Zhibo is a weekly column in which Beijing-based American Taylor Hartwell documents his journey down the rabbit hole of Chinese livestreaming app YingKe. If you know nothing about the livestreaming (直播; “zhibo”) phenomenon in China, start here.
Exciting, I know. But bear with me.
See, I’ve noticed a common point of confusion among foreigners who studied Chinese before actually living in China. When you ask a Chinese teacher – at least, any Chinese teacher I’ve ever had, foreign or Chinese – what the equivalent of “bless you” or “gesundheit” is, they always say the same thing: 一百岁, or yi bai sui. This literally means “one hundred years,” and I always just kind of assumed it was yet another language’s way of expressing “oh, you just sneezed, I do hope that means you aren’t coming down with some deadly illness and I would like to wish you the best in health and longevity but in a single convenient syllable because let’s be honest I’ve got my own problems, you know?”
But the thing is, I’ve never heard anyone say “一百岁” after someone sneezes. Like, never. So I started asking other people who studied Chinese before coming to China and they all had the same experience – their teachers all told them that “yi bai sui” was the closest equivalent to “bless you” and they all have never heard it in China. Then I started asking Chinese people and pretty much no one had any idea what I was talking about.
So this week’s survey was simple: What – if anything – do you say when someone sneezes?
Option 1: Yi Bai Sui (一百岁), one hundred years
Option 2: Nothing
Option 3: Something else (please specify)
The overwhelming majority of responses were 2 (50+) and 3 (probably 75+). The 3s were largely split between two standard answers: “有人想你,” or you ren xiang ni, which literally means “some people miss you,” and simply asking “do you have a cold?”
I forgot – in China, everything is the sign of a cold. This includes, but is not limited to sneezing, drinking cold water, wearing a t-shirt in a perfectly climate-controlled office, sniffing, eating the wrong kind of food, and – god help you – not having an umbrella when it’s raining.
I’d argue that actually covering your mouth when coughing and/or sneezing might be the first step towards reducing colds, but that just shows what I know.
All you need to know is that “li hai” means “talented,” “awesome,” or “skilled.”
So first off, mysterious commenter, I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that you probably don’t have enough of a data set to prove anything about anyone’s “secret hair.” Secondly, that’s the kind of adorable stereotyping that really just makes me worry about your critical thinking skills.
Thirdly, that sentence is more of a mess than the forbidden forest you’re implying you’ve got.
But more importantly, the term “secret hair” sent me down a bit of an etymology rabbit hole. Yeah, I know how sad that sounds. Let’s move on.
Pro tip: do NOT open the Wikipedia page on pubic hair in the company of others
So, in case this ISN’T something you’ve put much thought into before, “pubic” comes from “puberty,” which appears to come from a combination of Latin and French words meaning maturity, adulthood, youthfulness, stuff about flowering, etc. Sensible enough. The German word for it, however, is schamhaare, or “shame hair,” because of course it is. And in Chinese, the two top dictionary results are 耻毛 (shame/disgrace hair) and 阴毛, or yinmao. That yin has quite a few different meanings, but you might recognize it as part of this doodad:
Yes, yin is part of the famous (and famously-mispronounced) yinyang (think “in-jahng”) and represents the moon/cloudy/shady/feminine/secretive half of the cosmic balancing act that makes up the foundation of most Chinese philosophy.
Thus, “secret hair.”
People are weird.
You might choose to go glass half empty and point out that this is bordering on a creepy stalker vibe. I choose to go glass half full and say that you gotta take validation where you can find it.
Your guess is as good as mine.
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