Aug 25, 2006


The other day I needed to get a greasy junk food chicken fix to supplement the greasy Chinese food that's part of daily life here. I hit the local KFC for a late dinner and saw that the seating area was packed as usual. As I wandered around the dining area holding my tray of oily fried chicken parts, I scanned for empty tables, counterspace, and even looked for any twosomes sitting at a four-person table that I could share with. There was nothing available except an empty seat at a table already occupied by a middle-aged, manbag-carrying Chinese man chewing with his mouth open, and making loud smacking and sucking sounds as he devoured his meal. I would rather stand than sit and share a table with this man, I decided.

I continued to search for a place to sit for another two or three minutes, and eventually one of the table-cleaning ladies approached me and helped me look. During our conversation, a 20-something girl had apparently overheard us. She had just finished eating dinner with her boyfriend, and was gathering her belongings to leave. I continued to speak with the table-cleaning lady, so the girl and her boyfriend were still to my back.

From behind me, I heard the girl's voice shouting at me, "缺心眼儿缺心眼儿!"

Truth be told, I can act like an inconsiderate SOB, but in this case I hadn't done anything worthy of this scolding. I was simply looking for a place to sit.

Not one to take an insult lying down, I turned around and looked at the girl, with whom I previously had not interacted at all.

"你是不是刚才叫我缺心眼儿?" (Did you just call me quē xīn yǎnr?, I asked in a calm, non-threatening way.

[Girl: stares with a puzzled look.]

I repeated the question another time.

[Girl: still staring with the same puzzled look. Finally: processing... processing. Ahh! Realization!]

"你可以坐这儿吧." (You can sit here.), she said politely.

"哦,谢谢"(Thanks), I answered.

After that, I quickly figured it out. Originally she wasn't saying "quē xīn yǎnr! quē xīn yǎnr!" She was saying, in English, "You sit here! You sit here!", but it sounded like Chinese coming out of her mouth due to the accent and sharp tone of voice, not to mention lack of a modal verb (in this case "can" would have done nicely). Hearing her words, which I thought were Chinese, the listening comprehension part of my brain context-switched to Chinese mode, and so I parsed her phrase in Mandarin. I think that the similarity between "quē xīn yǎnr" and "you sit here" results from the fact that they are both composed of three one-sylable words, and the last syllable ends with a strong r sound.

The point of this anecdote, I suppose, is that if you speak English with a heavy accent, make sure you include those rascally modal verbs, otherwise I'm not going to be able to understand you. I realize you're itchin' to show off your superb English to your boyfriend, and I'd be willing to humor you if you're a cute young gal, but I just gotta have my modals.

Aug 18, 2006

Supermarket siesta

I caught some gals taking a snooze on the remnants of a World Cup promotion area in the corner of my local grocery store. This particular siesta occurred at around one in the afternoon, mind you. Maybe the previous night they had one too many Chivas and green teas. And don't we all know how that can feel.

Some other observations:
  • In the center of the poster behind the muchachas calientes are some famous World Cup soccer players. I really have to plead ignorance here. I wouldn't know most of them from Adam. Apparently the one in the middle is named Ronaldinho. Has anyone not seen this guy's picture and immediately thought of Jar Jar Binks?
  • The promotional poster is from Pepsi (百事). Chinese Pepsi is way more gross even than American Pepsi. It's very sugary and has a nasty aftertaste. Give it a try sometime. In a pinch, you can use it like ipecac syrup when your toddler eats lead paint chips.
  • I can't figure out why Pepsi called their World Cup promotion "DADA". As far as I knew, Dada is a brand of hip-hop inspired footwear, which unfortunately I can't find anywhere. Did they go out of business or what? The shoes are supposedly very comfortable and well-made.

Aug 13, 2006

Name tags

Why don't we have a Peking Pizza here in Peking with a delivery boy like Norm Phipps? It makes me feel a little gypped.

On the subject of restaurant employee nametags, the other night I ate at a pathetic imitation of a Thai restaurant, the Banana Leaf. (In restrospect, I should have read this review first.) Although I was disappointed by their food, the saving grace of the restaurant was that they made me laugh as I left after the meal.

In the lobby, three waitresses were lined up side-by-side, thanking customers for their business as they left. Across the girls' lapels, each wore an identical nametag, printed in bold 50-point font, which read "HORTESS".

I couldn't stop laughing for several minutes. Even if I would have had my camera with me I couldn't have held it still to take a clear photo of the trio. Maybe I'll go back there someday just for a yuk.

Aug 9, 2006

Paying my Chinese credit card bill

During the work week, life in Beijing can be pretty mundane sometimes. To give a better idea of how daily life is here, I'll describe a recent lunch break during which I went to the local bank to pay off my dual-currency Chinese credit card.

Paying my credit card bill was never very exciting in the US. I simply logged into my bank's web site, type in how much I wanted to transfer to my credit card company to pay that month's bill, and click "submit". Done. Things are nowhere near that easy in China. By making the process very complicated and time-consuming, the government can give jobs to half a dozen more men that otherwise would be unemployed and loitering on the street corner with their shirts rolled up to their nipples.

Before paying off the Chinese credit card, the prerequisite step was that I first find a Bank of China ATM and withdraw a huge wad of cash. The largest bill they have in China is worth just a little over US$10, so paying off a substantial credit card bill requires a big handful of colorful red money.

