Friday, July 29, 2011

Summer Fun - How to Relay Sordid Details of an Awful Vacation in Chinese

In my last post, I gave you an uncomfortable tour of my kitchen and introduced you to some kitchen words in a way that probably gave you nightmares or at least drove you to your nearest therapist in a state of confusion.  I was so proud of my last post that I gave myself a couple months off from blogging to celebrate (and to throw birthday parties, celebrate anniversaries and the like, and take a much needed vacation with the kids which, unfortunately, involved more than one person getting the flu and many, many saltine crackers).  So now I'm back again, exhausted from all the activities and slightly delirious, which is just how I like to be when I'm writing.

In this post, I'm going to share with you some easy Chinese phrases to help you describe a horrible vacation.  These words might come in handy if, say, you're complaining to a tour director who put you on the wrong bus, or perhaps the boating crew who accidentally left you behind in the middle of the ocean during a snorkeling trip at the Great Barrier Reef.  These words are so useful that they may become your favorites (especially if you're one of those grumpy old people who likes to complain about everything and probably gets their food spit on at restaurants on a regular basis), so take the time to learn them well.

Let's start with the simple phrase, "I'm dissatisfied."  - "" ("Wǒ hěn bùmǎn.").  This phrase comes in handy for situations where, say, you ordered fish tacos and the waiter has brought you pork bellies, or if you asked for a window seat on the tour bus and they've seated you in the luggage compartment.  If you happen to speak English with a heavy Jamaican accent, you can remember the word "dissatisfied" ("" - "bùmǎn") easily by imagining yourself booing something ("Boo man!").  You can also remember this easily if you're a street vendor competing with another food cart that's infringing on your turf - if their business is booming ("bùmǎn"), you'd be pretty dissatisfied with your situation.  As an aside, if you choose to use this phrase, don't be surprised if you get a negative reaction from the persons at whom you direct your scorn.  Be prepared.  They may say you're contrary, but you can just tell them, "No, I'm not," - "我是。" ("Wǒ bùshì."). That'll fix 'em.

Next, how about a phrase that might be perfect for when you book a hotel room online and arrive to find that "luxury hotel" really meant "well built hut with complementary security guard who fends off looters for you".  The phrase is "I want a refund." (“我退款”- “Wǒ yào tuì kuǎn. ”).  A good way to remember the main part of this phrase - "to want a refund" (退款 - yào tuì kuǎn) is to imagine that you're a waiter at a questionable restaurant who's being asked to serve a plate of completely unappetizing appetizers to that group of tourists at table seven.  You reason with the cook, hoping maybe he can at least throw some parsley on the plate or something, but he won't budge.  Finally out of frustration you scream, " How am I supposed to get them to eat any part of this!?" to which the cook responds, "Yell, 'take one!'" (退款 - yào tuì kuǎn - which is pronounced "yahw twee kwahn").  The point here is that they might, in fact, take one - but they're still going to want a refund

Now let's say that you're on the road and humming along in your rented Saab, windows down, wind blowing through your tastefully designed toupee that "no one will ever know isn't real".  You're probably thinking to yourself, "Hey, this trip is going pretty well!"  Your kids are napping peacefully in the back seat, your lunch went down and stayed that way, and your wife hasn't called you an imbecile once since you told her how attractive she looks in her new mom jeans - which was a blatant lie, but at least she's happy and you can hear yourself think.  Here's where things get dicey.  You hear a "pop" and the next thing you know you're sitting on the side of the road with a flat tire ("气 不 足 的 轮 胎。" - Qì bùzú de lúntāi.), watching everyone else drive happily past you without stopping to blink (or lend you a cell phone) because no one wants to hear your Saab story (sorry, I know that one was bad, but it was too ripe to pass up...). 

Okay, so our phrase here is "flat tire" ("气 不 足 的 轮 胎。" - "Qì bùzú de lúntāi.").  This is pronounced something like. "chee boozoo duh loon tahy", and, to me, sounds like "cheap Bozo'd loon tie".  You know, like a poorly-made crazy necktie with an ugly image of Bozo the Clown stamped onto the front of it.  Perhaps you bought the tie at the last gas station thinking that your family would find it humorous.  Your wife probably told you it made you look attractive, but now that you're thinking about your less than genuine complements about her mom jeans, you're beginning to wonder whether she might have had similar "just to shut you up" type motives.  So now you're stranded on the side of the freeway with a flat tire ("气 不 足 的 轮 胎。" - "Qì bùzú de lúntāi."), wondering if you'll ever make it to that Bozo convention before the final seltzer water demonstration, feeling pretty down - oh, and you're wearing an ugly tie. 

