I’m off to Australia and New Zealand for 3 weeks, so don’t be expecting any updates for a while… though at the rate I’m updating here, you probably shouldn’t be expecting too much anyway.
Here’s a quick ToYM to tide you over…
Yang Mei teaches people from all over the world (and unlike the majority of Chinese people, she has come to appreciate different cultures because of it), including America, England, France, Germany, Finland, Sweden, and Japan. She seems to teach a lot of Japanese businessmen, to the point where she’s actually learned a fair amount of Japanese herself.
Anyway, she recently told me the tale of two young Japanese girls who had arrived in Shanghai as part of a placement at a Japanese company with a Shanghai branch office. They come to Shanghai, work a little, learn some Chinese, all good experience. They got off the plane knowing absolutely zero Chinese, and upon leaving the airport, got into a cab and gave the driver a piece of paper with the address of where they were staying.
I’ve probably mentioned already on this blog… the vast, vast, vast majority of taxi drivers in Shanghai drive like fucking nutters. Driving in China in general is a hectic affair – turn signals are optional extras, speed limits are loose guidelines, random U-turns are ubiquitous, changing lanes is a competitive sport… you can imagine. Taxi drivers, though, are an even worse breed – since they’re living on a paltry Chinese wage, they need to make the most of it. They rush like bats out of hell to get their current fare to their destination so they can quickly pick up another one and thus earn more money than if they drove each passenger safely and sensibly. It’s uncommon for a taxi driver not to be flooring it every time any gap opens up in front of them, even if they’re slamming on the brakes 5 metres later. Occasionally you do get a good driver, though it’s rare enough that it’s very noticeable when you do.
My Chinese teacher has admitted to me several times that whenever she takes a taxi in Shanghai, she gets in, tells the driver where she wants to go, and then closes her eyes until the car stops. While this is pretty hilarious, I myself have had some drivers here that drove so fucking recklessly that it wouldn’t have seemed a particularly bad idea at the time.
Suffice to say, it’s very different from the Western way of driving, and even more so the Japanese way, which has a lot of emphasis on road safety and politeness. So when this taxi driver blasted out of the airport onto the motorway like a Formula 1 driver, the girls were more than a little frightened.
In Japanese, the word 怖い (“kowai”) literally means “scary”, and Japanese loves using 1-word sentences (another very popular exclamation is すごい (“sugoi!”), meaning “that’s amazing!”, or “awesome!” – you’ll hear this over and over again if you watch Japanese TV for any length of time). So while the driver whisked them down the motorway at ridiculous speeds, weaving in and out of the other cars on the road, the girls were saying to each other “Kowai! Kowai!” (“I’m scared!”).
Unfortunately, due to the way native Japanese speakers tend to swallow certain vowels in commonly-used words, their Japanese exclamations sounded very similar to the Chinese word “kuài” (快), which means “fast”, or “quickly”.
The taxi driver, through no fault of his own, took this to mean “go fast”, and so sped up even more.
A couple of weeks later, during their first Chinese lesson with Yang Mei, she asked them how they were liking Shanghai, to which they answered that they liked the city, but taxis drive way too fast. They then told her about their journey from the airport, still not understanding why the driver continued to go faster even though they were obviously shitting themselves in the back seat.
It’s pretty unfortunate that the Japanese word for “scary” and the Chinese word for “quickly” sound almost exactly the same… but if they didn’t, it wouldn’t make such a good story.