Useful text lingo I learnt from working in Taiwan for my two weeks

July 06, 2016

Singaporean Chinese usually share one thing in common — we hate Chinese with a burning passion. Other than being one of the hardest languages in the world to master, the minimal hours per week given to Chinese lessons weren't enough to pique our interest. Besides, we assumed we'll never use the language again after graduation, leaving us to deem Chinese lessons as useless and using them as napping sessions.

At least, that was the case for me.

Scoring a B3 for my Chinese O Levels, I was more than satisfied with myself and swore to my Chinese teachers that if my future company wants to deal with Chinese-speaking clients, I'd rather lose the client. Ahhh, the naivety of a obstinate, rebellious teenager — as if I had a choice, and I probably didn't know how big of a market Chinese speakers are.

It worked out perfectly for a moment as I managed to steer clear of the language I was horrible at for three years while pursuing a diploma in Mass Communication. Upon graduation, I landed my first full time job......

In a Taiwanese company. 

Emails, texts and paperwork were sent in Traditional Chinese. It was an irony for the girl who couldn't even read a sentence of Simplified Chinese back in school. Before long, I was sent on my first work trip to Taiwan, where I felt handicapped with the language barrier and struggled with basic normality like ordering food.

Sent this photo to ask my colleagues what was on the menu

Despite being a chatterbox back in Singapore, I felt so self-conscious of my sub-par Chinese that I kept my mouth shut half the time I was there initially. I was so quiet, there was once I spoke up after a couple of drinks and my colleague exclaimed, “大家安静!新加坡人终于出声了!” (Translation: Everyone keep quiet, the Singaporean has spoken!)

As time passed, together with a few bottles of Taiwanese beers to speed up the process, I got to know everyone better and could finally participate in group chats. That was when I realised ordering food and reading news should have been the last oif my concerns. Those were the easy parts of living in Taiwan — texting, however, was another ball game itself.

Singaporeans have Singlish that no foreigner seem to comprehend. Likewise, Taiwanese have their own slangs that took me quite some time to decipher. The thing about colloquialisms is that they cannot be translated even with the help of Google Translate and a lot of times, Google doesn't give you the accurate results you're looking for either unless you spend time trawling through forums (which I did, in desperation — never thought the day I need someone to teach me how to text would come).

In the name of fun, and maybe this will help someone who's relocating to Taiwan, here are 15 text lingo I came to understand from scrutinising the texts between my colleagues.

(Elements of vulgarities involved, viewers discretion advised hahahaha what the heck.)

Hanyu Pinyin: dǎi shì
In Singlish terms: Paiseh

It's used in Taiwan the same way we do in Singapore, implying embarrassment. This was how my colleagues found out I spoke Hokkien — when I muttered paiseh after dropping something, surprising them. “你英文中文台语都会,我们要怎么讲你的坏话?!” (Translation: You can speak English, Chinese and now Hokkien too. How are we going to badmouth you?!)

Hanyu Pinyin: kào
In Singlish terms: Kao

Used most commonly among ah bengs and ah lians (I should know because I used to be one of them hahahaha), this is the short form of kaopeh, explained below.

靠北 / 靠腰
Hanyu Pinyin: kào běi / kào yāo
In Singlish terms: Variations of kaopeh

Kaopeh, a common phrase amongst Singaporeans, literally means cry father, a way to denote making a lot of noise. I only found out about the latter (literally: cry hungry) this morning, after telling a colleague I'm in bed because it's public holiday in Singapore, and I assume it's used interchangeably with the former.

Hanyu Pinyin: mài kào běi
In Singlish terms: Mai kaopeh

With the additional mai (meaning: don't), it's exactly what it looks like — don't kaopeh, stop making so much noise.

Hanyu Pinyin: wa kào
In Singlish terms: Wa kao

Literally, I cry. Another alternative to the iconic kao commonly used by Taiwanese and also used frequently by some Singaporeans, this is the closest to Chinese equivalent of ugh shit I know.

