Monday, October 22, 2012


Three points of Chinese language, that will add up to an anecdote that I found funny. Dunno if the rest of you will think it's as humorous as I did.

1) In Chinese, you can ask a simple question in the form of a declarative sentence. For example, you can say "We'll go to dinner now, good/not good," and that means "Would you like to go to dinner now?"

2) Many expressions that in English would be a single word are, in Chinese, combinations of characters (usually two). So for example, "clear" or "understandable" is "ming bai," which literally means "bright white."

3) If you want to negate one of those two-syllable words, you often need to put the word "not" — "bu," in Chinese — in between the first and the second syllables. For example, "hao kan" means "good-looking." So if Ma Lei asks me if something or someone is "hao bu hao kan," that means "good looking, or not?"

Ma Lei has learned "Okay" as a word for "good," or "hao" in Chinese. So the other day, she and I were having a rather agitated mock-fight about what to do for dinner. As usual, I wanted to go somewhere more expensive, while she wanted to go for the cheapest possible alternative. "Let's go to the cheap restaurant," she said in Chinese, and then in defiant Chinglish: "Oh-bu-okay?"

I completely cracked up, and I have now adopted "oh-bu-okay" as my new favorite in-joke. I share it with you-all, in case any of you enjoy it as much as I did.

And by the way, we did end up going to the cheap restaurant after all.

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