Arabic and Momo

I met up with a Polish CSer and his host, a new Shanghainese (that’s what he called himself despite having lived here 18 years and holds a Shanghai hukou) at Nepali Kitchen. The food wasn’t so great, could have been spicier to bring out the flavor, but the ambience and conversations were great.

I was stunned to hear fluent Arabic come out of the mouth of this Chinese sitting in front of me who struggled with English. I, on the other hand, having lived two-thirds of my life in Malaysia and hearing the solat five times a day, know no Arabic words beyond Assalamualaikum and Waalaikumussalam. I’m not even sure if these are spelt correctly.

I was even more astounded when he told us that eighteen years ago when he was applying to college, he could only choose the university, not the course. He was assigned Arabic, probably because it’s one of the five official languages at the United Nations Council. While he was equally stunned, he decided to take it up as a challenge.

Wow. It amazes me how much China has changed in the last two decades. Today’s Chinese universities are definitely not like that. Things have turned over on an axis. Like Pudong, from a barren land to the priciest real estate in all of Shanghai. It used to be 浦东一栋房不如浦西一张床 (a bed in Puxi is better than a house in Pudong). Now, it is like the closing words of movie “Let The Bullets Fly” – “浦东就是上海!(Pudong is Shanghai!)

So a Chinese speaking foreign languages today is speaking them out of choice. They all seem to be intrigued by foreign languages. Many of the the interviewees we have met in the course of recruiting for our team are in the midst of learning a third language, usually Japanese, German or French.

Yes, languages are intriguing. Like one very simple word/name – Momo.

The first time I encountered Momo was in one of my favorite Korean dramas (I have about two) – My Name Is Kim Sam Soon, where she told the story of Momo, the little girl who listened to the troubles of people, by German author Michael Ende. I’ve been wanting to read the book since, but have yet to get around to it.

Last October, I met the sweetest guy in New York with the nickname Momo, which means peach in Japanese (he said his friends called him that because he’s hairy outside and juicy inside, haha).  It’s very apt because peaches are his favorite fruit and he just moved to Tokyo yesterday.

Yesterday, when our Nepali menu came, Momo dumplings jumped out at me. Dumplings are one of my absolute favorite foods, and now with a name like this, I just had to to have them. These Tibetan/Nepali dumplings didn’t disappoint, though the Momo here is smooth and tender on the outside and a little dry but flavorful on the inside.

Then our new Shanghainese friend told us that they called nuns (the sisters) Momo in China.

Whoa. How many different interpretations of a simple word like Momo are there internationally?

Momo = girl who listens to the troubles of others (Germany)

Momo = peaches (Japan)

Momo = dumplings (Tibet/Nepal)

Momo = nuns (China)

Momo = king of the carnivals (Brazil)

I’m curious and determined to collect even more incarnations of the simple word/name Momo from around the world, especially for my Momo friend.


So there is a very popular character in Brazil’s carnivals called Rei Momo (King Momo). Here is an even better description (more than Wikipedia) that my Brazilian friend gave:

“King Momo (Rei Momo – Rei means king) is very popular in Brazil … it is like a character. Momus or Momos (μῶμος) was in Greek mythology the god of satire, mockery, censure, writers, poets; a spirit of evil-spirited blame and unfair criticism. His name is related to μομφή, meaning ‘blame’ or ‘censure’. He is depicted in classical art as lifting a mask from his face. In Portuguese, it was later changed to Momo.”

Come to think of it, my Momo friend wanted to be a writer and can be rather sarcastic sometimes so that fits, haha.


About transez

Design researcher: curious about people, passionate about life.
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One Response to Arabic and Momo

  1. Pingback: Sweet spots | a collection of wanton thots in shanghai

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