To help me start this piece, I asked my workmate Matt – almost a New Yorker – to give me some examples of American slang that you would never find in an ESL textbook. He said that he uses so much slang, it’s difficult to choose just one. EXACTLY, Matt, thank you – you helped me by default here!
I’ll break it to you now: Whatever language you learn, it’s not sophisticated vocabulary or advanced grammar we should sink into our teeth into first. Instead, start with ‘street smart’ language, so that when someone says ‘Damn, I have been dragging my ass for too long,’ we don’t become worried about this poor person’s derriere. Our reaction should be the opposite, in fact! Chinese language is no different here. That’s why I will be helping you learn some of the funniest/ most useful/ most important phrases. Phrases that, when used in front of locals, will earn you maaany dropped Chinese jaws along with ‘Ni de Zhongwen hen bang de!’
So let’s get to it. A few months ago I started teaching at an American high school for some of Shanghai’s most well-off kids. Their parents spare no expense getting their little darlings speaking good English in order to send them to the promised land out West. However, these kids will not give up using their beloved Chinese or Shanghainese slang even during their ESL class with me! And this is where I first heard about TU HAO’ and ‘FU HAO.’
So the thing is – we know it, we are not ashamed of it and this is the reason why we came here – China has a lot of money. Therefore,as a natural result, Chinese people obviously have quite a lot of money to spend . But of course, different people spend their money in different ways. And although I am self –acclaimed history anti fan, I need to give a little bit of historical background here to explain more than just a slight difference between two similarly sounding expressions.
tǔ háo 土豪 ( third and fourth tone, Nike tone amd angry tone – as my teacher says) – an offensive term for ‘freshly’ rich Chinese people with no taste
fú hào 富 豪 ( fourth and second tone ) – not an offensive term at all, referring to the wealthy and very powerful citizens of currently the most popular country in the world
Around late 1980s and in 1990s , president Deng Xiao Ping – a REAL game changer – opened China for other markets, thus allowing foreigners to do business here. That maneuver has a special, fancy name in Chinese – ‘Gaige kaifang’. Before that, the majority of Chinese people were basically poor and probably not far away from the image that was introduced to me in primary school – straw hat and a bowl of rice. HOWEVER, Gaige Kaifang allowed Chinese people to do business with laowais, open factories for production of anything conceivable that foreigners wanted to manufacture. And that’s how tǔ háos were born – people, who were maybe not that smart, but very very lucky, who became insanely rich up to the point that they didn’t know what to do with the money. They didn’t need to wait for a long time, though, to solve this ‘problem’ – since all the high street Western brands also started mushrooming in big cities, the newly rich Chinese thought it would be only appropriate to dress up from head to toe in everything with a Western brand name on it, to make sure everyone around would notice their status. Unfortunately, because all this was happening really fast, they didn’t have time to get a lesson in style to wrap their heads around the fact that donning a t-shirt covered with LV paired with Chanel logo printed all over the pants is not a very tasteful thing. Over the years, though, things changed a bit, but mud people ( tǔ 土 – means ‘mud’, ‘country people’ ) still roam the streets here and there, remaining one of the symbols of China to western eyes. Yet, hopefully, China will aim to pride itself in being the home or more and more fú hàos 富 豪 – who, unlike tǔ háos , are wealthy, powerful people with good taste (and so far, mostly Hong Kong people bear this honorable title , granted by mainlanders.
Still, I put my hopes really high that this evolution won’t happen within a blink of an eye,as this peculiar Chinese style of newly rich is something that makes the country of the middle so endearingly unique and never fails to make my day, providing some healthy chuckle, even on one of those most polluted Shanghai days. And most importantly,whenever during my class some of my students can’t keep themselves from surfing Taobao and ordering new pair of Dolce and Gabbana sneakers, I will for sure get almost a standing ovation every time I confiscate the ‘crime tool’ along with correctly pronounce ‘tǔ háo’, added to one of my brightest signature grins.
Before some ‘hipster’ cartoons like Shrek became popular, aiming to teach kids that beauty is only skin deep and a rich princess would rather give up her luster and wealth to marry rude and ugly ogre, most of people born in their 80s got a little brainwashed by Disney productions. In practice that means we learned more or less consciously that slim, long haired princess and a tall, handsome prince are socially approved ‘ideals’ of people we should seek to have a relationship with. And although you might think China is like a completely different planet, turns out they did watch exactly same animations, maybe just girls focused a bit more on Snowhite, Why?
No matter which Chinese city of province you find yourself in, every single Chinese person will tell you, without a moment of hesitation, that a perfect woman in their eyes has white face, wealth and beauty – and such lucky lady is called 白富美 bái fù měi (白 bái– white, 富 fù– rich, 美 měi– beauty).
Rich and beauty parts don’t need too much explanation, but why ‘white’?! Chinese people have this saying ‘yí bái zhē bǎi chǒu’ – which means ‘white skin can hide hundreds of defects’ – so be ready that if you come to China and you pride yourself in naturally, ivory white skin, you are bound to be an object of frequent admiration (another good reason to remember about daily application of sunscreen!) and unavoidable, random photo sessions in the streets.
Now, obviously every bái fù měi should have an appropriate partner to complete her status, and in perfect life she should never cease to find a type of a guy called 高富帅 gāo fù shuài ( 高 gāo – tall, 富 fù – rich and 帅 shuài – handsome).These ‘requirements’ are not that far away from Western ones, after all. BUT !In order to let China keep its uniqueness, there are special conditions of being considered gāo fù shuài and of course – peculiar way they carry themselves. Chinese ‘Princes Charming’ never bothered themselves to work hard because they were born in privileged families AND they live their life most probably following the motto ‘I am gāo fù shuài and I know it, I am not afraid to show it!’ – by showing off their privilege ,including all belongings as well as bái fù měi style girlfriends on various social media.
If Shrek lived in modern China, he would NEVER get away with his shenanigans and the excuse about onion and layers, and his buddies would never be able to throw the ‘Living la vida loca’ wedding party since Chinese Fiona would definitely choose Justin Timberlake’s doppelganger. But I believe, he might at some point find common ground with some gāo fù shuài , because just like Shrek, they simply know what they want and who they are, so maybe would be willing to share their knowledge how to make all ‘bái fù měi’ girls think ‘damn he fly when he walk on by’ ( well, just in Chinese, of course;)
If you maybe by any chance remember last week’s episode, I was brutally honest in saying that in modern China, an ugly Ogre , even with the purest heart, would never be able to marry bái fù měi –ish ( Chinese ideal of a woman) princess, because BAI FU MEI is supposed to be reserved strictly for the gāo fù shuài – the ultimately privileged male with the full package.
Shrek, with his ‘I don’t give a flying f..k about all the whole wealth in the world’ attitude would represent the complete opposite category of people in contemporary Chinese culture – those, who in 2012, gained the name diǎo sī 屌丝.And since I get an official permit to write what I want and need here, and because all the readers are 18+, then I will tell you the exact meaning – 屌 diǎo means ‘penis’ and 丝 sī stands for ‘thread’, but for polite dinner conversation, ‘loser’ would be enough. HOWEVER! Diǎo sī is not a totally negative expression and to understand why, focus a bit here, please!
At the very beginning, when the term ‘diǎo sī’ was coined, it referred to that group of YOUNG people who proudly chose NOT to chase big money and prestigious careers, and would instead revel in doing nothing but playing online games day and night. If you haven’t heard yet, they even have their own ‘theme song’ created by netizens, that goes’ Single boy, single boy, single all the way, online game, masturbate, let us all be gay’….( I really appreciate working with Chinese teenagers).
Since 2012, though, this expression has evolved a bit due to economic changes in China. As you already know, some people got extremely lucky when 中国 opened itself to the rest of the world, turning into signature, lovely tǔ háos, who eventually became ‘fruitful’ and multiplied, thus gracing us with the second generation of wealthy youth called fù èr dài. The less lucky ones have been struggling with ever rising prices of property and low salaries, so naturally, their children didn’t grow up wearing D&G flip flops around the house .And guess what, they are not ashamed of it! They are proud of calling themselves ‘diǎo sī ’ – because whatever they have ,they achieved it through hard work AND, most importantly – learned to appreciate small things in life.
