NI HAO: The Chinese are Coming

Some years ago I watched with much interest as a brand new high-rise apartment building was being constructed next to mine. The sounds of jack-hammers, drills, banging were tolerable while I was sitting on my mirpeset (terrace), the favorite spot in my home looking down on a main street in Rishon Lezion.

Walking outside I noticed that several of the workers were young Chinese men. As some turned in my direction I attempted to greet them. None spoke any Hebrew and their English was halting. I wanted them to know that they were welcome in Israel among Jews whom they had never seen before.

In the cold weather. I brought paper cups of hot coffee and cookies on a tray to give them. In hot weather I brought cups of iced tea with cookies.

They smiled, nodded their heads and recited over and over again the word which sounded like “chi-chi”.

I wanted to reply but knew not a single word in Chinese. One day in a Steimatzky book-store I noticed a small book called Basic Chinese. Turning its few pages, I found four words which I could put to daily use. I took out a small piece of paper from my pocket and wrote down the pronunciation of the four words.

Hello—NI HAO

How are you? – NI HAO MA?

Thank you—XIEXIE

Goodbye—ZAIJIAN

And from that time on, whenever I saw them I used those words to their smiling faces, often laughing at my poor pronunciation of their language, but obviously pleased with my attempt to communicate with them.

The Chinese are a very distinguished people with a developed culture thousands of years older than ours. They especially show respect to elderly persons…. one of whom I am.

Now I have read that we are bringing in six thousand construction workers from mainland China to facilitate the building of new homes, apartment buildings and infrastructures. Soon it will be compelling for us to learn some of the basic greetings in Chinese.

One thing which we can eagerly look forward to is the creation of genuine Chinese food in our kosher (and obviously non-kosher) restaurants. The ones we presently have are lacking in the real Chinese ta’am.

And for Israelis who travel on vacations to China, a basic vocabulary can be quite helpful in Shanghai, Beijing and smaller cities and villages. I have never been to China and do not anticipate a visit. At my age it would be too costly and too strenuous to make the trip.

And if I wanted to see the famous Wall of China, I have two reasonable options. I can visit (as I do) our historic Wall in Jerusalem or I can travel to the American southwest to view Trump’s border wall which he expects the Mexican government to pay for. Foolish thinking.

Walls separate people but they also protect them from intruders and invaders. In Israel we are building more walls, more separation, but hopefully more protection.

One of the Chinese basic staples in their diet is the pork which is forbidden to us under the dietary laws of kashrut.

But it would not surprise me to see it on menus in our country’s restaurants (but never in Jerusalem, heaven forbid !).

And signs would indicate that the food is under rabbinical supervision if the poor pig has been circumcised !!.

XIEXIE. And a warm welcome to our incoming Chinese workers. Bruchim ha-ba-im l’Yisrael. Welcome to Israel, homeland of the Jews.

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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