十三

June 9, 2011

When the Fujianese woman said, in her accented Mandarin containing bemusement and amusement, that pronunciation and accent are indeed very important in communication, I realized that the man who’d been droning on for the past five minutes was not Chinese. I leaned around the pillar separating him from me, and saw what looked like an average tourist: a white man with distinct and fleshy rings of pink and white at the neck, from either heat or self-consciousness—it seemed more like the former, given his relaxed stance and unstuttering speech. I couldn’t discern his words but knew he must have spent more than ten years learning them, his intonations sounding just about correct. Soon he approached another Chinese passerby, surprising her too with his fluency, and then he left the store altogether. I asked the Fujianese woman what he’d told her. Something about the government overtaxing us, she said. Her companion, who’d been enraptured by the exchange, said, Actually, I have no idea what he was talking about.

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