So next time you find yourself on the subway, facing a row of Chinese guys playing online games on their precious mobile devices, try stopping yourself from rolling your eyes and, instead, just be happy for them. They are simply, blissfully enjoying this seemingly unimportant activity and dealing with the fact that they could never take a Gucci schoolbag for granted…
Before anyone says anything about my choice of topic for this episode – yes, I do realize it is about money again. Money and China, to be exact. But well, whether you like it or not, the truth is that you won’t pay your bills with love (well, maybe in some places it would be feasible, but I bet not everyone is so fond of this kind of ‘barter agreement’..). Nor will you eat compassion. Plus, the power of Mao yeye ( Grandpa Mao…check you RMB notes if this sounds strange) is constantly growing, so it’s no surprise why most Chinese buzz words revolve around this seemingly fragile thing that makes the world go around.
Keeping with the fast economic growth of China this year, in April 2014 the phrase
有钱任性没钱认命 yǒu qián rènxìng, měi qián rènmìng came to life. Exact translation goes like this ‘有钱 yǒu qián – have money , 任性 rènxìng – uninhibited, 没钱 měi qián – don’t have money, 认命 rènmìng – be resigned to sth.
So what exactly happened in April? Well, one Chinese tuhao, Mr Liu, decided to buy a health care product online for ‘just’ 1760 RMB. And since whatever we do in the virtual world shall never be forgotten nor remain unnoticed he was soon contacted by a stranger with, one might think, strong persuasive skills, because he managed to convince Mr Liu to purchase more ‘miraculous’ health enhancing products, with a price totaling 540,000 RMB (no, no mistake here, trust me). Poor swindler, though…. , Turned out it wasn’t actually his distinguished scamming talent responsible for that windfall. Later on, Mr Liu revealed that, though he did realize he got fooled when the amount reached 70,000, he ‘just wanted to see how much they could take from him’…Well, life is, after all, all about new experiences, right?!
So basically, putting all the puzzles pieces together, yǒu qián rènxìng 有钱任性 would mean that being shamelessly rich gives you the freedom to overspend your money on any harebrained idea – whether it is challenging an online scammer, or getting a hundred boxes of yogurt only to lick off what you find on the underside of the lid, only to throw away the rest. But if you are just a humble ‘diao si,’ then let me break it to you – you have no other choice but surrender to your ‘fate’ and be ‘normal’ – měi qián rènmìng 没钱认命.
Well, ok, don’t get that heartbroken yet – you can still use yǒu qián rènxìng expression referring to yourself. Let’s say you go to a cheap bar and buy way too many dishes for one person. As your order arrives, and you see whole table being covered with food just for yourself, you can flash a smile to the onlookers, and say ‘yǒu qián rènxìng ’有钱任性 .It will be sarcastic, but still!
I don’t know about you, but after almost 2.5 years in China, the needle on my WTF meter has almost snapped off: whether it is a person jogging in silk pajamas at 4 am or a pony-sized dog wearing Prada for its evening walk, I’ve seen a lot.
But now, thanks to Mr Liu, instead of that little three-letter acronym echoing in my head when I see a rainbow-colored Chrysler limousine parked in front of a shabby lane house or a pink Ferrari with a Hello Kitty decal staring at me from the hood, I can cheerfully say ‘Yǒu qián rènxìng!’
“You are crazy” this is the most frequent comment I receive from my friends in reaction to my weekly updates. And vice versa. Actually, at some point we started having those ‘arguments’ over whose craziness levels were higher, but there is nothing negative or judgmental about it. ’You think I am crazy but that’s not bad’ as Rihanna belts out in one of her songs.
See, the thing is that when you come to China, whatever your origins are, you will undergo more or less conscious transformation after a while.
Not only will your WTF threshold go irreversibly higher but you will also become less inhibited. Whether it is wearing blue, knee-length Manggha style wig while entering a 5-star hotel, taking a walk downtown at 2 am with enormous, black-feathered wings on, or ‘ganbeing’ a police officer at the beer festival while wearing a hat temporarily borrowed from him – it is really difficult to beat yourself, let alone surprise the locals here anymore.
I have been wondering a lot recently: is it because of the mixture of all us laowais coming to China? Or is it this peculiar country itself OR maybe just mutual influence that makes this place the best incubator for all the inconceivable shenanigans that we witness or experience every day? One thing is for sure, though. The locals are aware of this fact and apparently have seen some epic fails by people here trying to challenge the borderline, so they coined this phrase, that even made its way to the American Urban Dictionary. It goes like this ‘不作死就不会死”(bù zuō sǐ jiù bú huì sǐ). 作死”zuō sǐliterally means ‘seek death’and zuō itself can mean act silly or dangerous, and the whole phrase means ‘If you don’t look for trouble, you won’t find any’. And since China is latest and greatest on the international stage, Western media picked it up practically overnight (this phrase received over 1,600 likes in our social media) and they couldn’t help but adopt it, just..they ‘Chinglished’ it, of course (which is, for those of you not in the ‘inner circle’ – directly translating Chinese expression into English, without paying much attention to logic). So the Urban Dictionary’s translation, that got a green light from Chinese people, goes ’No zuo no die’ with more ‘cool’ explanation ’If you don’t do stupid things, they won’t come back and bite you in the ass ( but if you do, they most certainly will).
But the best part about ‘No zuo no die’ is that it even has its own anthem! Or actually a few versions of it, that can be sung with catchy songs or TV show themes like ‘Twinkle twinkle little star’ or ‘Doramon’ to name a few. My favorite ones, passed on from my invaluable students, are: “No zuo no die, why you try?!No try, no high give me five!’
Or ‘ No zuo no die, why you try, you try you die, don’t ask why!’
Well, makes sense. Especially when I think back to my Mid – Autumn Festival trip to Moganshan with one of my best friends. At some point we found ourselves in a cab at 10 pm, headed to the top of the mountain. The driver turned out to be a die hard fan of ‘Fast and Furious’ because in the pitch dark he was taking the most daring turns on the edges of cliffs, leaving me completely speechless (and this is something that most people find impossible). Well, that’s what you get taking a cab in the middle of nowhere, in China, being a foreigner. BUT we tried! And sipping our well deserved beers at the top of the mountain , we ‘high gave each other five’ for another unforgettable adventure, as the lyrics of the One Republic song ’Counting Stars’ were wafting around:’ I feel something so right, but doing the wrong thing, I feel something so wrong, but doing the right thing. I could lie, could lie, could lie, everything that kills me makes me feel alive!’
I will admit it officially here. No false pretense. Just brutal honesty. My knowledge of chemistry and physics, to put it mildly, is quite limited. Despite my family being chock full of science nerds, (my friggin’ mom worked in a Polish military lab) I couldn’t tell a quark from a crayon. Suffice it to say that passing science classes was one of the great challenges of my life so far.
Even learning Mandarin has been a piece of cake in comparison. I was so bad that I had to come up with an elaborate scheme to cheat my way to a passing grade in physics. Despite this flaw, I am lucky enough to have a few science-literate friends now. Just a few days ago I was talking with one of them. She studies something that is the ultimate rocket science to me – chemical engineering. To broaden our Whatsapp convos beyond partying and men issues, I asked ‘What exactly is it that you study?’ To satisfy my curiosity (and probably educate me a bit), she told me ‘how interesting it is to work with graphene’ and that it is ‘pure carbon in the form of a very thin, nearly transparent sheet, just one atom thick….’ Well, there was more to it, but that alone was awe–inspiring to me and my arts-and-crafts proclivity.. All I could type back to her was ‘Wow, that sounds awesome…. but I have no idea what the hell u r talking about ’.
Ok, so how can we appreciate something but not understand it in the slightest? Weird, right? BUT! Chinese has the perfect expression for such occasions – 不明觉厉 bù míng jué lì .Bù míng jué lì is in fact an abbreviation, just like our precious ‘OMG’ or ‘LOL’’ .
Bù 不 is not. Míng 明 is actually short form of míng bai 明白 – understand, and jué lì 觉厉 is a combination of two words: jué de 觉得 – think and lì hài 厉害 – fierce/terrific. So, bù míng jué lì means ’I don’t quite get it, but I think you are really terrific’
Originally, this was used by newbies who wanted to express adoration for a master. This still applies. So if you have a friend who starts talking to you about flux capacitors and grey nano goo and you feel like a dimwit, you can humbly nod your head and reply ‘Bù míng jué lì’.
