If I say “Brown”, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind? Quick, think!
That evening, I went back to the noodle stand at the Jhongsiao Food Night Market 忠孝夜市. While waiting for my plastic bag of noodles, my eyes swept the surroundings, visual stimuli screaming for my attention everywhere. I ended up locking my sight on the signboard right across the street, something about it puzzled my weary mind.
As my Chinese skills improve, I find that I now sometimes overlook some funny quirks of the language which beginners might otherwise be more receptive to. For example:
黑糖： black + sugar = brown sugar
紅茶： red + tea = black tea
While the ladyboss was meticulously preparing my noodles, I tried to think of similar misleading color+food pairings, but only came up with 青菜, where the translation of 青 (ㄑㄧㄥ) ambiguously spans from “green”, “greenish black” to “blue” . But by now, I’ve had enough practice ordering some 青菜 to know that:
青菜：green + vegetables = green vegetables
“Duh!”, you must think, but not too quick here. Do you remember how you first learned to say “green” in Chinese?
During my first trip in China, with my shabby food ordering skills, I safely ordered what my beginner’s vocabulary could afford me, i.e. 宮爆雞丁 kung pao chicken and 麻婆豆腐 mapo tofu. This sounds like the most boring items to order when in Chengdu 成都, but hey, sometimes I just want to eat, and not play around with fate, especially in 麻辣land. I also wanted to add a side of greens, but stumped myself, I had no idea how to say green vegetables! I fumbled and asked for some 綠 菜 (literally, green vegetables), although I knew it sounded – and was – completely wrong. Without any dictionary on hand, I more than ever felt the frustration of the language barrier 😥 .
But actually, what puzzled me that evening wasn’t so much the translation of “brown sugar” as 黑糖, rather, I was somehow expecting to see the hanzi 熊 somewhere on the board. Nonsense, huh? As it turned out to be, on that day, the nifty telegram app was out-of-service, so I went back to good ol’ Line, and just like that, surrendered my subconscious to those addicting cute stickers. 😈
On another note, it took the writing of this post to realize that I never learned how to say “brown”, haha, so here are two Chinese translations for it: