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Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Not quite ready for primetime

Around the time that April first conceived of a students' social group, I took a visiting friend to the street market in Mongkok. My friend pointed at some trinkets he wanted to bring home, so we stopped at that stall. Armed with almost a year's worth of Mandarin lessons, I said "I'll handle this," and called out to the shopkeeper (fu wu yuan, I whispered to myself) in a loud voice.

"Duo shao qian?" I said confidently.

"Si wu," she replied. My brain translated this as four-five.

"Forty five," I told my friend

"Keyi er shi wu kuai?" I asked. Twenty dollars off the asking price seemed reasonable to me. I looked up. Fu wu yuan was giving me a strange look.

"The price is fifteen dollars," she told me in English.

"Ah. Sorry. Dui bu qi." My face was bright red as two things dawned on me. First, those 4 darn tones may be screwey, but accents are screwier. The Cantonese drop the h-sound, so the word for "ten" is "si," not "shi". Second, even accounting for that, I have no idea how my brain came up with "forty five". Best to bargain by punching numbers into a calculator. My friend did that and knocked 2 dollars off the price.