Why You Should Never Try DIY Plumbing in China…

Word of the Week: bái chī

Last week I found that I should never ever be allowed to do DIY plumbing. And I found out the hard way, by breaking the a pipe in the wall and having high pressure water spray out so quickly it managed to flood my whole apartment within just a few minutes. What made things worse is that I didn’t check in advance the location of the main valve for shutting off the water in my apartment.

For this there are several options as to what you can call me. You can call me a shǎ bī 傻逼, which is literally “stupid cunt” but not as strong as the c – word in English. Alternatively you can call me nǎo cán 脑残, which means “brain disabled” and roughly equivalent to calling someone “retard”. However, my personal favourite is bái chī because it doesn’t really translate into English but you can use it as both a noun and an adjective.

tā shì gè bái chī 他是个白痴 (he is an idiot)

nǐ hěn bái chī! 你很白痴 (you’re stupid!)

shǎ bī and nǎo cán are also stronger than bái chī so if you’re wanting to call someone stupid in a joking way or don’t want to sound too offensive bái chī is probably the best option.


I didn’t bother taking a picture but my apartment looked a bit like this

Thankfully I was in China for my disastrous attempt at plumbing so the cost of me being a bái chī wasn’t so high. I shudder to think what the call out cost for a plumber would have been back in Britain. In fact, now I think about it I was being really bái chī for not calling a plumber in the first place, given how low the cost in China is.

The plumber turned up and it was an old man with a few rusty tools that looked about 100 years old (that is, both the tools and the man looked about 100 years old.) At first glance I also thought he looked a bit like the sort of bái chī  guy that would smoke next to a “no smoking sign” in restaurant, cut in the queue when buying a train ticket and spit on the subway.

Once again it turned out I was the bái chī because this man was not only really good at his job but also really nice, he even helped clean up some of the devastation in my apartment. It just goes to show that you shouldn’t judge someone by their appearance and there is a great idiom in Chinese for expressing that: yǐ mào qǔ rén 以貌取人. This idiom literally means “on the basis of appearance pick a person”. So you can say bù néng yǐ mào qǔ rén (can’t by means of appearance pick someone/ you can’t judge someone by their appearance).

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