Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Walking slowly and eating doufu

There are many wonderful Chinese expressions that I enjoy hearing and using. A simple, very common one that you hear everyday is 走 mànmàn zǒu! Literally "go or walk slowly" but the actual meaning is Please stay! What could be nicer? Writer/artist Rabih Alameddine expressed delight in this expression at the Bookworm Literally Festival and his impish comment made me think how right he was, why rush through life when every little second is so interesting that if you don't walk slowly you might miss its many colors, shades and nuances?

There is another similar expression, used at the beginning of a meal, when a Chinese host asks you to start eating: 慢慢吃 màn màn chī = lit. "eat slowly". The thought here is not for you to be a good girl and chew every morsel carefully but to "enjoy your meal", in other words " bon appetit!"

When I'm on the subject of Chinese expressions it makes me think of another one that I learnt the other day. (An aside to fellow "Skåningar": Why do I hear HippHipp in my head -  "Expressions, uuuttryck"??) 

Let me explain:

Next week my family and I and a bunch of friends are going up to the mountains around Songpan in northern Sichuan to ride horses on a three day "horse trek". Over twenty years ago I did this once before, at a time when it was very new and there were few tourists in the area. The bus from Chengdu to Songpan took two days, stopping either in Maoxian or Wenchuan on the way up and the road was horrendous. I met another foreigner on the bus and we decided to do the trek together. We rented horses with a horse handler. (The horse handler is what I'm eventually leading up to.) The other day here in Chengdu a Chinese friend explained to me how you say "goose someone" (actually "tease or flirt with someone") in Chinese slang: Eat their tofu (吃豆腐chī dòu fu). Back to the horseman: every time I wanted to get back up into the saddle he was there as fast as an oiled weasel ready to "help me" by giving me a firm crotch hoist into the saddle, all the while with a wily Tibetan grin on his face. Upon hearing my telling of this memory (after recounting her own trials and tribs on her trip to Songpan) she burst out laughing: Tā zhēnde chī  de dòu fu le! He really ate your tofu!! 你的豆腐了!


  1. Love this. I was in Sichuan recently but couldn't partake in any of the mapo tofu dishes because of some intestinal issues. But I'm glad to read of others' experiences!

  2. My Songpan experience hasn't put me off eating doufu but only the kind that can get served in a dish! Hope you get another opportunity to try genuine Chengdu Chen Mapo Doufu one day, it really is fantastic ;-)