Now we'll explore another possible source of vacation troubles - the weather.  Nothing is quite so disappointing as a highly anticipated picnic at the lake thwarted by a freak thunderstorm with hail the size of baseballs.  We're going to keep it simple here, but you can anticipate a whole post sometime in the future devoted entirely to complaining about the weather.  The weather is, of course, a favorite source of disdain for most people groups as far as I'm aware, and we want to think globally after all, but I digress.  Let's just keep it short and sweet - "It rained."  ("下雨。" -  "Xià yǔ.") 

Let's assume that your mother has been hounding you day in and day out to take those "sweet little children of yours" on a nice outing to get some fresh air.  First of all, it's painfully obvious that she's unaware of just how horrifying your children can be.  If she had any sense at all, she would be telling you to hire an exorcist or something and she'd be out hunting for useful Christmas presents like a deadbolt for your bedroom door or perhaps a bear-proof padlock for the knife drawer.  She's also clearly not heard the new science about how too many outings in the country can squelch a child's IQ - but then again, neither have you.  Anyways, you've finally caved to her demands (which were no less frequent than all those birds in that Alfred Hitchcock movie), and you've got a lovely day of chasing after two legged monsters planned.  After four hours of packing everything and everyone perfectly into your tiny little "bought it before I had the family" car, you sail over beautiful hills and past lovely scenes like the ones you might have seen in that movie you wanted to see (people with kids get to do things like visit mental institutions instead of seeing movies).  You're mother was still bothering you right up until you left your house.  The phone was ringing off the hook and every call was from her with last minute ideas for your picnic, like bringing the baseball bat and glove which you "accidentally" forgot to do because you knew that it would be you and not the baseball that they'd be aiming at.  So you're feeling pretty proud of yourself for getting this whole thing together and you might even be starting to feel a bit optimistic about the day. 

You park the car next to a beautiful lake where a picturesque little grove of willow trees is swaying in the breeze (huh, it wasn't windy at all when you left...) and a few odd birds are chirping happily.  You release the children and they take off like a pack of wild dogs, looking for something to bother.  Your wife heads on over to a nice little grassy knoll to lay out the picnic blankets.  The term "grassy knoll" bothers you for some reason, but you can't recall in particular any grassy knolls that gave you trouble, so you let the thought pass.  The next two hours are spent unloading everything from every nook and cranny of the car - including the baseball bat which - it seems - your wife was kind enough to remember and toss in at the last minute. 

You fire up the charcoal grill.  As you stand, feeling completely victorious, you begin to admire the beautiful steel colored clouds that you hadn't noticed before.  Isn't it funny how we often let little things like clouds pass over us without giving them so much as a second thought?  You angle yourself so that you're standing directly in front of the fire so that the wind doesn't blow ashes everywhere (wait, wasn't it just a breeze a moment ago?...).  The steaks are just beginning to look tasty.  Then mother nature unleashes a catastrophe the likes of which your mother will never be able to comprehend.  Rain gushes from every corner of the sky and in moments your little picnic is a soggy mess.  As quickly as possible, you load every bit of junk that you "couldn't do without" back into the car while your wife tries unsuccessfully to get your little mud dragons back into your vehicle without creating Jackson Pollock type art on what had been freshly shampooed carpets.  

You know right away where you're headed next.  You ride along in silence, face red with - well it isn't "delight", but if you're thinking of an emotion you're on the right track.  Even the kids seem to sense that they'd better not kick the back of your seat or make any loud noises, and your wife is just sitting there looking at you with an expression that says "it could have happened to anyone, but it always happens to us".  Then her expression changes and you know she's just figured out that you aren't headed home.  A few moments later you're parked in front of your mother's home (which, by the way is bathed in sunlight as the clouds seem to have been over your picnic alone).  You unload every scrap of gear onto her front lawn as she comes creeping out her front door looking bewildered.  She waltzes up to you, as you stand dripping on the sidewalk and begins to question you as to what you're doing at her home and why you've piled all of these mucky things onto her lawn.  She also mentions that since the moment she saw you she noticed you were absolutely drenched and asks you what in the world is going on.  You wring out your shirt, hop back in the car (the kids can spend the night at grandma's tonight) and lean your head out the window just to inform her that, "It rained" ("下雨。" -  "Xià yǔ." - pronounced "shah you", which sounds like "saw you"). 

Well there you are.  Now you have a few helpful little phrases which hopefully won't come in handy when it comes time for your next vacation.  There are many more phrases that I could use to describe vacations that I've had (and with my luck, vacations that are coming), but I don't want to spoil the surprise for you.  May all your vacations lack the building blocks for "sordid tales" to recall upon your return home, and may you never forget that some people don't have the privilege of vacationing at all - and that those are the people who you should steer clear of next time you come home from what was never meant to be a "nice outing in the country". 

For a quick and easy way to learn this post's vocab for good, check out the corresponding vocabulary list on  By the way, it's fast, free and fun - so no excuses.

Image courtesy of Alan Vernon via Flickr.

1 comment:

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