Bumper Sticker of the Week

Not my mother. A generation and several hemline inches removed, but remember those steering wheels? Sex tries to sell seatbelts, but stats and hefty fines finally do the trick.

Even long after she had no more little ones in the car, far past the time when buckling up became law – and then suddenly the absolute minimum expectation of parental responsibility – my mother had a reflexive connection between her right foot and hand. When her foot lunged from accelerator to brake pedal, her right hand made a karate-worthy swipe to restrain front-seated kiddies who were no longer there. Through the 1950s and most of the 1960s, this was her automotive child-protection toolkit, that and her lip-chewing, white-knucklingly slow driving. I didn’t get the habit of seatbelt use until I was driving myself. Can you imagine?

You’d have no trouble imagining if you were in China. Here, safety consciousness in cars is about at the mid-1960s level (so, by the way, are popular music, workplace equity, and pollution control). It’s becoming part of the conversation, I think, but most people don’t buckle up, and it is routine to see grandparents and well-coiffed young mummies holding babies on their laps in the front seat. There must be trendy, upper-middle-class parents who have infant and child car-seats, but I haven’t noticed one yet.

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Are You Fashion?

It was time for a Walmart run. Our local “Friendly Shop” grocery store, so named by our son to distinguish its family ownership from the surliness across the street, doesn’t have everything. Salted peanuts to decorate my corn flakes, plus a large bag of Tide, were on the agenda, but I really wanted one more look at a pink fuzzy pyjama shirt I’d seen the week before. It had been my favourite linguistic delicacy of the winter.

Like most women’s nightdressing in China (well, at least so far as I can tell), the emphasis was on cute, preferably with animals. (Earlier, I’d been looking for a housecoat my wife had casually mentioned, and that’s why I was there, I swear it!) “Love My Bear” had adorned a neighbouring nightie, but I was looking for a stronger, more probing motto: STYLE IS MY GENETIC, the rosy shirt had announced. ARE YOU FASHION? This wasn’t something I could actually buy for my bride’s mid-winter birthday – besides, the pink slippers with the black polka-dots so perfectly matched her black PJs with the fuschia ones! – but I had stood and repeated the sentences. One mysterious statement, and one inscrutable question that I wanted to remember. Tragically, when I’d reported my find back at headquarters, I was convinced that the Chinglish had been even better, even more delightfully flawed. I cursed my mouldy mind.

I shouldn’t have waited a week. Up and down the aisles of women’s clothing I went. I looked in sales bins. No luck. I found Skippy and some pleasantly mediocre jam to spread with it, and everything else I needed for comfort breakfasts and tolerable laundry. Vacuum-packed salted cashews offered crunchable and linguistic solace – TRADITIONAL FOODS WIN ZEN PRESENT – but there was no my genetic, no are you fashion? I left the basement emporium, overheated and slightly claustrophobic as usual, but mainly with that feeling of having missed a chance that won’t come again. Back in the cold air of a December Dalian street, bags in each hand, I trudged on to my next duty, arms heavy but heart heavier at the lost phrase.

(But wait: Chinese neighbours often wear their pyjamas outside! Who knows, maybe come spring I’ll find it on an after-supper stroll! Hope springs.)

Have a Try

I repeatedly get this gentle Chinglish invitation (or request, or bold affirmation: I will have a try!) from my students and friends here. That’s what has been since 2006 — me having my fitful, false-starting, good-intentioning and stubbornly labouring try at getting my writing out there. (There are other ways, and I am even less confident about them, but I have a try along those roads, too.)

Here I am again.

Just a note, in addition to the apology/plea/declaration above, that you can find stuff related particularly to fun ‘n’ games in the “It’s All About Sport!” section to the right. Below that is a recently updated, growing collection of quotes I have loved under “He Said/She Said”, as well as a collection of usually longer pieces, often with a narrow audience in mind, that I call “On Second Thought”. There’s some great stuff in this last category, but it’s a little scarier sort of reading adventure.

Thanks for dropping by. Welcome anytime. Wish you happy every day.



I Bummered At That Time

Momo, a nickname for her that I overuse shamelessly and mispronounce incorrigibly, is one of my favourite students. She’ll volunteer her paper if it contains an example of a writing fault I’ve been discussing with the class. She has one of those shining, intently learning faces that every teacher is nourished by, and she writes an English journal with ferocious interest and effort. Ms. Zhu also reads enough English that she can insert a bit of tasty slang in her writing. I was beyond delighted to find, as I checked her Journal progress, a few paragraphs about a significant disappointment that she had experienced. Looking back on it, she wrote, “I bummered at that time!”

It helps that Momo is such a great kid, but this is one of my recent favourite bits of Chinglish.

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BLURT 15: Good laughs come in small Chinglish packages. Each of my classes has a ‘monitor’, my communications contact. No one resents them. I answered a student’s emailed question, then wondered if she had asked on behalf of the group. She LOL-ed my weary evening: Sir, I am the class commissar!