Chinese have difficulty distinguishing the difference between “eh” as in “eh?” and “a” as in “apple”. They also have trouble in pronouncing it properly. This has lead to a funny misunderstanding.
I was working at the University of Silicon Lake in Kunshan, China. I got news from another American teacher that the school had hired two new teachers from the USA to teach English for two weeks in May. One teacher was a guy named Steve. The other was a woman named Ellen.
I lived in a duplex apartment. I had my own bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, and washing machine. I even had my own entry door. The only thing I shared with my roommate was a living room.
The other side of the duplex was vacant. The previous teacher had already moved out and returned to the States. Ellen was to move into the vacant space.
I really wanted to meet this Ellen. I asked my boss when she and Steve were coming.
“I don’t know what time they are arriving,” he said. “I just know they are arriving on Wednesday. Be prepared to expect them.”
I waited. But I could not stay up because I had classes the next morning. At about 11 pm I went to bed and closed my bedroom door. But I lay awake in the dark expecting to hear a door open and voices in the living room.
I heard nothing.
When I awoke the next morning I expected to see evidence in the living room. I expected to see an odd pair of shoes, a suitcase, or the door to the vacant room closed.
I saw that nothing had been disturbed.
“Where’s Ellen?” I asked my boss over the phone. “Did she arrive last night?”
“Uh, Ellen is actually a man,” he sheepishly replied.
I hung up and had a good laugh.
Ellen is actually Alan.