Monday, May 31, 2010

Open Exchange of Ideas

“You know,” Gristle said during lunch last week, “I’ve figured out the secret of the Arabs.”

He paused to spit out a duck bone.

“The secret of the Arabs is that they seem like they’re really conservative, because of what their women wear, but actually the women are always having affairs with people while their husbands are trading goods along the Silk Road.”

I stopped him right there because, chances are, things were about to get either way more offensive or way more anachronistic, possibly both. After a brief pause, I asked him where he learned this secret.

“I’ve been reading One Thousand and One Nights. It’s all in the book,” he said. “You should read it.”

So, sorry I’ve been all Elena Kagan over here (read: “out of touch”, definitely not a lesbian) over the past few days, but I’ve been spending my time reading One Thousand and One Nights, figuring out the Arabs and their ways, and having an affair with someone named “My Students Are Taking the June 5th SAT And Are Freaking The Hell Out” while my husband (Sanity) is out of town. But I’m thinking of cutting it off because the sex isn’t great and this jilbaab is starting to chafe.

I have some things to tell you about. Right now I will tell you about how on Saturday a kid handed Gus a piece of paper addressed to 魏德忠老师 (Teacher Wei Dezhong — hey, that’s me!) inviting me to be a 嘉宾评委 at the 辩论赛决赛, which — oh wait, sorry, you don’t speak Chinese, let me walk you through this and give you a sense of what it felt like to read this for the first time — inviting me to be an honored guest judge (uh oh) at the finals of the debate competition (aw, shit my ass!) this Thursday, June 3rd, at 4:40 pm (for the love of god mister mistoffelees peanut butter jelly time prince of persia sands of time in theatres now seriously JESUS WHY ME).

So, to recap: I was asked to judge a debate, which will take place this Thursday. Or perhaps I should say 周四, which is Thursday in a language which I do not really speak after five years but which is nevertheless the language which will be used in the debate I have been called upon to judge.

They included a copy of the judging form, for my reference:

The form and me

There’s a lot of Chinese on this form. As you can see I am concerned. There’s a whole section which gives me information about when I’m supposed to take off points for errors of “inelegant language” (“If the language is too flashy, take off 4 points, if the speaker exaggerates or engages in name-calling, take off 8 pointes”) — all of this written as though I have the ability to to comprehend a Chinese sentence. For the record, I had to look up that bit about “engages in name-calling”, because the Chinese sentence is 乱扣帽子, which, and I’m 100% serious, looks to me like it’s saying “indiscriminately discount hats.” But it turns out that 扣帽子 menas to call someone names. I don’t understand how they thought I was qualified for this. I do not know the difference between name-calling and markdowns on headwear. I’m a haberdasher’s nightmare. I mean, come on.

Presumably these kids care deeply about this competition, so it is a mystery to me why they’d ever ask me to judge it, unless they believe that I’m easier to hoodwink than a native Chinese speaker. This is absolutely true.

Anyway, I realized this morning that I have to teach class at 4:40 pm on Thursday, so I texted the student listed on the form and told him that I won’t be able to attend, and he texted me back that he was really, really disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to make it, and at the end he said 你的中文果真很好~, which means “It’s true: your Chinese is excellent.” It’s true? Who the hell has been telling this kid that I have good Chinese? (Mom? Is this your fault?) Not only is it wrong but it’s a huge pain in the ass. He also said that he hopes I can participate next year (Haha! Can’t wait for that!) and, as you can see, he ended his message with a tilde, which is every Chinese person’s favorite punctuation mark, even though, sorry, don’t want to nitpick, but it’s not a real punctuation mark.

So there’s that.