BUT!Since netizens are the slang lords, and since they are fluent in my first language – sarcasm – this quaint little expression soon mutated into a way to mock all displays of self-righteousness and mistakes online. Go figure, eh?
What makes life so amazing and interesting is that we can’t understand everything, and there will be always something to pull our jaws down to the ground. For example:you are sitting at a bar in China. Suddenly, a considerable amount of time after happy hour has finished, the bar tender hands you another glass of wine and says ‘Happy hour, buy one get one free’.Don’t start wondering if you are both in the same time zone.The best you can do is to tip the glass his way and say 不明觉厉 !
China is not for everyone. For the uninitiated audience, a quick recap: learning Chinese is a must for daily living; you are always beset by a crowd while commuting, and your personal privacy bubble is bound to be burst on a regular basis; and local habits will challenge everything mama taught you about acceptable public behavior. Hence, expats either leave China asap, stay and laugh it off, or stay but ’ complain ‘ til the sun goes down (and then complain about time difference back home). This last type will gripe for hours about how ‘unprofessional’ this and that is and how things are better in other places. And if you tell them ‘This is China, you just need to accept it’ , they reply ’This country will never change because of that attitude!’
To honor this last type (and maybe validate their ‘hardship’ by with a special name) the term tǔ cáo 吐槽 was coined in 2014.” 吐” means to “spit”, and “槽” is a “trough” or “tank. This phrase came from a Fujian dialect, and the literal meaning is ‘spit into other people’s bowls’. Nowadays, people use it to describe those who make sure that everyone knows about their suffering.
I really don’t want to come off as a perfect laowai who looks down on her brothers and sisters here: When I came to China 2.5 years ago, I did my share of complaining, too. I’ve been there. At the very beginning, when I started as an au-pair in a beautiful but wild Chengdu, I had a real lesson in survival. I lived with a tǔ háo-ish family that scrutinized me non–stop behind my back but showed me their pearly whites during dinner. Plus, at that time my Chinese skills were on their fours, and their English was below communicative level.
Since then, I’ve learned a lot. And although my friends know I still have my moments now and then, I try to apply ‘molo molo’ ( my favorite French phrase for ‘take it easy’) attitude every time I feel my last straw might drop. And since it is the beginning of the year, I encourage you to do the same. Maybe as a resolution. Instead of being tǔ cáos and spitting into other people’s bowls, be molo molo and cherish the Chinese experience. It is unique and life-changing.
Do you remember in ancient times when we took pictures just to catch elusive, precious moments? And the anticipation before picking them up from the photo studio? Next there was buying the albums, segregating the photos and finally inviting family and friends over to admire the highlights of the vacation in Greece. It never even occurred to us to share our memories with hundreds of people.
Those times are long gone, of course. The newest generations will be flabbergasted to hear about them. With the proliferation of friend-making platforms like My Space, Facebook and Wechat, the motivation for taking photos has undergone a revolution. Plus smartphones contribute a great deal as well.
Let’s face the truth now – ever since social media took over, we don’t take pictures just for the sake of remembering our best moments any more. We do it for our own ego. We want to make sure that everyone around knows that we travel to the most exotic destinations, eat fancy food and have a super exciting life in general. Every new ‘like’ undeniably feeds our ego’s needs. However there are some social media users who take it to another level. Those who will not go through the day without posting a new LV trash can in their bathroom or a new pink Ferrari standing right next to the sparkling purple Maserati in an LV wallpapered garage. Discerning Chinese netizens named this phenomenon 拉仇恨 lā chóu hèn. 拉” (lā) means ‘pull’ and 仇恨” (chóu hèn) translates into hatred. All these 3 characters together mean ‘courting envy’. Never holding back from inundating your social media audiences with the evidence of your luxurious life. There is actually a Chinese name for this behavior – shài 晒 and means ‘show’. When your Chinese friends are posting another snapshot of their 5,000 RMB dinner and you feel frustrated because you are tucking in the 10 RMB instant noodles , you can ask them ‘你是在拉仇恨吗’ – nǐ shì zài lā chóu hèn ma ? Are you trying to make me envious?
Although I am not a tǔ háo …yet, I admit I like to post a lot of pictures. Same as I loved showing my old school albums to all our guests when I was a kid. Instead of sharing shots of rainbow color BMW scooter with Hello Kitty, I just post things that make me happy or stuff that I think will bring a smile to my audience. The other day, for example , I saw two elderly men standing next to my house’s fence and working on the watercolor depictions of my beautiful street. I took a picture of this scene and was about to post it on wechat. But then I reminded myself how my Chinese teacher and a friend always teases me that I go on and on about how I am in love with the French concession and my street in particular ( although she is the one who made it happen ). That’s true, I am lucky and extremely happy about it, but I really don’t say it to lā chóu hèn others.
But I still wanted to share it with some bigger audience! So since Mirror doesn’t have a Facebook account , I will shài there! This way will avoid her jabs about my raves at Hunan road and still my ego will be properly fed.
Although I have been in China for 2,5 years and feel like I’ve changed a lot, there is still one thing that gets me into trouble. I am brutally honest and straightforward. And this trait is NOT in high demand in China. If you want to get along with locals, the #1 rule is never cause anyone to ‘lose face’ by telling them the truth and pointing out their mistakes. Even if you do it by accident, it will be an infraction not likely to be forgiven.
And don’t think that maybe in a working environment your Chinese colleagues will be willing to meet half way in order to make a change for better. When I was trying to teach the kids in our high school some basic manners like saying ‘please’ and ‘excuse me’, I later found out there was a long report written, depicting me as ‘China’s Public Enemy #1’.
The best example came from last Friday’s staff meeting. One of my European colleagues addressed a hygiene issue. He suggested a boot camp to teach our students to use the public toilet decently. After all, they will go to USA next year, so it is not only for our sake but for their’s as well,. But the majority of the Chinese staff reacted utterly disgusted facial expressions . Apparently we crossed the line. Although we did not ‘challenge’ those kids directly, the Chinese staff felt offended on their behalf.
Back in 2013, Taiwanese singer Yoga Lin Youjia pointed out this issue in his song ‘Lie’ . Its popular line that became one of the top 10 Chinese buzz words in 2013 was 人艰不拆 rén jiān bù chāi. It is again an abbreviation of a longer sentence that goes: 人生 rén shēng ( life) 艰难 jiān nán ( hard) 不要 bú yào ( not) 拆穿chāi chuān ( expose, unmask, tell the truth). So the full expression is : Life is so hard, don’t hurt me with truth.
From my observations , though – even some Westernized Chinese people get confused from time to time. My Chinese teacher – now a class teacher in the same school where I work – couldn’t get over this one fact. She is not allowed to give real feedback to Chinese parents about their kids. Even though she is a local, and believes they would only benefit from the truth, she can’t ‘hurt’ the parents. Just because rén jiān bù chāi. And I know her pain because in my previous job I got in trouble AGAIN for the same reason. After writing the monthly report on our kindergarten students in whichI pointed out that some of the kids had ‘special needs’I was informedthat I seriously insulted the parents.
Yes, life is hard .To us Westerners, it seems obvious that owning up to our mistakes is the best way to learn. And hopefully this makes life easier. But the concept of losing face in China is something we have to accept. There is no compromise.’ A person needs a face just as a tree needs its bark’ – that’s what we should have in our minds.
Just now, as I am writing this episode, my friend from US texted me. She said that the parcel she sent me LAST YEAR arrived in China, but for a mysterious reason I never received it and it got directed back to Denver. And it came back AFTER A YEAR. She asked me if I could maybe go to the post office in my previous neighborhood and ask for some explanations, because ‘it is obviously their fault!’.I told her TIC – This is China! And I’m not even surprised. Nor will I dare to confront them for obvious reasons. We are still mystified about the parcel’s fate during the past year, but maybe it’s better not to know the truth. Wǒ de rénshēn jiānnán bú yào chāi chuān
There has been a really intense competition recently among my 2 other colleagues and me : who will get the grasp of advanced Chinese faster. I am trying to explain it to them that there’s no way they can exceed me, but they are really stubborn.
