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Edison meets Pang Yue Han

Posted by John Powers, Globe Staff  August 11, 2008 07:57 AM

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"How would you like your eggs?", Cherry asked me at breakfast the other day. "Over easy," I told her. "Over easy," she informed Edison, who was standing next to Carl at the short-order station in the hotel buffet. Cherry, Edison and Carl, of course, are Chinese and I'm reasonably sure that their parents didn't name them that, even though that's what their nametags say.

One night at the Asian bistro at the Marriott, Shadow was my server. When I was in Beijing last year, I met Calista, Felicity and Elvis. They were Chinese, too, manning the reception desk at the Hilton. Many of the local folks who work for Western companies here, at least those who deal with Western customers, have Anglicized names and most of them are exotic. No Jeffs or Pats or Matts.

It's unclear whether their employers ask them to adopt alter egos to make us often-bewildered visitors seem at home or whether Cherrifying oneself is the cool new thing in the Middle Kingdom, like buying Buick Park Avenues (a hot car here, believe it or not) or rooting for the Houston Rockets (table tennis is so Mao these days). "Cherry is a beautiful name," I told her. "Thank you," she said, smiling. "It is very common."

To make things easier on my 1.3 billion hosts, I have Sino-fied myself. My Globe business card says that I am Pang Yue Han, which roughly translates into Huge (Like Dragon) Promise Writing. It may or may not be common, but that's what the Hilton people came up with when I went down to their business office to have the cards done.

Your Chinese name should mean something and it should sound something like your Western name. Powers may be an easy name to say in County Waterford, but it does not roll trippingly off the tongue here. The closest they can come in Mandarin is Pang, which comes out a bit like Pahn. Yue Han is a generally accepted name for John. I am a big man in this town, two meters tall with blue eyes, so Pang comes across as believable. It's not as lyrical as Dances With Wolves or Wind In His Hair, but Beijingers seem to think it's fitting when I offer them my card (with two hands, name facing recipient) and appear to be amused.

I'm not sure how Edison came up with his name. Maybe he read about the Wizard of Menlo Park in the Chinese version of "Childhood of Famous Americans Series" and fancied himself an inventor. Maybe it sounds something like the name his parents gave him (I figured that Shadow is probably Xia Do, or something close). All I know is, Edison knows his way around a couple of eggs. Tomorrow, I'm asking him to invent me an omelet.

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4 comments so far...
  1. Edison is popular because of Edison Chen, the famous singer. And I always thought Pang meant more on the "fat" part of the word. When I was in China Chinese always said to her "tai pang le" meaning "too fat"

    Posted by Vincent August 11, 08 11:17 AM
  1. John,

    It sounds like the joke is on you... Pang, at least phonetically, means "fat" in Mandarin. Perhaps this explains the bemused look when the locals receive your business card...

    Posted by Kai August 11, 08 03:17 PM
  1. It all depends on the actual Chinese character. In terms of intonation, Pang(2) means giant, gigantic, big. Fat = Pang(4).

    Posted by JJ August 12, 08 09:09 PM
  1. If you know anything about Chinese language, the common surname "Pang(2)" has nothing to do with "Pang(4)" fat. They may pronounce similar to westerner's ears, but they have different tones (intonation), which is signaficant in Chinese pronounciation. For example, "Ma" with different tones means mother, horse, scold, and what.

    Posted by Miliki August 17, 08 05:53 PM

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