“It’s very… beany,” said The Boyfriend with a wrinkled nose as he passed the ice-cream to me. I had to agree. The allure of the different was downplayed somewhat by the very, very beaniness of the red bean ice-cream we were trying valiantly to eat. The Boyfriend and I had bought it minutes ago from a Chinese grocery shop, and moments later regretted our gastronomical daring.
Please note, this ice-cream bar wasn’t red bean flavoured, like bubblegum is grape flavoured (seriously though, what grape tastes like that?) or red bean coloured – no no! There were literally beans in our ice-cream.
It’s not as delicious as it sounds.
First of all, who eats beans recreationally? I think we can all agree that beans are functional foods and shouldn’t be eaten for fun. Frivolous bean consumption is something I feel morally opposed to.
However, I suppose our Asian neighbours across the world feel differently about the appropriate uses of beans and have more rebellious (and less Western) tastes, like my (surprisingly bland) chocolate milk iced tea. As The Boyfriend wisely said, “It’s trying to be too many things.” (To which I replied, “Like the third Spiderman movie!”). Anyway, my point is that it’s a whole different world over there, and that leads to a lot of confusion.
Internet users call the above Engrish, and it’s hilarious. I mean; my official party line is At Least They’re Trying, and, I’d Like To See YOU Speak Chinese! But in practice, well, it’s funny.
Like when I was trying to read the instructions to my extremely affordable Dictaphone. It was an inscrutable mess of verbs and straaaaange nouns, jumbled together like a Lucky Packet with unhelpful illustrations and headings. All I gathered was that it did, in fact, record things, and could also work as some kind of radio receiver? I’m still not sure, and a little part of me is scared it might one of the bad Transformers (it has a red light! Red is never good).
Anyway, the writers of Engrish remind me of my dad: he has an equally confusing and inscrutable relationship with Facebook. Facebook is like another language to him, one with strange laws, customs and norms – and one that makes very little sense. Why can’t he only see me, he asked with exasperation last time we met. He doesn’t care who this person is ‘friends’ with, or what our cousin in the UK is drinking or that our aunt is going for a walk. “I blocked all of them,” he said, “I just want to see what you’re up to!” And clicking on my name is… well, I’m not sure what it is. All I know is he doesn’t want to do it. He wants a nice, specially designed and very specific newspaper filled with updates on his kids – no random newsfeed.
The generation gap is slowly widening into a canyon. Before ideals and fashion, music and art separated the generations; now there are all of those things and new technology – technology that literally changes the way we communicate. In an interview I conducted with educational psychologist Kobus le Roux in 2009, Le Roux said: “I think [this new language] might cause problems. Even when I as an older person get SMSes with strange language, it irritates me. At the moment we’re developing a new written language. Teachers complain that students use SMS and email language in academic essays.”
It makes me wonder how we’ll be trying to communicate to our kids in 30 years. Will our abbreviations turn our language into George Orwell’s 1984 newspeak? Will our minds be restricted by our limited ability to communicate nuances, our limited willingness to read too much?
Or maybe, like red bean ice-cream, this is just something different we need to get used to.