Wah biang!

Image source: http://www.smartshanghai.com

I was randomly browsing through my Facebook newsfeed the other day when I came across this article shared by Shanghaiist’s Facebook page.

“Biang, biang, biang, biang, biang, biang, biang, biang, biang…

One Sichuan professor’s method of making sure that no one is ever late to his class: Forcing tardy students to write this 58 stroke character 1,000 times.”

The word above is called “biáng”. Though I think the act of writing it 1000 times is a bit too extreme, this caught my attention because I remember seeing the word before somewhere. Either that or I vaguely remember it being the most complicated word in modern Chinese history. I did a quick search and turned out my guess was correct.

While there are various versions of the written word above, the one shown should be a 56-stroke character, based on my humble experience.

Extracted from wikipedia, with slight edits to the stroke counts:
The character is made up of  (speak; 7 strokes) in the middle flanked by  (tiny; 2×3 strokes) on both sides. Below it, (horse; 9 strokes) is similarly flanked by  (grow; 2×8 strokes). This central block itself is surrounded by  (moon; 4 strokes) to the left,  (heart; 4 strokes) below,  (knife; 2 strokes) on the right, and  (eight; 2 strokes) above. These in turn are surrounded by a second layer of characters, namely  (roof; 3 strokes) on the top and  (walk; 3 strokes) curving around the left and bottom.

Interestingly, the word, with mnemonics consisting of traditional Chinese characters has been around for centuries.

As of present, there is no clear origin of the word and there are various stories surrounding the internet. According to this website China Simplified:

There was once a young Chinese student wandering past a Shaanxi noodle shop around lunchtime. He heard people inside saying “biang! biang!” and feeling hungry entered to see for himself.

​The student watched the cook pull long strings of noodles and serve fresh bowls to satisfied customers. Excited, he asked for one. After scarfing down the bowl, he realized he had no money to pay the bill. Sensing trouble with the cook, the student thought fast.

​“What do you call your noodles?” asked the student. ​

​“Biang biang mian,” replied the cook.

​​“Do you know how to write the character biang?”

The cook scratched his head, having never thought about it. ​

​“Then I’ll teach you how and my noodles are free!” ​

Before the cook could protest, the student grabbed some paper and wrote a character so complicated that everyone in the restaurant burst into applause. Grinning at being taken, the cook tore up the student’s bill.

​The cook’s noodles soon became legendary and the word biang came to mean the sound of someone falling down and feeling surprised, just like the first time Homer Simpson bumped his head and exclaimed, “Doh!” 

In other common versions of the story, biang comes from the sound of a cook slapping noodles against a table, or the chorus of people munching the noodles. Less important than the origin of the story is what it says about the language and culture.

Culture wise, I couldn’t help but associate to our Singlish (Singaporean colloquial) context. You see, if you are in Singapore long enough, you may have heard people using these in their daily conversations. “Biáng” is usually used after “Wah” – as in Wah biáng! (It expresses astonishment and is usually applied in situations similar to “Oh my! Why like that?” You get the drift.)

When I introduced this word to a student the other day, he couldn’t resist writing it numerous times. Whatever the word may mean, one thing is for certain. I think it looks beautiful, don’t you think? With that, you may want to try writing it and show it to your friends that you have mastered possibly the most complex contemporary Chinese word!

Here’s my humble attempt. 🙂


Anson is a full-time bilingual tutor in Singapore who coaches students in both English and Chinese. For tuition enquiries, please call 97887232.


Look here!


As language learners, we all know that first impression counts. Whether it means saying ‘hello’ to a new acquaintance or writing your first paragraph of your essay, how you introduce yourself (or your voice in writing) matters. In this constantly spinning world that is unfortunately ‘spinning’ faster than ever – thanks to the plethora of information we are exposed to on a daily basis, attention spans are getting shorter and patience is running thinner.

So my first post is all about making a stand. I have been teaching for close to 10 years, starting from my army days. Looking back, it was all about doing another part time “job” to pay the bills and support my entertainment expenses as a fledging young man who is still making sense of my pair of “wings” – my new found sense of freedom. After all, I consider myself a young adult, having moved away from mandatory primary school education and completed both my secondary and Junior College courses.

I turned to teaching as a tutor because I thought it was something I could do. As an Arts major, I have always been inspired by the magic surrounding language and literature. I would find myself dabbling in fields of Arts, drama and music, and am still enlightened by these aspects even till today.

I come from a Mandarin speaking family background and grew up conversing with my folks and siblings in Chinese at home. Of course, the daily Hokkien conversations between my mum and dad added vocabulary to my Hokkien literacy, though I seldom speak the dialect. I am fascinated by the beauty of languages and how they serve their purpose in this world.

Anson’s Bilingual Classroom is founded with a few purposes in mind. While English is our official language in Singapore, I find that a lot of local students are learning it just for their exam grades. In fact, they fail to see that language learning is a lifelong commitment! As such, I hope to help develop their potential by showing them what works and what don’t.

Next, I am proud of my heritage as a Chinese and would like to spread this further. As an educator, I am here to debunk the myths surrounding Chinese learning. A lot of kids grow up hating the language, some even complaining that reading Chinese give them headaches. Many do not know that we are speaking the tongue originating from a fast-rising dragon – China, and that the pervasiveness of the Chinese market is taking the world by storm.

I have had foreign students with no Chinese backgrounds wanting to learn the language. Their parents know best why it is imperative to do so in today’s context. Parents look for me due to my versatility to teach both languages, and more importantly for the foreign students – to be able to explain Chinese terms using English, and vice versa.

My classes are all about engagement and interactivity. I always believe that learning is a two-way process. By injecting fun elements into learning like word games and simple poetry and songwriting, I seek to nurture and inspire the next batch of learners through fun and impressionable exercises.

I am elated to know that many students whom I have taught had managed to achieve their desired grades, and some whom have even gone on to pursue finer things in life. It is my hope to create long-lasting bonds with my students.

There is always a first to everything. The challenge is to make it last. I look forward to inspiring new lives through language usage and appreciation, and welcome any feedback in the process. With that, I hope I have made my stand.

Anson is a full-time language tutor and he can be contacted via email at anzzon@gmail.com or his mobile at 97887232.