Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Nega, please

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. 
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When I was first keeping this blog, Blogger did not provide any stats, so I had no idea which posts were getting the most views and I didn't really care, for the most part. I steadfastly refused to put ads up even after they were becoming widespread. I always just posted what I felt like when I felt like it. But now that there are stats I look at the posts that get the most hits and come of them are surprising... On October 18, 2005 -- over 5 years ago!-- still fresh off the boat, I posted a FAQ page and to this day people search online and find it.

Why is this so?  Because I wrote about how strange it was to hear people saying "nega, nega" all the time and headlined the whole post "Nega please." Apparently, many people arriving in China have the same sensation and Google "Chinese Nega," a query that often takes them to this ancient post on my little ol' blog.

Now some of what I wrote sounds kind of humiliating now, so far down the road, as I am supposed to be a China expert of sorts, but I have not deleted or altered any of the old posts. And I am reposting that section, with annotations included:  

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.

Note: I guess I didn't know it yet, but it's actually "bu yao" ("don't want"). Everything else I wrote holds up. The kids loved saying it to people and they always laughed in response, especially when Anna got it going.

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." NOTE: It's actually "jegga," but close enough. 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. NOTE: As I struggled to learn Chinese, it truly was a big step to just start hearing words instead of sounds.