With my pants pockets now stuffed with a gangster roll of Chinese money, along with my credit card, monthly statement, and US passport, I was ready to head to the bank to pay off the credit card.

As in most mainland Chinese banks, once inside the door of the bank I encountered a a waist-high machine with three buttons, two labeled as 储蓄业务 and one labeled 汇款业务. No English labels included, unfortunately. Even though I understood what these buttons were for, I did't know which one I should pick since I was to be pay off my dual-currency credit card bill, which included expenses incurred with USD, but using RMB cash to pay it off. So I pushed all three buttons and stuffed the three tickets the machine spit out into my back pocket. I figured the advantage of this approach is that I would have more chances of getting called up to the teller sooner. I could decrease the waiting time by 1/3, I thought.

It turns out that the 汇款业务 ticket was the one to pick. I only had to wait about five minutes. The other two tickets would have taken me another hour to get called up to the window. The other people in the waiting area were complaining to each other in low voices about the long wait time.

After I heard my number, I sprinted up to the counter, lest anyone should cut in front of me. In one motion, I threw under the teller's window my passport, wad of renminbi, credit card, and credit card statement. Without looking up from his desk, the teller immediately got to work, shuffling and stamping and fumbling around. He had a total of about six stamps positioned off to his side, all of varying sizes and shapes, as well as three red ink stamp pads.

After five minutes of watching the teller continue to shuffle and stamp and fumble, I listened to some Ice Cube on my mp3 player through one earbud. I felt that would get me into an aggressive and hostile frame of mind, so that should anyone step to me and give me any guff I wouldn't take it laying down. I left the other ear unplugged to listen for any questions the teller might ask me. But he just continued to shuffle and stamp and fumble. I noticed that off to the side of the teller's window there was a small placard that identified this particular window as the "communist party member's service window". At that point I knew for sure that I was at the window with what had to be the best service at that bank.

I still didn't hear any any comments or questions from the teller, but I did hear some pretentious looking businessmen with manpurses and silky-smooth forearms standing very close behind me, grumbling about the laowai (me?). I suspect they may have believed I wasn't transacting my business at the correct counter. I started to think to myself, maybe I am at the wrong counter. I'm definitely not a communist, and I don't really know what a remittance is. Maybe my transaction isn't a remittance, but rather a deposit. Maybe I would be summarily ejected from this window and have to reinsert myself into the long line with the plebes.

Fortunately, the teller continued on with his work and I wasn't asked to take another number. After signing my name on three separate receipts and filling in another sheet with my name and address for the purposes of the RMB to USD conversion (since I was paying off a dual currency credit card with expeses accrued in USD), we were close to being done.

The teller hastily shoved a wad of loose change, coins, and maopiao at me under the window, followed by my passport, my credit card, and a stack of receipts. I grab the bundle of papers with two hands and stepped to the side to allow the agitated business men to start their transactions after me. They could be party members, after all, and I wouldn't want to mess with that. I shoved all the materials into my pockets and departed, lest a laowai lynching should ensue.

When it was all said and done, my total time at the teller's window was twenty minutes exactly. Twenty minutes to pay my credit card bill, when it really should take about 5 seconds. It's certainly not the teller's fault. In fact, he was hustling to get the job done. A real go-getter. I certainly have not idea what he was stamping and shuffling around behind the counter, but he was in continuous motion and seemed to be getting a lot of cardiovascular exercise.

I had only spent about 30 minutes at the bank, so afterwards I had plenty of time to finish up with an unrushed lunch and get back to the office.

Aug 5, 2006

Clutch purse

Clutch purse. The term jumped out at me as I was reading the latest edition of Time Out Beijing , one of a slew of free expat monthlies in Beijing that would rival your high school newspaper. The article, "Morning glory" by Jen Lin-Liu, delves into excruciating detail about how the author has been unable to adapt to the bland breakfasts available in Beijing, much preferring the standard American-style, extra-sugary breakfast. Just as I prepared to rip out the page and use it to wrap the Juicy Fruit gum that I'd been chewing on, I continued reading the last few paragraphs. There, the author describes her last encounter in a local breakfast restaurant where she was hit on by a local man:
He handed me his card. 'Give me a call, and you can come over and play,' he said as he picked up his black clutch purse and left the restaurant. Eating in a dirty shack at 9am was the last place I had expected to be asked on a date.
Clutch purse. It's the term I've been searching for all this time. It must be the appropriate dictionary term for the object that countless people have called many other names.

I did some poking around on the web. Ebay shows some great examples of clutch purses, mostly frilly and lacey. Then I stumbled onto this article covering the history of the clutch purse. MSN threw me for a loop with this set of clutch purses-slash- wallets for men. What MSN shows are more like billfolds which you could put in your inside suit pocket, so I'll exclude them from the research findings.

A Buyer's Guide to Man Bags was quite informative, if you ever decide to take the leap. I found it amusing that in the article, they mention:
The first, and absolutely most important, is that it not look like a lady's handbag! As a result, leather is pretty much out; if you're looking for a leather bag, look elsewhere.
Note that pretty much every single man bag you'll see carried in Beijing is black leather or faux-leather.

Finally, although this article is a little old, it is still relevant. This excerpt was good for a chuckle:
There's no denying that handbags were invented for ladies in 1785 when pocketless dresses became all the rage, but does that mean men shouldn't wear them? Sigmund Freud said a purse was a substitute for a vagina...
We may not have made much progress on the question of why do they carry manpurses, but we're definitely getting the nomenclature settled.