Nomological Net

Stray thoughts from here and there. The occasional concern for construct validity. No more logic. Fish.


faults in the clouds of delusion

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


So Saturday evening a few of us found ourselves in office and decided to go out for dinner. I picked up the phone to make a reservation. Cardinal mistake.

*tring tring*
- Hello, is this the S___ restaurant?
- Yes.
- Hi, could I please make a reservation? For four people?
- Four people, siiir?
- Yes, please.
- You want reservation for four people, siiir?
- Uh, yes, please. For 7:30?
- Siiir, this is not restau-rant. For bo-dy massage siiir.
- Excuse me?!
- Siiir, this is for bo-dy massage. You want for four people?
- Uh. No, thank you.
*Exit, pursued by a bare*

The larger picture, of course, is that one should never ever try to conduct a phone conversation with an unknown other in English, in Hong Kong. The first problem is that the simple word "Yes", which one is accustomed to thinking of as a signal of affirmation, of agreement, actually represents something very different. When a Hong Kong person replies to you saying "Yes", what they really mean is not "Yes, I agree with you", but "Yes, I detect that you are making noises and yes, I recognize that these noises fall under the broad category known as English." That's about the gist of it.

The mother of all these Yes phone exchanges took place a couple of years ago, when we had just arrived in HK. This was before we embarked on our first leg of setting-the-house-up. Thankfully it wasn't me on the phone, but the better half (thankfully because I was free of distractions and could commit the scene to reasonable memory). The exchange went somewhat as follows:

- Hello, is this Fortress? [A local electronics chain]
- Yes.
- Okay. I'm wondering, do you sell stereo systems?
- Sorry?
- I said, do you sell stereo systems?
- Sorry?
- Stereo systems. You know? CD player? Hi-fi? Audio system? S t e r e o s y s t e m ? [Explosion of prompting backstage, as yours truly takes on role of impromptu thesaurus]
- Oh, okay. Yes.
- [Heave sigh] Great. Thank you. Which brands do you have?
- Sorry?
- I said, which brands do you have? Do you have [frantic prompting begins again]Sony? Panasonic? Aiwa? Sanyo? Toshiba?
- Yes.
- I'm sorry, did you say you have Sony?
- Yes.
- [Another heaved sigh] Thank you! Now... do you have microwaves?
- Sorry?
- M i c r o w a v e s. I'd like to know -- do you have microwaves?
- Sorry, Sony not make mic-ro-wave.
[Flabbergasted pause]
- Thank you. *Click*


Blogger Szerelem said...

thank god for my hong konger friends...i would have been quite lost without them in the city, when i visited. Conducting conversations in enlish in SouthEast Asia can be quite frustrating. I remember visiting Thailand and wanting to sue Lonely Planet because it said almost everyone in Bankok speaks decent Enlish - which is NOT true.
Either I couldnt understand what was being said or the other person misunderstood what I was saying. And it would take eons to realize that there was a misunderstanding in the first place....gah!

9/13/2006 2:39 AM  
Blogger km said...

You refused a body massage? Do you have any idea how *happy* those four people might have been after the massage?

(4th attempt at typing in the word verification)

9/13/2006 3:25 AM  
Blogger Read@Peace said...

Welcome to South-East Asia...
Excerpts from a recent conversation I had when my lines got crossed:

Caller: "AH KONG!"
ME: Sorry
ME: What?
ME: Traffic Police?
ME: (frustrated beyond everything) WRONG NUMBER!!!!

It's quite another story that I believe my voice is a feminine variant...

On another note, can't believe LP actually said almost everyone in Bangkok speaks decent English. Two months ago, we literally walked around with maps printed in Thai and got the hotel staff to write their address in Thai. Despite that we ran the occasional risk of getting lost.

9/13/2006 4:12 AM  
Blogger Salil said...

Ah, such a lovely read. Brought back *so* many memories.

Ever try bartering over various pirated CDs and such in Mong Kok? :)

9/13/2006 6:41 AM  
Blogger Szerelem said...

read@peace: OMG!! You were connected to Singapore??? heeheee....i can so imagine being frustrated beyon beliefs with the Cans and lahs!!...LOLS!!

And LP does say became such a joke during my stay there...
the only thing that you CAN understand without any trouble in Thighland is
1. When you are being approached by a prostitute/lady boy
2. When you are being approached to try out a 'massage' place.
Shady country that.

9/13/2006 12:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reputedly, in Japan, it is impolite to say "no" so they say "yes" when they mean "no".

Dave Barry has this phrasebook:

English Statement Made By A Japanese Person / Actual Meaning In American

I See. / No.
Ah. / No.
Ah-hah. / No.
Yes. / No.
That is difficult. / That is completely impossible.
That is very interesting. / That is the stupidest thing I ever heard.
We will study your proposal. / We will feed your proposal to a goat.

-- Rahul

9/13/2006 2:15 PM  
Blogger GhostOfTomJoad said...

:-) Funny.

But, I'm wondering how it is any different from the brand spoken by the likes of Mr N S Siddhu. For instance, what in god's name does "Like a brooding hen on a black China egg" mean? It's English, I know, but what does it mean? Please to be telling la.

9/13/2006 8:38 PM  
Blogger M (tread softly upon) said...

ROTFL!!! I have been told of similar experiences by a friend who lived in HK for a few years.

9/13/2006 10:08 PM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

oh yes, english and thailand don't happen very frequently together. mai pen lai, you know? (reminds me of some australian family friends who visited delhi long ago. they got lost in CP and the traffic policeman they found didn't know english. so they tried the only "indian" they knew... "kama sutra" :-)

possible, possible, but it was dinner time and my mind was fixated on a different kind of meat.

thanks for stopping by, and for the funny story, lah! inilah typical! seeing you agree with szerelem makes me want to go contrarian so i'll tell you about the time (in 1980) when my mother and i memorized a few key phrases, walked into a joint in bangkok, and ordered some chicken. several tries later, the waitress said, "oh, you want chicken? why didn't you say so?" or words to that effect :-D

no way man, i know my limits.

ah, you again! :-) hey, at least people in sgp speak english so don't complain!

ROFL! goat!

it's modern art, man. who cares what it means as long as it sounds good?

oh yes. life here is a scream (whichever way you look at that word).

9/13/2006 11:53 PM  
Blogger MockTurtle said...

Funny, funny!
I've never lived in South East Asia, but I've had the opposite happen to me in India. People dial the wrong number, I pick up the phone and despite my best assurances that I am not the neighborhood beauty parlour, they insist on trying to get an appointment with me to wax their legs.
Even worse is my maid in India. When I call home and she picks up, I say "Hello P_, this is R_"
She responds "R_ snot here. Sgone to Amrika."
"No, no, this is R_!"
"Snot here. Sgone Amrika"
At this point I try to put together a sentence in broken Kannada to explain, S starts laughing her fool head off and I slam the phone down in disgust.

9/15/2006 1:54 AM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

brilliant. "fool head" :-D

9/15/2006 9:51 AM  
Blogger kundalini said...

mt - that's hilarious!

9/15/2006 10:39 AM  
Blogger Szerelem said...

MT: omg...LMAO!!!
very India we keep getting phone calls for reservations at the ITDC Ashoka....ridiculous...

9/15/2006 11:09 AM  
Blogger Szerelem said...

@TR: Btw, every time I am about to go to Spore I convince myself that people there speak English. Which is not true. They speak Singlish which is whole different language.

9/15/2006 11:14 AM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

true, but at least you can communicate in it!

oh and btw, got a suite for the 18th?

9/16/2006 12:41 AM  

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