Mi experiencia como Team Leader de compras vecinales

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[This is a guest post by Conal Boyce]

[VHM:  watch as much or as little of this 24-minute video as you wish; the most pertinent portion runs from 2:17 to 3:40]

Air quality around a COVID test station


Insightful remarks by a Chinese-Argentine woman about the COVID testing stations in China and how the air all around such stations must be full of COVID virus since masks have to be removed before the swab goes into one's mouth, etc. It's all in Spanish, so at first I wasn't quite sure how to "package" it for general consumption. Watching a woman with quintessential Han Chinese features speak rapid beautiful flawless Spanish with verve is, in itself, an absolute "trip," btw.

In any case I had a blast transcribing some of the CC for this woman's Spanish. She is very entertaining, and per the Comments section, it appears she has fans all over the place, in Venezuela, Bolivia, Chile, Mexico, Madrid, Barcelona and of course Argentina where she was born, raised, and educated (rather highly, I'd guess). Meanwhile she herself is apparently holed up in a Shanghai high-rise at the moment…


Above is a YouTube video from a Spanish-language channel called ‘Mandarin Lab.’ The episode is entitled ‘Mi experiencia como Team Leader de compras vecinales’ (My experience as the  tuánzhăng for making local purchases [of groceries in bulk, for the building in which we are all locked down for the duration]), May 15, 2022. (For tuánzhăng 团长, see 1:19.) The main topic of the episode is watermelon prices, set cynically and insanely high by local functionaries trying to get rich, and how a clever marriage of Excel spreadsheets to WeChat, using random numbers as aliases, allowed residents of one building to bypass the mandated ‘group purchase’ system and buy individual watermelons at reasonable prices. It’s surely a very interesting story in its own right, but what I wanted to highlight here is a bit that comes early on, at 2:17 to 3:40 (of the 24‑minute episode) which concerns the mystery of where all the new COVID cases might be coming from.

Entonces eso ha generado como duda sospechas de cómo salen estos nuevos casos. ¿Sea por ola? ¿O, puede ser el contagio cuando en el momento de que la gente baja a hacerse el test y quizás ese es el momento en que se contagia no porque cuando antes baja la mascarilla abrir la boca para hacer el test? Y el siguiente que pasaba al mismo lugar abre la boca no como que conque haya ‘un positivo’. Es probable que haya contaminado ese aire y se contagien los de atrás.

Entonces […] como que eso lo que sospechan por un lado y por otro lado lo que sospecha también es que son las compras o sea justamente los productos que uno compra que son los que las cosas que vienen de afuera ser que el virus quede en la superficie por un tiempo. En teoría se supone que el virus puede sobrevivir sin un portador vivo por unos 20 minutos creo sobre la superficie y si es este en temperaturas bajas, por ejemplo en […], puedes abrir un par de horas. Pero bueno la probabilidad la verdad que son muy bajas de que sea por no las cajas que se transportan que justo el repartidor es positivo y justo no sé alguna manera sea el virus quedó en la superficie. Pero igual […] son como estas teología de cómo puede ser que siga dando casos positivos y entonces como que en el company decidieron cortar con las compras por una semana.


So that has generated [some] doubt/suspicions as to how these new cases have come to be. [Would it] be it by [the latest] ‘wave’? Or could it be [that] contagion [occurs] at the moment when people go down to take the test? Perhaps that’s the moment when they become infected […] When the mask first comes down, [you] open your mouth to do the test, and the next one who passes the same place opens his mouth [and so on, all day long]. [So it’s] not as if there is an [actual] ‘positive [case]’; [rather,] it is likely that [the process itself] has contaminated the air and [that] those in the back are infected [as they approach, by the air around the test station itself].

So, that is what they suspect on the one hand, and on the other hand what they also suspect is the purchases. That is, precisely the products that one buys, [coming] from outside [and with] the virus staying on the surface for a while. In theory it is supposed that the virus can survive without a live carrier for about 20 minutes, I think, on the surface. And if it is in low temperatures [as in a refrigerated truck], you can figure that increases to a couple of hours. But well, the truth is that the probability is very low that it’s because of the boxes that are transported or that the delivery person is positive. I just don't see how the virus remains [live] on the surface that long. But […] there is a ‘theology’ of how this process might continue to give positive cases […] so they decided to cut off purchases for a week.

