Friday, September 18, 2009

Have you seen my baopi?

What's in my bag?
Originally uploaded by loupix
The first week I was in Taiwan, my then-boyfriend and I went out for dinner with a group of expats and their Taiwanese friends. Late in the evening, and many bottles of Taiwan beer later, another foreigner came in and started speaking with great intensity to the group. Half of our group was composed of native English speakers, so I don't see why he spoke to us in earnest Mandarin, (which seemed, to our virgin ears, at least, to sound pretty good) but he did, and we sat their mystified as the people at our table all turned red and looked at their feet. The explosion of hilarity that followed on the heels of his departure was explained by our new friend Don as follows:

Apparently, the man had left his "baopi" right here on this table and had we seen it? His "baopi" was very important to him and he needed it back, and would we please call him if we saw his "baopi", etc. etc.

I'm unsure as to why no one corrected him - perhaps no one wanted to let him lose face (in the process losing face themselves) or, more likely and less charitably, perhaps they just liked hearing a man talk about how much his foreskin meant to him - not a topic you hear every day!

Anyone studying Chinese has mixed up the syllables of compound words, but few combinations are as memorable when you mix them up as this one, so remember:

pi2bao1皮包 = wallet
bao1pi2包皮 = foreskin

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