Hanyu Pinyin: gàn
In Singlish terms: Fuck

...... Do I need to explain this? Probably the most useful word you can add to your Chinese vocabulary. (I'm kidding)

Hanyu Pinyin: ei
In Singlish terms: Eh

Unlike us, Taiwanese use Zhuyin instead of Hanyu Pinyin. ㄟ is part of Zhuyin so this one's not a Chinese word per se but useful nonetheless. Before the existence of this word in my dictionary, I typed eh in English directly because it's an essential word I can't live without, a perfect way to get someone's attention or exclaim something through text.

Hanyu Pinyin: Hēi / hāi hā / luō
In Singlish terms: Hey / hi / hello

Contrary to popular belief, Chinese speakers don't use 你好 (nǐ hǎo) to greet their friends.

Hanyu Pinyin: āi
In Singlish terms: Sigh

Used just like our haih or aih, this sigh is especially useful for Chinese teachers marking exam scripts hahahaha.

喔喔 / 哦哦
Hanyu Pinyin: ō ō
In Singlish terms: Oh

My mom often says good things come in pairs — that's why two ohs are better than one. No, I'm just kidding, I don't know why are two ohs used, although Chinese do believe that good things come in pairs hahahaha.

Admittedly, to this date, I get confused by the two because oh is just oh for English speakers. I'm currently leaning towards using 喔 because I've seen it resurfacing in chats repeatedly but I generally use them interchangeably even though I'm pretty sure my Chinese ancestors are shaking their heads at me right now.

Additionally, there's a third oh (噢) which I don't seen my colleagues using a lot so I tend to not include that option when considering which oh to use. Till I figure out their differences, I'll not confuse myself further.

好哇 好的
Hanyu Pinyin: hǎo wa / hǎo dī
In Singlish terms: Ok sure! / Ok sure.

Because there's a difference between the levels of excitements you want to show sometimes. Though it should be noted that both are informal terms; if you're speaking to your boss, you should use 好的 (hǎo de) or simply, 好 (hǎo).

Hanyu Pinyin: ń ń
In Singlish terms: Yup / understood

When 好 (hǎo / ok) is too formal amongst friends or colleagues, this is your saviour. 嗯 is usually used for yup while 嗯嗯 stands for understood.

Hanyu Pinyin:
In Singlish terms: Leh / yay

I spammed 耶 in all of my conversations upon discovering its first usage because I missed Singlish so much when I was in Taiwan. A few weeks later, I saw that my colleague used the word a form of hooray.

Horror of horrors as it dawned upon me how similar sounding is to yay and I started questioning if I've been stupidly ending my sentences with yay all along hahahaha. After further observation, I found out they're exchangable and heaved a sigh of relief.

In Singlish terms: I'm joining

Used in group chats, people reply "+1" to signify that they'll be attending the gathering. I don't think there's an Singlish equivalent for this — when asked about attendance, Singaporeans have disparities in replies depending on the type of texter you are like "coming", "ya ok" or *thumbs up emoji*

88 (掰掰)
Hanyu Pinyin: 88 in Chinese sounds like bāi bāi
In Singlish terms: Bye bye

This one's from my colleague in Hong Kong. I'm not sure if they use it on a day-to-day basis, in a non-sarcastic way, because my colleague uses this (usually in the form of 88888888 as if he can't wait to get away) only when he's sick of my lame jokes HAHAHA.

I survived there mainly with Google Translate as my best friend be it while ordering food or chatting with my colleagues so I'd say having data on your phone wherever you go is really important! Plus I got lost often and Google Maps was my second best friend wtf hahhahaa. I'd reccomend a Taiwan SIM card if you want a Taiwanese number to register for stuff (like free wifi at Starbucks!) or a Taiwan pocket wifi if you're travelling with your friends so that you can share the cost.

Gotta get back to replying emails now. Let me know if I missed out any common Taiwanese lingo or if you have more travel tips to share on my askfm! 88~~~

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  1. learnt something new: +1 and 888
    Maybe I am "mountain tortoise" LOL


    1. haha so cute! putting what you learnt into good use eh hahaha!