Unlimited Wireless Internet

I just got back from China Telecom trying to get an ADSL (broadband) internet connection installed. My end goal is to get a wireless router so I can have wireless internet and blog from the balcony as well as my desk. But I didn’t tell the lady that, which is why I was so surprised when she said the 130 yuan per month included:

wúxiàn shí shàngwǎng

She rattled off some more stats and info that was lost on me, but I had to clarify what she’d just said. I’d been thinking of wireless routers and I thought maybe they were running some sort of Mid-Autumn special for wireless (wúxiàn 无线) capability for getting online (shàngwǎng 上网).

After MANY clarifying questions I found that wúxiàn was really 无限 not 无线. She laughed and said:

mànmàn xué ba 慢慢学吧 = Learn slowly / Take your time learning

It was hard for me not to feel a little patronized especially when the words I’d gotten confused sound EXACTLY the same, and they can BOTH apply to getting online.

The one syllable I was supposed to use to help me figure out which wúxiàn she was talking about was:

wúxiàn shí shàngwǎng

That shí turns out to be shíjiān de shí 时间的时. So that phrase meant “there is no limit to the amount of time I can spend online” and NOT “getting on wireless internet.”

What a hard language.

PS: On the evening of Mid-Autumn Festival I ran into some of my students. I asked where they were going and one replied with only two syllables: “xiǎng yuè.” At first I had no idea what she meant because I’ve never heard that phrase, but luckily I had predicted that she would say something about the moon. I ran her two syllables through the database of possible things I would have said, then deleted 2 syllables from my results and compared them to what she said. The result came up with the most likely candidate for what she’d meant being: xiǎngshòu yuèliang 享受月亮. MATCH FOUND! It was later confirmed by her. I’ve never heard those two syllables like that before. I consider it a minor miracle that I understood it at all.

What a hard language.

Comments

  1. Curious: did she really say mànmàn or was it mànmān(r)? I just looked up the relevant analysis in Chao’s grammar (4.2.4.1 for the record) and it seems to be saying this 2nd syllable tonal change doesn’t occur in Southern Mandarin, but I haven’t finished my coffee yet and hesitate to say that I’ve really read it that carefully.

  2. Re your last paragraph: I would have guessed that you had misheard shang3 yue4 (賞月) as xiang3 yue4. But if she confirmed your theory herself, then…

  3. Ho Sun Yan,
    I think you’re right! I did confirm later by saying, “Now was that 享受的享?” and she said it was. But maybe she was just saying that that also means enjoy. I also thought it strange that she didn’t use 欣赏, because I thought that was the most common verb for “appreciating the moon.” I think you’re right and I just misheard it and then she misunderstood was I was trying to clarify.

    Beijing Sounds,
    I can’t be sure what tone that second one changed to, but I’ll be it wasn’t man4man4. I would guess either man4man1 or man4man5. But definitely no “r” at the end. We don’t have that down here very often.

  4. Although 慢慢學吧 *is* good advice, you can’t be faulted for hearing it the way you did. This will still happen years later or at least it does for me. Your account is also a reminder of how precise we have to be when *speaking* Mandarin, too. Sometimes I know I’m not saying the word exactly right, but I figure I’m close enough that context and non-verbals will make up for it, but people just stare at me and really don’t know what I’m saying. It *is* a hard language, but that is part of the attraction in learning it, right?

  5. It’s surprising to hear it took you this long to hear “享月”, i.e., appreciate the moon (on the Mid-Autumn Festival). It is a common phrase to hear and see in print as the holiday approaches and occurs. Is your book-writing venture a little premature? I believe that “享月” was one of the first expressions I ever learned as used in the culture back in Taiwan in 1992, my first year of extended acquaintance with the language. Get a girl, my friend. Then, if she likes you enough, she’ll say to you, “我們一起去享月吧!”

    Also I beg to differ that it is that difficult to take 无线 for 无限 in hearing the phrase “wúxiàn shí shàngwǎng”. The concept of unlimited time in contracts for internet, cell phone or other communication connections is quite prevalent and should readily spring to mind, and therefore taking 无线 for 无限 in the context of 上网 is tautological and redundant. It should not take “MANY” questions to find this out. Perhaps one or two at the most. Again, is your book-writing venture a little premature? If this is the skill level of the author, I am sure not to buy it.

  6. American Han:
    Since this website and the book are geared more towards strategies and tips instead of drilling vocabulary and sentence patterns… it seems appropriate to me to share this anecdote. I did re-read the original post after your comment and definitely agree that it should not have taken *many* questions to figure it out. But it seems to me that to miss the meaning upon first hearing it is not a big problem.

    The 3 key takeaways from this post could be: listen carefully to what people actually say not what you think they will say, practice, and keep practicing.

  7. I for one appreciate the honesty. Thank you for sharing these incidents with us. Everybody makes mistakes and we can learn from each other.

  8. I still have problems with access to wireless Internet. Things have changed in Poland since I arrived here, but still there is a lot to do to catch up with the world. But I’m satisfied 🙂

  9. This reminds me of a particular mistake I made in late childhood or in my early teens.

    I heard on the TV news that “科学家发现[某某东西]会致癌。” (“Scientists have discovered that [something] can cause cancer”), but my young mind heard it as “科学家发现[某某东西]”, and I became quite amazed that this [something] could *cure* cancer. So here, I’ve mistakenly heard“”as“”!

    I can be considered somewhat of a native speaker, although yeah, I was still a kid when I made that mistake, but it could still happen to me, and to anyone on any day. 🙂

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