春节 (pronounced choon jee-yeh), Chinese Lunar New Year/Chinese New Year/Spring Festival, depending on what you prefer to call it in English, quite simply is the Mother of all Chinese holidays. In Chinese culture, that’s saying something considering there are about 23,203 holidays ranging from Dragon Boat Festival, 端午节 (dwan woo jee-yeh), to International Women’s Working Day.
Just how big is New Year in China? Think Rosh Hashannah, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve/Day, wrap them all up into one huge holiday, and you get Spring Festival. As pretty much every person in the country drops whatever they’re doing to get back home to spend the holiday with their families, no matter how far away it is and how long it takes to get there, the entire country of 1.3 billion literally stops for about a week to celebrate the festival. The ever churning factories come to a screeching halt, all places of business shut down, and restaurants close down. In a huge metropolis like Beijing that is populated by millions of migrant workers who come from other provinces, typically packed-to-the-gills streets and sidewalks become empty, thus making the city almost unrecognizable to the people who live here (at least this person anyways).
For me, it’s a time for staying clear of nuclear firecrackers, eating lots of food, singing in-home karaoke with Chinese friends (if you thought karaoke night at your local bar was tight, you’ve never been to China)… and NBA players looking ridiculous in traditional Chinese attire while butchering the Chinese language on TV advertisements. Take a look:
If you’re wondering why the heck Carl Landry is beating a drum, Mickael Pietrus banging a gong, and Jason Richardson clanging symbols (Jason Kidd and Shane Battier are the odd men out regarding instruments), allow us to explain. Peak, the company all these guys are advertising for, is a Chinese athletic apparel company based in Fujian that has attracted a substantial list of NBA players who are keen on cashing in on the Chinese hoops market, including all the guys listed above as well as some others (we’ll see them in a minute.) Houston Rockets fans are probably most familiar with the company.
With Spring Festival fast approaching on February 3rd, the 15 second spot is being played throughout the country right now during all NBA telecasts on China’s national sports channel CCTV-5 and other local television stations. Because the same four to six commercials run during TV timeouts, viewers see this ad probably around ten times during the course of one game, making it easy conversation starters for curious basketball crazed foreigners who want to know what Chinese think of NBA players trying to their answer.
Let’s translate, shall we? First up is Kidd and he’s pointing “to you” and wishing 财富 (pronounced sigh foo) in the new year, which means wealth. Next is Battier, who is hoping everyone is successful with all of their 事业 (sure yeh), their undertakings. Landry wants lots of love, 爱情 (eye ching), for all; J-Rich friendship, 友情 (yo ching), and Pietrus 和睦 (huh moo), harmony. For the finale, all five ju shou together (done by placing your fist against an open palm, done as a sign of respect) to wish everyone an auspicious Year of the Rabbit.
Overall, it’s a decent effort and I’ve heard much worse. But, none of it is in the least bit understandable and if it weren’t for the subtitles at the bottom of the screen, nobody would have any idea what they’re saying.
That’s OK, though. As they say here in China, man man lai. It’ll come eventually. In fact, its a huge improvement over last year when a full roster of Peak players completely butchered the Year of the Tiger with reckless abandon.
Battier, Darnell Jackson, Sasha Vujacic, Dikembe Mutombo, Kidd and Ron Artest all say one character each to make 虎年心想事成 (hoo nee-yan sheen shee-yang sure chung), which means “may all your wishes come true in the Year of the Tiger.” Next is Sonny Weems, who by grinning ear-to-ear has deemed that holding up a fat sign with an even fatter smile is better than opening your mouth and risking humiliation. Or maybe his Chinese was that bad.
In the last part, all stand together to try to say Peak’s Chinese slogan 拼到底 (peen dow dee), which translates into “I Can Play” in English. Again, if it weren’t for the big characters at the top of the screen, nobody would understand what they’re saying. With the whole ad crumbling by the eight second mark, everything just flat falls apart at the very end — beyond the truly awful pronunciation by all, Vujacic looks like he’s being shown this clip on continuous loop and/or he just found out about his trade to the Nets and Kidd can’t keep a straight face. The end result is a totally out of sync and incomprehensible attempt to say 虎虎生威 (hoo hoo shung way), meaning literally be fierce and imposing like a tiger in the New Year.
Don’t get it twisted, though. Though we think its all pretty terrible, we also think its awesome all at the same time. Because as students of this extremely challenging and difficult language — arguably the most difficult language in the world for native English speakers — we’re in full support of anyone, NBAers included, who are giving Mandarin a shot.