One of our favorite ways of adopting native Chinese expressions is to pick on the brains of our students, especially one particular group. And since my workmate Matt is extremely determined to win with me, he will grab poor kids in the hall on daily basis to consult his Mandarin findings. Having spotted that, I decided – all is fair in love and war. So last Friday I asked those kids:
G: Hey, do you know that your ESL exam I prepared is on Monday, right?
Kids :Well, yeah….
G: Do you want to get good grades?
G: So stop teaching Chinese to Matt! No foreigner in this office can be better than me!
K: Gosia, you are méng méng da !
G: Hmm, I am…shenme?
Fearing a big failure of Monday test, my dear victims explained to me that recently it’s just very popular expression among Chinese netizens. And 萌 méng just means cute. This word is doubled because it is common Chinese way to emphasize something or make it sound like a child talk. My Chinese friend ( who is my other secret resource I won’t share with my colleagues) put it like this: ’Chinese way of typical children’s talk is mainly doubling words. That makes them sound softer. Therefore Chinese parents will double the names of their precious ones to make them sound less formal and more lovely. So because méng means cute, it will sound even more adorable if we double it .And da is just a sound, without any meaning’.
Ok, so he got me confused a bit. I understood doubling part, but why do we need to add meaningless sound? Then my friend enlightened me and said ‘méng méng da’ is like a Chinese version of the kissing sound ‘muaahh’ .If something is cute and adorable, obviously you want to give it a kiss. Simple.
So when can we use it? Turns out that méng méng da’ is most often used as a means of self description. For example, my above mentioned friend often boldly says ‘I don’t look my age, I look 10 years younger because of my boy-ish face. I am so méng méng da !’ But you can also use it to describe other people’s behavior. As long as it falls into ‘cute’ category.
My Chinese teacher and our students often get the kick out of our heated ‘Mandarin competition’ and the tricks we will use to get ahead of each other. What is a serious matter to us, to them is just amusing ‘méng méng da laowais acting like kids themselves. I just hope that watching our ‘language battles’ the teachers’ pets won’t forget we are also there to teach something to them .And that their exam results depend also on their ESL preparation, not just following my order and depriving Matt of their Mandarin insight. No matter how méng méng da it seems to them.
The good news is, Spring Festival is almost here. The lucky ones will start enjoying their well deserved, long awaited break even this week. Everyone probably thinks of hitting some dreamy Asian beaches. Therefore, every girl needs to check her list of beach vacation basics: flawless manicure and pedicure – done; waxing – tick; summer clothes and bikini taken out of the bottom of the closet – check; spf minimum 30 for skin protection – bought. Looks like everything is ready…but..WAIT?! How about ….FACE- KINI ?!
Back in 2014, a powerful social group in China – called 大妈 dà mā or simply – ‘old grannies’ (yes – the same ones you see around 8 pm all over China taking over various squares to show off their dancing skills) came up with a one-of – a kind initiative. It was so arresting that it even gained a foothold in fancy French circles. First, though, a couple of reminders.
As I mentioned in one of my first episodes , the Chinese ideal of beauty is white skin. And rule number one to remember is’ yí bái zhē bǎi chǒu’ – white skin can hide hundreds of defects’. That’s why, especially during summer, cosmetic giants usually rub their hands, expecting to make millions on Chinese women ready to spend any amount just to keep their skin white. Well, that’s how it used to be until last year, when the dà mā gang launched their counter attack.. The clever grannies decided to change beach fashion forever. Not just in China , but worldwide, as it turns out. They designed a unique mask that covers a swimmer’s whole head and neck, down to the collar bones. Only eyes, nostrils and mouth get a peekaboo at the sun. This groundbreaking invention bears the name 脸基尼liǎn jī ní and consists of two words: 脸 liǎn – face and 基尼 jī ní – bikini and its Chinglish version goes ‘face-kini’. And it’s been on the mouth of every fashion freak in Paris ever since.
As I am blessed enough to begin my beach holiday this week, I will be keeping my eyes wide open to spot this intriguing new fad. Or maybe even equip myself with one liǎn jī ní, not to stand out of the crowd and keep my precious white skin intact. And while doing so, you all will get a 3 week break from Found in translation. I promise that I will stay vigilant and embark on all possible adventures to bring you a lot of fresh’no zuo no die’ style stories in the year of the sheep! So, get your liǎn jī ní on and enjoy the sunshine , wherever it is! See you in a bit!
The blissful holiday is over. We are back to the city of lights, back to our offices and schools. Facekinis need to wait for at least a couple of months at the bottom of our closets until they see sunshine and salty waters again. If you feel a bit down because of that, there is some good news: 1) Spring is almost here (cherry blossoms outside town are close to full bloom – I checked personally!) ; 2) We live in one of the world’s foremost metropolises which spoils us for choice of entertainment. Whatever hedonistic lifestyle you wish to have here, Shanghai will cater to you and even exceed your expectations. Till you get dizzy. But it hasn’t always been like this and the peculiar ‘living proof’ remains in the form what, back in the day, was the only way Chinese people could unwind.
A quick peek at the historical background to explain that: in 1949 modern China began. More than ten years later, General Mao put the Cultural Revolution into effect. During that time, smart individuals were sent to the countryside to spread the love for Chairman Mao and his visions. And it was there, in the rural areas, where Mao’s cohort witnessed how the peasants, not really excited about the extreme requirements for food production, relieved their fatigue. The key word was Yangge – a popular, traditional performance , practiced in the North during special celebrations on the agricultural calendar, like harvest time. And since fun has the biggest impact on people, the Communist Party tried to take advantage of it – they politicized Yangge, appropriating it to communicate their own messages. Its goal was also to relieve the tense relationship between the party and the people. Soon after they changed their minds, though, and Yangge was banned, just like any other forms of art. Fortunately, fun memories die hard and the generations who experienced the Cultural Revolution kept the tradition of collective dancing alive. So when China was born again thanks to Deng Xiaoping and his ‘gaige kaifang’ ( open policy ), the aging people who experienced Cultural Revolution in their teens didn’t hesitate for too long how they wanted to spend their found leisure time and keep fit. This is how 广场 – guǎng chǎng – square ; 舞 wǔ ( short form of 跳舞 – tiào wǔ) dancing – was born. Even now, no matter which Chinese city you visit – Shanghai, Beijing or Sanya – one thing they all have in common – guǎng chǎng wǔ is still a daily ritual. Every day between 7 and 8 at various squares, parks, or closed communities you will see them all – the tǔ háo ones and the humble diǎo sī, in their 50s and up, some even dressed to impress, gathered on a flat, paved area, ready to rock their grooving moves. Although the dance can be pretty much free styled, the space itself needs to meet quite a few criteria that were observed in a serious study on guǎng chǎng wǔ. The area needs to: 1) Be flat and paved 2) Have overhead lighting for nighttime dancing 3) Be large enough for 30 – 60 bodies 4) Have overhead protection from burning sunshine 5)Be an appropriate distance from residential areas or office buildings to avoid noise complaints 6) Include nearby facilities for resting 7) Have a special boundary to help create a sense of place 8) Be close to home 9) Be visible to spectators. Quite a few, right? And even though it always seems to be pretty much the same and some grumpy foreigners like one of my colleagues complain that guǎng chǎng wǔ performers ‘never improve and keep being clumsy even the 100th time he sees them’, to me it’s quite cool. Instead of giving up on the joy of life and spending all day at home , watching episode #1000 of some TV show like the pensioners tend to do in my country, here in China it’s like in a Whitney Houston song ’Clock strikes upon the hour and the sun begins to fade, still enough time to figure out how to chase my blues away(…), and when the night falls, the loneliness/ guǎng chǎng wǔ calls.’
