I’m bloggin’… yes indeedy, I’m bloggin’…
Well, well, well — what to talk about tonight? I don’t really have a topic in mind (which is exceptionally dangerous, as I’m well aware), but I feel compelled to write, for three reasons. And here they are:
And so, I blog. I’m here to bring you the truth, folks. It’s a full-time job, and I can never rest, or there will be truths that go unwritten, unread, and forgotten forever. We mustn’t have that; we simply mustn’t. So I’m here to — wait, here comes a Universal Truth now. What’s this one? Wait… okay, I got it:
Despite the name, nobody particularly even likes Raymond, much less loves him, or that drivelly damned show of his.
See? See what you’d miss if I weren’t on duty here? How’d you like to go through life believing that everyone really does love Raymond? What kind of world would that be, eh? Not pretty, I can tell you. And not the least bit funny, either. Damn skippy.
All right, that’s enough of that. What other sorts of trouble can I get into tonight?
Okay, here you go. Can someone please tell me what the Chinese have against us, ‘us’ being the English-speaking part of the world? I mean, I’m sure we’ve pissed them off in the past — we piss everybody off at one point or another — but they seem to be holding a major grudge over something. Could be that we took over all the cool fireworks displays, or that we bastardized their checkers game, or maybe just that we finally figured out how to get out of those confounded finger traps. I don’t know, but I do know this: there’s apparently an organized movement by the Chinese to frustrate and confuse us English-speaking folks, and I’d like to get to the bottom of it. It’s getting nasty, and I’m starting to personally suffer because of it.
“Now, I’m no expert on Asian military history, but I found it exceedingly unlikely that the Chinese could have developed so many men who were both brilliant combat strategists and a whiz with the old wok.”
I first noticed this dastardly conspiracy a few months ago. I didn’t recognize it at first, I have to admit. I was comparing take-out menus and looking for something a bit on the spicy side. I checked one menu, and saw that they featured ‘General Tso’s chicken’. Looked good. The next place — ‘General Gau’s chicken’. Okay, then. The next one sported ‘General Tsao’s chicken’, and the next, ‘General Gao’s’. Now, I’m no expert on Asian military history, but I found it exceedingly unlikely that the Chinese could have developed so many men who were both brilliant combat strategists and a whiz with the old wok. I began to get suspicious.
I decided to do some more research. And if that meant ordering and eating scads of delicious Asian food, then so be it. It’s in the name of science, dammit! So I made a few phone calls, and surveyed my bounty when it arrived an hour or so later. And the results were startling. What one restaurant called ‘Moo Goo Gai Pan’, another called ‘Mu Go Guy Pan’. There were ‘Szechuan’ menus and ‘Sichuan’ menus and even ‘Szechwan’ menus, all with the same dishes. Hmmm. I also found the ‘Moo Shu Pork’ to taste suspiciously like the ‘Moo Shi Pork’.
(Well, that and the ‘Moo Shi Chicken’, and the ‘Moo Shu Beef’, and the ‘Moo Shi Prawns’, as well. These weren’t four-star establishments I was ordering from, after all.)
And that’s when it hit me. Look, there’s nothing wrong with a little bit of spelling variation here and there, or even the occasional typo on a menu. There’s also no rule that says that I personally have to understand what’s written there. I’m usually completely clueless with a French menu in my hand, and only slightly better when the dishes are described in Spanish. (At least with Espanol, I can point, like a four-year-old, to the words I recognize and giggle accordingly. ‘Hah! Pesce is fish! Fish, everybody, fish! Whee! Look at me!‘ Needless to say, I’m not invited out for Mexican food very often.) But that’s okay — the names are the same at every restaurant, and I can point at what I want, or make ‘cluck cluck‘ or ‘moooo‘ noises until I can practice enough to get the pronunciation just right. But that’s not how Chinese menus work. They’re never the same, and I’m now convinced that they’re doing it on purpose.
Think about it. These other languages play by the same rules we do. Oh, we have to learn a thing or two to converse with the Spanish, or the Germans, of course. We have to learn that two L’s together in Spanish is sort of a Y sound rather than a hard L. We’ve got to sneer, and speak from the back of our noses like the French do, if we want to say ‘deux‘ or ‘eau‘ just the right way. And we’ve got to put up with all of the letter accessories — cedillas and umlauts and so forth — that these non-English speakers seem to have found a use for over the centuries. And all of that’s just fine with me.
