Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Art of Mis-Speak

A few funny stories.

So here in Taiwan, they use gas for everything - from what the stove uses to how you get hot water. So I recently ran out of gas for my hot water and had to order a new tank.

I figured it would be moderatly difficult, but nothing too bad. I mean, there is even a piece of paper on my fridge that has what I needed to say to order the gas in Chinese. Piece of cake.

Well, I called and within 30 seconds the lady on the other end of the line was like "Ok, bye." I figured, all was good. No problems at all.

About 30 minutes later my phone rang. It was the gas place calling. Odd I thought, but ok. So I answered, not exactly sure what I was going to say. Talking with another teacher earlier on how to order the gas, I was told just to say yes to everything. So that's what I did.

And I waited for another 20 minutes. Now normally, it takes about 20 - 30 minutes for the "gas-moped" (yes, they strap these bigass tanks of gas to the back of a moped and bring it to you) to get to my place. So I'm beginning to wonder where it was. Then my phone rang again. I'm beginning to think to myself that this isn't very good. So I answer, and again say yes to everything. Repeat my address. Say yes again. They hang up on me...

I'm thinking that I must not be communicating very clearly. A classic case of "failure to communicate". I decide to walk to the entrance of the apartment, just in case. It was a good decision. There is the moped, with a tank of gas strapped to it - and a very unhappy looking Taiwanese dude brooding with the security guy (who is always brooding).

I motion to him that I'm the person who called. He jumps on his moped and drives to the elevator - me trailing about 30 yards behind him. We get on the elevator, he comes into my place, goes to where the gas is, says something, takes out the old tank and puts in the new one. Walks to my door. I pay him and give him a nice tip, and he proceeds to help me pronounce 4 (my floor number). Apparently, I had said the 10th floor, instead of the 4th. But the tip I guess made up for the lost time.

Other funny stories that are school related (and mispronounced Chinese related):

One way to say "good job" in Chinese is "Ham B'ang" (or something like that) but if you change out the two "a" for "o" then it means something completely different. I found out this while teaching frisbee a few weeks ago. I was mispronouncing it and one of the kids (who was definitly a deviant) had a big grin on his face. The Taiwanese staff member that was out there with me looked at me and was like "Uh, I wouldn't say that again." Me, not being sure exactly what I said asked, "What did I say? Isn't that 'good job'?" No, he said.

Later I asked him what I was saying. Apparently, a few vowel changes makes "good job" into "blow job" or something close to that. Opps...

Also, the word bridge in Chinese (Dauch-ow I think) can be mispronounced by saying it fast and carelessly to mean "Big dick". I found this out the hard way when I was saying on one of the walks we take with the kids "Look at that bridge" (me replacing the English word for bridge for what I thought was the Chinese word for bridge...)

Ah, the art of learning a new language. There are a few others, but I'm sure I've given you enough entertainment for now.

I'll be heading to Hong Kong on Wednesday, May 5, coming back to Taiwan on Tuesday May 11. Looking forward to going there. I got a hostel that's in a pretty good location, but in a kind of rough area with a lot of pushy peddlers around the elevator (which apparently is going to be the slowest in the world, the smallest in the world, and you have to queue up to get on..."that's what she said"...) so that should make for some good stories.

Until next time...


Anonymous said...

I had this experience with my Taiwanese girlfriend while visiting family in New Jersey. I was telling them how I would be called a foreigner when in Taiwan and said "Wo shi lao-er." (Forgive this - it's phonetic - not pinyin)

...of course, foreigner is "lao-wai." I was telling everyone that I am a dick. Whups.

I'm somewhat worried about this in Taiwan... but it should make some good stories! I don't arrive until August - can't wait :)

-Josh (

RJ said...

Welcome to the blog Josh. Yeah, I have come to learn that saying something and it coming out as something different is just part of the learning curve...but it does make for good stories.

Good luck and safe travels when you come out this way! I will be heading back to the States in August.

Feel free to leave a comment anytime!