(K. Brent Tomer),
THERE are four tones in Mandarin—five if you count the neutral tone. Saying a word in a certain way changes the meaning. For instance, ma can mean “mother” or “horse”, depending on whether the pitch stays high or dips while saying it. Des Bishop, an American comedian, found out the hard way the importance of tone. When he moved to China to learn the language, the family he lived with gave him a Chinese name, “Hansheng”. His surname was simply shortened to “Bi”, but Mr Bishop unknowingly mispronounced it for two months. His shocked new Chinese friends were too polite to tell him that he was introducing himself as “vast ocean of a cunt”.
He told similar fish-out-of water stories at the Flushing Comedy Club in New York. The appreciative audience was mostly from northern China and Taiwan. They loved that Mr Bishop, along with two other stand-up comedians, were making jokes about New York in Mandarin. Mr Bishop, who created the comedy club temporarily housed in a tea house, said “It was great to speak Chinese and makes jokes about New York.”
Long considered New York’s “other Chinatown”,…Continue reading