A Chinese Pi Story

Growing up in China, I encountered an interesting mnemonic story for remembering digits of pi. It utilizes the four-tone system of Mandarin along with rhymes. For example, the number three in Mandarin is san1 (), where the superscript 1 indicates the tone at which to pronounce san. Taking a different tone, say the third tone, we obtain san3 (伞), meaning umbrella. However, even with the different tones, there is not a one-to-one correspondence between the sounds and meanings. The word scattered (散) for example, is also pronounced san3. When further allowing rhymes, we obtain a plethora of meanings associated with each digit zero through nine, giving enough ingredients for a full mnemonic story, which goes as follows.

3 . 1 4 1 5 9
shan1 ding3 yi1 si4 yi1 hu2 jiu3
山 顶 一 寺 一 壶 酒。
On a mountain there was a temple and jar of wine.

2 6 5 3 5 8 9 7
er2 le4 wo3 san1 hu2 bu2 gou4 chi1.
儿 乐,我 三 壶 不 够 吃。
The boy was glad. "Three jars wouldn't be enough for me."

9 3 2 3 8 4 6 2 6
jiu3 sha1 er2 sha1 bu4 si3 le4 er2 le4
酒 杀 儿! 杀 不 死, 乐 而 乐。
The wine killed him! But he did not die, oh joy.

4 3 3 8 3 2 7 9
si3 le suan4 ba4 le er3 ji1 gou1
死 了 算 罢 了,儿 弃 沟。
He might as well have died, he fell into a ravine.

The story continues with the father finding out about the tragedy, and looking for his son.

5 0 2
wu2 teng2 er2
吾 疼 儿
I dearly love my son.

8 8 4 1 9 7 1
bai2 bai2 si3 yi3 gou4 qi1 yi3
白 白 死 已 够 凄 矣,
It's tragic enough that he's white and dead,

6 9 3 9 9
liu2 gei3 shan1 gou1 gou1
留 给 山 沟 沟。
he's been left in a ravine.

3 7 5 1 0
shan1 qi1 wo3 yao1 tong4
山 拐 我 腰 痛
The mountain turns hurt my lower back,

5 8 2 0 9
wu2 pa4 er2 dong4 jiu3
怕 儿 冻 久
I'm afraid my son is long frozen.

7 4 9 4 4
qi1 shi4 jiu3 si1 si1
凄 事 久 思 思。
He dwelled on the tragic thought.

However, the father finds the son in the ravine and revives him.

5 9 2 3 0 7 8 1 6
wo3 jiu4 er2 shan1dong4 qi1 bu4 yi2 liu2
吾 救 儿, 山 洞 拐, 不 宜 留。
I've saved my son. He couldn't be left in the turn of a cave.

4 0 6 2 8 6
si4 lin2 le3 er3 bu4 le4
四 邻 乐, 儿 不 乐,
The four neighbors rejoiced, but the son did not rejoice.

2 0 8 9 9
er2 teng2 ba4 jiu3jiu3
儿 疼 爸 久 久。
The son had painfully missed his father for so long.

8 6 2 8 0
ba4 le4 er2 bu4 dong3
爸 乐 儿 不 懂。
The son did not comprehend the father's joy.

3 4 8 2 5
san1 si1 ba! er2 wu3
三 思 吧!儿 悟。
"Think about it!" The son understood.

3 4 2 1 1
san1 si1 er2 yi1 yi1
三 思 而 依 依,
He considered and complied,

7 0 6 7 9
qi1 deng3 le4 qi1 jiu3
妻 等 乐 其 久。
while his wife waited long for the joy to return.

That is the first 100 digits of pi in story form. Of course, with some creativity the story goes on as long as we wish. Despite the story having no ending, it is rumored to never become repetitive.