Ok, laowais! Let’s have a quiz to check the level of your knowledge about this unique country we live in. What’s the animal symbol of this year according to Chinese calendar? Nobody really knows – correct! Weishenme is it ok to drive pink Ferrari wearing gold Gucci sweatsuit as ‘Xiao pingguo’ rumbles from the silver speakers? Just because ‘yǒu qián rènxìng,and you shall never question the fashion choices of the true tǔ hāo ! Fantastic, right answer again! Now – who is the REAL leader and ambassador of China? No, I am sorry – it’s not Yao Ming or Jackie Chan. The power is in female hands here. And although they haven’t made it to commercials yet, you HAVE seen them on daily basis. The facekini trendsetters and square dancing performers! World famous Bitcoin traders and Wall Street suppressors. The ‘driving force in the global gold market’. To those of you still scratching your heads and asking ‘Yyyyyy- shenmeee?’ – ladies and gentlemen – it’s about time you officially recognized and appreciated China’s one and only – Dà mā – 大妈 .大 is dà and means big and 妈 is the character for mā which is mother. So how do we recognize Chinese ‘ big mamas’ and how they became such a powerful group?
Dà mās are usually middle – aged women, in their 50s or 60s.The charismatic ladies that ‘wanna dance with somebody’ every night on numerous squares across China. Well,actually across the world because they already conquered some European cities, shaming elderly, local females with their spirit. Big mamas are in fact a bit like Shanghai – they are an amazing clash of Chinese tradition and modern lifestyle. On one hand they are still influenced by their culture and proudly serve their households. Especially that they totally nail the bargaining skills because still remember the times of poverty and hunger so they need to keep a tight grip on the family purse. But! On the other hand, they keep abreast of modern times – use Wechat , write micro blogs, read about their favorite celebrities on Weibo and buy things on Tao bao. And what you should know is that in April 2013 dà mās made headlines and probably got themselves at least one page in history books as they wreaked havoc on gold market and bought 300 TONS of gold worth 100 BILLION YUAN. Why? Well, just because global gold price experienced a steep fall, from $1550 an ounce to $1321 ounce. Since in Chinese culture gold , either the color or the metal, may represent the emperor or the endless wealth and collecting gold means collecting peace, luck and wealth, so the resourceful dà mā gang stepped into action. They even made the gold prices surge and remain steady for a while. And it did not end there…Later the same year South Korean Ministry of Land and Traffic got overwhelmed with the invasion of Chinese dà mās coming to see houses and lands for sale. Finally, guess who made inroads into Bitcoins – an oline currency which can be exchanged for any real currency in the world? Yes, not a difficult one – the dà mās. The bold ladies bought and sold 10 MILLION RMB worth bitcoins PER DAY even before the reporters made clear what the coins were.
Uff, pretty impressive, huh? It’s not surprising that The Wall Street Journal made ‘dà mā’ new term for this specific group of people who ‘panic purchase’ things and it also refers to the ‘rush to purchase’ phenomenon. So whether they want it or not, dà mās seem to be China’s very own celebrities. But after all, what can they and we all women do? Life is not easy, especially for a woman. So – as one particular dà mā of the pop stage sings ’Cause everybody’s living in a material world and I am a material girl, you know that we are living in a material world and I am a material girl’. Happy belated International Women’s day to all you brave women out there! Keep rocking!
So it happened – the first best friend I made in Shanghai – Ana – just left China. After all our shenanigans, our crazy, sleepless trips to Hong Kong, our sexy picture posing classes and more ( which one day will make it into my book), my favorite life mentor decided her mission in the Middle Kingdom is over. Her story will continue most probably in Mexico. But before she left, Ana finished her adventure in Shanghai eating an epic last supper with a circle of girlfriends. When Ana’s sister asked her how she pictured the very last night, Ana unhesitatingly replied ‘Just our old school style – street BBQ, chaomian and beers’. So 11 laowai girls and one representative of China ended up sitting by self arranged ( well, ok – with a bit of assistance of shao – kao’s shifu and his ‘equipment) tables on tiny stools in the center of French concession. There was no foreign or local passerby who walked past us without a mesmerized facial expression. But to us it felt just right, and we made sure to perpetuate the moments from different angles and positions with our smart phones and a selfie stick.
The next day, I came to work suffering from a lack of my 7 – hour beauty sleep and feeling a bit down. Although Ana was already in flight, I felt closure after posting pics of our Last Supper on WeChat. As soon as my new Chinese colleague spotted them, she commented ’Ohh, Gosia! You girls are女汉子 – nü han zi! I love this word! You should write about it next time!’ I answered, a bit confused, ‘Yyyy, but why? I have heard this word and as far as I remember it labeled a creepy picture of something that has a girl’s face attached to a man’s muscular torso and allegedly it’s a snapshot of a female Russian body builder contestant?! And look at all the girls in my picture?! All of us are rocking very feminine looks!’ My colleague Echo replied- ‘Oh, yes – it started like this, but now it also describes girls acting like boys – very independent and doing things like drinking beer right from the bottle’. Perplexed, I said ‘All right, thank you for inspiration!’ and went to dig deeper to check if me and all other participants of Ana’s last supper could really be seen as 女汉子 – nü han zi – which is the Chinese counterpart of ’ tomboy.’
女(nü) means’ a woman,’ and 汉子(han zi) stands for ‘man,fellow’. Further ‘study’ revealed why my colleague and probably all Chinese people passing us that night might have thought ‘These laowai girls are such nü hàn zi!’ Turns out nowadays a ‘tomboy’ in China is the total opposite of the traditional ‘soft and submissive’ Chinese female – she is firm , decisive, open-minded, independent and responsible. And in modern China such ladies are on the rise – they are highly educated, highly paid and highly independent. In big cities dominated by men, they compete on equal terms. Work hard and play hard. And although already in their late 20s or even 30s, they are very frequently unattached, belting out Queen B ’Up in the club, just broke up, doing their own little thing’ . There is even a list of 20 items that make a girl a true nü han zi, and according to some anonymous source, if you meet 10 of them, then nü han zi you are! I checked carefully, and to be precise, I meet 9, including things like : eating an apple with the peel on, carrying my own luggage while traveling, and ordering big portions of food even in the presence of men ( and if I am super hungry, I won’t even let them sample it!) But I fail to meet criteria like #8 (She loves playing computer/online games), #13 (She thinks it’s a hassle to go shopping), or #14 (She seldom visits hair salons, nail salons and beauty salons).
I remember my grandma always told me that ‘a girl should be able to pray, dance and be tough if necessary’. I grew up in Poland, which underwent 3 partitions and a bout of martial law. Although I didn’t experience those times myself, they certainly did influence older generations. So my grandmother taught me that a woman should be prepared for any circumstances, but that doesn’t make her any less attractive.
That’s why I probably always end up surrounded by nü hàn zi from all over the world: either they are the wives of fishing boat captains with great hammer–wielding skills; seemingly fragile painters who put you at a loss for words after telling you ’If you upset my friend, I will make your life f….ing miserable’; chemical engineers who, in reference to relationship issues ,say ‘If he turns out to be an ass again, tell him I can make a person disappear and nobody knows what happened’; or fearless businesswomen who decide to change their whole life and celebrate it unscrewing a beer bottle with perfectly manicured red nails. I am proud to be their friend and proud to be ‘almost’ nü hàn zi. I bet my grandma would be too.
During my early education times, despite my ‘nerd’ accolade from my classmates, my pastimes were no different from any other teenage girl growing up in the 90s. That included reading the 90’s classic ‘BravoGIRL’, exchanging the posters you could find inside, and of course discovering ‘the truth’ about myself through the weekly ‘personality tests’ inside each issue. My best friend and I would spend hours at the bus stop on our way back home, feverishly answering the test questions, dying to know ‘Which Spice girl you are’ or ‘Which one of the Backstreet boys member would be a perfect boyfriend for you’. Thanks to those broad reads, combined with my methodology classes at university, I feel that I am eligible to create a one-question test to help you find out a new ‘truth’ about yourself: ”Which one of the 3 ‘made – in – China’ attitudes do you have?”.Here it comes:
It’s Monday morning, not long after Halloween. Your colleague is working with his/her costume still on. Do you….
a) Scold him/her, saying’ Pffff, you are SO unprofessional! Where do you think you are!? I just can’t f…ing believe it?!
b) Come over , but not too close though, to check it out and murmur under your nose ’Hmm, that’s interesting’ with a smirk on your face, and quickly run back to your desk before anyone notices your slightest interest.
c) Ask your colleague if you can wear the costume after lunch and which Taobao shop sells it?
