Listening a new Language

Juliet was a life saver. Professionally, she was an assistant to Madhav, but in truth, she was our everything. From phone calls to office directions, food ordering to foot massages, hair cuts to bargains, she was the answer to all our worries – the how’s, why’s, where’s, when’s of our daily life in Shanghai. The company wouldn’t have been up and running successfully if it wasn’t for Juliet.  How she came to be part of CII, is also a mystery, but we’ll talk about that later. Oh, but before I forget her English was amazing, just the best I have ever heard from any Chinese, cool.

I was closely working with CII, at that time, the year of 2007, when every multinational, wanted to set foot in china. Our Indian business houses were not behind – the Godrej family, Ashok Leylands, Kirloskars, Ranbaxy-pharma groups were exploring eagerly for ventures, with the Tatas , videocons, and the steel tycoons already in place. To support trade, Madhav (from the CII group) had planned a consultant seminar. It was basically designed to encourage the big (moneyed) shots to help them understand Chinese trade laws and be able to invest in Shanghai & around. A team of  consultants (from varied backgrounds and experience) was to speak over the 1 & ½ days workshop, and a mix of important industrialists/investors , Chinese and Indian, were invited. Lot of good food, excellent hospitality and catering services by the Mariott, and lot of intended deals/plans by the end of the seminar took place.

Second day evening, we sat together, happily enjoying the winding off coffee, just the three of us, Madhav , Juliet and I,  telling each other we did a great job.

Madhav and I have a very limited vocabulary of mandarin, mine happens to be tucked into that dark corner of the brain, which tends to get paralysed, more in times of need. And the way the words get tangled/tassled/twisted with each other is another horror in itself.

Madhav was recalling how impressed all the invites were, and how much they appreciated his efforts. He asked Juliet, “hey why was everybody saying  – do syair, do syair nin? What does it mean? Juliet replied , “Sanx” in her Chinese accent English. For a few seconds after that madhav and I went totally silent, didn’t look at each other at all, but kept staring at her quizzically. She looked at us, once at him, then me, must be  trying hard to understand why are we acting like such morons, and we tried to think, what in the hell is she thinking right now? She must have thought we need more explanation, she said – “mani mani sanx – it means”. Believe me the “n” was quite inaudible, and we heard, well, sex. Madhav went searching for words, it seems all the way to Jupiter, the only sound came out of him, from that far, was “oh”, pause,  and then, “oh, but why?”

“Why?, why not?  They all wanted to thank you, for all this, we did.” She was definite by now , we sure can be morons at times. We got it. It thundered upon us , the word – thanks. I sighed a sigh of relief, madhav turned and smiled at me – “oh, I heard something else, you did too, right?”  “Yeah, right.” Now it was her turn to look at us strangely. Madhav kept on grinning till the end of time, it was upon me to explain, “ umm, well actually, we know only one word for thanks – xie xie. This is new.”

Moron I was, living in Shanghai for 3 years, it never struck me to find out why the Chinese speak English the way they do? Why the simple English alphabets sound like ancient latin coming out of  a Chinese mouth. Because they learn the latin alphabets through their knowledge of pinyin. Spell out the letters of your name in common English, and no one understands you. Every single time I have travelled, I reach the Hotel and confidently say – I have a booking in the name of  Mrs. S Ghose. No Sir, the booking only reveals itself after the 3rd protest. I have learnt the art of protest and patience. I didn’t know earlier, they go hand in hand.

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Filed under Things I did not want to learn

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