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Guest Blog: So Much Pun!

The Chinese have so many puns and play on words. Nearly every Chinese word has multiple homophones, two or multiple words that sound similar but have different meanings, like "hare" and "hair". The phrase 雙關語 shuāngguānyǔ means puns with double or multiple meanings. Chinese Roundtable made a last minute venue change to a vegan restaurant on November 1st...and the location inspired a 雙關語 shuāngguānyǔ!  A regular customer can be one who either frequently visits or has visited a long time...same pronunciation, different words and meanings, but both are regular customers, chángkè.客 (frequent customer) or 客 (long time customer) . 
 
Many puns 雙關語 shuāngguānyǔ are found in Chinese New Years customs. It didn't go particularly well with the environs of the vegan restaurant, but someone pointed out that fish is served at New Years because fish, 鱼 yú,  sounds like the word for abundance "余". Nián nián yǒu yú - 年年有余 "abundance every year" can also be 年年有鱼 "fish every year". Regions where fresh fish is not readily available, wooden fish may be displayed at the table to represent abundance for the coming year. 
 
On this day, our Roundtable became loud at times... so animated were our conversations and laughter. One married couple shared the challenges of immigration because they often travel between China and Maine. They had to prove to immigration that they had joint bank accounts and property. Because one was a US citizen and one was a Chinese citizen, they could not hold joint accounts or property in China nor here. I wonder if the Chinese have a equivalent term for "Catch 22", a situation in which a desired solution is impossible because of a set of inherently illogical rules or conditions?
 
I went online to search for Chinese puns, and found that the internet is changing Chinese wordplay. It is changing Chinese language, and is used for getting around censorship. For example, Tiananmen Square and 6/4, the date the incident occurred, are both censored online. It is now referred to as the "eight times eight incident", 8x8=64. I cannot help but be amazed at the ingenuity of humans and our capacity to out-create and circumvent rules and regulations. Do we really need to bump up against a wall to circumvent it, or can we just create and change anything at will and choice?
 
Henry Ford said, "whether you think you can, or you think you can't...you are right."  What else is possible that we have not yet considered?
 

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.