Dropping Knowledge

These are the things I love about China.

When I got on the elevator in my building this morning there was a man inside about 60 years old. The first thing this man did was let out a loud belch. Then, seeing that I was carrying my umbrella, he asked me, “??????” – Is it going to rain today? The overcast sky had caused me to look up the weather online before I left, and it said there was a chance of showers, so I said, “???.” He kind of laughed at this even though it wasn’t really funny, and then said, “????.” I thought about this – yu fang wei zhu – and had no idea what it meant, only gathering that the yu must be “rain” since that’s what we were talking about (I was wrong). So I did what I always do when I don’t understand someone: grunt an “en”, the universal expression for “right” and smiled at him.

Some other people got on the elevator and our conversation stopped (is this a universal thing? Do your elevator conversations with strangers cease when other strangers “interrupt” by getting on?) and I thought about the man’s words. They sounded suspiciously like a cheng yu – a Chinese idiom. They were four characters – the standard – and they seemed to impart a wealth of meaning in their economy. I wanted to figure it out.

When we reached the lobby and alighted, the old man picked up right where he had left off, and immediately confirmed my suspicion. “???????????” – We Chinese have another saying – “????.” You bei wu huan. I asked him the meaning and he said, “It means, if I’m prepared, I’m not scared!” We both laughed at that, because it truly was funny.

Now I have looked up both these cheng yus and will try to apply them somewhere down the line. The first, ????, literally means “prepare, defend, be the master,” but in its use translates basically to “prevention first” and is used in a lot of health campaigns. The second, ????, means just what the man said: “There is no danger when there is preparedness.” Words to live by, ninja.

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