If you answered A, then you can consider yourself 高冷 – gāo lěng . 高 gāo means ‘high’ and here is a part of a Chinese word ’高贵 gāo guì – noble. 冷lěng means ‘cold’ and here is part of the Chinese expression 冷艳 – lěng yàn – which translates into ‘cool elegant and magnificent’. So if a Chinese person tells you ’Oh, you are a total ‘gāo lěng’ – it means you come off to them as a ‘cold diva’( both male or female) always looking down on others and sniffing blatantly with disapproval whenever they don’t fulfill your tall orders.
If you went for answer B, then you represent the 闷 骚 mēn sāo – 闷 mēn means ‘cover tightly’ or ‘shut indoors’, and 骚 sāo – according to my trusted sources ( my Chinese colleague and precious students ) stands for ‘sexy and wild’. Other meanings are the quite related ‘rumpus, coquettish, flirty’. The 闷 骚 mēn sāo type is more than eager to do crazy things, but they ‘shut it indoors’ and don’t really want others to realize their wild self. They choose to hide in sedate ‘armour’.
Finally, if you choose C and you would be totally willing to roam your office in last night’s Halloween costume or you have no problem sporting, let’s say, a face kini and joining DaMas in their square dancing, then you are definitely 逗比dòu bǐ. 逗dòu comes from the expression 逗趣 which means dòu qù – amuse,make somebody laugh ,tease’ and 比 bǐ is actually a more ’socially approved and decent’ version which sounds the same, as my colleague let me in on the secret, the vulgar word 屄 bī – a vulgar way to describe the female sexual organ. At the beginning dòu bī carried a derogatory meaning referring to some people we would call ‘creepy’. But since 屄 got replaced by 比 , dòu bǐ can be used among friends for those who, regardless of day or time, will always jeopardize their reputation for the sake of having fun.
If you ask me, I have undergone the evolution, probably because of my life’s turns and adventures, from cold gāo lěng in my early teens, through second – guessing mēn sāo to dòu bǐ , wearing blue wigs, humongous black wings and irritating my gāo lěng colleagues with my ‘unacceaptable behavior!’ . I always blame my Polish hairstylist for setting free my inner dòu bǐ, though , when one day he turned me from my natural,almost Asian black haired good girl into a red head and said ‘Now, THIS is the REAL you!’ And how about you? Which type describes you best?
Confession time – before I came to China, my knowledge of this country had been on the same level as that of my math and science – limited and measly. And very prejudiced. My only excuse is that unless you come to live here, you are just one of the ‘outsiders’ who have no idea about the ‘life’s daily blessings’ in the land of rice and noodles. By this I mean taking weekly cheap massage sessions for granted or almost royal treatment for owners of the ‘lucky’ set : white skin, blue eyes and blonde hair. Instead, I had been one of those people whose first association upon hearing ‘China’, is ‘fake’.My life in Shanghai and travels around the PRC ‘educated’ me and shed a completely new light on its picture in my mind. However, the ‘fake element’ did not evaporate. It turns out that Chinese people raised their mastery of counterfeit products to a whole new level, as since 2013, after fake Armani bags or fake Converse sneakers, the next ‘big thing’ has been…FAKE DIVORCE known as 假离婚. 假 means jiǎ – fake and 离婚 – líhūn – divorce.
Why? First, brief ‘contemporary history’ note. In March 2013, in order to control housing prices, the State Council announced that those who owned more than one apartment would have to pay 20% tax on the capital gains when they sold the second house (when previously it was just 1 to 2 %). And if that wasn’t enough, banks in Shanghai were banned from granting loans for buying a third home, and in Beijing an individual could purchase ONLY 1 home. BUT! Necessity is the mother of invention. Especially in China. Resourceful citizens, anxious to allocate loads of Mao ye-ye-s in real estate, had been thinking so intensively, that they discovered how to act ‘outside the box’ – or rather ‘outside the marriage’. The loophole in this vicious law allowed the couple to avoid higher tax if they split up, so after divorce (which btw costs just a FEW YUAN!) each ex-spouse could own one house. And that’s not all – following líhūn, one individual can freely and ‘generously’ transfer home ownership to the ex-spouse AND even purchase a new house as a first time buyer ( which frequently comes with incentives). Next steps – sell one property, and then just romantically – remarry. Simple as that. According to Reuters, in early March of 2013 in just one of Shanghai’s districts 53 couples filed for divorce. And last year, a grand total of 53, 244 couples ‘happily’ divorced in Shanghai. It’s no longer weddings or birthday parties in China, but the jiǎ líhūn days that became the most joyful events attracting the attendance of the entire family.
Shocking? Well, whenever I tell one of my friends in Poland about the ‘highlights’ of life in China, she tells me ‘Wow, look – those Chinese people – so creative! We have a great deal to learn from them.’ She is right. Last summer I was looking for a pair of nude color ballerina shoes at the fake market ( the only place where I have a BIG choice for my size 39).In one store I came across a pair that immediately appealed to me, but unfortunately size 38. And at first I was informed they didn’t come in bigger size. Seeing my huge disappointment, the shop assistant said ‘Wait, I will check again’. And disappeared with the shoes I tried on. After 5 minutes he came back and gave me a ’new’ pair saying ‘I found it! It is 39!’ Partly happy, but partly suspicious at the sudden turn of events, I tried the shoe on. But somehow it still felt like 38. I checked the sole of the shoe to see the size on it. There was a sticker there in black on white – 39. Some little hunch ‘told’ me, though, to peel it. Turned out, the resourceful gentleman didn’t have my size, so he just ‘created’ it within seconds and thought it would work as placebo for my desire to have that particular shoe and I would feel it really fit. Instead of getting angry, that man made my day and I just couldn’t stop laughing all the way back home.
One of the most advanced pieces of knowledge about China I learned that makes up for my embarrassing ignorance from few years before, is that it never fails to prove one thing – whether it is a fake shoe size or a fake divorce in the face of government restrictions – where there is a will and/or money, in China, there IS a way!
Tea – the 5000-year-old staple of Chinese culture. Engine of economic development. Embodiment of the spirit of civilization, and the spirit of Chinese ideological form. Since 2737 BCE, when first discovered by the legendary Chinese emperor Shennong, it has gained popularity in its various types, colors and smells. Tea, or maybe its resourceful producers, has also kept up with the times, becoming an essential element of ‘forever young recipe’ beauty products, promising women worldwide to keep their 20 – something look intact as well as save their bodies from dreaded gain weight. I – personally – have become addicted to rose bud tea and I hadn’t been able to imagine that this magical, timeless drink might have any conceivable negative connotations. I couldn’t be more wrong.
Chinese netizens will spare no effort to change everything you could believe in. Including innocent tea. And in 2013 , between March and April ,they marred the flawless reputation of green tea by coining the term ‘green tea bitch.’
In Chinese 绿茶婊 – lǜ chá biǎo. 绿 stands for lǜ – green, 茶 – chá – tea and 婊 – biǎo – bitch or slut.
Why did green tea ‘deserve’ to be defiled as such? Lǜ chá has always had the reputation for being’ clean, pure, quiet and sophisticated’ and the ‘green tea bitch’ , in general, pretends to be pure and innocent but in fact is manipulative and calculating .That’s in general , of course, because as all Weibo – based neologisms, there is a long list of conditions to be fulfilled , where the top 3 factors to recognize lǜ chá biǎo are as follows: ‘Normally keeps long straight hair with bangs or parted in the middle’, ‘Skin color tends to be on the paler side. Most of them aren’t drop dead gorgeous but not ugly either’ and ‘Their favorite expression is to open their eyes wide and look at people ( especially men) cluelessly.’
When it comes to typical behavior, here are some top items on the check list :’ When at a dinner party, always sits next to a male friend, after 3 rounds of wine or beer, always has an arm around her waist, and still has the most innocent look on her face as if she has no idea what happened’ ; ‘When eating out, she takes 2 bites and says: “OMG I’m such a pig!’’ You suddenly realize your boyfriend somehow friended her on Facebook, they follow each other on twitter, he has her phone number… and they actually have a lot of chats and you have no idea how they even know each other, congratulations, you have a GTB friend’’ She speaks softly and weakly, as if she hasn’t eaten for 3 days and ‘Their favorite lines: “Oh I’m so stupid!”, “Oh I’m so clumsy”’.
