An American in Chengdu

Geography | January 14, 2010

When a Chinese person asks where in America I’m from, it gives me a chance to practice the tongue-twister that is the Chinese translation of Colorado: ke lwow la dwow (here written phonetically instead of in pinyin, for full tongue-twisting effect). Then my new acquaintance invariably says, brightly, “Oh, the Grand Canyon!”

The same thing has often happened to me in Europe (minus the Chinese), and even sometimes when talking to fellow Americans. I don’t know what respectable river confines itself to a single state (do people think the Mississippi River only flows through Mississippi?), but yes, it is a little confusing that the Colorado River runs through the Grand Canyon in the state of Arizona. It’s interesting to me that the world over, the name of the river that carves the Grand Canyon is apparently deemed important enough information to include in school books, but the name Arizona is not.

As of this week I’ve stopped correcting people who think the Grand Canyon is in Colorado. It’s impressive that they have any association at all with the name of one of the 50 states in one of the world’s 200 or so countries, even if that association is a tiny bit off. After all, most Americans find Colorado indistinguishable from the other “square states in the middle,” believe it to be completely mountainous, and/or think it’s freezing cold and snow-covered all winter. And then there are those who think that Alaska is an island off the coast of California. If we don’t really need to know the location of the Grand Canyon, then why would a Sichuanese?

Actually, there is one setting in which my new nod-and-smile policy could plausibly backfire: a trivia contest. Let’s say the question is, “In which American state is the Grand Canyon?” Teammate A says it’s in Arizona. But teammates B, C, and D insist it’s in Colorado. Then Teammate C settles the argument: “But I met someone from Colorado, and she said the Grand Canyon is there!” The teammates lose and brings everlasting shame on their families.

Fortunately, the odds of someone I meet both getting that question and having a teammate who knows the correct answer are vanishingly small. So I’ll take my chances.



  1. That’s funny – I had no idea people thought the Grand Canyon was in Colorado. Poor Arizona. Their one big attraction, and they get no credit for it.

    Comment by Helen — January 14, 2010 @ 11:02 pm

  2. Hello! My name is Sophie. I just came across your blog from a google search for “Panda Pride cigarettes,” though I noticed you are not so much into the Panda aspect of Chengdu, and I really can’t make any guesses one way or the other on your feelings towards cigarettes… Anyway, I had to check out your blog. Though I have only been to China once, I think it’s funny that indeed I traveled to Chengdu, have a great appreciation for Sichuan cuisine, and I too am from Colorado. I ran into similar confusion on my trip when I explained to some Chinese students that I went to college in Boston.
    “You went to Boston?! You know Harvard?! You know MIT?!”
    “Yes, I know Harvard and MIT…”
    What can I say? There are TONS of colleges/universities/institutes of higher learning in Boston, but your only association is Harvard/MIT?? Smile and nod, smile and nod.
    Best of luck in your adventures in China!

    Comment by doyoulikemyponytail — January 16, 2010 @ 7:10 am

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    About me

    I've come to Sichuan in search of adventure, fluency in Chinese, and awesome vegetarian food. I have to concede that the baby pandas are very cute.
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