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Mandarin Chinese in a Nutshell

The entire planet knows at least two words in Chinese, FENG (wind) and SHUI (water).

Chinese cuisine is very well known and popular almost everywhere in the world, and when it comes to food the most important word is FAN (rice).

Eating is CHI FAN (= consuming rice). The restaurant (fan dian) literally means a “rice shop”. Chopsticks are called “little rapids” (kuai zi). In the morning, have an “early rice” (zao fan = breakfast), with porridge (of rice) and soy milk. Lunch is, of course, “rice at noon” (zhong wu fan). Dinner is served early, at around 6 pm, and is called “late rice” (wan fan). Without sweets and snacks between meals, the Chinese stay lean regardless of the amount of carbohydrates swallowed. Rice or at least noodles should be served at every meal, from their point of view.

They consume a lot of green tea (CHA) from surprisingly small cups, which make it taste better. The tea ceremony in China is different from that in other countries.

Wine is served mostly white and about one glass per year per person. Instead, they have a strong cereal-based drink called BAI JIU (a kind of spirit that contains 35-60% alcohol). While drinking, instead of “Cheers” you can say GAN BEI (literally “dry glass”), an invitation equivalent to “bottoms up.”

Many things are different in China, and when we study the language it is important to learn elements related to culture and lifestyle, too.

For instance, their mourning colour is white, and the age is always one year older (when you are born you are already one year old – the nine months are rounded by addition). The year of birth is the Chinese zodiac sign, very important to them.

Some numbers are unlucky, especially “four” (SI, which is pronounced the same as “death”). It is to be avoided. The hotels lack the 4th, 14th, 24th floors. The luckiest number is 8 (BA, pronounced “fa” – which means prosperity). Lucky numbers cost dearly for phone or car numbers, for instance. Everyone would want as many 8’s as possible, obviously.

Red is a symbol of happiness, old age and wealth, and is used for holidays, weddings, National Day (October 1) and Chinese New Year (also called primary festivals, CHUN JIE).

Everything is oversized, proportional to the surface of the country: the alphabet has 50,000 characters, the classic literary works contain a thousand characters. The peak of poetry was reached during the Tang Dynasty (7th-10th centuries), being best known through the poet Li Bai – with over a thousand poems about nature and friendship.

The Chinese love both study and books. Much of their literature has been translated into French. Increasingly much into English, too.

Their best-known cartoons are San Mao, who has (and which means) “three hairs”. The child (orphaned, hungry and homeless) has three hairs drawn on his forehead, hence the name of the series. Children are VERY loved and doted upon in China, and San Mao is taken home by a fisherman. It is a cartoon without dialogues, so we can enjoy it without knowing the language.

Episode 1 (no dialogue): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FAkjE-vx-Og

Episode 2, with subtitles: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qwa2dOAGqCA

Article by Nadia Esslim

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