Friday, March 13, 2015

That's Not My Panda: A Story about Communication

A few days ago I sat down to teach my little 7 month old baby some Chinese.
"Now, please pay attention! 注意, 唔該! "
As you can see, she sat up and listened attentively...

... until she saw  *insert here* and got a bit off task. This often happens in the middle of our language lessons but I don't let it hurt my feelings. I persevere! 
*insert anything, seriously anything, here: Alsina gets distracted by colors, keys, plants, silverware, loud sounds, squeaky sounds, jingly sounds, textures, patterns, noses, computer cords, daddy, her own digestive processes... visitors from the unseen world... you name it. *
Like any proud new mommy, I am 100% convinced that someday this drooly baby will become the President of the World and will stand in need of all the special skills with which I now attempt to endow her (intimacy with all major languages, firm grasp of great literature, astronomy acumen, voluntary bowel control...). 

Anyway, the text for the day was a children's book, "That's not my panda." 

Now unfortunately for Alsina's future, my own relationship with languages remains more at the "acquaintance" rather than "intimacy" level. A loose acquaintance. Maybe more of an acquaintance-of-an-acquaintance. You know that "friend" on facebook that you can't recall for the life of you but feel guilty unfriending in case he'll be a networking help in the future? That's me and Chinese. 

The activity for our language learning was "Mom reads adorable children's book in Chinese while Zina gnaws, drools and scratches said book." Zina was holding up her side of the arrangement well, but mom... not so much.

The book's plot centers around a frustrated mouse, looking for his/her own panda in a milieu of other panda candidates. How this mouse was able to find so many pandas in such close proximity remains to be told, but I'm sure several governments are looking into it. It advances predictably: That's not my panda, its ears are too fluffy; that's not my panda, its nose is too bumpy; etc etc. At long last the panda in question is found, with the added detail that such a delineation was possible because of the panda's extremely fluffy belly. Truly a triumph for all panda connoisseurs. !

A simple, beautiful story, but Mom was having some issues with her translation abilities. That's not my panda: no problem--熊猫 ! (Did I mention it's not even normal Chinese but Cantonese--Mandarin's less-spoken and less-popular great grandma? So much for the networking help!) That's not my Panda. Got it down. However, every ensuing phrase was giving me trouble. Zina heard something like:
 That's not my panda, its ears are too fluffy... ears... how do you say ears again... man my Chinese is horrible... yi... yi... what was it... how do I say fluffy? furry? hairy? full of air? OK, we'll just go around... its... hearing-devices... are too... full of air. Great. OK, next page. That's not my panda, no problem. Its paws are too rough uggggggh... paws? Hands? OK, its hands are too... how do you say rough... not-smooth? How do you say smooth? Dang this is harder than I thought it'd be...
This went on, page after embarrassing page. Even Zina was starting to notice.

Eventually I gave up completely on the other words and the book became a repeated mantra: "that's not my panda... um... that's not my panda... that's not my panda... er... that's not my panda... "

...Well, so the Chinese class may seem like it was a big fail, but no! I'm still optimistic. She definitely learned at least one phrase, and for a future diplomat, that may be even better than fluency. Just look at these examples:

suddenly becomes...
Chinese diplomat: 他們傷害了中國人民的感情,上海了娃哈哈人的感情”星期三的時候宗慶后在一個外國訪談中以一個憤憤不平的  ?!
Alsina:    熊猫 :) translation: That's not my panda :)

And all tension *poof!* is diffused immediately! Imagine it: communication in its simplest (?) form.

Growing debt and rising taxes? That's not my panda.
What's the US position on space travel? That's NOT my panda.
no worries.
Deep sea fishing rights? That's not MY panda!

This phrase could even catch on in English! It's simultaneously clever, vague and pleasantly non-intimidating--perfect for any politician's arsenal. Sounds like something the Scarlet Pimpernel might adopt (sink me, that's not my panda), what what?

Ronald Reagan - Ronald Reagan Library, courtesy of the National ArchivesConsider these game-changing moments in history. "People have got to know if their president is a crook. Well, that's not my panda." "The only thing we have to fear is mistaking our pandas for other people's pandas" (OK, I'll admit some of these are the best...) How about, "Ms. President, will you raise taxes?" "Read my lips: That's not my panda." It could even be chillingly threatening if the occasion required: "Mr. Gorbachev... That's NOT MY PANDA!" See?

Political history would be a completely different animal---a fluffy, adorable black-and-white one.

Let's try to draw some conclusions about communication before we watch a cute panda video at the end of this thing. 1) Tone is everything. 2) if faced with a communication breakdown any time soon, think of pandas and try to smile through, 3) erm... that's all.

What other situations might "that's not my panda" be useful?

Love you all,
Dia and Zina Sabey

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