My First Chinese Pun

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ping pong ballsI have achieved the first major step in language acquisition: a spontaneous pun.

There was no planning, no thought, just the arrival of the moment in its pure form. The ping pong ball pinged and ponged its way back and forth between our paddles as I tried to push our feeble skills to the limit through the thrill of counting. “Yi, er, san… oops… Yi, er, san…” We couldn’t seem to get past three rounds before the ball hit the floor. Then out it popped. “Yi, er, san… sǐ.” Ha ha ha! See?

Uh, OK. So that’s funny because the word for “four” sounds a lot like the word for “dead”… like the ping pong ball.

Of course, I wasn’t the first one to notice this. There have been thousands of years for billions of Chinese people to figure this out, and thus today there are discounted telephone SIM cards. I was confused as to why certain SIM cards were cheaper than others and after a lot of back and forth, I finally discovered that no one wants a “4” in their phone number. Being a westerner who, at the time, couldn’t even speak the language, I was happy to save a couple of 块 kuài (bucks).

There are a lot of uses of puns in Chinese, including a whole festival based on the fact that the date sounds like “I make money/luck”. Hey, any excuse for a festival. I’m just stoked, after all these years of my puns growing ever more stale, to open up a fresh batch of terrible new possibilities. This might keep me learning languages until I’m 44!

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