How Do You Say “Progress” in China? “Chai Na!”

(Conversation in Chinese between me and a taxi driver)

Me: (Looking at all the new buildings going up in Xi’an) Xi’an sure is developing fast.

Driver: Yeah, you see all that new construction? You know what happens before new buildings go up? Old buildings have to be torn down. You know how to say “China” in English? “China”, right?

Me: Yes.

Driver: That’s exactly what’s happening here – Chai na. Over here, chai na (points to one building being demolished). Over there, chai na (gestures over at another building being torn down). Everywhere, chai na!”

In Chinese, the character , pronounced “Chai”, is painted inside a circle on buildings that are marked for demolition to make room for newer buildings. “Chai” means to demolish.

The additional “na” after the word “chai” gives the word added emphasis. So the taxi driver was basically using the English word “China” to make a joke – black humor, considering all the people that get displaced when an old building gets demolished, but a joke nonetheless – about all the demolition that’s happening in China to make room for new buildings.

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