Tuesday, January 13, 2004

She Said She Said
"Justin, do you have a moment?"
The questioner was Alex, who is the paper's second-in-command. He's a quiet, articulate and firm fellow in whose presence I am usually quite comfortable. But my "Oh crap, what did I do now?" needle suddenly veered into the red zone. It does that whenever anyone in authority asks if I "have a moment." It ranks right up there with a woman telling me that "we need to talk."
In the past some of those talks and moments have turned into dreary months of unemployment or celibacy - sometimes simultaneously.
Fortunately, though, Alex's question was relatively benign and had nothing to do with me blogging on company time or what was, in retrospect, my ill-inspired impersonation of a Red Guard during some down time in the office.
It seems that Shenzhen city officials think it would be a grand idea for the paper to write and publish a book for its Chinese residents on "300 English phrases." The SZ mayor has been pushing lately to make SZ an "international city" within 5 years and seems to think that such a book in the hands of its 7 million residents would help. (I am not as optimistic. For instance, the same day that the mayor announced the city's Great Leap Forward, I noticed that at a bus stop which I frequently use the handy English sign listing the bus routes had disappeared and been replaced with Chinese advertisements for breast enlargments.)
Alex wanted to pick my brain about what kind of phrases and categories would be appropriate for genial and helpful social/cross-cultural intercourse.
I told him I would mull it over and get back to him later this afternoon. But some immediate ones sprang to mind, though I don't think they may be entirely what the mayor has in mind.

Taxi driver: "I am very happy to take a circuitous, maze-like route to your otherwise direct destination in order to jack up the fare."
Taxi driver:"I know this is not your destination. Please pay me an additional 50 yuan for the honor of seeing an address that you have never seen before."
Taxi driver:"Excuse me while I drive like a baboon on meth."
Bus conductor: "This bus has no scheduled route or stops."
Bus conductor:"The voices in the driver's head tell him where to go."
Dining Out
Waitress:"We are serving you civet cat disguised as tofu. Please enjoy your meal."
Waitress:"The restroom is in the kitchen. Please remove the dirty dishes from the toilet before you go. "
Social conversation
Mr./Ms. Li"No, I cannot tell you if I am married or otherwise divulge any sort of even the most benign information about myself."
Mr./Ms. Li: "Allow me to ask you intensely personal questions based on knowing you for all of 12 minutes."
Mr./Ms. Li: "How much money do you make? How much is your rent? Are you a SARS carrier? At what age do Americans begin having sex with animals?"
In the elevator/grocery store
Total Stranger:"What is in your bag?"
Total Stranger: "Let me look more intently at what is in your bag."
Total Stranger: "Excuse me while I begin to stick my head in your bag."
Total Stranger: "It is my honor and duty to comment to others about the contents of your bag."
Total Stranger:"You eat the same foods as civilized people!"
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