Wednesday, September 11, 2013

That music smells good

I recently went on a business trip to Kuala Lumpur, and was eating lunch with a colleague. When our Jasmine tea arrived, we were each given two small cups, both were then filled with tea. I had never seen this before, and my colleague explained that one of them is called the 闻香杯 (wénxiāngbēi) - the smelling cup. The basic idea is that one cup is for smelling, and one is for drinking. Or something like that.

I was (linguistically) confused, however, since the Chinese characters she wrote for 'smelling' cup seemed to translate into "hearing-fragrance-cup"!  She then explained that 闻 could also mean 'to smell'.

What? I immediately launched Pleco Dictionary on my iPhone and ... she was right.

(Pleco gave me the best one yet: 闻见 ('hear' & 'see') can mean 'to smell'.  Good grief. If you refer back to my article about Chinese being a series of mathematical formulae, then this is a great example of 1+2=634.)

Mandarin continues to surprise me. But I'm past the point of these confusing incidents frustrating me, now it's just interesting. At least, it's interesting enough to write a blogpost about it.

And now I'm off to smell some music.
(Or perhaps just look at it. #thicke)


  1. By the way, if you'd like to read more about tea ceremonies, here's a Wikipedia article that does make reference to the smelling cup.

  2. Dear Greg,

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  3. Thanks Mark, I will drop you a note.