Take a trip to Japan via Japantown, San Francisco

How can you go to Japan for the day without shelling out hundreds of dollars (or more likely—thousands—for a plane ticket)? Head to your nearest Japantown! Did you know San Francisco is not only home to the largest Chinatown outside of Asia, but also the U.S.’s largest Japanese enclave? Last weekend Waygo decided to check out Japantown, AKA: 日本町, Nihonmachi, J Town, or Little Osaka. Fun fact: In 1957, SF entered into a sister city relationship with the city of Osaka (hence the nickname “Little Osaka”), making it SF’s oldest sister city.


Built in the 1960s and presented to SF by its sister city Osaka, on March 28th, 1968.

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Japanese immigrants began moving to present-day Japantown following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Prior to the earthquake, SF had 2 Japantowns: one just next to Chinatown, and the other in SoMa. Throughout the next few decades, Japantown grew into one of the largest Japanese communities outside of Japan, compared to Tokyo’s Ginza District.

Following Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, 1941, businesses and residences were targeted for attacks, and the neighborhood were largely deserted as residents were relocated and held in internment camps.  After the war, the neighborhood had gone from spanning 30 blocks to just a few square blocks, and it went from being known as Nihonjin Machi meaning “Japanese People’s Town” to Nihonmachi, merely meaning “Japantown.”


Waygo incorrectly translates the Japanese sign. Good thing there was English in this case!


Webster = Sea Urchin Town? Waygo translates the 2nd character incorrectly.









Today Japantown bustles with commercial life, comprised primarily of two connected shopping centers full of restaurants, bookstores, furniture stores, spas, and cafes. In between the two centers, spans a large outdoor plaza for gathering, with a 5-tiered Peace Pagoda at its center. The sense of a Japanese community is primarily confined to the businesses, rather than the surrounding residential neighborhood. Unlike Chinatown which is home to thousands of Chinese residents, Japantown is more of a center for commercialism rather than a center where Japanese people live and work. No doubt about it though—you can’t possibly be anywhere else besides Japantown—bonsai stores, anime video stores, and moki bakeries abound!

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Bookstores are packed with items you can only find in Japantown.



Shibuya is a bustling district of Tokyo, famous for shopping, subways, and nightlife.


















Among some of the most interesting shops you’ll find  a shop entirely dedicated to wallet photos, Pika Pika.



J-Town’s biggest happenings comprise Cherry Blossom Festival during a 2-week span in April and the Nihonmachi Street Fair in August. Throughout the year, the area stays busy with smaller festivals, like the Joy of Soy:


If you cannot visit the real thing, Sfjapantown.org is a good sneak preview.


Happy travels to a Japantown near you!




What’s Up with Waygo?

Hello Waygo Friends!

So what’s up with Waygo you ask? Lots! Today we’ll give you the low-down on all things Waygo.

First off, we’re hiring! Interested in working with us? We’re currently searching for a lead Android developer and we’d love to hear from you! Find all the details in our previous blog post.

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Wait…hold up…Android?! YES! In case you missed it, we celebrated our Android release on May 6th! Check us out now available in the Google Play store.


Lookin’ good, Ryan!

Waygo has been busy on the road. Waygo CEO, Ryan, shared his insights during the Global Mobile Internet Conference (GMIC) in Beijing on May 6th. To learn Ryan’s tips to life on the road, check out this Wall Street Journal blog post.

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We’ve also been making movies—”Imagine being able to navigate drinks and food with your smart phone!” Do you recognize the voice? What about the hands? Hint: Take a second look at the photo above of that peace-sign-wielding man!

So that’s what up with Waygo. We’d love to hear from you, so let us know your latest adventures with (or without!) Waygo.

Have a happy week!,

Team Waygo

P.S. Thanks to IT Pro Portal for naming us App of the Day last week!

Hiring Waygo Android Developer!

Lead Android Developer

Waygo (by Translate Abroad)
Providence, RI/ Mountain View, CA/ Taipei, Taiwan (allows remote)

Featured in NYTimes, LATimes, Time, Popular Science and more!

Waygo-Icon logo

Job Description

Instant visual translation startup Waygo is looking for a solid Android developer to lead the development of our newly released Android app. Since release, the app has been growing significantly and our users have made over 1 million translations! As if that isn’t cool enough, we took 1st place at the 2014 SXSW Accelerator competition!

You will be driving the development of the Android app building new features, fixing bugs, optimizing app performance, and creating awesome. As this is largely a frontend role, you will be interfacing with our backend technologies via the JNI and working closely with our iOS Developer to maintain a consistent experience across both platforms.

Skills and Requirements

  • 1+ year experience working with the Android SDK
  • Understanding of mobile/UI design patterns
  • Be able to show us your past Android work/projects/products
  • Experience with the Android Camera API
  • Experience with version control system (Git) and collaborative coding
  • Highly motivated and self-directed
  • Good communication skills, we are a distributed team
  • Poorly commented code drives you insane
  • B.S. in Computer Science or Engineering
  • Interested in food, travel, and languages (that’s what our product is about!)

Bonus points:

  • Experience with C++ and/or iOS
  • A published app on the Play Store
  • Practical experience with HTTP/HTTPS/JSON
  • Familiarity with JNI

Super bonus points:

  • A worthy ping pong opponent
  • Love craft beer and have an Untappd account
  • Excited about eyewear like google glass (even if you think people look funny wearing it)

What We Offer

Competitive salary, stock options, health insurance, and the ability to work from home and be flexible. Most importantly though, we let you take leadership and ownership of a product hundreds of thousands of people have downloaded and millions of people need. If you mess up, our users notice. If you build something great, our users take even more notice :)

We plan annual company retreats that give us an opportunity to all be in the same place at once. Our last one was a company trip to SXSW! We have regular ‘virtual’ happy hours via Google Hangouts where we unwind with our favorite adult beverage and don’t talk at all about work.

