Them Green Hat Blues
My favourite colour is green, and at the moment, specifically, toxic green. In bright* of this, I go to the store in Beijing and buy myself a fetching toxic-green beanie which the shop-keep happily stocked and sold to me, no questions asked (other than that pertaining to payment, and I now in hindsight see it could well have been what the French would not call “a statement”). It truly went just as you might imagine any old over-the-counter transaction would transpire.
That was yesterday.
Fast-forward to today (woooosh), and the toxic-green beanie is now atop my head, complementing from height a matching toxic-green questionably native-emblazoned shirt. And off I set for another day of ting-to-tha-bu-dong at Tsinghua University – an outfit colour-coordinated as if by the will of a most powerful wizard, with a happy-go-lucky human underneath, peddling as one (woooosh) o’er a toxic-green seated bicycle.
What I didn’t know then was that everything was about to change forever. Sort of.
First, a spritely young Sino-hipster halted my toxic-green clad self, donkey munching me with a rasped, “Cooool dude (snigger snigger)”, to which I replied, chuffed, “Oh, thanks dude, you are also a cool dude (citation pending).” Actually, I only picked up on the snigger at the end of the story after the phone call – more on that later. So the sniggerly also-dude requests a photo with me, and I’m all, “Pffft of course,” again chuffed and blissfully un-confuddled by the snigger I had not yet detected. His sniggering pals snapped the photo and snigger-slunk off with what I thought was my social affirmation, but would ultimately be my dignity.
Next, a counter lady and her subordinate tell me, laced with what would become the familiar snigger, that they like my hat and that it looks attractive. This time I registered the snigger, but misinterpreted it as a flirtatious snigger-giggle and did my best to reciprocate in Chinese, which translated roughly to, “Ohh ewes like mye hatt hahHAHNA fank-ewes blumph4@:.” Basically Chinese by now, I thought.
But I thought wrong, because I was not.
Finally, I arrive back at my building, where a concierge man who had previously championed another of my hats said something like “… … your hat!” smiling, as he always does tries. Fonzing, I enter the elevator strut-wardly and pause to congratulate past Frank on an inspired purchase.
So then I get to my room, where I set about doing away with my pressing slash, when the phone rings and it’s the concierge man.
Him: “Hello, it’s me – the concierge man – something something hat.”
Me: (All smooth like) “Oh, that old thing.”
Him: “Not permitted to wear this green type of hat in China + suggestive grammar particle. It has a bad meaning.”
Me: “Ahhh…(green with envy?*)”
Him: “When the man wear a green hat in China, it means that his wife has passed intimate time with another and that she is unfaithful to you and you are therefore a shameful man and everybody laughs on account of your palpable shame.”
…and the snigger penny drops.
“Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh – OF COURSE IT DOES YEAH GREAT WOOO GET YOUR OWN HAT.”
One hour on, I look back on that verdant day and reflect on what life was supposed to be like for me in China. After deferring to the internet, the most consistent explanation is that in a dynasty of some description, a busy man’s wife had some gentlemen frequent her sexually, and one day, one of them left behind a green hat (idiot). Unfortunate, busy man wore the temple-wrecker’s hat to work the next day, having mistaken it for his own, and was subsequently shamed by his peers. Despite me having no wife, I was no fewer than three times jousted with customary lambast.
And to this day, nobody can wear a hat that is a green one if they are in China and are a man. Also, apparently the phrase “to wear a green hat” sounds like cuckold in Chinese, but that’s fairly advanced really.
Cover photo by Vedu Yao