Source(s): the Spanish text shown above was transcribed from the machine-generated CC that accompanies the YouTube episode; the English translation of the CC passage is per Google Translate with some editing after the fact by CB. (The host, having been born, raised and educated in Argentina, speaks her Spanish in enthusiastic non‑stop sentences that often ‘run together.’ So that presented a bit of a punctuation challenge.)

For more about watermelons and why they are such a big deal in China, generally, see “Melon eaters and censorship in the PRC" (12/8/21).  And note the concluding sentence, which is relevant here, mutatis mutandis:

“All this by way of explaining how watching netizens try to circumvent the censors in China becomes a kind of morbid entertainment.”

[VHM:  Notice how the calligraphy on the wall behind her writes the name of the place in the far northwest which preoccupied me for the first twenty years of my career as a Sinologist:  Dūnhuáng 敦煌 (Dunhuang).]


Selected readings



  1. Thomas said,

    June 15, 2022 @ 9:34 am

    "Watching a woman with quintessential Han Chinese features speak rapid beautiful flawless Spanish with verve is, in itself, an absolute "trip," btw."

    When I first read this line, I had to pause for a moment to think whether or not this is appropriate to actually mention. Since Han Chinese people can be found everywhere on the globe, it shouldn't be anything special to find one that speaks rapid flawless Spanish. But then I started the video and the first few seconds felt like having a stroke. I should mention I speak Chinese (to some extent). However, her starting in Chinese and instantly moving on to Spanish was something my brain for some reason could not process. It is quite a remarkable feeling when one listens to someone talk and cannot tell which language to parse the speech in. At the beginning, I was confused, but once I recognized the Spanish part had already begun, my mind was at ease – I do not speak Spanish and thus, I do not have to understand it.

  2. Victor Mair said,

    June 15, 2022 @ 5:44 pm

    I had the same sensation, Thomas. Her switching from Mandarin to Spanish all in the same flow was breathtaking.

  3. Peter Taylor said,

    June 16, 2022 @ 8:10 am

    I thought the linguistically interesting aspect was the English loan-words (team leader where I might have used delegada, compound instead of complejo habitacional).

    The summary given above, though, seems rather misleading on several points.

    The main topic of the episode is watermelon prices, set cynically and insanely high by local functionaries trying to get rich, and how a clever marriage of Excel spreadsheets to WeChat, using random numbers as aliases, allowed residents of one building to bypass the mandated ‘group purchase’ system and buy individual watermelons at reasonable prices.

    My takeaway is that the main topic was how difficult it is to get sufficient and varied food in the strict lockdown conditions; the price change sets the scene for our witness becoming watermelon team leader, because the previous holder of that role stepped down for fear of being suspected of inventing the price rise to pocket the difference. The numbers used as aliases are in no way random, being the concatenation of building number and flat number. The residents aren't bypassing the group purchase system, but rather implementing it in the face of opposition from the management of the compound, who were forced to back down after a complaint to the city authorities.

  4. Chas Belov said,

    June 16, 2022 @ 11:33 pm

    Native English speaker here. I've had two years of high school Spanish and three semesters of adult-education Cantonese and never got fluent in either one, although I occasionally have cause to use one or the other in this multi-lingual city of San Francisco.

    One time I was riding on the Muni Metro and overheard a conversation in what sounded like Spanish-accented Cantonese. Suddenly they started code-switching between Cantonese, Spanish, and English. It was dizzying.

  5. Philip Anderson said,

    June 17, 2022 @ 5:53 pm

    @Peter Taylor
    The English loan-word ‘compound’ is interesting, not least because it was itself borrowed:
    “Late 17th century (referring to such an area in SE Asia): from Portuguese campon or Dutch kampoeng, from Malay kampong ‘enclosure, hamlet’”

  6. Emily said,

    July 16, 2022 @ 4:38 am

    There are a fair amount of mistakes in the automatic closed captioning. The most notable ones in the transcription: She doesn't say "por ola" (by wave) she says "por un lado" (on the one hand). And she says "teorías" (theories) not "teología" (theology). What's interesting is that the cc renders some Chinese words used as Spanish words and some as English – I would have thought automatic cc would be limited to one language's corpus for its output.

    I don't think the host speaks in a particularly excited or run-on manner. She doesn't speak either quickly or slowly, to my ear. Transcriptions of normal speech usually require a fair amount of judicious punctuation to read well on a page.

  7. Emily said,

    July 16, 2022 @ 4:48 am

    By the way, I probably would have used *residencial* instead of compound. It seems like this is one of those terms that varies a fair amount across countries. (I'm most familiar with Mexican Spanish.)

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