scruta

Either you are sorting it out, or you are full of it.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Shanghai in a Box – Part 2

[Ferret is lying in bed, trying to sleep. There's a knock on his door. He flicks on the lights and goes to answer it. There's a Young Man there holding a small box.]

Young Man

唉,快递。

Hey, delivery.

Ferret

这是什么东西?

What is this?

Young Man

这是快递。就是,嗯,就是,delivery。

It’s a delivery. It’s a, um, it’s a, “delivery”.

Ferret

那我知道这是快递,但是我没有卖什么东西。

I know it’s a delivery, but I didn’t buy anything.

Young Man

你看地址吧。这不是203吗?

Take a look at the address. Isn’t this 203?

Ferret

是的。

Yeah.

Young Man

那怎么办? 你不要的话,我就带回去。

Then what do you want me to do?

Ferret

这个快递是从哪里来的?

Where is it from?

Young Man

我看一下。

Let me see.

[Ferret and the Young Man examine the package. There's no return address. In the area on the box where it should be, it just says "Shanghai" in Chinese.]

Young Man

上海。

Shanghai.

Ferret

我知道。

I know.

Ferret

你怎么那么晚还是上班?

Why are you working so late?

Young Man

我就是加班啦!关你什么事?你要不要?

I’m working overtime. What does it have to do with you anyway? Do you want it or not?

Ferret

一个人刚刚给我打电话,告诉我你会来。

Somebody just called me and told me you’d be coming.

Young Man

当然啦!这是快递,delivery。

Of course! This is a delivery. A “delivery”!

Ferret

我知道的,但是我觉得这是开玩笑的,或者一个人就监视我,什么的。

I know, but I feel like it’s all a joke or somebody is spying on me. Something like that.

Young Man

开玩笑就是开玩笑。监视你呢?我怎么知道?你到底要不要你的快递?不要收的话,我就走了!

If it’s a joke, then it’s a joke. Spying on you? How do I know? Do you want your package or not? If you don’t want it, then I’m going.

[The Young Man begins to walk away with the package. Ferret stops him.]

Ferret

回来吧!我收了。

Come back! I’ll take it.

Young Man

好的。来签个名吧。

Okay. Sign here.

[Ferret signs for it.]

Young Man

哎,你的中文好不错。你在中国多久了?

Hey,your Chinese is pretty good. How long have you been in China?

[Ferret raises his left hand and extends all five of his fingers.]

Ferret

五年。

Five years.

Young Man

Very good!

Ferret

Thanks.

[ They wave goodbye to each other. Ferret closes the door and sets the box down on his table.]

Ferret

Well, what now?

 

posted by ferret at 4:47 pm  

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Cultural Exchange Simplified

It’s come to be the opinion of this humble Ferret that cultural exchanges in China are generally plagued by a kind of Orientalism, a perception of an intractable Other, or a perceived mystery that prevents people from having a meaningful exchange. This happens on both sides of the aisle. Foreigners feel that there are some things about China that are impossible to know; Chinese feel as if there are some things foreigners will never understand. And vice-versa.

Recently, I had a rather truthful exchange. A model perhaps for all future cultural exchanges:

[Ferret walks into a bathroom at Sichuan restaurant. He pees a urinal, thinking perhaps far too much about his expat, Chinese dilettante status. Old Chinese Man walks in as he is zipping up. Old Chinese Man notices Ferret.]

Old Chinese Man

Hello!

Ferret

Hello!

Old Chinese Man

你好!

Ferret

你好!

All things exchanged! All things understood! A four-part exchange where every message is conveyed clearly to the other succinctly and straightforwardly. Oh, that it could be so easy!

posted by ferret at 12:01 pm  

Thursday, October 11, 2012

This Guy

[Ferret and his co-workers, Wolverine, Oriole and Chickadee are eating dinner at a Japanese noodle shop. Ferret's food arrives.]

Waitress 

石锅饭!哪位的?

 Stone bowl rice! Whose is it?

Ferret

这位的!

This guy’s!

[Oriole and Chickadee both gasp! The Waitress serves the sizzling bowl of rice topped with meat and vegetables.]

Ferret

What? What’d I do?

Oriole

You are so rude!

Ferret

What? Why?

Oriole

You can’t call yourself 位 (person).

Ferret

No?

Oriole

No. Just say 这是我的 (This is mine).

posted by ferret at 6:35 pm  

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Too Many People Named Alex

[Shanghai, night - Ferret is walking down the dark alley that connects his compound to the main road. There's a Figure walking towards him in the shadows. He's dressed nicely in a collared shirt and slacks with a light scarf slung around his neck. Ferret can't make out his face so well, but he's sure he's a foreigner. Suddenly, in the dark light he appears to be Ferret's friend, Alex, a foreigner who recently moved into his alley. He calls to him as they pass each other.]

Ferret

Alex!

[The Figure stops, undoes his earplugs and turns to face Ferret.]

Figure

Yes?

[It's not Alex.]

Ferret

Oh, I’m sorry. I thought you looked like someone I know. Somebody named Alex.

