Originally published in The China Post (but not online). Read more of Rosanne’s witty and hilarious columns for the culturally discombobulated on her new website: rosannelin.com
My Taiwan boyfriend make a big mistake last night. He absentmindedly called me an “ato-ah” in the Taiwanese language while at my place. I mean, here he is in my own home calling me a “big nose”! I do not call him unkind names like “slant eyes”; not even when we argue. I always call him Tony, his English name, and yet here he is calling me an “ato-ah”. Of course, we both laughed at his remark later, but really, why do Taiwanese people still refer to us big-noses as “big noses”?
Is this a holdover from Japanese colonial rule on Taiwan? Or does size really matter?
I told Tony if he ever calls me that word again, I will tell all my girlfriends how small his “nose” really is! Kidding of course, but you but you catch my drift. Taiwan should outlaw that word “ato-ah” in my humble big-nose opinion.
–Nose-Job Not Required, Planet Earth
You have raised some very interesting issues here, as well as sending me on quite the research expedition.
My first discovery came from my Taiwanese-Mandarin dictionary. It defines “atoh-ah” as “Western Ghost” (洋鬼子) – similar to the offensive and deprecating Hong Kong term GweiLou (鬼佬). However, when I discussed this translation with my colleagues, they were affronted and didn’t believe it to be true. They claimed “ato-ah” was simply an old word for “waiguoren” (外國人). Even after I reminded them that the correct Taiwanese translation for foreigner is “goa-kok-lang”, they continued to insist that “ato-ah” was simply a different, and possibly older, translation of the word for foreigner.
Next, I visited a Taiwanese linguistics expert who told me that the correct translation of this word was “protruding-nose one” or “a-tu-zi” (阿凸仔) in Mandarin. She further informed me that there are other experts who link this term to the Mandarin character for “sharp” – “jian” (尖). I also stumbled across a Taiwanese-to-English interpretation of the term as “hook-nosed one”. At any rate, as with all things related to the Taiwanese language – and culture for that matter — there is no simple answer to this question.
I think “big-nose” is too simple a translation of the term. Here’s hoping your boyfriend really does have a big one!
— “Children are all foreigners.” Ralph Waldo Emerson, American Poet
I do business with a local man that the girls in my office call the Color Wolf. This guy always insists on holding our meetings in a “jiu dian” (酒店).
I tell you these places are bloody expensive. Last weekend, when we got together to discuss a deal, he order four bar girls to our table as soon as we walked into the place. These girls then ordered a never ending flow of beer and XO.
Next thing I know, this guy tells me he has to split, saying he had a “pressing” engagement with one of the girls. So I get stuck with the 50,000-plus NT dollar tab.
What the heck should I do?
— Busted in SanChong
Does the word “sucker” mean anything to you?
— “I don’t get high, but sometimes I wish I did. That way, when I messed up in life I would have an excuse. But right now there’s no rehab for stupidity.” Chris Rock, American comedian