November 20, 2012 | Mandarin
Chinese Pimsleur and Spa Services
In which I pimsle and get an Asian massage.
I admit it, “pimsle” is now a full-fledged verb for me. I use it regularly in speech. Probably daily.
Today, as on many other days, I carted my Pimsleur lessons everywhere around town with me. I walked across Central Park with them, I walked down Fifth Avenue with them, I ended up in Chelsea with them.
I did Pimsleur through traffic, traffic lights, in a store, at a haircut, on the subway, and at home.
The Pond, Southeastern Corner of Central Park
I could read the above Central Park sign, which said “no smoking in the park” in Chinese—but only because I can read English and Spanish. I can’t read any Chinese yet; I’ve still been focusing only on speaking skills.
I am, however, learning to do arithmetic in Chinese. What is ten plus two? Shi-ar. What is four plus five? Chee-oh. These are my imperfect transliterations; I don’t know pinyin, the official method for transcribing Chinese into the Latin alphabet.
Wow. I just looked up the pinyin spellings of those numbers, and they look nothing like mine. Oops.
Tonight I got a massage at an Asian massage place. It turned out that my masseuse was Chinese. I learned this when I asked her if she spoke Chinese.
Yes, she said. Potong-hwah? I asked. (Mandarin?)
Yes, it turned out! What luck! She told me she was from Beijing.
With my face smushed into that circular headrest thingie, I demoed some of my skills, reciting various inappropriate Pimsleur sentences. Nyi shiang kunwa-eechee chi iteear tomshee ma? (Would you like to have something to eat with me?)
She laughed. “Dinner? After work? I will have to think about it.”
Later she said, “Chinese must be very hard for you,” alluding to the four tones, which she then demonstrated. Shiang, shiang, shiang, shiang.
I gathered she was saying the same syllable with the four different tones, but they were almost indistinguishable to me.
I find it surprising that although tones change the meaning of things in Chinese, in my few Chinese interactions to date no one has seemed to have trouble understanding me. I am being quite careful, but still, I can’t always hear the tonal movements across a sentence, because I am too busy concentrating on the consonants and vowels, and I know I’m not replicating the tones correctly.
I guess context offers a lot of meaning to override the tonal affronts.
Later my masseusse asked me something in Chinese that I couldn’t understand. “What does that mean?” I asked.
“Does it hurt,” she said.
“Yes,” I said, “but the good kind.” She laughed again. She was unexpectedly strong.
When I was paying, my nice masseusse asked me if I had a Chinese name. I said no. She said, “Next time you come here, you have to have a Chinese name.”
I said okay, but I’m not sure where I’m going to find one.