“Way you Way wrong!!” – Jie Chang said
It was the second day in the office at Shanghai, China and I had just about settled in my office desk to begin the work for the day. We had been through the first day pretty well, using the printouts in Mandarin. I was struggling a bit with the language though. It was my fault – I landed up in Shanghai without learning ANY Mandarin.
In office, people spoke English (at least with us). However, some of the verbs were always missing in sentence, and you had to re-construct the sentence in your mind to be able to make sense out of it.
I was trying to reconstruct what Jie Chang just said. My way was wrong – what way? The way I dressed. I re-looked at my shirt – it was neat, well pressed. It was in order…Did I pass a racist remark or hurt someone saying something yesterday… I recounted the events yesterday. Yes, I had lost bit of temper making one person understand the project goals – primarily because he seemed to be struggling with English – rather, I was struggling to comprehend him.
“Way you Way wrong!!” – Jie Chang repeated, and pointed to the telephone.
Then, it struck me!
The first 2 words that I had learnt were Ni-hao (Hello or hi) and Xie Xie (Thanks). People greeted each other saying Ni-hao. However, I noticed that when they picked up the telephone and spoke – they used “Wei”. “Wei” was the colloquial way of saying “Hello” when you spoke on telephone / mobile.
“When in Rome, do what the Romans do” – I listened to people speaking carefully – asked questions to gather basic words that should get me started. I started saying “Wei” within the first afternoon. However, I added “Ari” style to the words – when I said “Wei”. How can I start the conversation with a dis-passionate, dumb sounding “Wei”. I changed the pitch to add some interesting (or so I thought!!) style.
“That makes me sound eager to start the conversation” – I thought.
I noticed though, that every time I spoke to a Chinese person and I used the “Ari styled Wei”, there was a silence from the other side before the person started speaking.
“An Indian speaking such good Mandarin. These guys are stunned” – I told myself. Mission “Learn Mandarin in a week” was on and I had made a ROCKING start 🙂
Jie Chang was referring to the “way I said Wei”….
“What? I just say Wei…” – I said
“No no… pronounce not right. Mandarin tonal … 4 tones for each word – meaning different different…”
He went on to explain the tones – (extracted from http://wikitravel.org/en/Chinese_phrasebook)
1. first tone ( ā ) – flat, high pitch that is more sung instead of spoken.
2. second tone ( á ) – low to middle, rising pitch that is pronounced like the end of a question phrase (Whát?).
3. third tone ( ǎ ) – middle to low to high, dipping pitch: for two consecutive words in the third tone, the first word is pronounced as if it is in the second tone. For example, 打扰 dǎrǎo is pronounced as dárǎo.
4. fourth tone ( à ) -high to low, rapidly falling pitch that is pronounced like a command (Stop!).
“So, what does the way I say Wei mean?” – I asked, bit worried that I might me saying something stupid every time I picked up the phone. I had no idea what tone I had used.
“It means Monkey’s tail” – Chang said, let out a gigantic smile, and left.
No wonder there was silence for a brief moment every time I said the “Ari Style Wei”!!