The other night, when the evening sunset made the horizon blush, I thought about the vastness of the universe. “Just imagine,” I said to John, “Our sun is one of 400 billion stars in the Milky Way Galaxy.”
“Four hundred billion…that’s sìqiān yì.”
“Four thousand yì equals 400 billion?” I asked.
“One billion is shí yì.”
Of course one billion was 10 yì! I wanted to slap my forehead in what was arguably a huge “doh!” moment. Hadn’t I learned Chinese so many years ago — including numbers and their equivalents? But yet it took me a few extra seconds to remember the difference between billion and yì.
I shook my head. “It always seems like I can’t keep the numbers straight. I had the same problem when I went to Spain and was speaking Spanish. But maybe it’s even harder in Chinese. You have yì, we have billion and they don’t equal each other. And of course I like billion — because that’s what I grew up with.”
“I like yì,” said John.
It’s funny that we can stare at the same setting sun, imagining the exact same number of potential stars, and express it in a completely different way — all because of cultural and linguistic preferences.
Is it better to say 4,000 yì or 400 billion? Who knows? But whatever your choice of number, there’s nothing like gazing at the night sky — or a sunset — and wondering about all of the unanswerable “whys” in the universe.