Cactus Wawa revisited

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One of the most intriguing and enthralling Language Log posts is this one:

"cactus wawa: the strange tale of a strange character" (11/1/14)

I spent months doing the research for that post and, although it garnered 80 helpful comments, I still felt that there were some loose ends.  Consequently, I was delighted to receive last week (4/13/16) the following message from Robert Cheng, the brother of the owner of the teashop:

This is Robert from Taiwan, I was searching domain name of my mother’s restaurant and noticed your post regarding my sister’s tea-store in Montreal.

Regarding the post you filed on 2014-Nov-1st about “cactus wawa: the strange tale of a strange character”:

It was great and interesting to see how you interpret the store’s name.  The background of the naming was simple (to my sister who named it when she opened her tea-store) but with story behind, hopefully this would help.

Here’s the background for your reference:

1. Cactus:  My mother opened a restaurant in Montreal, named Cactus, located in Chinatown. My sister used to work there, then she opened her own store later on.

2. My sister:  You were right, her nick name is wawa, meaning baby doll, first kid in this family, adorable.

3.  の:  This is a Japanese character, frequently used in Taiwanese culture (you might have known that Taiwan had adopted lots of Japanese culture in history of Taiwan). So this character basically means “of”, or “ ’s “.  So you would interpret it as Wawa’s tea house.

4. “TEA” in Chinese surrounded by a rectangle. You are exactly correct, the word “garden” in Chinese is 園, and she kept the rectangle and replaced its inside by “茶” in which would imply tea-garden, or tea-house.

Why naming “cactus”?  A woman was raising 3 children with no support from husband. Everything was on her own, she needed to support her family. So she wanted herself to be like a cactus, to grow and also to protect the family.  Cactus restaurant was what this family invested their time & love into. In the end, we closed both restaurants in Montreal. We (as children of this family) are still well remembering the time my family went through together in Montreal, in the restaurant we operated together, named cactus and cactus wawa, the strange tale of a strange character.

Robert's message gives me a great sense of satisfaction, first because I am relieved that what we discovered about Cactus Wawa by ourselves was basically on target, and second because it was quite simply a thrill to make direct contact with the owners of the restaurant who were responsible for this charming teashop and its captivating name — especially after I had tried for more than a year to reach them and enlisted the help of scores of friends in Montreal already before I wrote the post.

Some research projects have a nice conclusion.


  1. Viseguy said,

    April 24, 2016 @ 7:51 pm

    Lovely coda. What's the Chinese for "closure"?

  2. Bfwebster said,

    April 24, 2016 @ 11:10 pm

    Great follow-up post, all the more so because I remember the original. Though I was a bit taken aback to see that the original was 18 months ago.

  3. Jakob said,

    April 25, 2016 @ 3:38 am

    What a beautiful story of academic detective work… good to finally have an explanation after all this time :)

  4. Guy said,

    April 25, 2016 @ 5:51 am

    We still don't know how to pronounce the tea garden character. Should we regard it as simply not having a canonical pronunciation? Or would it be read as 茶園? And is の typically read as "no" or as some grammatically appropriate word from a Sinitic topolect? I think the last question may have already been discussed in another post about use of の in Taiwan, but I confess I don't remember.

  5. Victor Mair said,

    April 25, 2016 @ 8:42 am


    Read the special character as cháyuán 茶園. It is a polysyllabic character such as those discussed here:

    "Polysyllabic characters in Chinese writing" (8/2/11)

    "Polysyllabic characters revisited" (6/18/15)

    As for how to read の, I am right now in Taiwan, and a friend showed me a menu entry with a の smack dab in the middle of it. He showed it to his Taiwanese relatives, all in the same family, and was amazed when four different members of the same family treated it in the following four ways:

    1. read as Japanese "no"

    2. read as Taiwanese "e" (incidentally, he also showed me the photograph of a sign at a fruit market where the same Taiwanese morpheme / particle was written as "a", a usage which neither of us had ever seen before; it is usually written as "e", の, or ㄟ)

    3. read as Mandarin "de"

    4. just skipped right over it!

  6. Victor Mair said,

    April 25, 2016 @ 9:07 am


    bìhé 閉合

    We might also refer to the evidence presented by Robert Cheng as "quèzáo 確鑿" ("conclusive").

  7. liuyao said,

    April 25, 2016 @ 9:21 am

    Closure in this sense may be translated as liǎoduàn 了斷 or liǎojié 了結.

  8. Jakob said,

    April 25, 2016 @ 1:24 pm

    @Victor Mair

    re "the same Taiwanese morpheme / particle was written as "a", a usage which neither of us had ever seen before; it is usually written as "e", の, or ㄟ"

    Do you think this is a carry-over from English orthography? I mean, due to the English pronunciation of the letter A as [eɪ], which I assume is close to the Taiwanese pronunciation of that morpheme?

  9. Victor Mair said,

    April 25, 2016 @ 6:05 pm


    For sure.

  10. Doc Rock said,

    April 25, 2016 @ 8:10 pm

    Of course Japanese の is derived from writing the Chinese character 之 which was often used for colloquial 的 as a possessive/genitive.

  11. Richard W said,

    April 30, 2016 @ 7:54 am

    @Doc Rock
    > "Of course Japanese の is derived from writing the Chinese character 之"

    According to the Wikipedia article on hiragana, の was, like other hiragana characters, derived from a cursive form of a Chinese character whose pronunciation was similar to that of the derived hiragana symbol, but in the case of の (pronounced "no" in Japanese), the hanzi was 乃 (nǎi in Mandarin) rather than 之 (zhī in Mandarin).

    You can see a cursive form of both 乃 and 之 here:
    In this image at least, 乃 looks a lot more like の than 之 does.

  12. Richard W said,

    May 5, 2016 @ 3:43 am

    > "Of course Japanese の is derived from writing the Chinese character 之"

    Actually, if you follow the first link in my previous comment, you can see that 之 was the model for hiragana し ("shi"), not hiragana の ("no").

    (In the table, see the 3rd column from the right, 2nd row.)

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