A few hundred times a day, I run across a Chinese character that I’ve never seen before. Or – quite frequently – one that I’ve seen and looked up a dozen times, but for which I can never remember the meaning. I make a point of getting off my butt once or twice a day to look it up again. On rare occasions, I will be rewarded with a character whose meaning is: itself.
My favourite two examples so far are:
- 崂 (láo)
- 兖 (yǎn)
The first is typically defined as “The 崂 in 崂山 (láoshān)”. 崂山 is a national park / nature area near the city of Qingdao (青岛) in Shandong (山东) province. The 崂 character really has no other use apart from the occasional transliteration of a foreign sound
Similarly, 兖 refers to the Yan River and the major city which lies on it, Yanzhou (兖洲 – yǎnzhōu). That’s it.
You know you’ve made it big in China when you get your own character (汉字 – hànzì) that a zillion Chinese kids have to study and memorise.[Read Rest of Article]
One of my favourite restaurants here in Beijing is a place by the name of 黄河水 (huánghéshǔi), or Water of the Yellow River. It’s a Sha’anxi Province (through which the yellow river flows) restaurant, has fantastic noodles, and caters to the locals, which means crazy crowds and lines, simple menus, and low prices.
Most chinese restaurants periodically update their menus and decor with new prices and signs. 黄河水 is no exception, and recently redid their interior. But instead of calling themselves a pulled noodle (扯面) restaurant now, they pulled out the most crazy simplified character any of us have ever seen and started calling themselves a biāngbiāng noodle place. Biāngbiāng is the sound noodles supposedly make when you stretch or pull them, sort of like boing or twang in English.
The character they found for biāng is pictured above. At 42 strokes, it’s hands down the hardest character that I or a Chinese teacher friend of mine have seen so far. None of the dictionaries, computers, or books I have looked at so far have it either. In fact, it’s the only instance of the sound biang I’ve ever seen in Chinese (If you look at all the possible vowel/glide and consonant combinations available in Chinese, a reasonable percentage of them never occur), and is probably made up based on some dialect.
Even nuttier would be that the traditional version, without the simplified radicals, would have at least 10 more strokes, putting it well over 50 !!!
China is currently going through a huge cultural debate as to whether the Simplified character movement of the 50s was a mistake and as to whether they should go back to the traditional characters. As somebody who has learned all of his Chinese in the former, and only had exposure to the latter in the Japanese versions, I will just mention that I’m insanely glad I learned the Simplified ones ….[Read Rest of Article]