It’s often said that spring is the best time to visit Beijing and see everything the city has to offer.
To that end, for the past few weeks Cultural Keys has brought to you our Best of Beijing series. Each week, we introduce you to the best that the Chinese capital has to offer, from food to flowers, from classical architecture to useful words and phrases especially for Beijing!
Now in week 3, we are pleased to introduce you to some of the most Beijing-centric words and phrases this side of the Forbidden City. Enjoy!
撸串 lū chuàn – Mutton kebabs
As we enter summer and Beijing gets back to normal, we are reminded of the magical words 撸串 (or 撸串儿 lū chuàn ér if you use the Beijing accent). It’s the old time Beijing favourite of eating meat on a stick. Roasted over charcoal and often seasoned with cumin seeds, this popular treat originated from the Chinese Muslim community.
An interesting fact about the character 串 , is that it actually looks like a skewer with meat! 撸 is the verb and means to strip the sticks bare. If you see the character 串 when on a hutong stroll, take a seat and order ten!
光膀子guāng bǎng zi – Beijing bikini
As you continue your summer walk, you may encounter a group of gentleman eating some 串儿 with their shirts rolled up exposing their chests and bellies. Don’t be afraid. Beijingers call this 光膀子and despite laws to ban such fashion statements, 光膀子(or as some say, “Beijing Bikini”) is still a popular way to keep cool on a hot summer’s day.
CK Says: As we were getting ready to publish this article, Beijing authorities announced a ban on this ubiquitous Beijing statement. Does that mean we’ll never see it again? Well, this is Beijing, so never say never’r…
劳您驾 láo nín jià – Excuse me!
You’re a long way from home but already coming to grips with hutong lingo. You find that a busy hutong can be like a rush hour expressway of people, pets, bikes, cars and more. How can you squeeze past while making a good impression at the same time? Saying 劳您驾 is a polite way to say “excuse me” by Beijing people and will hold you in good stead on those busy days.
嘛呢？má ne – What are you doing?
嘛呢 means “what are you doing?”. It’s to the point and rarely found in any beginners Mandarin textbook. So if your friend steals the last 串儿 from the plate and you want to put them straight, you can throw in this handy Beijing phrase. If you want to keep things more polite, you can say 您嘛呢 nín má ne. “您nín” being the polite way to say “you”.
千里之行始于足下 qiānlǐ zhī xíng shǐ yú zúxià – A journey of a thousand miles…
千里之行始于足下 is the famous Chinese saying meaning “a journey of a thousand miles must first start with a single step”. Ask any Mandarin learner and they will agree that studying Chinese can also be compared to a journey of a thousand miles. And best of all, you’ve already started your journey with these easy words and phrases!