My New Zealand friend, Robert, told me something interesting on my birthday a couple weeks ago. He said that I’m a year older here in China than I am in the United States—twenty-seven, instead of twenty-six. This is because the Chinese say you are already a year old on the day you are born. In the ol’ US of A, you have to live that year before it counts. The Chinese go ahead and give it to you on credit. Or, as Robert put it, “There optimists in that regard.” So go fig. I’m a year older (wiser?) just by being here.
I share this along with something else. I recently learned how to say “hair” (tou2fa1, 头发), and, already knowing the word for red, felt confident telling my students (chest puffed out with pride), “我的头发是红色的!” (My hair is red!). But when I did, their spoony little faces did not fill with joy as I had assumed they would, but puzzlement. “红色的?” they said. “不是红色的!” And now we’re all confused.
“What color do you think my hair is?” I ask them.
“Yellow!” yell a chorus of giggly students.
“Yellow?! You think I’m blond?”
“Yes!” yell some. “黄色的!” yell others. “Yellow!”
Thinking this class silly, I asked my next. The same response. I asked more people and they all said the same thing, culminating with a short but fun discussion of American and Chinese concepts of beauty between myself, Christina, our Mandarin tutor, Cathrine, and her friend, Lucy. The Chinese have spoken: Chris Walsh is blond.
These thoughts have been tickling my brain the past day or so. I share my body with a blond twenty-seven-year-old. I wonder how else this Chinese Chris differs from his American counterpart. I guess I’ll have to wait and see.