I love Shanghai, you know I do, but Shanghai, bless its heart, doesn’t always love me back. Yesterday I got hit by a car. I was cycling across a laneway and the driver, in a pale pink hatchback decorated with hibiscus stickers, simply pulled out, saw me, braked, then kept coming anyway. I fell over, the bike fell over, and all of my groceries fell across the road. It’s very inauspicious to hit a foreigner and kill them, so luckily I was quite alive, although completely struck dumb. I wanted to retaliate with the biggest fattest Chinese swearword I could think of but I couldn’t bring a single one to mind.
Then today I stopped to take a photo of a an interesting street I hadn’t seen before. As I fiddled with getting the exposure correct I realised out of my peripheral vision I was about to have an empty water bottle thrown at me. An indignant fruit seller thought I taking photos of him, and despite waving his arms at me I didn’t stop, precisely because I hadn’t noticed him flapping at me, such was my intense correct-photographic-technique concentration. That’s him on the right of the photo, picking his nose. He then took even more offence when I seemed to ignore him. In a last ditch effort to really get his point across he picked up some of his cherries to throw at me, thought better of it (they are quite expensive at the moment), and found a water bottle instead. He was outraged, but not as much as I was. Fuming, offended and really, really mad, all I could think of to splurt out was ‘Ni bu shi youming! Wo…wo….wo….yao pai zhao pian zai zheli!!’ Loosely translated as ‘You’re not famous! I…I…I…want to take a photo of here!’ Pathetic.
So I really wished I knew some bad, bad Chinese swearwords for these occasions. Problem is, the vast majority of Chinese people you meet are way too polite to teach you any. Luckily Eveline Chao has written a great book with all the best ones in great detail. The title, Niubi! means ‘F**kin’ awesome!’ but translates directly as ‘cow pussy’.
I love this book – Eveline has gotten right into the etymology, history, culture and colour of these swear words, and gives appropriate ways in which to use them, in case you use the wrong profanity with your landlady, for example. Interesting, but food features quite prominently.
Báichī – idiot
Shăguā – fool – literally ‘silly melon’
Xiē cài – knock it off – literally ‘rest vegetable’
Năozi huài le ba? – is your brain broken?
Gŭn dàn – get lost – literally ‘go away egg’
Hun dàn – bastard – literally ‘slacker egg’
Cào nĭ mā! – f*** you
Nĭ zhēn cào dàn – you stupid f*** – literally ‘you’re a real f*** egg’
Now I just need to find a native speaker who’ll let me practice on them to get my tones right………..
(from Niubi! by Eveline Chow, published 2009 by Plume, a Penguin Group Publisher)