Monday, July 25, 2011

Mandarin Mondays: 双胞胎

My most used foreign language phrases have always surprised me. In high school, I took Spanish for a couple of years and learned lots of useful words and phrases. However, for a long time my most useful Spanish phrase was not learned in the classroom or a book. I was amazed to find myself saying over and over, "these fish like to eat other fish," as I worked in a pet department through high school and college.

After I graduated and began working as a nurse, this phrase wasn't nearly so useful, but it was replaced with another Spanish phrase that had to be learned on the job: "nursing or bottle."

Now, neither of these phrases, or any phrase in Spanish, will be that helpful to me.

I do use a lot of standard Mandarin phrases here like "hello" (nǐ hǎo, 你好), "goodbye" (zài jiàn, 再见), "thank you" (xiè xiè, 谢谢), and "how much is that" (duō shǎo qián, 多少钱). Although we haven't kept a tally or anything, quite possibly the phrase I say the most when we are out walking around is yet again a very unusual one, that can't be found in any beginning Mandarin books. I find myself saying over and over, "they are not twins, (bù shì shuāng bāo tāi, 不是双胞胎)."

Almost everyone we meet automatically assumes our boys are twins or asks if they are. Even though are boys are 18 months apart and very different sizes, in China most people are only allowed to have one child, especially if the first child is a boy. And for those who are allowed to two children, like minorities, they usually wait at least six or seven years between kids, to space out the school entrance fees (which can be thousands of dollars).

Ben and Nate
And I will agree the boys look fairly similar. Also, together they both look so much like their daddy and uncle's baby pictures it is amazing, and I guess even people in America sometimes wondered if Ben and Nate were twins.

Perhaps if you didn't know them and saw pictures of Aaron and Andrew at the same age you might wonder if they were fraternal twins.
Aaron 19 months
Andrew 19 months
However, one is a head taller than the other. How many twins are that off in size?

We know someone who raised two boys 18 months apart in China and she got this question all time too. In fact she said that she got so tired of it that she started saying that they were twins, she was just doing an experiment and only feeding the bigger one. She was joking about saying that, I think.

Aaron and Andrew
So when we go out I just get to practice my Mandarin by explaining yet again that no they are not twins, (bù shì shuāng bāo tāi, 不是双胞胎). The "older brother" (gēgē, 哥哥), or the "bigger one" (dà de, 大的) is "three years old" (sān suì, 三岁), and the "younger brother" (dìdì, 弟弟), or "littler one" (xiǎo de, 小的), is "one and a half years old" (yī suì bàn, 一岁半).

Sometimes it people still don't believe us or just think we didn't understand their question. But more often than not they just smile and give us a thumbs up. I think that translates the same here as in America.

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