A few weeks ago, my good friend (and Chinese tutor) told me the good news: She had taken her first steps in creating her own company.
I was thrilled for her and listened intently as she detailed the process she'd take here in China. "So ... what are you going to name it?" I asked.
She sighed. This was the big question.
We weighed the pros and cons of a few options. We chatted about the deeper meanings of the words we were using, in English and in Chinese, and how you could twist their meanings.
It was the kind of conversation I love to have. I could spend hours just parsing words. (Ah, there goes my linguistic erection again. Excuse me.)
Luckily, my tutors have always humored me. Since the beginning of my Mandarin education, I've found studying this language is largely a study of this culture. Words in all languages can reflect history and deep meaning; in other cases, they can hold deep-rooted sexism or narrow-mindedness.
A single word or phrase can pack a hell of a punch.
Now, as a language student, it would be easy to just memorize things. This word means this, and here's how you say it. Boom. Done.
But as all of my Chinese tutors know, it's never that simple with me. Sure, I need to know how to say it, but I also want to know how to correctly use it, and in what cases to do so. I even want to talk about the different parts of the characters themselves.
I wish I could say this intensive method has led to a higher, more complete understanding and fluency of Mandarin, but we all know that's not the case.
It has, however, led to some incredible conversations with these women.
In the course of learning new vocabulary, we'll talk about how Chinese parents name their children or how folks cope with real estate prices. We'll detour into how words have evolved. (For example, "Tongzhi," which was the word for "comrade" a few decades ago, now means "gay.") We've looked at the history behind words like, "jealous" ("jidu") or "marriage" ("jia"/"qu"), and their rather sexist undertones.
In this class' conversation, our discussion centered around how current-day entrepreneurs in China could set off on their own journey into business creation.
In the end — no thanks to our conversation at all, but rather a quote she'd heard somewhere else — my friend found a name that suited her company perfectly.
And because we love tangents, we also made great strides in doing the same in translating my blog's name, "Wild-Eyed and Wandering," to Mandarin. No choice has been made as of this printing, but the possibilities stemmed from words I felt captured the essence as well as their English counterparts do.
It's true, a picture may be worth a thousand words. But if they're the right words, I'm the girl who would enjoy the hell out of the latter.