Thursday, November 12, 2009

Local Dialect

Last week entailed another long trip to the countryside and many hours of meetings conducted entirely in the local Sichuan dialect--the meetings are particularly brutal for me because I understand about 15-30% of spoken Sichuan dialect, depending on how familiar I am with the subject matter at hand.  However, because DaBa (and, admittedly, just about any Chinese NGO) love the "face" and credibility they gain by having a foreigner working with them, I am unfortunately dragged along to attend every meeting.  I generally sit there absentmindedly thumbing through my pocket Chinese-English dictionary and trying to avoid lung cancer & TB while the locals furiously chain smoke and spit all over the floor as they discuss who in their village should be nominated for the aid grants we are allocating.  When the appropriate time arrives--my boss's mention of the fact that the "foreign friend" will be personally inspecting all the nominated households as an unbiased 3rd-party reviewer--I pull myself together and say that if we find that some households are above average and possess such items as a refrigerator, they will most certainly be eliminated from our list and will not receive the money that is intended for "especially impoverished" farmers.  This statement is usually followed by them telling me my Mandarin is better than theirs, inquiring how much a plane ticket to the US costs, and asking me if I've gotten used to eating Chinese food.  After the meeting finally concludes, we all sit down to a meal together in which copious amounts of warm beer and Chinese rice liquor are consumed, and I am forced to "gan bei" (the Chinese way of saying "cheers," though it literally means "dry your glass," and they really do make you finish all the beer in your mouthwash-cup-sized glass each time) with every Tom, Dick, & Harry Zhang, Li, & Wang in the village.  Fortunately 4 years of college in the US trained my liver to be able to handle about twice what the average Chinese male can, so everyone is always super impressed with the "foreign friend."

Here is a fun countryside game for you: Which person in the below picture doesn't belong?

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