A Tour Guide of the Mundane

September 9, 2008 by trooce · Leave a Comment 

Each and every one of us, as San Diegans, shares a common bond.  Perhaps more accurately, we share a common role.  It is a role most of us assume with a sense of pride. It is a responsibility we all bear by living in America’s Finest City.

You have chosen to reside in San Diego with all it has to offer, and by virtue of your decision you are now the Quasi-official tour guide to all of your out of town friends and family.  When the barest of acquaintances calls to tell you they are coming to town, realize that you are what helped tip the scales in their minds when they couldn’t decide between San Diego and Orlando.

Still, we take our hosting duties seriously because we all want to show off our city in the best possible light.  Who wouldn’t need to catch their breath when they first saw the dramatic cliffs off of La Jolla Cove?  Who wouldn’t be charmed by the romance of Hotel del Coronado?  Who wouldn’t want to try a fish taco?

I know all of San Diego’s landmarks.  Whether the guests are from Boston, Los Angeles or any point in between, I can arrange a whirlwind tour of local attractions and get them back on their plane headed home, happy and most importantly, out of my hair.

The challenge comes when I host guests from Asia.  For these guests, I seem to enter an alternate universe where the attractions I take them to draw blank stares while they inadvertently stumble across a seemingly innocuous matter that ends up being the highlight of the trip.

As their tour guide, you start taking things personally.  How would a tour guide feel if I traveled to Italy’s Leaning Tower of Pisa and continuously admired at how straight and upright all the other buildings were?  Or if I visited the Great Wall of China only to gush over how realistic the wall looked on the silk-screened T-shirts I bought at the gift stand?

I once took a family from Taiwan to an elegant Sunday brunch.  They joked that this was the reason why Americans were overweight.    On the other hand, when they found out how much they could save by buying vitamins in bulk, the amount they brought home could stamp out scurvy in several developing countries.

Then there was the time I took my father in law to visit Balboa Park to walk through all the beautiful gardens. Yet, when I asked him what he remembers of San Diego, he inevitably will say something like, “Oh…the hot dogs at Costco are so tasty and melt in your mouth.”

When I visit Asia, you see how fast the pace can be.  Crowds await you at every turn and everyone struggles through, day in and day out.   You wonder whether their value system, like my own, might be influenced by what we experience in our own environments.   Perhaps, for those who live life in a constant rush, a simple, solitary pleasure can be the most fulfilling.

Come to think of it, those hot dogs are pretty good.

Like Comparing Apples to Puttymoo

September 7, 2008 by trooce · Leave a Comment 

I have a simple linguistics test for you.

The next time you go out for breakfast, I’d like you to try and order a glass of orange juice as quickly as possible.  Simple, right?

Oh, I forgot one important part of the test.  Try ordering said glass of juice without anyone using the word, “orange”.  Aha…not so easy now, huh smarty pants?

Inevitably, the conversation between you and the server will go something like this:

You:      And with my breakfast, I’d like to order a small glass of…uhh…
Server:      Yes?
You:      I’d like a glass of juice from a certain type of fruit.
Server:      Of course, no problem.  What type of juice would you like?
You:      Uhh…well, it’s a citrus fruit, but not a lemon or a lime.  It’s round like a grapefruit but not a grapefruit.
Server:     Hmm…I see.  Maybe I can help.  What color is the fruit you’d like juice from?
You:    Color, yes, of course.  Well, uh…it’s like a darker yellow, or maybe a lighter brown color.
Server:    I’m sorry, but could you be a bit more specific?
You:    I don’t suppose you have any tangerine juice?

I bring this up because in the miracle of communication that we call language, a single word like “orange” can make the biggest difference in the world.  Unfortunately, I found this out the hard way on my current trip to China.

As I said, a word like “orange” is pretty invaluable when you want to order a simple glass of orange juice.

The same is true in China, as I found out a couple of days ago on my recent business trip there.

While the primary Chinese dialect, Mandarin, is basically the same wherever you might speak it throughout the world, there are a few words spoken in China that are not really used by Chinese speakers anywhere else in the world.

Let me give you a couple of examples.

Anywhere else outside of China, when you refer to a waitress in a Chinese restaurant, you address her using the Chinese words, “Xiao Jie”, which basically means “young lady.”

However, in certain parts of China, I recently learned that you do not refer to a waitress in China with the term “Xiao Jie”, because culturally, that term is usually reserved when you are addressing a um…well…a “lady of the night”.  Or how about a woman working in the oldest profession?  I’m sure you know what I mean.

You might also be interested to know that the Chinese phrase for orange juice anywhere outside of China is “Ju-zi shwei”, which literally means “orange water”.  However, ordering orange juice in China by using the phrase “Ju-zi shwei” will give you a blank stare from your server, because the phrase will sound like gibberish, as if you took the phrase “orange juice” and replaced it with a nonsensical word like, say, “putty-moo”, because their word for orange juice is “chen jr”, which is a word I had never heard.

I wish someone had told me this just a little bit sooner.

That’s right, you guessed it.  At my last breakfast in communist China, I nonchalantly flagged down my waitress, smiled, and proceeded to loudly and confidently blurt out the following request, in Chinese:

“Good morning prostitute! When you get a chance I would really like you to give me some putty-moo.”

You would never have guessed that there were so many government police assigned to that restaurant that day.