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28
Jan
2010
My desert-island... E-mail
City Life - Practical Tips
Written by Noruma Mueller
All-time, top five most memorable chinese words / expressions are: 1. Bu hao yisi. As my colleagues in Xi'an tried to explain me the meaning of "Bu hao yisi" I found this is a quite funny expression. My friend said: Look it is quite simple! Imagine you are in the bus and you and another person are standing.

Suddenly one seat becomes free. So you could be nice and offer the seat to the other person standing. Or you could run and take it four you. So if you go and seat in the last free seat you should say “bu hao Yisi” to the other person. Because actually it was not so nice of you! And you are seating while she is still standing! I asked, If I just take the seat and say nothing, it is bad! But if I say “bu hao yisi”, then it is ok? Yes, exactly! So if there is only one piece of cake in the fridge and I don't want to share it with my husband, I just eat it and tell him “bu hao yisi”?!  ;)

I imagined that I would have a lot of fun with bu hao yisi, but actually bu hao yisi has become a trauma for me. Every time somebody starts with this sentence I know something is wrong, only that most of the times I do not know what!

Here are some examples:

In the reception of the hotel we ask for the gym and for the swimming pool which were mentioned in the hotel description in the internet. The lady in the reception answers starting with bu hao yisi...

The gym is not finished yet! hm... and what about the swimming pool? Bu hao yisi,.. also not finished yet. Later we found out the swimming pool not only was not finished yet, they had not even started to build it and had no area reserved for this purpose...

I want to put money in my mobile phone account and go to this little office called “Line community charges supermarket”. I try my best to tell the women seating behind the computer what I want in Chinese and she shakes her head and tells me something.. I only could understand the beginning: “bu hao yisi ...”. Some how either the computer or the internet connection is down, so I must come back again another day...

Then recently in the bus, I want to get off in gaoxin but because of the terrible traffic jam the bus driver decides to change the route. The lady who sells the bus tickets tells us we must get off some streets before and walk. As I am getting off the bus I heard the ticket lady say: bu hao yisi... As if this would help me... as if this would make the jam disappear and send me a taxi!

My apartment is getting colder and colder every day. I go to the administration office and report this. The lady starts with bu hao yisi.... the heating is not working for the whole building! And when is this going to work again? Bu hao yisi... the building won't have heating for the following days...!!

2. The real meaning of “mei you”

Mei you is one of the expressions you hear every time, everywhere. A very typical situation for mei you is when you go to restaurant, let’s say a steak-and-pizza-restaurant and order your food. The waitress writes down your order and comes back after a while. Steak mei you... pizza ye mei you, there is no steak and there in no pizza either...

Mei you is also used in the perfect past to said I haven't … done what ever. Mei you chi fan.. I haven eaten. And so on.

Besides the meanings you learn in the Chinese class mei you seems to have more meanings. It is a mysterious word which can mean much more than there is not and in some cases even does not mean there is not!

Here some of my experiences:

I want to buy flight tickets. Because I am not the only soul wishing to travel during the spring festival the flight tickets are expensive and hard to get. I ask the lady of the travel agency to find some flights for me. After a while I receive a short message telling me mei you tickets for the 24th of February. Instead I get the information of a flight for the 26th of February. I don't have so many holidays so I call another agency and am very happy to hear that they still have tickets for the 24th. I buy my tickets in the second agency.  Later I get a call from the first agency. I tell them I don't have so many holidays, so I won't buy the tickets there. The lady explains me, they do have tickets for the 24th only they are more expensive!

I want to rent a car and ask my friend to help me. We call together and ask what we need to do to be able to rent a car. We send a copy of the drivers license and of the passport. The time passes and we get no answer from the car rental. I call and they tell me mei you cars for the next weekend. I ask my Chinese friend to call again and find out what exactly is the matter. After we talk about my credit card which is a Chinese credit car and not a foreign credit car suddenly there are cars to be rented!  My friend explained me that because the car rental has had problems with foreign credit cars they accept only Chinese credit cars. And because we are foreigners we might have only a foreign credit car. So meiyou cars was meant to avoid further trouble and questions.

3. Keyi

Keyi is one of the words in my list of the first ten words I learned. I use it to ask for wishes, like for example if I want the veggie seller help me to cut the big pumpkin into pieces, I would ask him “keyi ma?” while using my hands I imitate the cutting of the pumpkin. Fantastic! Only one word and my sign language and very often I get what I want.

Keyi is also meant to comment on something. For example to comment the weather, the work, the food, etc. Keyi! Means, it is OK. It is not very good but also not bad.

I asked my colleague to accompany my to the eyeglasses shop. He should help me to complain! I explained to him that my eyeglasses are a bit out of shape on the right side. He should help me with the translation and help me get the glasses adjusted.  My colleague talks and talks with the employee. They look at my face and at the eyeglasses. Again and again I heard the employee say: keyi! My colleague tells me, “the eyeglasses are not that out of shape! It is even difficult to notice that they are a little bent! Keyi!”. May be, but I want them perfect! I say. They discuss and discuss and it seems like the employee has my colleague at his side. My colleague starts to say keyi!! I also hear my colleague say to the employee that I am an engineer! As an excuse for my being so nasty and demanding.

You know Norma, we all have a not perfectly symmetrical face! Sometimes the right ear is a bit higher than the left one, sometime it is one eye bigger or smaller, and so on! And therefore also the eyeglasses can never fit totally perfect! I give up and decide to finish the visit to the eyeglasses shop. I heard myself saying, “ok, keyi....”

4 & 5 Gui – pianyi

Gui is also one of the words which takes more time to understand. The translation for gui is expensive. The translation for pianyi is cheap.

On the one hand, it seems like Chinese people do not buy a thing before they are really sure the thing they are up to buy can not be bought any cheaper. They spend hours or days searching in the internet and comparing prices until they find a best (lowest) price. Every time I buy something my friends ask me, how much did you pay for that? Ohh! Too expensive! In the internet you could have saved 20 RMB!

Sometimes gui things are not even worth talking about them. If I ask my friends to help me buy something, very often they do not even mention expensive things. They want me to save money! If I prefer to buy a ticket which is more expensive but which is more flexible, or if I tell them I prefer to buy brand products because I want better quality, they look at me with a very weird expression. As if I just had told them, I am going to give birth to an alien.

Why pay more for something? You can get it cheaper! Think about the 200 RMB more!!! Are you sure about that! Think again!

Once i noticed a group of colleagues leaving the company together. Where are you going, I asked them. We want to go to a bakery in the city center. They have a special offer today. If you pay with your credit car you get two pastries for the price of one. And how much does a pastry cost? I asked again. 3 RMB! They answered me. All the way to the city center, probably a lot of people in the bakery and all to save 3 RMB...!!??

On the other hand, it seems the urge to save money does not apply for everything. If people would like to save money when they go to buy a car, there would not be so many BMW and  Mercedes and Audi cars in Xi’an.

Our valuable Editor Noruma Mueller has been with us since Sunday, 02 August 2009.

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