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A Weird Thing Popped Into My Head

A month or two ago a group of us were eating at one of the Chinese buffets near work when a familiar song came rolling out of the speaker system.

When I traveled to China with the Augustana Band, we had a pretty interesting tour guide. He had two college degrees: English and Chinese History. He could lead a fairly educational tour anywhere in the country. He saw his family three weeks per year.

Every day, to pass the transit time, he led our busload in song. Pop song. He attempted to teach us the most popular Chinese pop song of the time. I don’t remember the name of it - “Xie Xie” perhaps. The lyrics of the song began “Xie xie ni” (sounds like “shay shay nee”). “Xie xie” means “thank you,” and I think “xie xie ni” also means “thank you” - probably the difference between “thanks” and “thank you”.

Our tour guide had the whole bus singing a whole verse, plus chorus, by the end of our stay in Beijing. When I returned home I sang the song to a co-worker who lived in Beijing before moving to the US. She laughed and laughed and laughed. Not sure whether it was because of my horrendous rendition, horrendous pronunciation, or just because of the song itself. Probably a combination of all three.

Nearly eight years later I cannot remember how to count in Japanese (there’s an “ichi” and a “sun” in there somewhere, I think) or even the most basic communicative phrases in the native languages of the area. But I’m pretty sure I could sing the entire chorus of “Xie Xie”.

And there I was at a Chinese buffet in rural Minnesota, hearing the song all over again and consciously stopping myself from singing aloud along with the recording.