Sat, May 18, 2019 - Page 8 News List

‘Dama’ is taking on a whole new meaning

By Li Dao-yong 李道勇

In 2013, the Wall Street Journal popularized the Chinese word dama (大媽), meaning “middle-aged woman,” in a report about how Chinese dama were buying up gold while the price was low. The publishers of the Oxford English Dictionary were said to be considering adding dama as a new English word.

A reader’s letter about this neologism that was published on the New Tang Dynasty Web site brings to mind a news report that appeared in the Chinese-language Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister newspaper) on April 24 about a female Chinese tourist who charged behind the counter of a frozen dessert store in Taipei’s Raohe Night Market and spat on the floor while calling Taiwan a “colony.”

The cellphone video that accompanied the report on the Liberty Times Web site has been widely shared.

It was strange to hear the Chinese woman screech: “I’m not from over here. How should I know that I can’t come in?”

Did she mean that when you visit a shop in China it is okay to barge into the back room?

Besides, the reason the shop owner, surnamed Kuo (郭), asked her to go back out was that he was boiling something and was afraid that she might be scalded.

Oddly, the woman responded by spitting on the floor several times.

“Is it okay to go spit like that in your country?” Kuo asked her.

“That is the way we do things in our country,” she said.

“In our country you can get fined for spitting,” Kuo said. “We are educated people.”

Frankly, the shop owner did well not to lose his temper.

After the incident, Kuo said: “I spoke in Mandarin as much as possible so that she would understand, but she complained about me speaking in a dialect.”

If she tried to stop a shopkeeper in Hong Kong from speaking in a “dialect,” the local people would definitely sort her out.

The woman made more nasty comments, such as: “You are dependant on China,” “You are a colony” and “a shabby province.”

Banging on a table, she sneered: “How many of you Taiwanese earn enough money to get by? You all depend on welfare payments from the mainland to support you.”

In the end, Kuo had no option but to call the police, but when they arrived, they just asked the woman to show her identity papers and told her to leave. Kuo chose not to press the matter of her tirade of insults. Are all Taiwanese as kind as he is?

The past few years have seen numerous incidents where Chinese dama have behaved disgracefully in other countries.

In Bali, Indonesia, a group of dama fought on the deck of a pleasure boat over who could get off the boat first. In Thailand, they shoveled platefuls of prawns in an all-you-can-eat restaurant, but left half of them uneaten. In Sweden, a family of Chinese tourists made a big fuss on the street, begging someone to “save us” because a hotel had no room available. While feeding swans in Switzerland, one woman grabbed a swan by the neck because it was trying to eat her friend’s money. In a Japanese airport, a crowd of Chinese tourists clashed with security guards when their flight was delayed.

With exploits like these, the new English word dama is sure to take on some unwanted connotations.

Li Dao-yong is director of the City South Culture and History Studio.

Translated by Julian Clegg

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