Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Secret Two Word Language of China (Putonghua)

Now I'm not too good at translating Mandarin Chinese (putonghua) to English or English to Mandarin Chinese (putonghua.)  All of my practicing Mandarin before I left for China pretty much amounted to nothing while I was there. I could say, hello. "Ni Hao,"  how are you "ni hao mu?,"  and I knew to call the cab driver a "shi fu."  But the I only knew one response to how are you.  "Wo hung hao."  I'm very well and I had no idea what to tell the cab driver once I had his attention.

I found that a nice smile and some pointing actually go a long way towards providing communication among strangers.  I also found the word of all words, the secret two word sub-language that could communicate almost anything.  I'd heard it before I got into China but underestimated its power.  It's "ai you."  (pronounced eye yo as in eyeball and "Yo MTV Raps.")

Let's practice together:  Ai you.

What makes "ai you" such a great word for English speakers is that it doesn't really mean anything in Mandarin. It's kind of like that loud sigh sound we sometimes say in English or when say "oh boy."  The trick it the tone.

If your tour guide asks you if  you want to walk but you are very tired say, "aaaaiiii yooooh" as if about to collapse.

Then, if your fiancee's brother asks you if you want more of those yummy peanut oil fried cookies say, "ai YO!" as if you've won the lottery.

You think I'm kidding but try it.  Human emotions are the same in any language.  By putting your feelings into a putonghua word that the locals know, you suddenly speak way more of the language than  you ever could by mucking around in the dictionary.  Plus, everyone thought it was really funny that I knew "ai you" so it put me on the right foot right away.

To say that something is very wise, you say, "aiiih you," with a slight nod.  "Aiiih you."

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