Monday, April 29, 2013

Ma Lei's parents watched her little doglets while were in America, and on the strength of that experience they, who had never particularly cared for critters that wouldn't eventually end up on their plates, decided it would be nice to get a dog. They recently acquired one who, I am told, bears a passing resemblance to QiZai, our sweet yet problematic black-faced papillon.

Ma Lei's father wanted to name the dog DuoDuo, a very common name for dogs in China, which I think means something like "much aplenty." (I haven't seen it written out, but I assume that's the Chinese meaning. One can't really know until one sees the characters.)

The trouble is, "DuoDuo" is pronounced exactly like "Dodo," as in "dodo bird." I had laughingly explained this to Ma Lei after the second or third "DuoDuo" dog we'd met, and I showed her the pictures of dodo birds, and let her look up the various Chinese websites that explained in great detail the tremendously stupid demise of the dodo bird.

As it turns out, that name might have been appropriate. The dog seems not to be among the brightest of the species.

One day last week, he got into a cabinet where Ma Lei's parents store food. He set to work lapping up a huge bowl of oil, apparently failing to realize that the oil was infused with hot red peppers. By the time they found him, he'd drunk probably a pint of the stuff, and he only realized it was deadly-hot AFTER they'd chased him away. He spent the better part of an evening writhing around on the ground, coughing and hacking.

But the DuoDuo name was secured in my mind about two days later. On that day, Ma Lei's mother was cooking on their giant wok, which is fueled in the standard way, by a fire-chamber filled with flaming corn stalks  underneath the wok.

The dog apparently saw her feeding corn into the little door to the fire chamber, so he figured there must be something really interesting in there. While she wasn't looking, he bounded in eagerly, before he discovered he was in a fire chamber.

The dog bolted out, his face black as coal, his whiskers singed down to little melted nothings, his eyes wild and dumbly frightened.

Now herein lies the cultural difference. I responded to these two stories by saying the dog should definitely be called DuoDuo, but Ma Lei had the opposite reaction. "If you give someone a name," she said, "that will make it so." She went on to explain that if someone has a tendency to stupidity, you must give that person a name that implies intelligence. If a person is unhealthy, you must give him a name that implies health.

So a dumbass dog canNOT, under any circumstances, be given a dumbass name. This is not because it's impolite, or because the dog will lose face, or any of those other things one might expect about Chinese culture. But rather, at a metaphysical level, giving a stupid dog a name suitable for stupidity will cause him to be stupid.

This is why I love being here. On a philosophical level, I come to understand so many things that I could not possible have imagined back in America!

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