I truly believe that one day there will be a telephone in every town in America—Alexander Graham Bell
The date of the first landline phone in Li Manshan’s village is another of our standing jokes.
This is really embarrassing to admit, but when I asked him about it in 2011, I heard his reply as ‘sisannian’, so I unquestioningly wrote ‘1943’ in my notebook, I mean how mindless was that of me… Only later, writing up my notes back home, did I smell a rat, and it finally dawned on me that he must have said shisannian (qian), ‘thirteen years ago’! (The difficulty of distinguishing shi and si was only part of my howler; and actually, he would never say sisannian for 1943—even if he knew such a date he could only say “32nd year of the Republican era”, cf.my book pp.37-8). So the first landline was only installed in 1998, just a few years before mobile phones swept the board.
Now, whenever we misunderstand each other, we just say “sisannian” and fall about laughing.