I’ve always sucked at Chinese tones…

If you’re a redditor, you probably saw this on the front page a couple days ago:

Here’s what it sounds like:

If you weren’t already aware, Mandarin Chinese is tonal language; the way in which you speak certain ‘words’ changes the meaning. The classic example: 妈, 麻, 马, and 骂 are four different characters with completely different meanings (mother, hemp, horse, and scold, respectively) yet they are all pronounced ‘ma’. What distinguishes them is their differing intonation; this video does a pretty good job explaining it.

For non-native speakers, this is probably the hardest thing to master when you are trying to learn the language. And as you can imagine, inability to distinguish tones can often cause awkward, lost-in-translation type situations  (I can personal attest to this – more stories to come).

Chinese is hard -__-


My new cousin-in-law…

As you may already know, the main reason for my return to the motherland this past December was to attend my cousin Li Xi’s (Sissy’s) wedding. She emailed me out of the blue about a year ago with the news of the engagement and I knew this was the perfect opportunity for me to travel back to China.

The last time I saw my cousin Li Xi was during the summer of 2002. Even though we’ve grown up on opposite sides of the planet, I’ve always felt very close to her. But having not spoken to her in almost a decade, I was pretty nervous to finally see her again after all these years. Nevertheless, once reunited, we were joking around and reminiscing as if no time had passed (even with our semi-broken language barrier). Meeting her fiance-now-husband, however, was another story. For one, my mandarin is pretty rusty and two, since he is a native Cantonese speaker, even his mandarin was not that great o_O.

Trying to connect with him was awkward at first, but we quickly made it work. After fumbling over conversation topics, I finally struck common ground on the subject of music. I could see he was trying extremely hard to make me feel comfortable as he attempted some painfully-broken English. Here was my first exchange with my new cousin-in-law, Wu Hai Feng (a.k.a. Hamilton):

Him: “Do you like blog ice peed?”

Me: “uhh, 什么 (what)?”

Him: “Umm, the… uh… hei- (runs off to his room)”

Me: (to myself) “blog… ice… peed…?”

(He returns and hands me THIS)

Me: “Ohhh… lol”

Apparently they are his favorite music group right now. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that BEP is the armpit stain of all modern music, so I just responded with: “他们还可以” (translation: they aiite). Also, no joke, the song he chose to have played while walking across the stage to deliver his wedding vows and ask my uncle for his blessing was “I Gotta Feeling.”

At least it wasn’t Nickelback.