A Graffiti Theory on Love

I feel like this message is not something you’d see in American graffiti:



It reads:


Àiqíng zuìzhōng mùdì shì hūnyīn

The ultimate goal of love is marriage

Hmmmm, not hard to guess the story behind that one.

The same graffiti “artist” seems to have left this as well:


幸好 is a word meaning “fortunately”, but the final character ( on ?) appears to not exist? The character comes close.…

How I Learned Chinese (part 4)

It seems to have become a tradition of mine to drag this series out over years and years, but this part should be the last one I need to write for quite some time. Just a quick sum up:

  • Part 1 (2007): How I got started in Chinese in college
  • Part 2 (2007): How I coped with no one understanding me after arriving in China, and how I got to a decent (intermediate) level of Chinese
  • Part 3

Can Chinese Names and English Names Co-exist?

I recent saw this question on Quora and liked the following answer by Raj Bhuptani:

Do Americans prefer that Chinese people use their original Chinese name or an English name?

I think either name is fine, but personally something that annoys me is when a Chinese person gives his Chinese name to his Chinese friends and his English name to his non-Chinese friends. The reason for using an English name should be that you prefer the English name, not that

McDonalds Getting its Pun on

I spotted a punny McDonalds ad in the subway yesterday that might not be obvious to a lot of learners:


The ad presupposes knowledge of the word 充电宝, which is a pretty recent word, and isn’t in a lot of dictionaries yet. 充电 means “to recharge” (electricity, but sometimes metaphorically as well). means “treasure” and is also used in the common word for “baby” (宝宝), but here it just means “thing.” 充电器 already means “charger” (for …

More Effort Means More Learning

This answer seems obvious to me, but I’m still asked this question often enough that it’s worth a public answer.

Q: What do you think about just downloading an HSK vocabulary deck for my flashcard app and learning vocabulary that way?

A: That’s a pretty terrible way to learn Chinese, even if you can accept that it’s just mindless vocabulary acquisition and not really “learning Chinese.”


Q: What? Why?

A: I’m glad you asked…

  1. Unless you’re studying for the test,

Upgrading Self-Introductions

Remember when you first started studying Chinese? The teacher always made you introduce yourself. It usually consisted of something like the following:


Photo by zhengdzi on Flickr

  • My name is _________.
  • I am from _________.
  • I am _________ years old.

It’s all very cute and practical, and instinctively seems appropriate to both beginners in a language as well as three-year-old native speakers. This type of basic self-introduction is generally accepted as normal and necessary.

Unfortunately, this self-introduction (自我介绍 in …

“True Detective” in Chinese is Sneaky

I just finished Season 2 of the bleak HBO TV series True Detective, and enjoyed it (although it depressed me a bit). I’ve had a few discussions with Chinese friends about the show, and I realized that the Chinese name of the show is worth a mention.


So the Chinese name of the show is 真探. The word for “detective” in Chinese is 侦探. Notice that both are pronounced exactly the same: “zhēn tàn.”

So if you’re …

Monkey King: Hero Is Back and Cultural Gaps


I recently watched a Chinese movie called Monkey King: Hero Is Back in English, or 大圣归来 (Da Sheng Guilai) in Chinese (full name: 西游记之大圣归来). The name 大圣 is short for 齐天大圣, which is another name for 孙悟空, the “Monkey King” character from Journey to the West (西游记).

Have I lost you yet? This is actually a pretty good movie, with high-quality animation, but it’s written for a Chinese audience, and as such has …

A “Home” for Escher in Chinese Design

Here’s a poster I spotted in a mall recently:


The character there is , meaning “house,” “home,” or sometimes even “family.”

The first thing I noticed was its Escher-like quality, updated to a modern aesthetic. (Reminded me of Monument Valley even more than Escher directly, actually.) Very cool, and not something I see much in China, for sure!

The second thing I noticed was that the stylized character on the poster is missing a few strokes. If this …

Steve Jobs Ice Cream in Shanghai

Passing by Chinese “Italian-style” ice cream shop “Iceason” with a friend yesterday, we were startled to see an ad featuring “3D printed” ice cream bars in the likeness of the late Steve Jobs:



Steve Jobs Ice Cream

The surname “Jobs” is normally written in Chinese as “乔布斯,” or “Qiaobusi” in pinyin (a transliteration, where the characters are chosen for phonetic value only, and essentially have no meaning). For this ice cream bar, it’s written as “乔不死,” …

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