The phenomenon is so serious that netizens even pointed out the archetype of ‘green tea bitch’ – Lin Huyin – a famous Chinese poet, architect and writer from the beginning of 20th century. Allegedly, Miss Lin , despite plain looks, was successful , ambitious and managed to conquer the hearts of quite a few rich and talented men.
My further studies led to a discovery that next to ‘lǜ chá biǎo ‘ , China ‘proudly’ sports at least 3 more types of ‘biǎo’ :’coffee bitch’咖啡婊kā fēi biǎo – for ‘high end office ladies who constantly mix English with Chinese, dress only according to the latest fashion and love to snap selfies in fancy restaurants or at sunny beaches’; ‘red tea bitch’红茶婊 – hóng chá biǎo – a promiscuous girl who smokes, drinks , overuses eyeliner and wears low cut clothes showing her cleavage’ ; ‘milk tea bitch’ – 奶茶婊 – nǎi chá biǎo – ‘ a kind of woman who talks in a girlish voice and has extremely sweet looks, always kind to everyone around but the reason behind it is to attract men who will give her presents that she will kindly accept’.
Turns out that just like tea, Chinese feminine roles and images have undergone a significant revolution. In Mao’s China they were supposed to be asexual and serve the collective but with the 1990’s came a drastic change. China’s social environment was, and still is, more than willing to change and Western influence played major role helping women drop the ‘constraining chains of Cultural revolution’ and raise awareness of Chinese femininity. But the ever brutal internet has taken the derogatory road in this process. Fortunately, many strong nǚ hàn zǐ have wrestled the matter back into their own hands by kicking off anti-bitch campaign. Be careful when calling them any type of ‘biǎo’ drink, because they will not hesitate to counter you with ‘ Not your tea, not your bitch!’
The dating scene in Shanghai creates the hard knock life for us – stead of treated…we get tricked, stead of kisses…we get kicked. That’s the ugly truth and last week, during one of my morning survival drills aka work commute, I came across an article that shattered all remaining illusions. It revealed 13 stages of dating in Shanghai, where you commence as a happy single, go through your share of encounters, and when you finally thought you found the one, the impermanence of people’s lifestyles here leaves you convinced that you are going to die alone. Ouch, the author seems to come from a school of hard knocks indeed!
However! There is a way to stretch the game out and those who seem to have mastered the skill are none others than the infamous green tea bitches. The resourceful ladies always keep a bunch of bèi tāi guys in close vicinity.Bèi tāi- 备胎 – literally means ‘spare tire’ and in China by no means does it refer to skin surplus issues.
Chinese spare tire aka bèi tāi is a ‘temporary lover’ and although it can refer to both men and women, it is usually guys who fall bèi tāi ‘victims’ to stone hearted lǜ chá biǎos. Bèi tāi never gets to be declared as an official boyfriend. He complies with the fact that as soon as his love interest finds a long – term partner, he will be put on hold, and he realizes that he is just one of many spare tires in her entourage. That’s because merely one bèi tāi can’t fulfill all her requirements, so they will be assigned distinctive functions for their green tea bitch master: one will bring her lunch, one will help with her homework, one will walk her home, one will fix her computer…
There is a ‘subcategory’ of bèi tāi. My students explained to me that, as much as bèi tāi is in quite a predicament, it is still not as hopeless as qiānjīndǐng – 千斤顶– which literally means ‘jack’. They explained it to me this way’ You know, to use a spare tire, you need to use a jack first to get it out. But while the spare tire, once taken out from the storage spot, might be used for quite a long time, you need the jack very rarely and for a short period of time. Then you forget about it until the next emergency’. So while the bèi tāi has the potential to become the new, main tire, qiānjīndǐng knows clearly that he will never be graced with the ‘boyfriend’ status. Nevertheless, he will still be there and show up at any conceivable emergency she might have.
Living in the humongous urban jungle called Shanghai is not easy. In a perfect world we would all just ‘be kind and have courage’ like Cinderella to deal with all the hard knocks. But in reality, when all your hopes of finding the right significant other get razed to the ground and ‘the situation ain’t improving’, you can either :a) become depressed feeling like you want to ‘murder everything moving’ OR b) get yourself some bèi tāis, so that, when you have one of those days in Shanghai when you feel like the city overwhelms you with its 99 problems, then at least loneliness/dating won’t be one.
Good news – especially for big fans of dropping F-bombs. It is official and scientifically proven – swearing is good for you!
During my tedious 5 year study of applied psychology I learned that there are many coping styles and strategies for dealing with stress. Among the most popular and most effective ones are: humor, relaxation, seeking support , physical recreation and now also….cursing! And so that you wouldn’t accuse me of empty theories here, google /baidu the psychologists from England’s Keele university, who found that cursing is ‘a harmless emotional release and can make you feel stronger and more resilient’. And it can even relieve pain!
Very true. I can say from my own experience, that, for example – whenever my love/hate relationship with China happens to be more on the hate side – you know – one of those days when you , let’s say , immediately need a taxi. It’s raining and you desperately need to be at the airport/railway station well in advance, you are running out of time and the taxi – shifus don’t notice your existence, the juicy ‘F’ bomb (well – in my case – Polish K – bomb, because somehow it is more powerful to me) will help me vent all the negative emotions I might have in such moment.
However, since we are in China, it would be good for all of us to know how the locals release their daily frustrations – maybe their use will turn out more effective than those you have been employing so far!
Here’s the list of 5 most useful/popular ones, necessary for our survival Chinese :
我操 – wǒcào – where the second character means ‘fuck’. Some common variants of this character include 草 (“cao”) or 靠 (“kao”).The use of this one is exactly the same as the precious English ‘F bomb’, however to me still loses to my Polish counterpart – ‘kurva’, also appreciated by some foreigners.
傻屄 – shǎbī – imagine – It’s 2 or 3 am,super cold or rainy and a drunk crowd is waiting outside on the Bund, trying to get a taxi. If you implement your evil plot and jump out of nowhere, stealing the cab just right in front of someone, then – assuming the person was Chinese – expect to be called ‘shǎbī’ – that means for them you are ‘stupid cunt/asshole’
滚开/ 滚蛋- gǔnkāi /gǔndàn (dàn is ruder than kāi according to my trusted source) – Again, picture the above Bund situation. If you feel the need to defend your ‘honor’ for being called ‘shǎbī’ , you might want to shout back gǔnkāi /gǔndàn or just ‘gǔn’ – – which alone is more powerful than when assisted by kāi/ dàn and simply means ‘fuck off!’ Just be sure that first you lock the door.
放屁- fàngpì – Picture this – You are at the fake market and there is this nice bag you want to buy for 80 RMB. The vendor keeps telling you it is real leather and won’t go down below 300 RMB, calling you ‘my friend’. You are so frustrated that you walk away, and he/she says’ ok, ok – 290!’ then you could ease the pain of your mental disappointment saying ‘fàngpì ‘ which stands for ‘nonsense/bullshit’ ( although the literal translation means ‘fart’).
脑残 / 脑子进 水– nǎocán/ nǎo zi jìn shuǐ. The best example for the use. Imagine – it is summer, 35 degrees – you just parked your bike for a minute outside Family Mart to grab some nice, cold water. You get out only to see a person walking away with your vehicle, telling you it is theirs. After the first shock, and before you run to claim what is rightfully yours, you can say ‘nǎocán,’ which means that the self proclaimed , new bike’owner’ is retarded ( the character 脑 stands for brain’and 残 means incomplete, destroy and the full meaning is ‘brain dead/shithead’) Or nǎo zi jìn shuǐ – where nǎo zi means ‘brain’ and ‘jìn shuǐ’ – ‘water inside’.
Timothy Jay – a psychologist who devoted 35 years (!) of his life to the studies our use of profanities – explains that cursing is more than just the release of aggression . “It allows us to vent or express anger, joy, surprise, happiness,” he remarks. “It’s like the horn on your car, you can do a lot of things with that, it’s built into you.” Well, and obviously – get used to a new culture, he forgot to add.
