Drinking slang, how to talk about your appearance, and different ways to say "walled gardens"

Slow Chinese 每周漫闻

Here’s the latest edition of my Slow Chinese Learning 每周漫闻 newsletter, a collection of Chinese words, phrases, idioms and slang to help you maintain and improve your Chinese language skills, and keep on top of the latest language trends in China.

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What’s in it?

Each week I highlight two ‘Conversations worth Consuming’ with authentic and actionable language for you to try out to improve your spoken Chinese. I also gather together up to 12 ‘Words of the Week’ to add to your vocab - idioms, on-trend words and colloquialisms to impress your Chinese colleagues and friends with how amazing your Chinese is.


1. Different ways to down a drink

A popular tag on Weibo this week was “Yang Li complains about being asked to do performances at dinners” #杨笠吐槽在饭局被要求表演节目# (Weibo - Chinese with video) from her latest sketch on stand-up show Rock and Roast (脱口秀).

Yang Li sketches are always fantastic watching for learners of Chinese; there's nothing quite like understanding, and ‘getting’, a joke in Chinese.

In this sketch Yang Li brilliantly tells the story of her dad forcing her to perform or speak at boozy dinners with a load of old men. She uses some useful drinking words.

Useful words

  • 在酒里 (zài jiǔ lǐ) - it’s all in the drink (a useful ‘get out clause’ if you’re asked to say a few words and toast at a dinner and don’t know what to say; it’s a way of showing respect without saying much)

    啥也不说了,都在酒里啦 - I've got nothing to say other that it’s all in the drink [and you guys are amazing]!

  • 整一个 (zhěng yīgè) - do one (slang word normally meaning doing something quickly; can also mean ‘knock a drink back’, or have a quick cigarette)

    演一个,就在上海整那个 - do a performance - you know, the one you did in Shanghai

  • 吹一瓶 (chuī yī píng) - have a bottle, knock one back

    来,先吹一瓶 - knock one back first


An idiom and a colloquial phrase to drop into your conversations this week:

  • 面红耳赤 (miànhóng'ěrchì) - red in the face

    叔叔大爷喝的面红耳赤 - all the old men were drunk and red in the face

  • 硬着头皮 (yìngzhe tóupí) - force yourself to do something you don’t want to do do; bite the bullet

    我只能站起来硬着头皮 - all I could do is stand up and go for it

Fancy learning more slang from Rock and Roast comedians? Have a look at these two previous newsletters with sketches from Zhāng Hàozhé (张灏喆), and Yáng Lì (杨笠).

2. Idioms for talking about your appearance

Another Rock and Roast sketch worth watching is by 鸟鸟 (Niǎo Niǎo) who made her first appearance this season.

With a totally different style to Yang Li, she has a deadpan take on life as a ‘plain looking girl’ (长相普通的女人) in China.

I discovered her through an article in People Magazine (人物) (Chinese - very long), which highlights how she talks about current issues in Chinese society:

她聚齐了几个巨大的标签,丧、内向、社恐、容貌焦虑——把这些特质写成了段子 - She draws from social issues in China - Sang Culture, introversion, social fear, and appearance anxiety - and turns them into good jokes

Her sketch offers some good words to talk about appearance (Youtube) - good and bad.

Useful words

  • 馋 (Chán) - greedy

    她就是馋了- she wants it all

  • 绿茶婊 (lǜchá biǎo) - angelic bitch (often just said as 绿茶 - ‘green tea’, which is cleaner but has the same meaning)

    从来没有一个人说我是绿茶 - no one has ever even called me a ‘Green Tea’ [angelic bitch]

  • 不上镜 (bù shàngjìng) - not photogenic, not good looking

    被监控拍到,我又不上镜 - I look so bad even when I’m picked on CCTV cameras

Idioms and colloquialisms

Three idioms and colloquialisms to talk about your appearance.

  • 相由心生 (xiāng yóu xīn shēng) - what you look like on the outside is decided by who you are inside

    人家就说这是相由心生 - people say that people’s looks are determined by who they are inside.

