Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Nega, please! More FAQs


Peter Hessler  author of River Town and Country Driving on Big In China“Alan Paul plunges into Chinese life and takes us along for the ride, through vegetable markets, used-car lots, Taoist temples, divey bars, and a beachside music festival before thousands of cheering fans. He conveys the thrills and challenges of living abroad, the confusions and regrets, and most of all the opportunity to become the person we always hoped to be. 






How will you ever be able to read the road signs? For ex: if you're going on a trip and have to get directions, don't you have to learn the language first? Do they make a GPS that translates ?
If anyone can figure out what’s out there GPS–wise and let me know, that would be a huge help and you will get mad props up here. Maybe my fantastic IT guy Steve Goldberg can jump onthis. How ‘bout it big guy? I’d really like one, even while I’m in a cab or being ferried around by Dou. I think it would be a huge help to keep learning my way around the city.
Most of the road signs are also in pinyin – the English version in phonetics. Even that is a little tricky at first, because the sounds don’t always match up with the English version. For example, i = e, ai = i... As I keep taking Chinese lessons, it gets easier and easier to read the pinyin properly, which is the first step towards actually being able to speak a bit. Now if I can just start remembering some words. Also, remember that when and if we get our licenses, we are still not going to drive all that much into the city. We need just to get around here, to the grocery store, soccer games, etc. Also, it will give us better access to hkking, etc which is just about 40 km North of us.


How do you order food in a restaurant? They can't possibly have pictures of everything.

Ah yes. There are several tried and true methods. You can order something that you know how to say, ie “jingbao jingding” (basically kung pao chicken) “mei fun” “jow-tze” (dumplings), “mou po doufu” (spicy tofu) regardless of what the house specialties might be. You can play charades and/or you can point to someone else’s table. Most places that we end up in have some sort of English language menu, though the descriptions are often very literal and take some interpretation.
There is a Giant bike store up the street where I bought my bike and Becky’s and have gone back a few times for various things. Right next to it a little hole in the wall restaurant. Every time I am over there I look in the window and see people eating tasty looking pancakes of some sort. Last time I went, I was hungry so I went in to eat. Definitely no pictures or English on the menu.

After some awkwardness and giggling, I pointed to a plate at someone else’s table – a peasant looking guy eating with two much younger women, I would say were his daughters and puffing away on cigarettes. It was all understood and they brought me out meat and scallion panckaes which were delicious. They cost maybe a buck and I brought half of them home. Had some later with Ding and Anna and Ding taught me how to say meat pancake – “rou bo” or something like that. You can usually always get some pancakes or noodles (miantao) of some sort.

Is Eli wearing a Rob Mackowiak t-shirt?! Were they sold out of Jason Bay's? Good stuff either way, much like your postings.

Thanks Ben and good question. It’s even better than a Mackowiak – it’s a vintage Pokey Reese T. E wears that all the time. I can’t find their Bus jerseys but it’s time tot bust those out. Dixie, how about some Jason Bays?


How is the beer, damn it?

I swear I already answered this in my first FAQ, but I need to get back to it or else Art is going to figure out a way to kick my ass all the way from Chicago to Beijing.

The beer is pretty good, especially for the warm weather, when I like a light, golden lager. TsingTao is the only real national beer. Then there are more regional brews. The Beijing brew is not bad but pretty bland, so I opt for Tsing Tao. Down in Guilin, the local beer was called Li and was quite tasty so I went for it. San Miguel Philipines beer is also pretty widely available and not much more expensive – it’s all about a buck for a big (liter) beer and 40-50 cents for a regular bottle. It’s good so I get that sometimes.
There is not much variation, though. In the fall and winter, I usually go for more of a pale ale at home and, of course, I always get Guinness when it’s available. That end of the spectrum seems to be pretty much absent here, unless you get imported, which you can get at the store and at some bars. You can even get Sam Adams.


Have you ever had it verified that "Boo Yah" actually means something in Chinese? It seems much more likely that whoever taught you that bit of language is laughing their ass off somewhere every time you say it. Just looking out for you, Al.

Thanks Danny. I do appreciate your watching my back. Yes, I am quite sure about Boo Yah. On our trip to Yangshuo, there were often people trying to sell us stuff and Jacob and Eli got really into saying “boo yah, boo yah” which usually cracked the recipients up. It if actually sort of a rude term.. like, “Get the fuck away” more or less. Boo (actually bu) means no and that’s where you start. Bu Yah is really just when someone won’t leave you alone and I explained that to them.
But that’s not even the funniest commonly used Chinese term… “Nega” means "that" but it is really commonly used. In conversation when stalling or finding your place, you can say “nega, nega” the way in English someone would go “like” or “um.” It is probably the most used word in Chinese along with “jigga” which means this. It takes some getting used to. At first I kept expecting to people to say “Nega, please!” or “You my nega!” And don’t even get me started on jigga. Luckily, after you hear it for a while, all of this stuff actually starts sounding like words.