Across Continents

Ken's Blog

To the letter

June 14th, 2011

Never cease to be surprised how supposedly simple names have several spellings. Sometimes more. Often a bit unusual. In the small North South Wales coastal resort of Kingscliff I’d met Brian and Gaile. Lost track of the different variations of Karen. Always ask. Very important to get someone’s name right. Which recently elicited a little gem from sapphire dealer Gary. "One ’r’. Means you’re straight. Two means you’re gay".

[With apologies to heterosexual Garrys. Unless you’re hiding in the closet]



All in a name

August 19th, 2010

Led up to the third floor by the hotel receptionist, I’d assumed I was being taken to inspect a room. But no, to the manager’s office. Exactly why was unclear at first, my phrase book, and rudimentary grasp of the language, normally sufficient – just – to secure somewhere to stay. And then I noticed the computer. They’d found a website that could translate, and one of the domestic staff spoke a little English. Able to negotiate a very favourable rate, a generously sized room to myself for roughly the cost of a Youth Hostel bed in the UK.

I’d reached the city of Urumqi, at the centre of Asia, the place furthest from any ocean on the planet. It should have been straightforward enough. I’d a map of the city centre, and, using Google Earth, had found a route through the suburbs. But then I’d discovered that my road map had confused the provincial dual carriageway with the new motorway. Forced to find a different way into the city, I’d eventually got my bearings by locating the airport, sitting on the hard shoulder watching for planes taking off.


My bicycle secured in the room, the staff had decided I needed a Chinese name. The reverse is common practice, back in Shihezi, Mao calling herself Jennifer, her son Andy, Zheng at the language school introducing himself as Mr Johnson. I was to be named Wang Jia 王佳 in Simplified Chinese. Means family reunion, harmony, or something like that. Apparently. And extends my vocabulary to about four words. The other two are Nihow 你好– hello – and Sheshe nee 谢谢– thank you. Add lots of smiling and they go a long way.

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