Ginger Ale, Please

A few weeks ago I was out for lunch with friends at one of Beijing's finer eateries.  As usual, when the waitress asked me what I wanted to drink, I said asked for a Coke.  One of my friends asked for a Ginger Ale, which immediately prompted me to declare to the waitress, "Wait!  Cancel my Coke.  I'll have a Ginger Ale too."

At this point the friend who'd first ordered the Ginger Ale commented that normally she only orders Ginger Ale on a flight, at which point the rest of us chimed in with pretty much the same sentiment, and then launched into a discussion of this mysterious phenomenon.

When I got home that afternoon, I logged onto my Google Reader to catch up on some news and blog reading, and amazingly enough one of the travel blogs to which I subscribe had a post on this very phenomenon titled "The Mysterious Popularity of Ginger Ale on Airlines," which pretty much confirmed the gist of our conversation. Apparently Ginger Ale accounts for 10% of drinks sold on flights, while only 3% in overall sales.  No one seems to know why, but theories abound. 

I'm writing this post from the Tokyo/Narita airport as I wait to board a flight to Minneapolis/St. Paul.  I'm pretty sure I'll be ordering a glass of Ginger Ale once we reach cruising altitude.

We Want Your Life!

I love chatting with Beijing taxi drivers — there's always something new and interesting about China or the Chinese language to learn. 

This morning, after the obligatory conversation opener (He: "Your Chinese is very good." Me: "No, it's barely passable."), my driver, whom I suspect maybe was a linguistics professor on the side commented to me that he'd noticed that foreigners who speak Chinese have a hard time with the tones, and thus often ended up saying things that they don't mean, and that, to Chinese people sound very strange.

I knew that I could keep him entertained all day with stories of my own experience of butchering Chinese tones, but I was curious to hear what examples he had in mind.

"Take the Chinese basketball player Y1o M0ng" he said. 

"His name is pronounced Y1o (1st tone, voice at a high flat pitch) M0ng (2nd tone, voice rising).  But when he plays basketball in America, the Americans all chant Y4o M=ng (2 4th tones, with voices falling). That sounds really strange."

When I asked him what y4o m=ng (with 2 4th tones) meant–what a Chinese person was actually hearing (or thinking he was hearing), he said "y4o means 'to want' and m=ng means 'life.' It means 'we want your life'," and as he said this he crossed his hand across his neck as if to signify an execution!

"You,'re right," I said, "that must sound strange!"

The Ground Floor

This week I'm staying at a suburban hotel in Hong Kong that seems to be a favorite for peasant tour groups from southern China who've crossed the border to spend their hard-earned yuan at Disneyland.

The gleaming towers of this city are a far cry from the villages of rural Guangdong or Guangxi (I'm guessing that's where they are from based on the accents I hear) so riding up and down the elevator to my room on the 21st floor has been quite the cross-cultural experience.

Hong Kong uses the British system of labeling street level as "ground floor", not "the first floor" as we would label it in the States (and China). Our first floor is their ground floor, and our second floor is their first floor. It can be confusing.

This morning as I was going down to breakfast, I ended up on the elevator with a dozen or excited peasant tourists who were talking very loudly about where they should get off.  When the elevator reached the ground floor (as indicated by the letter G lit up on the display) the door open and they all just stood there. Someone made a move, but was grabbed by the others and told not to get off because we were on the 6th floor (the letter G did look like a 6).

I was at the back of the elevator and wanted to get off so decided to take control of the situation and in the loudest voice I could muster declared to them in Chinese that this was where they needed to get off.  "G in Hong Kong is like 1 in China.  Please get off now."  With one accord they all turned around and said "wah!!" (which in this context meant "Oh my! A foreigner who speaks") then spilled off the elevator into the lobby to continue their journey to see Mickey Mouse. . 

Obviously they hadn't gotten the memo.  And even if they had, who would have actually believed that one is two anyway? 

Got Anti-biotics?

I'm in Hong Kong this week attending a conference.  The last time I was here was in November, when I came down for my knee surgery, and just as happened that time, 2 days before coming I came down with a very nasty cold/cough/sore throat.  Even though I love Hong Kong my body seems to have an aversion to even making plans to come here.

By the time my plane landed yesterday I had completely lost my voice, which is a fairly big deal since I am a scheduled speaker this evening.  After crashing in my hotel room for a few hours, in the evening I hit the streets looking for drugs…er…um…medicine.  The hotel is in a very Chinese (non-touristy) neighborhood, so there was a pharmacy on every corner.

Not entirely sure what the pharmacy regulations are in Hong Kong, I walked into one place and asked if they sold antibiotics.  "No Problem!  Which one do you want?" 

"Do you have Zithromax?" I asked him.

"No problem."  And off he want to the back of the shop.

I paid him my ten bucks, and off I went.

I love Asia.

A New Pizza Joint-Correction

A couple of friends and I had lunch there today, and enjoyed our 'Italian Amorous Feelings" pizza (pepperoni and onions) while listening to Korean praise music playing over the sound system. The tip-off was one song's constant repetition of 'ha-le-lu-jah', which is the same in just about any language. 


Just realized that I misidentified a character in the name. It should be 'ke li si' not 'ke li en.' I guess it's just a phonetic transcription of 'christian.'

Sorry about that and thanks to WTH for spotting it.

A New Pizza Joint

There's a new pizza joint in the hood.

Christian pizza (Small)

The Chinese name is 'ke li en,' which could possibly be translated as 'establish grace for the customer.'

A couple of friends and I had lunch there today, and enjoyed our 'Italian Amorous Feelings" pizza (pepperoni and onions) while listening to Korean praise music playing over the sound system. The tip-off was one song's constant repetition of 'ha-le-lu-jah', which is the same in just about any language. 

As Rob Gifford says in his book China Road, "China messes with my head on a daily basis."