needed. You know, unless you know a guy.

Go to police station:
A little unnerving dealing with foreign, communistic authority, but surprisingly easy. Actually, bureaucratic endeavors go much quicker here. The commies are really organized, these ones at least.

Things get done at all hours of the day. I’ve seen a building imploded on a busy road at rush hour, with people just walking past. There’s someone for every duty. The other day, we didn’t have a bag for our dog’s business.

My wife refuses to ever leave it behind, but I told her, “Don’t worry. Someone will be by in the next hour to clean the street.” Twenty minutes later it was gone. It was awkward when they asked us if we ever wanted a policeman to stop by. I think not.

Ordering Chinese food:
I’m changing this to “order in Chinese and get something even close.” It’s those damn tones again. There are only four, but they create a lot of problems. Believe me, it’s a very fine line between ordering chicken soup and asking someone if they’ll give you a dirty sanchez. Seriously, the word for “pen” and slang for a woman’s “naughty bits” are VERY SIMILAR. This has caused some confusion in the office. Looks like wife-y and I will be eating lots of 2-minute noodles for now. (Sadly, nothing new for us.) They are really good here, though. I’d say on the International Minute Noodle Exchange (IMNE), they’d be at least 10-minute noodles in the United States.

Well, that concludes our cultural lesson for today. Stay tuned for upcoming lessons, such as “Shanghai Night Out, Parts 1-3,” “How Moving to Mars Can Improve a Relationship,” “The Day I Started A Psychedelic Music Revolution,” “Dude, If That’s Still There Tomorrow, You Should Go to a Doctor,” and “Whoa, You Thought the Spanish Channel Was Weird.”

Johnny Siegel was born and raised in Louisville and now lives in Shanghai, China with his wife and their dog. His column will appear monthly in LEO, unless the police move in. Contact the writer at leo@leoweekly.com