Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Fun with translation

Our various guides have been trying, with very limited success, to teach us bits and pieces of Mandarin. I've heard before that it's a complicated language, but hadn't really grasped how complicated before now. The main complicating factor is the inflection -- Mandarin has five distinct inflections or tones-- rising, high, high rising, low-falling rising, and high-falling. For instance, the word "ma" can mean mother, hemp, horse, scold, or be a question marker, depending on the tone. Hence one could plausibly say "Jeeze, Mom, can you get off my ass about the horse? I'm trying to toke down here" by just repeating the same syllable five times.

I learned today that because of tonal ambiguities of the word "nihau," I have probably been walking around sayng "Bird!" to people all week instead of "hello." It could be so much worse.

I am comforted in my ignorance by the fact that the Chinese have some serious issues translating English, particularly on signs. They're good word-for-word, it's just stringing them together and especially idiom. "This is a civil place!" proclaimed the sign at the museum today, and indeed it was, despite my presence. "Do not write on the Great Wall arbitrarily!" exhorted a sign at the Great Wall, the sort of rule that is every defense lawyer's dream. A store we passed was called "Modern Bosom Friend," which would be a great Tom Hanks remake vehicle. And, in the category of strange signs that I am going to Hell for even mentioning, two days ago the breakfast buffet had a dish labeled "Pork My Lai." If it makes you sick, Nixon will commute your dysentery to a mild headache two days later.

Wednesday Doings

Blogspot was cranky last night so I couldn't post this until Thursday morning.

Elaina slept in this morning after a midnight feeding. We had been counting on her for an alarm clock, so overslept. We rushed breakfast, then Katrina headed out on a day trip (she'll discuss it separately) while I stayed back with Elaina. We decided that after so much tumult, we'd let her dictate her own schedule. She took a nap at 10:00, as her paperwork says she likes to do, and was in good spirits all day.

After Katrina got back I walked over and got a stroller for ridiculously cheap (197 yuan, or less than $20) for use here and in Guangzhou. Elaina accepted it with good grace:

After her afternoon nap we joined some other families for a five-minute walk to a local restaurant. Our Holt guide Echo led us. The restaurant was in the lobby of a plaza structure and, like many popular restaurants here, huge and multi-story. We were early and didn't have to wait; they sat us in the middle of a huge room, waitresses with dustpans and brooms hovering about waiting for the rain of food they correctly suspected the babies would generate. The food was superb. The beef ribs were flavorful and crispy, a wonton soup surprisingly but pleasantly tart, barbecued beef succulent, and stir-fried green beans agreeably spicy. It was all washed down with a local favorite I've become attached to, Snow Beer, which is very refreshing in the heat and humidity. The crowd pleasers were a fish done up something like a Bloomin' onion from Outback, and a radish rabbit on the pork plate:

Elaina enjoyed rice, pork, steamed egg, noodles, Cheerios, and putting all of the above in her hair. She has a favorite party trick; her cute but commodious cheeks allow her to pretend to eat at length, only to spit it all out into her bib, where she can enjoy it at her leisure.

The hovering ladies were vindicated. We walked away from a table that looked like the one in The Godfather after Mike kills the two guys in the Italian restaurant with the gun hidden in the toilet, only with fewer dead rogue cops and more mashed tofu.

Walking out, we were struck again by the fact that we were the only Westerers in the place. In fact, I've only seen two Westernerns outside our group in the whole city since we got here -- a manager at the hotel and a European guy in the grocery. We are conspicuous and get a lot of stares; I have feared for the lives of several bicyclists as they continued towards traffic as their heads swiveled to follow us. Many stares are friendly, some are curious, but most are unknowable to those used to Western expressions.

Elaina, Day Three

Wednesday here, and we feel that Elaina's personality is coming out now that she's more comfortable with us. She has a smile that reaches her whole face, and a laugh that sounds like heavy breathing. She's pretty much gotten over her anxiety about Katrina, and will take bottles and hugs from her willingly:

We feel very lucky in this regard; many of the babies in our group are clinging to the dads and still standoffish with the moms, which is typical but can be very painful, especially for the first time moms.

Elaina enjoys Cheerios, toys, music, babling, immitating sounds, and making a bridge on her hands and feet by arcing her back (it was quite the surprise the first time she did it. She's a rather slow crawler but stands pretty well and will be walking soon, I suspect.

She got a kick out of the Baby Mozart dvd I brought to play on the laptop:

We are tremendously lucky.

Day two with Elaina

Sorry, I waited about a day and a half since updating. On Tuesday morning Wuhan time we packed into the bus again to go back to the Wuhan Civil Affairs Ministry. Once again we all crowded into the small classroom-type space on the second floor of the ministry -- this time so that they could take pictures of each new family, and interview parents couple by couple as they completed paperwork. The combination of a return to the same traumatic, hot room, the sight of some of the orphanage directors they had seen before, and the nervous tension in the air set most of the babies crying. Elaina was quiet but unhappy.

We took a picture first, the ministry officials trying with little success to push Elaina's cascade of hair out of her face. Then we sat with the ministry official, our Holt guide translating, to answer questions and sign documents. They asked us why we wanted to adopt (because we love children and wanted to complete our family -- a standard answer, if perhaps in retrospect inpolitic in a country with an enforced one-child policy) and whether we had a criminal record. They wanted to know if we would educate Elaina. I said we'd do our best, that we had excellent primary and secondary schools in our neighborhood, and that we'd like for her to go to college, as long as it wasn't USC. Just kidding; China is a pluralistic society tolerant of all sort of human infirmities and would support us even if we sent her to SC.

Then we signed five documents, stamped them with our right index fingerprint in red ink over the signatures, and inked Elaina's right foot so she could stomp her assent on one copy. She liked it. And like that, she was ours, as far as China is concerned; we will re-adopt her in the states, though, so that we can get a certificate of citizenship.

Despite the heat, crowd, and the crying babies, the air was festive, and everyone was cheerful as they piled onto the bus. Pictures later.

Edit: Pictures:

Happy new parents, with Elaina hiding:

Elaina happy at the civil affairs office:

Signing the documents:

Elaina's foot gets inked:

Sweaty Baby, Sleepy Daddy:

Bureaucratic Anxieties

I forgot to mention the dream I had the night before we got Elaina. I dreamed that as part of the bureaucratic wrangling on two continents to get her, I had to plead guilty to a felony. Meth possession, as I recall. My partner Tom was representing me, and told me that Katrina must have explained this part of the process and I had just forgotten. He had gotten me a deal that would get me straight probation, no jail time. But I had to wear a bulky ankle bracelet and it would set off the security alarms at the airport, and during the plea colloquy the judge wanted to warn me as a possible consequence of the plea the security people might "treat you .. shall we say .. unpleasantly."

Then I woke up. Work and adoption anxieties combined! I'm reasonably confident that Katrina has not signed me up for anything like that.