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Guest Blog: Chinese Roundtable Blog

A few new people came to our first gathering in June, so we did introductions (jiè shào). Once again, the Chinese language is expressed differently just across the Taiwan Strait. For example, Mao Zedong (China/pinyin) or Mao Tse-Tung's (Taiwan/Wade-Giles) red armband is called xiù zhāng (sleeve band) in China and bì zhāng (arm band) in Taiwan. 
Taiwan uses a phonetic system, Wade-Giles, and in China, it's pinyin, which can be simpler to use, if you know how to decode it. For example, "thanks" is "hsieh" in Wade-Giles and in pinyin, "thanks" is "xiè". You would have to know pinyin code, that the "x" in pinyin is pronounced like a soft "sh". After watching my American family, friends, and students struggle reading Chinese fortune cookies in pinyin, a phonetic system at least gets them into the ballpark. 
After establishing who we were, we moved into why we were all living in Maine. Did you know Maine has the most elderly zuì lǎo de, most white zuì bái de, fifth safest ān quán de population in the United States, and Portland might be one of the "hippest" smaller cities, having so many restaurants and cultural venues. 
How does one translate "hippest? It could be shí shàng where shí  means "time period" and shàng means "to esteem or value". "Hip" or "utmost atmosphere" could also be qíngdiào, and if you reverse the order of these two Chinese words (written the same, but the noun diào becomes a verb, changing its pronunciation to tiào) and becomes tiàoqíng which means "flirting"! 
Language is changing so fast... even some young people can't keep up with the current slang. We jokingly said that slang can be called "Martian" or Huǒ xīng wén.  People from Earth, the older generation, may not comprehend Martian. I remember my father was baffled and fascinated by American slang, he even studied a slang dictionary, and asked me if I knew what a "couch potato" was, testing my knowledge. "Of course!" I said, looking at him like he was from Mars (Huǒ xīng). 
Our gathering takes place during lunchtime, so sometimes folks will bring a sandwich or their tea. On this Friday, I brought a Japanese "Ramune" soda in a glass bottle with a glass ball stopper that you push down to unseal the soda. It soon became a topic of the conversation. It's called a "single pearl soda pop" or "dān zhū qì shuǐ". My brother, who is nine years older than me, once explained to me that this was the older style of soda bottles in Taiwan before the advent of bottle caps. I only remember the bottle-capped soda as a rare treat in Taiwan. We reminisced (huái niàn)... that some had never seen any soda pop, being too poor when in Taiwan. 
I marvel at those who gather at our Roundtable twice a month. It draws a wonderful diversity of people. Our willingness to share our stories... not defined by our past but by our continual contribution to the world, is a joyful process. What if being who we are, choosing what brings us joy, is our greatest contribution to the world?

Karen Morency was born in Taiwan, emigrating to Newfoundland at the age of 10, and then moved to Maine. Her love for the Chinese language and culture was renewed when she began teaching her children and other children in the 1990’s. Her East-meets-West personality is expressed in her alternative healing modalities, qigong, and tai chi. 

The Chinese Language Table meets at Fox Intercultural Consulting’s headquarters in Portland on the first and third Friday the month. Starting at noon, we spend the hour catching up on news and in-depth discussions in Mandarin.