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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Tiger (a story about how Chinese see the world)

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So hey, let's play charades! Your word is "tiger." How will you act it out?

I'm thinking something along the lines of prowling around like a big scary cat, but that's just me.

We played charades in one of my classes recently. (Important background information: I teach English in China.) The students were laughing and fooling around the entire time, and they loved it- even though some of them were pretty low-level and kept looking up the words on their phones. At one point, one student had to act out "run" so he ran across the classroom, and everyone was like "What? Do it again." They knew what it was- they just wanted to make him run around the classroom again. Sneaky.

But the part that stuck out the most to me is when I gave the word "tiger" to a student.

He held up three fingers, and laid them horizontally across his forehead. Then one more finger, vertically crossing all three of them in the middle.

Like this, with his fingers.

And the other students were all like "Tiger!"

And I bet most Americans would have no clue how in the world that's supposed to be a tiger.

That right there is the Chinese character 王 (wáng) and it means "king." And in China, apparently it's common knowledge that tigers have the character "王 (wáng)" on their foreheads.

So in this round of charades, the student was acting out something that had a 王 (wáng) on its forehead, and his classmates correctly guessed that it must be a tiger.

Crazy, isn't it? Crazy how different cultures can be. How amazing, how foreign, how incredibly different from the way my own language and culture has structured my brain. Here in China, for perhaps a billion people, one of the first things that comes to mind when they think of a tiger is that it should have a 王 (wáng) on its head.

Wow.

Tigers don't really have a 王 (wáng) on their heads. It's an example of how humans look for patterns in chaos. Here, take a look at some tigers:

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Okay you guys, this one definitely has 王 (wáng). Image source.

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Do you get it? Do you see the 王 (wáng)? The largest cat in the world- the king of the cats- he is marked with the Chinese character for "king."

Wild.

2 comments:

  1. Loved all those tigers! Thanks for this very interesting post. I noticed that one of the golden tigers had blue eyes. I didn't know that happened!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Reminds me of some old Jackie Chan movies doing tiger style . Does this mean that wang chung means "king of chung"?

    ReplyDelete

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