Thursday, December 14, 2006

When is a Turkey not a Turkey...?

So, Christmas is coming and I live in China which means, amongst other things, life without an oven. My lovely new apartment will have one capable of cooking a turkey but as of right now, that's not the case.

So I contact a friend of mine who works in the nearby 5 star hotel who assures me that I can order hot, fresh-cooked turkeys through their main bar. Approaching the bar I was greeted in English so tried asking if I could order a turkey. Reply was 'No'.

So, switching to Chinese I asked the same question. Turkey in Chinese is 火鸡 (huǒ jī - literally fire chicken - don't ask me how that came about!) to which I thought I heard a reply of "啊,大火鸡" (ā, dà huǒ jī = Ah, big turkey!) and started fishing around under the bar, looking for the order forms I assumed.

Not being a smoker, I didn't know the vocabulary 打火机 (dǎ huǒ jī) - cigarette lighter - so was surprised when she reappeared with a box of matches. D'oh!

You come across people who won't listen to you because you're foreign (to whit, I parked in my local Carrefour supermarket and to get free parking you're supposed to tell your licence plate number to the attendant when you arrive (don't ask why he can't just read it off the car when you drive past him). I waited while the two people in front told him their numbers and he wrote them down. I then told him my number. And then again. He looked at me as if I was speaking in tongues and then shoved the piece of paper in front of me and gave me the age-old 'jabby finger' to write my own number down. This in trickier than it sounds because it begins with '浙' - one of the many, many characters I can read but not write. So I have to argue with him to write it down - at some point during this process, he obviously realises I was speaking Chinese and acquiesces.

Other people treat you as if you're simply senile or retarded. I purchased a kettle in the local InTime department store and the assistant carried out the whole transaction as if she were a mime. I did, to be fair, let her continue to do so by not speaking to her until the end as it was quite amusing. My favourite bit as she unboxed the kettle was that she got the instruction booklet out and then pointed to part of a page that was all in Chinese that explained that there was a two year guarantee on the product. I had to chuckle that she's not said a word on the assumption that I can't speak Chinese but then assumes that I can read it.

I guess you need the odd "Turkey=Cigarette Lighter" incident to remind you that you're not easy to understand after all.


NewsElephant said...

Perhaps the xiaojie's of Hangzhou use a different word for 'last turkey in the shop', but according to MDBG, turkey is 吐绶鸡 (tu3 shou4 ji1).

Which translates literally as: vomit, spew out, cough up silk ribbon attached as a seal chicken.

花崗齋之愚公 said...

What a fabulous story. Gave me quite a chuckle and reminded me of my own "improvised Yuletides" in Beijing.

I've always thought that turkeys got so much more respect in China. "In the West, I'm just a turkey. But in China--They call me FIRE CHICKEN!"

Good luck in the MBA program. Hope you keep writing.