I love languages. One of my pretentious goals in life is to learn at least five languages. But I’m a slow learner for learning foreign tongues.
I have spent months studying Japanese. Until now, all I can show for my efforts is a few phrases I have memorized from a Japanese handbook. Haven’t I told you I’m a slow learner?
So here’s my brush with instant Chinese language on Chinese New Year.
Three times I asked the Chinese lady organizing the event if there is a language barrier, as my program was in English. She assured me all the Chinese employees and officers of the company understood English.
So I went to the event to perform. It was held in Ascott Hotel at Bonifacio Global City.
The Chinese background music blared from the amplifier. The Chinese lady and gentleman emcees did their spiels in Chinese. The employees assigned to sing, sang Chinese songs. The CEO delivered his New Year’s message in Chinese.
I smelled trouble.
So during the break, I hastily wrote a one-liner about something Chinese. Then, I had this bright idea to greet the audience Happy New Year in Chinese. I planned to do it in my opening spiel.
So I went to the Chinese lady organizer and asked her how to say Happy New Year in Chinese.
I stared at the note for a few seconds before I mustered the courage to say, “Ma’am, I can’t read Chinese. Can you pronounce it for me?”
“Xīnnián kuàilè,” she said.
“Signing Cola,” I repeated what she said.
“No, Xīnnián kuàilè.”
“Oh, shining color.”
“No, no. Listen carefully. Xīnnián kuàilè.”
“Okay, whatever you say,” I said and thanked her.
When time came for me to perform, I opened the show with my freshly-minted one-liner. “Look, here’s my agimat. In English, it’s called lucky charm. In Chinese, it’s called anting-anting.”
That was the punch line. I thought it was funny. But the audience met it with sepulchral silence. I looked at a sea of baffled expressions.
I didn’t worry. I had an Ace up my sleeve. Happy New Year in Chinese, remember?
So I said, “That was just a joke, folks! Happy New Year everyone! Singing Koala!”
Crickets, crickets everywhere.
I looked at the Chinese lady. She turned red as she glowered at me.
From then on, I dropped any attempts to add Chinese customization to my performance. The show was pure English all the way to the end.
Mercifully, the audience laughed at 80 percent of the gags and jokes. That’s when I realized the Chinese lady organizer was right. The audience understood English.