Tuesday, March 21, 2006

All I got was this lousy t-shirt

There were any number of stalls at all tourist attractions that sold various trinkets.


This is a street near Wang Fu Jing (I think). Wall to wall stuff. Minature terracotta soldiers, chop sticks, handbags, fans, all kinds of stuff. Among them was a stand that would carve you a seal with your name in Chinese characters. It is your signature. A stamp carved with your name that you imprint onto paper with red ink. They have a thick book full of Chinese versions of western names. It is not clear whether names are translated by meaning or by sound. But the vendor will promise you that they can take care of you.

I had decided to get one for My Guy. Thinking about it I wanted to say something genuinely significant to him about him. So I toyed with various ideas and decided on something, looked it up in the English to Chinese dictionary and wrote it out as carefully as I could.

Ignoring the book of names, I copied it out for the lady at the stall and as I did so she gave me a funny look. The vendor to her left came over to see what it was that I had copied down and grinned. She said that it would take about 10 minutes to carve these characters in reverse into the seal that I picked out.

We came back she demonstrated the seal for me:

signature seal

I think it is pronounced: Wu Giyu Peng Yu - Tortoise Friend (I hope that's what it says)

The neighboring vendor asked CE while pointing to me, "Is that her name?" He was mildly flabbergasted that someone would name their child so outlandishly. She, trying to think of how to explain in Mandarin said, "No, her boyfriend -"

"That's her boyfriend's name?" he exclaimed, still flabbergasted.

She was trying to remember the word "like." She didn't want to say "her boyfriend loves tortoises." Because as they said in "The Truth about Cats and Dogs" it's okay to love your pets but not to love your pets. And then she remembered and she said,"Her boyfriend likes tortoises."

Which he does. He is a keeper of rare species of tortoise. They are not endangered yet but their current status is: threatened.

The vendor nodded and tried to sell me a big turtle paperweight carved in jade. "I no cheat you," he said grinning.

I let out a big laugh over that. Most everywhere we went bargaining was a required part of purchasing and CE was frustrated by how difficult it was to bargain effectively next to my longingly acquisitive face gazing at the item in question. Apparently, I was getting cheated left and right everywhere we went despite her best efforts.

The whole flabbergastedness made more sense on further reflection. It was as if I had ordered a thousand business cards with no contact info that read simply "Laughs Loud" or "Chocolate fiend." The guy behind the counter at shop might raise an eyebrow and ask if there was some mistake. When assured of the correctness he would shake his head and mumble something about silly tourists who don't understand.


Kat E said...

I just want to know what's up with the black puffy North Face coats...they are also the standard uniform among the Chinese vendors of similar crap on Canal St. in NYC. An interesting trend, IMO, anyway...

ergo said...

In Beijing it's b/c the winters are freaking cold. And everyone loves a fake North Face coat if well made.