to bī or not to bī?

I can't be sure, of course, but I think Chinese might be the only language in the world in which the phrase "cow's cunt" means "awesome/great."

The first time I heard this phrase was from a HuaFu student who was surprised to hear me pronounce a Chinese word. "哇 (wa)!" she exclaimed, "好牛屄喔! (hǎo niúbī wo! — it's so cow's cunt!)". At the time, I was aware that 屄 (bī) was slang for some part of the female genitalia, but was not yet aware it could hold such a positive meaning when bovine. Thus my initial reaction was something like "Really? Is my pronunciation that bad?" But she quickly explained, and the internet quickly corroborated her story. (Later I met a HuaFu graduate selling t-shirts featuring the letters "NiuB", which he eagerly explained meant, "the pussy of a cow." I'll never forget the way he so matter-of-factly employed a long "U" sound: pūssy.)

And so it was with great excitement that last Saturday night Jon and I found ourselves in a theater in Shenzhen, joyfully screaming "屄! (bīīīīīīīīīīī!") along with a few hundred Chinese audience members, in an effort to "reclaim the word 屄". That's right, we were at the Chinese Vagina Monologues (阴道独白).

It was the first public performance in Mainland China, or so we were told. There had been a low-profile student performance at Sun Yat-sen University, and they were originally planning this public performance in Guangzhou, but the local authorities wouldn't allow the words 阴道 (yīndào — vagina) on any signs, posters, or even text messages ("dirty" words get deleted automatically). But apparently Shenzhen was down with the v-word, because what Jon and I saw was pretty uncensored. I didn't feel like anyone was holding back, the audience seemed to appreciate the content, and the Q&A session afterwards was lively. In fact it was pretty much exactly the same as the performance I saw at Princeton, linguistic differences aside. I had hoped they would add at least one monologue from a uniquely Chinese perspective. By which I mean, 90 degrees to the right, am I right? Anyone? (Chinese women have sideways vaginas. What, you didn't know this?)

As entertaining as the show was, the best part of the trip was when, as our bus was leaving Guangzhou, our group leader asked everyone on board to stand up and introduce ourselves. Jon and I had just been attempting to speak French with each other, which is our code language around people we think might have good English:

Jon said, "Il faut faire attention, il y a beaucoup d'étudiants ici."

I said, "Oui. Je suis d'accord. Ne parlons pas l'anglais."

When the introductions began, the girl sitting right in front of us stood up and introduced herself as a French major at Sun Yat-sen University. Her male friend sitting beside her mentioned that he studied in France.

So... good thing we can't actually speak French, otherwise we might have actually been able to say something incriminating. Nevertheless, both of us felt pretty sheepish, and attempted (successfully!) to avoid eye-contact with the francophone couple during the remainder of the outing. Way to go, us!