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  Beijing Scene


Don't get me wrong, the Comrade is lao beijing (an old Beijing-er), but I do know a thing or two about the "City on the Sea." Many of you laowai working in China undoubtedly find yourselves shuttling back and forth between Beijing and Shanghai more frequently than a laotou (old geezer) goes to the cesuo (bathroom). I have some foreign friends who have collected enough of those little packets of salted apricots, plastic grapes, model airplanes and key chains to open their own xiaomaibu (corner store).

Even if you haven't been to Shanghai, you've probably heard that it is poised to regain its status as the financial center of the universe early in the next century. If you have been to Shanghai then you know that there are cities in China with more than four tall buildings and four highways.

Assuming that you're trying to learn Chinese while you're here (perish the thought), why not endeavor to broaden your linguistic horizons and try to pick up a dialect, too. After all, as the saying goes: xuehai wuya ("learning is as boundless as the sea"). Pointless as it may seem, one benefit of studying Chinese dialects is that you will almost certainly shunbian (lit. on the way, in the process) expand your Mandarin vocabulary.

Most dialects employ the use of words that are not commonly used in putonghua, but can come in handy as synonyms when you're trying not to sound redundant in Mandarin or when you want to impress friends and colleagues with your sophisticated vocabulary. For example, instead of simply calling someone erbaiwu (lit. two hundred and fifty, or slang for idiot) you can use the quintessential southern shisandian or 13:00, thus displaying your savoir faire.

What better dialect to tackle than shanghaihua (sang hai ay woo in the vernacular)? Never mind Cantonese. If you can scream unintelligibly at the top of your lungs then you actually already speak Cantonese. Below is a list of 25 commonly-used words and expressions (there were 100, but I decided to exclude the curses in deference to my family audience) in both Shanghai dialect and Mandarin. The pinyin for the Shanghainese words is meant as a guide only. There's no official system of romanization for Shanghai dialect, so anything goes. Note: The vowel sounds at the end of Shanghainese words are spoken very abruptly. There are no tone marks because the use of tones in Shanghainese does not adhere to specific rules the way that Mandarin does.

FYI: Shanghainese also has its infamous faux pas equivalent of U.S. President John F. Kennedy's declaration "Ich Bin Ein Berliner" ("I am a jelly doughnut" rather than "I am a Berliner"). A Western male denizen of the erstwhile Pearl of the Orient is persistently pursuing the affections of a young Shanghainese woman. She is giving what he thinks are mixed signals by pushing him away while simultaneously uttering: "I love you."

The Shanghai guniang (girl) is actually saying: ala va yao and meaning "I don't want you/shove off."

Here are more interesting facts about Shanghai dialect:
* In Shanghai, you don't "drink" beverages or "smoke" cigarettes. You "eat" them both!

* An effeminate man can be described as having "the voice of an empress" niangniangqiang.

* Say the English letter "w." You just said "bump on the head" in Shanghai dialect.

* In putonghua, bu san bu si ("neither three nor four"), which means "suspicious," becomes bu er bu san or "neither two nor three" in Shanghai dialect.

* In Shanghainese, the word mian kong (lit. hole in the face) is used to mean "face" instead of lian.

* In Mandarin, you shou bu liao "can't stand it." In Shanghainese, you chi bu xiao "can't digest it."

* A thief in Shanghai is called zei gu tou "wicked bones."

* Don't accept an invitation from a Shanghainese to "eat life" qing ni chi shenghuo means to beat the hell out of you.

* The Shanghainese word lin bu qing basically means "clueless" or "can't take a hint."

Now you're ready to go down to Shanghai and wow 'em with your newfound knowledge. While you're in Beijing, be sure to zhao le (lit. find joy, or slang for have fun). But when you get to Shanghai, it's time to xun kaixin!
(seek happiness).

P.S. Be careful how you pronounce the word gangbi (Hong Kong dollars), and don't tell anyone to gan lu (hurry up)-just trust me!

Shanghai Dialect Mandarin English
nong hou nihao Hi!
jie gun
lihai potent; fierce
niu tong
shebu de can't (bear to)
xio te zhidao to know
hu xi xihuan to like
long dang hutong alley
dang xuexiao school
ba xiang wanr to hang out
dang yang la guan men le the door's closed
mou mou yu xiaocair no sweat
ce yang xiang diulian to lose face
va de ga meiguan xi it doesn't matter
do mu lu guangjie go shopping
li ba
xngqi week
cou mei dou daomei to be screwed
ia jie la gaile maor awesome
jin zou jintian today
zou dou gay chufang kitchen
lou zou yiqian before
kun go shuijiao sleep
lou di zi cong qian before; in the past
cou qi taoyan annoying
jia de cu zixing che bicycle
zei wei zaijian Bye!

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