In case you missed the last installment of our two-part series, we’ve been learning about new Chinese terms and exploring their anecdotal origins. Today, we will continue our study on this topic. You will learn Chinese phrases that could come in handy when you visit a restaurant and a term that you can use when talking about China’s air pollution.


  • Maidanxia


Maidan (买单) means “to pay the bill,”and xia (侠) means “knight or heroic.” Together, they refer to “bill superheroes”—those who often slip away during conversations at the dinner table and secretly pay for everyone’s meal. It’s common to see Chinese people pushing and arm-wrestling each other in restaurants in order to win the right to pay the bill. But the general rule of thumb is that the inviter pays for the invitee. However, you should still make an attempt to pay without actually paying the bill or you may inadvertently cause your Chinese friend to lose “face.”

  • Digouyou

Digouyou—digou (地沟) means “underground drainage,” you (油) means “oil”—refers to cooking oil that has been recycled. Last year, Radio Free Asia released a video showing the process of making digouyou or gutter oil. The ubiquitous use of oil in Chinese cuisine means that there’s a lot of money to be made from it and some unscrupulous people will do anything to acquire ridiculously cheap oil even if they have to go through dumpsters, trash bins and sewers. While this type of oil is illegal and Chinese authorities are trying to eradicate it, aircraft maker Boeing wants to turn digouyou into jet fuel. Together with Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China, Boeing recently launched a pilot project to convert about 240,000 liters of waste oil into fuel each year.

  • Xi keli wu
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If you’re a news junkie, you’ve probably seen pictures of Beijing’s airpocalypse—a term Chinese people use to describe the city’s off-the-charts air pollution. Frequent news of the pollution has increased the public’s familiarity with PM2.5—a Western term that refers to particles found in the air smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter. For the sake of keeping the “purity of the Chinese language,” the Chinese government decided to give it a proper Chinese name and call it xi keli quxi (细) means “small particles,” keli (颗粒) means “something small and roundish,” wu (物) means “matter.”

We hope this two-part blog series helps you not only improve your Chinese vocabulary, but also understand a little etymology behind the complex language. We also hope you’ll be able to use them the next time you have a chat with your Mandarin speaking friends.



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