Figure

But my name is Alex.

Ferret

[very embarrassed]

It’s another Alex. Sorry.

[Ferret scuttles away, embarrassed.]

posted by ferret at 11:52 am  

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Ayi’s Hat

[Ayi is cleaning Ferret's house. Ferret is on his way out the door when he notices Ayi's black baseball cap with the words "Hot and Sexy" written on it in pink. He feels he should say something.]

Ferret

这是你的帽子吗?

Is this your hat?

Ayi

对的,我的帽子。

Yeah, it’s my hat.

Ferret

你知道那个英文词是什么意思吗?

Do you know what those English words mean?

Ayi

不知道。什么意思?

No. What do they mean?

Ferret

意思是性感。

The meaning is “sexy”.

Ayi

[not sure what he's trying to say]

什么?性噶?

What “xìnggá”?

Ferret

性感。

Sexy.

Ayi

性感!真的吗?

Sexy! Really?

Ferret

真的。

Really.

Ayi

那我不应该戴啊!

Then I shouldn’t wear it!

Ferret

但是大部分的中国人不知道是什么意思,所以我觉得没有问题。

But most Chinese people don’t know what it means, so I think it’s not a problem.

Ayi

可是我的客户都是外国人啊!

But my clients are all foreigners!

Ferret

恩,我-我不知道。

Well, I- I don’t know.

[Ferret awkwardly makes for the door.]

我走了。

I’m going.

Ayi

好的。谢谢你告诉我啊!性感!啊呀!

Okay. Thanks for telling me! Sexy! Jeez!

posted by ferret at 1:37 am  

Sunday, May 29, 2011

真的假的?For real?

[Ferret is getting his beard trimmed at a local barbershop. It's a quaint affair run by a Husband and Wife team. An Old Woman walks in with a strange request.]

Old Woman

你们是烫头发的,对吧?

You all do perms, right?

Husband

[while maneuvering a buzzer around Ferret's face:]

是,烫头发可以的。

Yeah, we do ‘em.

Old Woman

假发呢?假发是真发的假发,不是假发的假发。

How about wigs? It’s a real-hair wig, not a fake-hair wig.

[The Husband is confused. Ferret is even more confused. Note: The word in Mandarin for "wig" 假发, jiǎfà literally means "fake hair." All well and good unless you're talking about wigs made out of fake hair. "Fake hair fake hair?" It's enough to confuse anyone, including a native speaker.]

Husband

什么假发的假发?

What are you talking about? Wig what?

Old Woman

那个假发是用真头发做的,是上海最有名买假发的店的。质量很好。头发是真的。

The wig uses real-hair. It’s from one of Shanghai’s most famous wig shops. The quality is really good. The hair is real.

Husband

哦,你要烫真头发的假发。真头发的话, 可以的。

Oh, you want to perm a real-hair wig. If the hair’s real, no problem.

[The problem is solved. As to why the Old Woman felt the need to assert the quality and source of said wig is anyone's guess. The Wife walks in.]

Wife

你好。

Hello.

Old Woman

[to the Wife]

我要烫真发的假发。可以了吗?

I wanna perm a real-hair wig. Can I?

Wife

什么意思?

What?

Husband

真头发的假发,真头发的假发。

Real-hair wig, real-hair wig.

Wife

哦,好的。真头发的,没问题。

Oh. Sure. If it’s real, no problem.

Old Woman

好的,我去拿假发吧。

Okay. I’ll go grab the wig.

[The Husband finishes trimming Ferret's beard. Ferret pays and leaves. He ponders the oddities of the Chinese language and one important question: why in the world the Old Woman was so keen on perming her wig?]

posted by ferret at 10:17 pm  

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Charmer

I had a long day with politics, trying to sigh off a weight off a weight that sat on my chest. I had confided my fears in those closest to me, finding my views more scattered and fragmented than I realized. There was something I seemed incapable of grasping. There was an idea that lingered there at the intersection of all of these issues, but I couldn’t give it shape.

Eventually I fell asleep staring at the ceiling, contemplating the way the paint formed craters. I imagined that I was coasting over them in a microscopic dunebuggy. Before I knew it, I was dreaming.

I walked through a great baazar with men from all over the world, selling, selling: tangerines, pistachios, live stock, rose petals, tobacco, AK-47s, hairbrushes, Christmas lights. Everywhere there was haggling. A two-for-one floated here; a split-the-difference sang there; a let’s-build-a-relationship rose above; a no-no-too-expensive filtered below.

The sight of so much activity overwhelmed me and soon I sat down under a canopy to watch a snake charmer. A large group had formed. The charmer held the pipe and swayed with the deadly creature, letting the great hum emanating from his instrument soothe the entire scene. The hum continued without letting up. Fifteen minutes went by, and still he continued: the snake, the charmer, the crowd, the hum. I figured he had mastered a form of circular breathing. Eventually the snake allowed the snake charmer to pet its nose with the charmer’s nose, nuzzling it just so, as if writing his name on the scaley surface. The crowd watched breathless, but the charmer never ran out of breath himself blowing the whole time. It was as if he had stolen it from us.

