Discovering old Xiamen in street and alley names
Adam: Today I saw a very interesting name of an alley, “Sanshiliu qi.” My Chinese is not great but does it mean “Rugged 36 Alley”?
Li Mei: You mean the one near the sixth market in Siming?
Adam: Yes. I recognize the characters for the number 36 and I think that qi（崎） is often used to describe rugged land. But what do these things mean in combination?
Li Mei: Qi does mean rugged in Mandarin but in the local Minnanhua dialect it's a quantifier word. Basically, 36 qi means thirty six steps.
Adam: Oh that makes sense. I did see some stone stairs at the entrance of the alley, the stairway must have 36 steps.
Li Mei: You got it. Lots of local alleys and street names only make sense in Minnanhua. Their written forms in Chinese are transliterations with an unrelated meaning when read in Mandarin.
Adam: Maybe I should learn some Minnanhua.
Li Mei: Why not? You'll find it really rewarding and locals will be super impressed.
Adam: Are there other alleys with names that have different meanings in Minnanhua and Mandarin?
Li Mei: There are lots of examples including Caima (菜妈) Street, which is between Xingfu Road and Gugong Road.
Adam: What does it mean in Minnanhua and Mandarin?
Li Mei: Ma refers to an adult woman or mother in both Minnanhua and Mandarin. But cai in Mandarin is a general term for food dishes while in Minnanhua it specifically refers to vegetarian dishes. There used to be several temples and many female Buddhists along this street.
Adam: Wow, street and alley names are like windows into the past. Very interesting.
Li Mei: You bet.
Adam: And you've inspired me to learn a bit of Minnanhua.
Li Mei: Glad to hear it. My Minnanhua is pretty good so you can always ask me for help.
Adam: Thanks in advance.
By Sun Shaowen