“马桶堵了” / "The Loo's Gone Potty"
在搬进维维安公寓将近一个月后的某天早晨，我正在自己房间穿衣服准备去上班，她来敲我的门，说：“The loo's gone potty. ” （马桶堵了）
结果我听到的还是那句：“The loo. The loo's gone potty.”
“THE LOO. THE LOO. THE LOO IS BROKEN.”（马桶，马桶，马桶坏了！）
"The Loo's Gone Potty"
My first priority after arriving in Hong Kong in 1974 and landing a job with unexpected speed was to get a suit made, since my backpack's contents did not include such items. That was easily accomplished after my new boss took me to his tailor and asked them for extra fast service.
Next was to find a place to live with a bit more permanence and comfort than the YMCA. This happened after a colleague found a British lady looking to sub-let her third bedroom in a mid-levels apartment on Hong Kong Island.
I moved in, but soon felt like a fish out of water.
The landlady was nice, as was her roommate, a young British guy, but our reasons for being in Hong Kong were very different. Their circle of friends were mainly other foreigners, none of whom spoke Chinese or seemed the least bit interested in learning. Our economic stations in life were also very different, as I could see when she eyed my backpack with an obvious degree of disdain.
Her name was Vivian. She was an executive secretary with a multinational company in Hong Kong. Her other sub-tenant worked for an international shipping company. Both were quite caught up in the expatriate social swirl of Hong Kong in the colonial era, and had incomes to support such a lifestyle.
Apart from being at different ends of the economic spectrum (mine was effectively the "white trash" end, which was a very narrow band in Hong Kong at the time), there were also language issues.
Until arriving in Hong Kong, I had been under the badly mistaken impression that Yanks and Brits spoke the same language. The foreign community in Hong Kong in the early 1970s was dominated by people from the British Isles, many of whose accents I found very difficult to understand.
After having lived in Vivian's flat for nearly one month, I was getting dressed for work one morning in my room. She knocked on my door and said: "The loo's gone potty."
Her sentence did not compute for me, so I asked if she could repeat the message through my still-closed door.
Again came the statement: "The loo. The loo's gone potty."
"Loo" sounded vaguely like a Chinese rather than English word to me, but Vivian didn't speak Chinese, and I had no idea what "loo" meant.
"Potty" in American English is a word meaning toilet which is used when talking with very young children. It also didn't seem to fit in here. This was confusing.
So, I asked her to repeat the message yet again. The door was still closed between us, which added some symbolism to our failure to communicate.
She must now have been as impatient with the dumb American as I was embarrassed with my failure to understand her apparently simple statement.
As people sometimes do when speaking to foreigners who are having difficulty understanding, she repeated the same words but in a much louder voice:
"THE LOO. THE LOO. THE LOO IS BROKEN."
Now totally perplexed, I zeroed in on the key word with my final follow-on question:
"Where is the loo?"
A deafening silence followed, during which she was no doubt pondering how it could be possible that after three weeks' living there, this odd American backpacker chap had not yet found the toilet, which is of course -- as I learned for the first time that morning -- the meaning of "loo" in British English.
The loo conversation was a turning point in our landlord-tenant relationship. I moved out within a week in search of a new home. I could neither afford to travel in the young colonial expats' social circuit, nor was I interested in doing so.