Has anyone seen my face?

One of the things I like about Chinese is that it tends to be quite module-like. There are lots of little structures that you can just modify with new nouns, adjectives or what have you, to create entirely new meanings.

A couple examples:

越 … 越 …

越(来)越(好) | yuè lái yuè hǎo | better and better (lit. more come more good)
越(有钱)越(好) | yuè yǒu qián yuè hǎo | the more money the better (lit. more have money, more good)

又 … 又 …

又(闷)又(热) | yòu mēn yòu rè | stuffy and hot
又(懒)又(馋) | yòu lǎn yòu chán | lazy and gluttonous

But my all-time favourite of the bunch is the “… to death” structure.

… 死了

累死了 | lèi sǐ le | extremely tired (lit. tired to death)
饿死了 | è sǐ le | starving (lit. hungry to death)
撑死了 | chēng sǐ le | stuffed (lit. full to death)
吓死了 | xià sǐ le | scared to death

Well, all of that is a little lesson lead up to the newest modification of this Chinese phrase to enter my vocabulary:
丢死人了 | diū sǐ rén le | embarrassed to death

It was the end of class Thursday and as the other students were filing out to go find lunch I noticed I had a message from the Mrs. As wives (or husbands for that matter) are prone to do, she sent me a short list of things to pick up on my way home. These lists can contain all sorts of items… milk, bread, duck hearts … just your typical shopping list.

However, my wife, knowing I’m trying hard to use Chinese as much as possible, sometimes includes items in Hanzi, or if she thinks I might not know the characters, in pinyin. The last item on the list was one that even in pinyin I couldn’t recognize. As I was in a Chinese class with a rather kindly Chinese teacher just a few feet away, I figured I’d solve the mystery and ask her.

And so it was I found myself asking my teacher what “bi yun tao” is. She screwed up her face and said she didn’t know, while quickly leaving the class. With a couple classmates, I pondered over its possible meaning, but couldn’t come up with it. We got as far as “tao” possibly meaning ‘peach’.

Bìyùntào, as those brighter than me are sure to know, means condoms.


24 Responses

  1. Maybe you just said it wrong, and really did say “prevent pregnancy peach.” Maybe she was so embarrassed by the fact that she, also, didn’t know what a “prevent pregnancy peach” was, that she had to go home and look it up.

  2. that’s awesome.

    I’d always heard 安全套 or “safety bag”…

    I think the tao you’re looking for is “bag” – giving you “prevent pregnancy bag“.

  3. I used to think the fear of condoms and mention of sex in China was kinda cute, quaint, and funny. Now I just find it pathetic and very very sad.

  4. @Chris: Cheers man. Small issue with my pronunciation, dictionary skills and wife’s ability to focus on anything but the TV show she’s watching 🙂

    @Chip: I feel the same way about the Three Ts.

  5. Haha. thats the first time I’ve heard that way to say condoms I usually say “an chun tao” or little hats “xiao mao zi”

    I’ve been embarrassed to death a couple times. The one time that sticks in my mind is when I got “apple” (ping gu) and “ass” (pi gu) mixed up. You should have seen the woman’s face in the supermarket when I told her I wanted to buy some ass.

  6. Actually, I remember clearly having once said verbatum: “我每次骑自行车的时候,都带安全套,因为都不知道会发生什么事!” “Whenever I ride my bike, I always carry condoms, because you never know what will happen!”

  7. @A.L.: I shared that one with Magz and she busted a gut. 😉

    @Chip: You were a boyscout weren’t you.

    @Peter: I’m thinking of changing the site’s slogan (adding a slogan?) to: “The Humanaught: Making an ass of himself, so you don’t have to.”

  8. I recently tried to ask my housemate’s boyfriend if he’d used the coffee maker that morning. Knowing that “bread maker” (“It has three speeds”) is “mianbaoji,” I figured “ji” could just be tacked onto anything as a machine word or something (someone smarter correct me on this, please). Being that this was a crowded restaurant, he misheard “kafei ji” as “da feiji,” and gave me that, “Why are you asking this (loudly and repeadedly) in a restaurant with my girlfriend across the table?”

    And that’s how I learned the Chinese phrase for jerking off.

  9. Ryan,

    The sad thing is, it occured to none of them that I was trying to say “wear a helmet”, and the whole face-thing prevented them from saying anything about it. Five minutes later, I’m thinking, “did I just say I wear a condom on my bike? oh well”

  10. Okay, I’ve got to throw this one in.
    I taught at a summer camp in Xiamen this summer for two weeks and was given the lowest level students. Becuase of this, they actually encouraged me to speak a bit of Chinese with them. Break the ice, so to speak.
    Well, when I was there I continually referred to myself as a ‘tu1 zi’. ”啊,你们好!我是你们的外国老师。我是一个tu1 zi!”
    I have a shaved head and I was under the impression that ‘tu1 zi’ meant bald guy. Along the same lines as “光头”or, ‘bald-headed’.
    Come to find out after talking with a Chinese friend in Shanghai, “tu1 zi’ means…well…homosexual.
    From the gist of the conversation I should have been saying ‘tu4 zi’.
    I never delved into verifying any of this, but my friend certainly found it funny that I conitnually introduced myself saying: “Hello! I’m your foreign teacher and I’m a homosexual!”

  11. Because this amuses me so much, I ended up showing my mother, who is Chinese. She laughed, a lot, and then told me another word for condom (apologies for the atrocious pinyin): Baoxiantao. Literally: Insurance cover.

  12. I was playing with a friend’s electro-dictionary 9000 (or some similarly over-priced model) today and had to check this one. I translated condom to Chinese, then translated that back to English:

    “Insurance applied”

    I think we found us a pickup line.

  13. This story gave me an idea for a t-shirt design: a picture of a peach, with the words “bi yun tao” underneath.

    Anyway Ryan, it’s lucky you went straight home, or otherwise you might have ended up trying to buy condoms from a fruit vendor 🙂

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