Learning Chinese characters can be daunting. Therefore, many foreigners living in China don’t plan on mastering the reading and writing of the Chinese language.
Still, there are a handful of characters – actually, more like two handful or so – that are very useful and quite common in daily life. If you only want to learn a few Chinese characters, learn the one listed below.
(Thank you to Colin, who suggested this post.)
Push / Pull on doors
Push 推 tuī
Pull 拉 lā
Ladies / Gents on bathroom doors
Male 男 nán
Female 女 nǚ
More intuitive pictographs are common but some Chinese restaurants only mark the doors with the Chinese character – so if you don’t want to take your chances or wait until someone comes out …
Open / Close, same as On / Off on electric appliances
Open 开 kāi
Close 关 guān
So you know how to start the washing machine or which button to push on the remote control.
Up / Down
Up 上 shàng
Down 下 xià
In / Out for buildings, parks, parking lots, etc
In / Entrance 入口 rúkǒu
Out / Exit 出口 chūkǒu
Directions (helpful for subway exits)
North 北 běi
East 东 dōng
South 南 nán
West 西 xī
Note that for example Northeast in Mandarin is the other way around, “Eastnorth” 东北 dōngběi
Gate 门 mén
Street 街 jiē
Road 路 lù
Bridge 桥 qiáo
These are common components of many location names including subway stops.