If you’re only going to learn two Chinese characters, make it these two!
Chinese is one of the easiest languages to learn to speak (in my opinion) but probably the hardest to read. With over 10,000 characters in daily use, understanding newspapers, menus and books takes some serious work!
So priorities are important when learning this language and for desperate times when nature calls, knowing just two (or even one) of ‘Man’ and ‘Woman’ can save you an awful lot of embarrassment, especially when you eagerly run into open cubical squatters of the opposite sex. (I would like to take this opportunity to formally apologise to Miss Li, Miss Wang and Mrs Chen).
The easiest way to remember which one is which is probably to look at the Character for ‘Man’. This is made up of two other characters (Chinese often put 2 different characters together to create a whole new meaning! more on that later…)
The top part of the ‘Man’ character looks like a window, or a flag, or a birds eye view of a field, and if isolated, that part of the character does in fact mean ‘field’. The bottom part means ‘power’, and together they mean ‘Man’. So if you just imagine a nice powerful Chinese Man ploughing the field then you shouldn’t mix them up, and ruin your day, and the day of Miss Li, Miss Wang and Mrs Chen.
Most of the time the Loos will have a little picture, or English to accompany the Chinese characters but its often the ones that you really don’t want to get wrong that only have these two characters. May they forever be firmly imprinted in the front of your minds.
If you want to learn a bit more… combining the ‘woman’ character 女 with a roof over her head means ‘safe’ and looks like this; 安. Putting woman and child 子 together makes 好 which means good, pronounced hao, as in ni hao; hello or literally ‘you good’.