When the spectacle was over and donations had been made, the crowd emptied out into the labyrintine market place, but I remained thinking about the spectacle. The snake charmer approached without me noticing and sat down next to me. He said, “What are you thinking about?”

“Oh, sorry. Nothing.”

“Really, you seemed distracted.”

“I’ve been thinking a lot about politics lately.”

“Ah, yes. That.”

“It doesn’t matter. What’s your secret?”

“The secret?” he laughed. He looked in to my eyes for a moment, and then looked around the way one does when one wants impart something to someone, but isn’t sure whether others should hear.

“I’m afraid it’s the same as your politics, my friend.”

“I’m not sure I understand.”

“This taming of snakes. It requires a kind of absolute dedication. You see, I must play my pipe without stopping. If I don’t, the snake will bite me. It’s a steadfastness, a vigilance.”

“But you’ve got to have the antidote. Or at least someone in this great baazar could supply it.”

“For what? This snake and I have an understanding. It is my livelihood. It trusts me because I play to it, but break that playing, break that trust, and it’s over. An antidote is far too expensive for me. And besides, why would I want it? What else would I do anyway? I’m a step away from a beggar as it is. Everyone thinks I’m a madman. Who would feel comfortable in the presence of a snake charmer? Most men are comfortable living a life as far as possible from death.”

“So the two of you will be together forever? Or until one of you dies?”

“I suppose so. Snakes come and go, but I have no doubt one will kill me one day.”

“Really?”

“Of course. My hum will falter one day and the snake will become frightened and bite me. Then I will die, and the crowd will undoubtedly become frightened and scare the snake more. It will probably kill more people then. If things go well, there might be another snake charmer around looking for a snake. But there are fewer and fewer of us these days.”

The charmer’s face began to fade and I felt myself falling, then I woke up.

posted by ferret at 11:59 pm  

Friday, March 4, 2011

Ready to know

[Ferret is having drinks with friends in a super-chic bar, full of Chinese antiques. A woman plays the erhu behind them, weaving her ethereal tunes together with a pumping house beat. Beatnik, Witch, and Ferret are talking.]

Beatnik

Man, I think you’re ready. You’re really ready man.

Ferret

What’s that?

Beatnik

To know about the real shit in China, man. It really all comes down to three things:

天下乌鸦一般黑

天下没有免费午餐

天下没有不散的筵席

Witch

Haha, yeah.

Ferret

Wait. What was that? I got something about a free lunch.

Witch

No, that’s the second one.

Ferret

There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

Witch

Yeah, but the first one is about 乌鸦 (wūyā). A crow, you know?

Ferret

So there are only black crows?

Beatnik

Yeah, like all crows are black, man. Shit is just shit everywhere. Evil people are everywhere. You know, man?

Ferret

I get it. A black crow is a black crow no matter how you look at it.

Witch

Yeah.

Ferret

Yeah, and what’s the last one? Can you write it for me?

Witch

[speaking as she writes the characters in his notebook]

天下没有不散的筵席.

Ferret

[pointing to the end of the phrase written in his book]

Those last two…

Witch

筵席 (yánxí), it’s like a big dinner.

Ferret

Like a feast?

Beatnik

Yeah, man. It’s like – it’s like you can’t just have feast that never ends, man. It’s got to end sometime. Now you know about China, man. That’s what it is: All the crows are black; there’s no such thing as a free lunch-

Ferret

And the feast always comes to an end.

posted by ferret at 5:16 pm  

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Getting over it

[Ferret is sitting in his room, despondent. Depression talks with him.]

Depression

How’re you feeling?

Ferret

Are you serious?

Depression

How’re you feeling?

Ferret

Awful.

Depression

Good.

Ferret

You’re pathetic.

Depression

No, you are. That’s the point, you see?

Ferret

I’m not going to listen to you.

[Ferret stands up, grabs his guitar, and begins to walk out of the room.]

Depression

Do what you want. Fill the air with sounds! Fill up the blank pages of notebooks! You’ll only be surrounded by nothingness in the end… and you know how close to nothingness I am.

Ferret

I’ll take the risk. It’s all better than talking with you about it.

[Ferret gets up and walks out of the room.]

Depression

[shouts at Ferret as he walks away]

You’ll be back! You don’t stay as long as you used to, but you’ll come back. You always do, at least for a little while…

posted by ferret at 12:04 pm  

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Before the procedure

[Fer-mas and Ferret are talking. It's late at night, and he's about to take a shower and get ready for bed.]

Ferret

I just can’t take it.

Fer-mas

Don’t worry about it. Before the operation tomorrow the surgeon and the anesthesiologist are both going to come in and talk to you.

Ferret

That’s what I worry about. They’re going to walk in all confident and unnerve me.

Fer-mas

Look, it’s not that bad -

Ferret

Of course, it’s better than if they weren’t confident at all.

Fer-mas

Haha. Right. I wouldn’t worry about it.

Ferret

[smiles]

Yeah. Nothing to worry about.

posted by ferret at 2:50 pm  
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