But Chinese is different. They have their own set of characters — and three thousand or so of ’em, too — that they use to write their words with. So — and this is the really important part — when they actually want to translate some word into English for us to write down, they’re in complete control. They can spell the word however the hell they want, and we’re just stuck with it. Now, if they liked us, they’d send out an email or something to all of the Chinese speakers and say, ‘Look, we’ve jerked these guys around long enough. Let’s get it over with and just spell it Gao‘. Or Tso, or whatever. I don’t care. Just decide, dammit. And don’t try to convince me that the words in play now are actually anywhere close to each other, or that they’re somehow phonetically related to the way you actually pronounce the word. Clearly, folks, they’re just fucking with our minds.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I can actually understand how a lot of the really important words have changed over the years. First of all, Americans were probably involved when some of these words were being explained. And if there’s one thing we don’t do well as a nation, it’s frigging listen. And if there’s anything we do worse than listen, it’s listen to someone who’s from a different country. Most Americans just can’t be bothered. So I can see what happened with a word like ‘Beijing’, for instance. The first conversation was probably with some yahoo from the States, and went something like this:
Yahoo: Well, gosh durn, that’s a big city. I wanna tell the folks back home about it. What’s that there city called, anyway?
Host: That is Beijing.
Yahoo: Bee? Bee–
Host: No, honored guest. Bei. Beijing.
Yahoo: Bee. Sting?
Host: Pardon, no. Beijing.
Host: Bei. Jing. Beijing.
Yahoo: Boo. Jang. Boo. Jangles. Bojangles?
Host: Ah… no. Bei. Jing.
Yahoo: Boo. Zing. Boozing?
Host: No. Stop it. Beijing.
Yahoo: Bitch-ing? Beach Hang? Pootie Tang?
Host: No. Damn you severely. Bei.
Host: Bei. Bei, you Yankee cow! Bei! Beijing!
Yahoo: Pee? King. Pee King?
Host: Oh, close enough. Go bug Japan or something now, would you? Prick.
And that’s how we ended up with ‘Peking’ for a few decades, until they just couldn’t stand it any longer and made us change our maps and globes and stop mangling the name of their capital quite so badly. Maybe that’s what they’re pissed about, come to think of it. We held onto that one for a long time, and most of those menus I mentioned still serve ‘Peking Duck’, even though we were corrected quite a while back now.
Anyway, all I’m asking for is one spelling for each word, so we can get on with actually talking to people. Or, as is often the case, ordering dinner. Oh, and not to be a pissy pony, but would it kill anyone if these words were phonetically based? I say ‘Szechuan’ a lot like ‘Sesh Wan’, which is probably way off base. I’ve got no problem if someone would point me to the right pronunciation, but get that goddamned ‘Z’ out of there, would you? It’s not helping anybody, or if it is, then get rid of the ‘S’ instead. You don’t really have to follow any fancy European rules for making these words deliberately hard to decipher; the originals are written in those pretty Chinese pictograms, so you’re quite free to be original and make the translations pronouncable. We’d really appreciate it, and I’ll even do my best to get people to stop calling your capital ‘Pee King’. I can see how that would get annoying.
So I hope that’s helped to smooth some things over with our Asian compatriots. I’m new at this whole international detente thing, but I think we’re off to a good start. You give a little, you ask for a little. It’s all about building relationships, folks. Well, okay, at the moment it’s all about ordering lunch off the takeout menu without getting laughed at over the phone, or resorting to using the item numbers. Really, I don’t ask for much. All I really want is a good ‘Sesh Wan Beef’, and maybe the occasional ‘Low Main’. Or something off of the ‘Poo Poo Platter’.
Hmmm. Yeah, on second thought, I take it all back. Call it whatever you want, and just tell me how to say it. Except for the ‘Pu-Pu Platter’. I’ll order that one by number, or whatever makes you happy. I’m afraid that if I ruffle too many feathers, I’ll get a ‘Poo Poo Platter’, after all. Only it’ll be called ‘Peking Duck’, and it’ll be served with an evil grin and a muttered ‘Pee King this, roundeye‘. And I think we’ve done enough already to piss those nice folks off, don’t you?Permalink | No Comments