*My First Phone Call, 第一次打电话

Though the conclusion of this essay might fall a bit flat for all of us who are very used to having a telephone, this is an interesting glimpse into what a monumental rite of passage it is for children in rural areas to have one or use one for the first time.

A confusing word (and an important and often-repeated one) in this text might be 安. We know this word most commonly means “peace”. But the author keeps saying 安电话. This does not, contrary to appearances, mean “peace phone”. In this case, 安 is the shorter version of 安装ān zhuāng, meaning “to install”. So, 安电话 means “to install a phone”.

There are also a few proper names in here, which we’ll point out early: 燃燃 is the author’s name, when the author is addressed by a loved one (typically who is older than them). 李燃 is the author’s actual full name. You can see from this that family members and close friends will sometimes take a Chinese person’s given name (which as we know, comes last, and in this case is 燃), and double it as a form of endearment. So 李燃 becomes 燃燃 to close friends and family. This isn’t always the case but you’ll see it a lot. It is inappropriate to address a Chinese person this way unless you know them very well, and you should never address an elder this way. It’s considered very cutesy. Another proper name is 王钰涵wáng yù hán, the author’s best friend mentioned in passing.

In several instances, the author also mentions the “滋味” of using a phone. 滋味 literally means “flavor” or “taste” (noun). In English, we’d probably substitute the word “feeling”.

And a final grammar note on the phrase: 像是没见过电话似的. Pay attention to the 像– it’s attached to the 似的 at the end. Together, wrapped around a phrase, these characters mean “as if…” or “like…”. This phrase means “… as if I had never seen a phone before”.

Here’s the original text of 第一次打电话

Click to Listen

安– ān – short for 安装, to install
记忆犹新– jì yì yóu xīn – Remember something as if it just happened
迫不及待– pò bù jí dài – Impatient, itching to get on with sthg.
仔细– zǐ xì – Meticulously, carefully
打量– dǎ liang – To size up
机身– jī shēn – Body of a machine, casing
整齐– zhěng qí – Neat and tidy
愣– lèng – To stare blankly
催– cuī – To urge







Fellow students, [though] it was several years ago when our new home installed a telephone, but when I think of it now it’s still fresh in my memory! Don’t believe me? Then I’ll give you a listen [to my story], and my shame will be apparent!

“Ranran, come quickly, we’ve installed a telephone!” Oh? What? Installed one? Actually we had a phone before, but when we had the phone installed, I was still an infant, and I didn’t know the feeling of making a call after the phone had been installed, but I’d always wanted a taste! I impatiently ran back towards the door of the house. When I entered the door, dad said to me “Ranran, didn’t you say you wanted to taste the experience [lit: flavor] of using the phone when it had been installed? Come quick!” I picked up the phone, as if I’d never seen a phone before, and stared at the phone for [what seemed like] half a day, carefully sizing it up: it had a green casing, and the numbers 0-9 were arrayed in neat rows. “What are you doing just standing there? Quick, make a call!” papa urged me. I thought: who should my first telephone call be to? Should I call my good friend Wang Yu Han, and let her share the joy of a phone call? Call close friends and family and tell them to come over to my house and play? No, I want to call my teacher. “8-5-8-6-1-1-5-8″, dad told me teachers phone number. [The call to] “8-5-8-6-1-1-8-5″ went through. “Teacher, this is Li Ran, we just installed a telephone, after this I…” “Little friend, you dialed the wrong number, I’m not your teacher.” “Huh?”

My heart pounded violently.

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