Dear MeiGui: Don't call me a "Big-nose"!

Originally published in The China Post, 3/22/09

Dear MeiGui;


     My Taiwan boyfriend make a big mistake last night. He absentmindedly called me an "ato-ah" in the Taiwanese language while at my place. I mean, here he is in my own home calling me a “big nose”! I do not call him unkind names like "slant eyes"; not even when we argue.  I always call him Tony, his English name, and yet here he is calling me an "ato-ah".  Of course, we both laughed at his remark later, but really, why do Taiwanese people still refer to us big-noses as “big noses”?

     Is this a holdover from Japanese colonial rule on Taiwan?  Or does size really matter?

     I told Tony if he ever calls me that word again, I will tell all my girlfriends how small his “nose” really is!  Kidding of course, but you but you catch my drift.  Taiwan should outlaw that word "ato-ah" in my humble big-nose opinion.
--Nose-Job Not Required, Planet Earth

Dear Nose-Job;

     You have raised some very interesting issues here, as well as sending me on quite the research expedition.

     My first discovery came from my Taiwanese-Mandarin dictionary.  It defines “atoh-ah” as “Western Ghost” (洋鬼子) – similar to the offensive and deprecating Hong Kong term GweiLou (鬼佬).  However, when I discussed this translation with my colleagues, they were affronted and didn’t believe it to be true.  They claimed “ato-ah” was simply an old word for “waiguoren” (外國人).  Even after I reminded them that the correct Taiwanese translation for foreigner is “goa-kok-lang”, they continued to insist that “ato-ah” was simply a different, and possibly older, translation of the word for foreigner.

     Next, I visited a Taiwanese linguistics expert who told me that the correct translation of this word was “protruding-nose one” or “a-tu-zi” (阿凸仔) in Mandarin.  She further informed me that there are other experts who link this term to the Mandarin character for “sharp” – “jian” ().  I also stumbled across a Taiwanese-to-English interpretation of the term as “hook-nosed one”.  At any rate, as with all things related to the Taiwanese language – and culture for that matter -- there is no simple answer to this question.

     I think “big-nose” is too simple a translation of the term.  Here’s hoping your boyfriend really does have a big one!

-- “Children are all foreigners.” Ralph Waldo Emerson, American Poet 


Dear MeiGui;


     I do business with a local man that the girls in my office call the Color Wolf.  This guy always insists on holding our meetings in a “jiu dian” (酒店). 

     I tell you these places are bloody expensive.  Last weekend, when we got together to discuss a deal, he order four bar girls to our table as soon as we walked into the place.  These girls then ordered a never ending flow of beer and XO. 

     Next thing I know, this guy tells me he has to split, saying he had a “pressing” engagement with one of the girls.  So I get stuck with the 50,000-plus NT dollar tab. 

     What the heck should I do?

-- Busted in SanChong

Dear Busted;

     Does the word “sucker” mean anything to you? 

-- “I don’t get high, but sometimes I wish I did.  That way, when I messed up in life I would have an excuse.  But right now there’s no rehab for stupidity.” Chris Rock, American comedian