Sunday, March 13, 2011


You know those words on vocabulary lists (especially in foreign language classes) you're convinced you'll never need?

Like Herbergsmutter (female youth hostel director), a word I learned in first-year German. Or caballo (slang for heroin), which I had to memorize junior year of high school in my Spanish film class. Or 水利 (shuili, water conservancy), from the ninth lesson of my outdated Chinese textbook.

These are the kinds of words we dutifully study for exams but then quickly forget while learning new, more useful vocabulary. Do I really need to know how to score smack in Madrid before I've mastered irregular verbs?

Such was my opinion of 萝卜 (luobo, radish), which I had to memorize during a unit on Chinese food. Not planning to be closely involved with edible root vegetables in China, it's a word that I learned, planned not to use ever again, and subsequently forgot.

But today, after a foot massage in Chinatown, I actually needed to use the word luobo during a conversation in the parking lot of Diho Plaza. An animated couple was trying to explain to me, over the din of honking cars, the different properties of 白萝卜 (daikon radish) versus 绿萝卜 (green radish) according to Chinese traditional medicine.

I swear, I couldn't make this stuff up even if I tried.

教訓: Don't overlook page 237 of Discussing Everything Chinese, Vol. 1 (though I still doubt I'll ever need caballo in my back pocket).