Thursday 5 August 2010
"What's your name?"
"Sorry I can't pronounce that. Do you have any nicknames?"
"I can't pronounce that either."
I looked at this Chinese girl who had just spurned the only nickname I had ever known. It was bestowed on me one summer holiday, by an English child who lacked the energy and dexterity to pronounce the long name that my parents were shortsighted enough to give me. Clearly, at my naming ceremony, they had forgotten that one day I would come in contact with foreigners who would have trouble pronouncing my three syllabled tongue twister of a name.
"Isn't there anything else I can call you?"
It was my first day of boarding school and I was eager to oblige but short of inventing a new name for myself I did not see what else I could possibly do.
"Tell her to call you Chibs," my oldest sister said from inside the room. She had been to the same school and she knew the drill. Foreign students renamed themselves when they arrived.
"Chibs? Nobody calls me that."
"Chibs is better than Chikachoo. Do you want to be called Chikachoo for the rest of your four years here."
"Yeah," the Chinese girl snorted from the doorway. "Chikachoo sounds like Pikachu."
We all laughed.
What was I thinking. Chikachoo did sound like Pikachu.
"Yeah, you can call me Chibs."
The girl remained in the doorway watching me unpack. She had been assigned to make me feel at home and this duty included watching me unpack though I had also brought my sister and my mother to do the same thing.
"So what's your name?" I said, standing my now empty box.
"Yao Min Xian Ho Min Tse Yung."
I later learnt how to call her properly but that first day, that was what her name sounded like.
"But everyone calls me Charlie."
I raised an eyebrow. "Charlie?"
How did one get to Charlie from Yao Min Xian Ho Min Tse Yung.
I didn't ask.
As I arranged my things on my sink, I was suddenly glad that Chibs at least resembled the original.
Charlie and I became good friends but she never called me Chi***du and I never called her Yao Min. I wonder if we would have been different people if we'd used our real names.