Learn Shanghainese Part 4: Directions

Learn Shanghainese: Directions

This blog is part four in Carl Cheung’s series on beginning to learn Shanghainese

Maybe you’re in Shanghai Learning Mandarin, doing an internship or working full time, whichever way you’ll need to be able to make your way around the city. Getting around Shanghai (going from one place to another) is a pretty simple task nowadays with the didi app (Chinese Uber) or metro or any other available transportation. Occasionally though, taxis can be a real pain-in-the-ass with directions, so it’s great to learn Shanghainese phrases to help get around. The worst feeling in the world is picking up a taxi driver’s or a delivery guy’s phone call, knowing you won’t be able to lead them correctly.

Shanghai Taxi

Shanghai Taxi

Learn Shanghainese: ‘How do I get there?’

Thankfully, a surprising amount of the older guys are local Shanghainese (you can especially tell from their radio chatter), have lived in Shanghai their whole lives and are pretty good at giving directions. You’ll be able to show off the Shanghainese skills you learned here to ask them how to get to places. To start off, you can check they understand you by asking them ‘na neng qik’ 哪能去, (怎么去 zěnme qù in Mandarin), which literally means ‘how to go’ or ‘how to do I get to’? You can either point at an address, or say the name of the place you want to go to and then add ‘na neng qik’ 哪能去. (In Shanghainese ‘zěnme’ is completely replaced by ‘na neng’ = how)

Learn Shanghainese: Left, Right, Straight Ahead

If they respond positively and you think they understand you might be ready to learn some simple relative directions. Right side is pronounced 右手边 ‘you suh bi’ and left side is 左手边 ‘ju suh bi’ (sounds like ‘yo-suh-bee’ and ‘jew-suh-bee’). Straight ahead is pronounced 前头 ‘xi deh’ (sounds like ‘see-day’). If you’re in a taxi, when you have arrive to a close enough location, you can point and say ‘bang bi lok’, which means ‘get off there’.

Learn Shanghainese: North, East, South, West

Directions in Chinese Characters

Directions in Chinese Characters

Farther away or just for more detail, we can use the East, West, South, North (Dōng xī nán & běi in Mandarin) directions. In Shanghainese these are 东头 ‘dong deh’ (East) ,西头 ‘xi deh’ (West), 南头 ‘nu deh’ (Nan), and 北头 ‘bok deh’ (North) . The character for head (头’deh’ or tou in mandarin), is used commonly to describe a general direction (think HEAD-ing towards somewhere).

Sometimes, 面 ‘mi’, the character for face (Miàn in Mandarin) is used instead to describe a direction (think FACE-ing towards). Finally, 以 ‘yi’, when used as a direction kind of a has a meaning of towards or keep towards.

Here is a quick reference: 上面 / 上头 / 以上 下面 / 下头 / 以下

Carl’s Learn Shanghainese Blog Series

Follow Carl’s journey of learning Shanghainese, and remember to read part three if you missed it and read on to part 5:

Learn Shanghainese Part 5

Learn Shanghainese Part 3

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