Singapore Adventure

Monday, November 07, 2005

Flied Lice
by venitha

Flied lice, my adolescent siblings and I delightedly dubbed fried rice, back in a time when Indians were mascots, , and retarded was not a dirty word. Today, my Chinese co-workers tease each other on our project e-mail list:

> Soli
Veli soli

I get the joke and would like to play, too, but I fear I am Ludolf Rudolf, unwelcome in these reindeer games.

Like r, the th sound is apparently a difficult one for the Chinese tongue, and my name frequently and humorously falls victim. Venitha, however, is a puzzle everywhere. I am used to its many mangled mispronounciations, and I gave up correcting people long before I landed in Asia. Instead, I've trained Jim to use my name frequently in conversation with new acquaintances, kindly giving them plenty of chances to hear it before they're called on to say it aloud themselves.

I often wish someone would do me this favor in return these days, with Chinese names I just can't get right. But even my tired pick-up line, "I'm sorry. Could you please pronounce your name for me again?" invariably strikes out. "C.K. is fine." "Just call me Z."

My unintelligible Mandarin bats a no-hit inning against the myriad sounds I can't pronounce, and I may as well just take off my cleats and go home when confronted with the innumerable nuances I can't even hear. Composed of tones and inflections, Mandarin abounds with differing sounds that to my American ear are infuriatingly exactly the same. And always always my attempts result in laughter that I struggle not to take personally.

I was guiltily and wickedly amused, therefore, when I finally told Yoong Han, a co-worker in Singapore, that he keeps confusing me by calling Allen, a co-worker in Colorado, Ellen, a girl's name, and he confessed that he cannot hear the difference between the two. Oho! It is a two-way street, -Strasse!

Allen. Ellen. Aaaaallen. Yoong Han earnestly tries and has, of course, far more success than I ever have with Mandarin. I smile at him and resolve never ever to laugh at his efforts. Laughing with him, however, would be nice. I wonder if he's heard of Rudolf.

The exact day that I first notice they've changed the sappy 80s music piped into Cold Storage to Christmas carols, I end up posting a picture of Rudolf to this blog. I just can't say.