  • 人不可貌相 (Rén bùkě màoxiàng) - don’t judge people by their looks; you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover

    真是人不可貌相 - it really is a case of not judging a book by its cover

  • 要一头没一头 (yào yītóu méi yītóu) - want one thing but can’t have another; no one’s perfect (you can’t have good looks and be clever)

    女人不能要一头没一头 - a woman can’t have it all [you can't be good looking and also intelligent]

Want to read more about Sang Culture (丧文化) and a low desire life? Catch up with this issue of the newsletter where I cover these and other related words.


This week’s words of the week are from news stories about:

Useful words

Three different ways to say ‘wall’ or ‘fence’ to describe the ‘walled gardens’ that big tech companies have created around their ecosystems.

  • 围墙 (wéiqiáng) - enclosure, enclosing wall, fence

    拆除平台间的“围墙”,要一步步来 - removing the walled gardens of the platforms will have to be done step by step

  • 藩篱 (fānlí) - fence, barrier

    打破过去的藩篱,长期也都能造出更大“蛋糕” - removing the old barriers will actually help make the ‘cake bigger’ in the long-term

  • 高墙 (Gāo qiáng) - high wall

    打破“高墙”需要制定具体规则,以激发平台的主动性 - breaking down the ‘high walls’ will need to set specific rules in order to motivate platforms to do so proactively


Here are five useful idioms that you can drop into all sorts of conversations. You may have heard them before, but can you use them?

  • 趋之若鹜 (qūzhī ruòwù) - go after something like a flock of ducks

    成为不少“大明星”工作室趋之若鹜的注册地 - big stars are flocking to these places to register there

    • You could also say 一窝蜂 (Yīwōfēng) like a swarm of bees

  • 密不可分 (mì bùkěfēn) - inseparable

    这主要与税法执行力弱与违法成本低等原因密不可分 - it is inextricably linked with poorly implemented tax policies and the low cost of breaking the law

  • 一脉相承 (yīmài xiāngchéng) - aligned

    其重点整治恶意屏蔽网址链接的态度是一脉相承的 - it’s closely aligned with the priority of addressing malign blocking of links

  • 无处可逃 (wú chù kě táo) - nowhere to run


  • 冰山一角 (bīngshān yījiǎo) - tip of the iceberg

    恒大财富的困境,只是这家“中国第一房企”面临危机的冰山一角 - the dilemma of the Evergrande wealth business is just the tip of the iceberg in the crisis of China’s ‘first real estate business’


  • 牵一发而动全身 (qiān yī fà ér dòng quánshēn) - a small move in one part affects the whole

    互联互通是牵一发而动全身的,是大方向 - [allowing] interconnections between the major platforms is one move in a much bigger picture, its the overall direction of travel

  • 赢了面子 ,输了里子 (yíngle miànzi, shūle lǐzi) - to win ‘face’ but lose in out in reality (a common problem in China - so a very useful phrase!)

    实际上是地方用里子赚了面子,而明星得到了实惠 - these local governments have attracted stars at considerable cost, whereas the celebrities themselves have materially gained [from the policies]

  • 良心被狗吃了 (liángxīn bèi gǒu chīle) - conscience has been eaten by a dog; to have no conscience

    一位妇女声泪俱下地指责,“你的良心都让狗吃了吗?” - a lady, whose eyes were full of tears said: “you [Evergrande] have no conscience at all”

On the subject of Evergrande, here’s a short 40 second interview with one of the many protesters outside an Evergrande office this week. He has a really heavy northern accent. He uses the regional northern dialect word:

  • 咋地 (Zǎ di) - what? (same as 怎么)

    他们说我们没钱,你们咋地咋地 - they said we haven‘t got any money, what are you guys going to do about it?


This weeks’ recommendation is the podcast, I’m Learning Mandarin (我在学中文), produced by Mischa Wilmers.

Mischa’s latest podcast episode is an interview with me. We discussed the challenges of being an intermediate Mandarin learner, acquiring lower frequency words and overcoming the so-called intermediate plateaux. (I can still feel like I’m the wrong side of that even after 20 years of learning Chinese….)

I also chat about why I started this newsletter.

It’s 28 minutes long - have a listen and let me know what you think!

That’s it for this week - thanks for reading.

So, what new words did you learn this week?

Why not share them by replying to this email!


ps - if you want Pleco downloads please reply to this email with: ‘pleco please!’ I’ll send them to you over the weekend. If you’ve already asked me before, don’t worry they will land in your inbox shortly.