surfer, muppet, gun, redrum, fist
I recently stumbled across Copperpoint’s awesome reference to the Chinese “hand gestures” for numbers 6 through 10 (via Meg). I felt the method really needed a visual aid, so I took the liberty of creating one (complete with an awesome Shanghai background). I also realized that if Copperpoint’s message was to be taken from just funny to useful, it needed some more mnemonics connecting the gestures with the numbers and/or the Chinese words for them. So I took the liberty of creating those as well. It was a bit of a stretch in some cases, but here we go anyway…
Surfer. The surfers in Hawaii make this hand gesture, which means “hang loose.” So while the surfers are hangin’ loose in Hawaii, you can be hangin’ liùs in a Chinese market (liù means 6). Also, the numeral “6” looks sort of like a growing wave (whereas “9” looks like a crashing wave, which is no good to surfers), so that can remind you of surfers too.
Muppet. It’s like a muppet skeleton. A muppet bereft of flesh. The shape of a hand in a puppet even looks kind of like a “7,” doesn’t it? What are muppets, if not tools to deceive (欺骗, or “七”骗) children and pull them into that make-believe world? I just hear the amazed children now, going “gee…” (qī means 7).
Gun. It definitely looks like a gun. You ever had a double-barrell shotgun in your face? Me neither, but the muzzle kind of looks like an 8 on its side. And what sound does a gun make? Bang! (bā means 8).
Redrum. The foreshadowing of the violence to come. 10 is the fist, and 9 comes right before the fist, so it’s very similar to the fist. And do you remember the name of Jack Torrance’s little boy in The Shining? Well, can we just pretend it was Joe, because that sounds an awful lot like jiǔ (9). Thanks.
Fist. 10 is completion and power. 10 is also the number assigned to the “perfect woman” (that only bad, bad sexist men would ever use). And what do those sexist men do over a “ten?” They fight each other. With their fists. And then the last guy standing gets the girl (hey, she’s pretty, but not too bright), and he goes gaga over her, so whatever she asks him to do he just says, “sure” (shí means 10).
Ok, this may seem like a completely ridiculous exercise, but I can assure you that after exerting that much “brain power” over it, I will never, ever forget those hand gestures. (I used to forget them a lot.)
There is another page on Chinese Number Gestures at Chinese-Tools.com, but I should warn you about that page first:
1. He doesn’t have the cool cityscape background photos for his hand photos.
2. His photos are small, and you can’t click on them to see a huge version on Flickr that you just might need.
3. He has photos for numbers 1-5 as well, but if you don’t know those already you’re dumb.
4. His thumb doesn’t have that cool backwards curve to it that mine does (or is he just trying to hide it?).
5. The one he has for 10 I’ve never seen before.
Go to the Wikipedia entry for more info on issues like “number gestures in Taiwan vs. the mainland” (but not awesome pictures).
Finally, to close, I would like to share a link for an “ancient Chinese number system” which supposedly allowed the Chinese to count up to 100,000 on one hand. I don’t really understand how this is supposed to work short of sticking acupuncture needles in your hand (which would require an extra hand). It appears to me to be complete and utter bullshit. Enjoy.