Since the whole world just celebrated Labor day with a blissful 3-day weekend, this episode will be dedicated to our dear, life keeping work.
Before we could start our long awaited holiday, my colleagues and I had to attend our least favorite part of the week: the staff meeting. And this time we were surprised by the presence of a humble looking female guest. Turned out the lady came to tell us about internship opportunities for our dear young tǔ háo students, to help them understand what lives of real working people look like. And her zealous speech revolved around her own son – a half Chinese/half American – who, thanks to the internship found by his thrifty mom ,at the age of 21 was hired to manage a restaurant abroad. Well, that’s one lucky young man – because thanks to his far sighted mother he managed to avoid the grim fate faced by the post 80-s generation in China – the ants. Also called ‘antizens’ or ‘the ant tribe’ and in Chinese called 蚁族 – the first character 蚁 – yǐ – ant and 族 – zú – clan.
So why is it an anti – Chinese dream to belong to the clan of ants?? Here’s the background.
As you can see on a daily basis, China has a lot of people. Probably even more than we see at People’s Square subway station during rush hour. And a big percent of them are young generations of college graduates who, in search of better life, storm the big cities – particularly Beijing , Guangzhou, Xi’an, Chongqing, Taiyuan, Zhengzhou and Nanjing. However the lifestyle they find there would put all the self –proclaimed hard knock life rappers to shame. The young Chinese migrants, despite their university diplomas and intelligence, end up getting unstable jobs that pay below 2,000 RMB per month. Therefore the only accommodation they can afford are shabby houses with tiny rooms, all inhabited by people who share the same sad fortune. The phenomenon was described in a book about China’s post 80s generation by Lian Si . He is the one behind the term ‘yǐ zú’ – ‘antizen’. The discerning Mr Si points out that just like ants, ‘they live in colonies in cramped spaces; they’re intelligent, hardworking, yet anonymous and underpaid’. And China’s very own ‘Blue book’ about the country’s talent counted that the number of antizens in big cities adds up to a whopping 1 million.
Back to the staff meeting. Our guest’s overwhelming attitude has driven me to meditate. I’m floating down a memory, when suddenly her long finger is pointed at me. “And what do YOU think about it?!?!”
In order to avoid longer discussion and an even more elongated speech, I just say ’Oh, it’s a brilliant idea’ and return to my reverie. But I think to myself ’Is it really these over- privileged kids here that need Coca – Cola’s factory to open their fairyland red-and-white gates for the sake of bettering their future?”
Well, we don’t have the power nor the position to change the whole of China, and our staff meetings are not long enough for that either. Let’s hope that Mr XiJingping and his circle hold equally thought provoking employee gatherings , where some charismatic figure will also point a finger at the better future of the yǐ zú.
‘Never expect anything from anyone, Gosia. See – this is your problem. You are so tough on yourself . Therefore you expect a lot from others so you end up feeling disappointed or worse when they fail’.That’s what my friend Ana – already back in the land of tequila – has been trying to make me realize. What can I say? I know she is right, but it is really hard not to get your hopes really high sometimes. Whether about a man who reassures you of his sincere feelings, a new internet network in your office touted as ‘fast and furious and the best in all Shanghai’, or a trip to dream land where everyone eats rainbows and digests them into butterflies. And when reality comes knocking, you may either be painfully smacked down, take it with peace and dignity or…create a phrase that the whole wide world – even French people – would adopt. Just like what happened to the Monkey King, in the Chinese adaptation of Japan’s comedic anime film, ‘Journey to the West’. As the voyage came to an end, the disillusioned Monkey King exclaimed ’This is India? It does not gěi lì, teacher!’
Whoever equipped him with these two humble characters : 给 – gěi – give and 力- lì- power, strength – definitely had not expected that this phrase 不给力- bù gěi lì would be adopted into both the Chinglish and Frenchese lexicons.. This is how it unfolded:
1) In the mouth of the Monkey King, 不给力- bù gěi lì initially meant that India, after their long journey, fell short of their expectations.
2) Soon after that, a Shanghai-based magazine coined the Chinglish ‘ungelivable’ ,meaning – dull, boring,disappointing
3) Then 给力 escaped 不 and became the Chinese double of ‘cool/ awesome’, and even gained the highest of buzz word glory when China daily featured it on the front page, albeit with a slightly changed meaning (empower) – This was the first slang ever approved by the CPC for use in the paper..
4) Delighted netizens got so empowered themselves that eventually gěi lì evolved into the word ‘gelivable’ and morphed into the Frenchese phrase, ‘très guélile’ – ‘so geili and so cool’.
That’s in short a story of how one’s dashed hopes can be productively salvaged. But of course, unless you are an anime character, having expectations is risky business and disappointment is its frequent consequence. Frequent, but not constant!
When I was coming to Shanghai from wild, wild Chengdu with a single suitcase, wearing a t-shirt and sweatpants, on a 37-hour train I was bursting with high expectations about my destination. I will never forget how I felt when I got out of the taxi in downtown in Jingan on a beautiful mid-October day. Had I been more seasoned Chinese learner by then, instead of texting my Mandarin teacher ‘I Survived!’,I would have proclaimed ‘This is Shanghai? It SO DOES gěi lì, teacher!
Now this is the story all about how one 中国人’s life got flipped turned upside down, and I’d like to take a minute just sit right there I’ll tell you how he coined a new buzz word finding out rice dumplings come from …where?!
But first, a brief note on the Zongzi- 粽子 – one of Chinese staples. Glutinous rice stuffed with different fillings and wrapped in bamboo, reed, or other large flat leaves. Cooked by steaming or boiling. Named ‘rice dumplings’ or ‘sticky rice dumplings’ by its Western cultists. Soon they will lurk in every street corner as they are traditionally eaten during the incoming Dragon Boat Festival next month – Duānwǔjie.
So what is the jaw dropping story behind Zongzi’s origin? As the local tale goes, once upon a time in ancient China there lived a famous poet Qu Yuan. In Chu kingdom born and raised, in Warring States period spent most of his days. No chillin’ out relaxin’ he could, but worked as an official for the King Huai, who Chu kingdom ruled. When a couple of corrupt ministers who were up to no good, started making trouble in the ‘neighborhood’, poor Qu got framed and as a result of the plan, King Huai exiled him to the north of River Han.Yet, king deliberated day after day and asked Qu to pack his suitcase and sent him back his way. King gave Qu a new position and to Qi state ticket, he thought ’reunite Chu and Qi ? I might as well kick it!’ Then the next king came and, yo, this was bad – Qu fell a victim to another politician’s attack. That prime minister wanted Qu to vanish so to Yangze River the poet got banished. As the days and months passed in the exile, Qu’s worries made him meager and sullen. And one day very bad news came near – Qi general defeated Chu’s capital for real. That was enough for troubled old man – to express his deep grief he got hold of his pen and vented in his very last thing – a poem widely known as ‘Lament for Ying’’. Looking at his fallen kingdom he felt such a despair, that no longer wanted to exist anywhere. Holding a rock, in Miluo river he waded, protesting against the era by corruption devastated. And to keep Qu’s body unscathed, wary locals thought it had no price, they threw to the river leafy packets of rice to drive scavenging fish away.
And when one day a Chinese student heard this story, it overwhelmed him so much that he choked out the phrase我 和我的 小 伙伴 们 惊呆 了’- wǒ hé wǒ de xiǎo huǒ bàn jīng dāi le; and the translation is ‘我 – wǒ’ – I , ‘和- hé – with’’ 我的 – my’ ‘ 小 伙伴 们- small companions’ ‘惊呆 了-jīngdāi le-stunned/stupefied’. To make it sound more grammatically correct , it goes ‘My little friends and I are shocked’. Chinese internet loved it from the word go , just as the time went by, the full sentence lost its length and shrinked into ‘我伙呆’ – ‘wǒ huǒ dāi ‘ to become the China – famed shocked response to hot or a new fact. However, when I confirmed with my Chinese colleague the other day, she explained to me that the updated version goes simply ‘惊呆 了- jīng dāi le’.
All right, maybe the story took more than a minute, but now I hope that the origin of zonzi 粽子 is clear and you won’t forget how’ jīng dāi le’ came here. If anything I can say the story is rare and next time you eat rice dumplings you will feel more aware.