In the pilot episode, Larry and Melvin, are at the mercy of a dilemma even old China hands fall victim to; Sha’anxi vs. Shanxi. Aren’t they the same place? Does the spelling matter since they sound the same? To make matters worse, sometimes, Sha’anxi is even written Shaanxi. Don’t mistake Shanxi for Shaanxi/Sha’anxi.
Let’s put it this way, Mr. Lee is from Shanxi, not Sha’anxi; and to him the spelling does matter, because they totally are not the same place. As Larry and Melvin will teach you in the pilot episode, don’t mistake someone from Shanxi for someone from Shaanxi. And will matter to you, too, when you get in a taxi one day, ask the driver to take you to Shanxi Street, only to end up on Shaanxi street, blowing the big business deal for being an hour late because Shaanxi Street is on the other side of town from your meeting in Shanxi Street. When this happens, take solace in knowing that how you feel is just a fraction of how Mr. Lee feels when Larry and Melvin keep referring to him as someone from Shaanxi.
According to our friends at Yellow Bridge, Shanxi is written 山西 and Sha’anxi aka Shaanxi is written 陕西. See the difference now? Thought so. You see, the “Shaan” in Shaanxi is the third tone in Chinese. The way it’s spelled with the extra “a” is just an “interesting,” but not trivial, way to express it. Shanxi is first tone.
Not only do Shaanxi and Shanxi sound alike, separated by the Yellow River, they also border each other. In Shanxi, you can find the ancient walled city of Pingyao, as well as the most polluted city in China. In Sha’anxi you can visit Xi’An, the historic gateway to the Silk Road and the Terracotta Warriors museum.