About Waygo

We believe in building products that break down cultural and linguistic barriers. Waygo is a real-time, offline, instant visual translation app for iPhone and Android smartphones. Currently Waygo translates Chinese and Japanese to English and we will be expanding on language pairs in the future.

We are driven to be the best mobile translation app for travelers out there. We have built all of our technology in house and pride ourselves in being a deep technical team.

We are a hard-working group, but also value the importance of having a healthy balance between our professional and personal lives. When we’re not working, we go to the orchestra, ride motorcycles, homebrew, raise families, play instruments, etc. When on the job, we are a focused bunch motivated to change the way people travel and experience the world.

Contact Email: jobs@waygoapp.com

It’s All Chinese to Me: Explaining Chinese Part 2

This is a continuation of a series on explaining the language of Chinese. In the Part 1 of this blog post we explored the concepts of Mandarin vs. Cantonese, Simplified vs. Traditional, and tones. This week we will cover some Chinese etymology and the different groups of Chinese characters.


Chinese characters number in the tens of thousands, but fear not(!!!)—the vast majority are characters you’ll likely never encounter—unless you are reading ancient historical texts. Knowing (being able to read and speak) about 3,000-4,000 characters is believed to be sufficient for having functional literacy, where you’re able to function comfortably and successfully in an all-Chinese environment.

Chinese characters are formed by different methods to convey their meanings. To make this easier to digest, let’s relate this back to English, think about the different types of words we have such as onomatopoeias and compound words.

Phono-Semantic Compounds
Semantic-phonetic compounds make up roughly 90% of Chinese characters. Each of these characters consists of two parts: a semantic component (which hints at the meaning of the character), and a phonetic component (which hints at the pronunciation of the character). This is somewhat similar to the English idea of a homonym. Examples:

(water) + (hú)(hú) lake.

(water) +  (wood, pronounced mù) =  (mù) to wash. Not only does influence the pronunciation of the character, but it also lends to its meaning—people wash clothes against wood.

 (water) +  (middle, zhōng) = 沖 (chōng) riptide. The phonetic indicator is  (zhōng), which by itself means middle. Note how the pronunciation of the character has changed from zhōng to chōng.

On the left-hand side of all 3 characters, there is the radical for water(氵), which is a simplified pictograph for a water drop. The presence of the water radical shows that each character is somehow related to water (lakes, riptides, to wash). The right-hand side of each characters contains a phonetic indicator, which hints at how to pronounce the character.

These are the oldest types of characters. Pictographs were originally pictures of the things they represent, and over time, they have become simplified and modified. See below for the transformation of characters for sun, eye, tree, mountain, horse, knife, fish, and doors.

chinese pictograph

chinese characters pictorgrams

These pictures can help you relate modern day characters to how they became formed. Photo credit: Chineasy.org

Simple Ideographs/Indicatives
Ideographs are graphical representations of abstract ideas. Examples:

上 (shàng): up. The stroke is above the line.

下 (xià): down. The stroke is below the line.

Compound Ideographs
Compound ideographs combine one or more pictographs or ideographs to form new characters, both contributing to the meaning of the compound character. Examples:

(xiū): rest. Composed of the pictographs 人 (person) + 木 (tree) = a person resting on a tree.

(hǎo): good. Composed of 女 (woman or girl) and 子 (child or son) = it’s a good thing for a women to have a child, or another possible meaning is that it’s good fortune to have a both a daughter and son.


Let us know if you find this information helpful! Our goal is to help demystify the language of Chinese. After all, it may be all Greek to you, but we don’t want it to be all Chinese!

P.S. If you’d like to dive deeper into Chinese etymology these sites are great resources: Chinese Etymology (just put the character your curious about on the left-hand side box) and Yellow Bridge.

Waygo Speaks 日本の, too!

Dear Waygo friends,

It’s been a while. How have you been? In case you haven’t heard, Waygo now translates Japanese into English. 何 (nani)?! Yes, that’s right! Waygo is now trilingual. We launched the news earlier this month at South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, also winning the accelerator pitch competition for the Entertainment and Content Technologies category.

waygo japanese and chinese

We decided to add Japanese based off your feedback; Japanese was the most requested additional language. Since English is not super prevalent in Japan—even the subway signs are often without English—travelers in Japan face extra challenges. So what are you waiting for? It’s time to buy your tickets to Japan! After all, the cherry blossoms have officially begun blooming.

Waygo to the Test
This article inspired today’s blog post (if you want a good chuckle, I highly recommend clicking through to the link!) We tested Waygo against the article, comparing Waygo’s translations with the article’s. See below to see how Waygo did:

Case Study 1:

chinese english sign

Hand Grenade…not quite….

waygo translate fire extinguisher

Waygo wins!









Case Study 2:

lost in translation chinese



Waygo wins!









Case Study 3:

funny chinese translations

Cat ears and rotten children…?!


Waygo only successfully translates the beginning.


Waygo clarifies that they’re not actually ears.










Case Study 4:

wrong chinese translation

And by crap, they mean carp.


Waygo only translates the 1st 2 characters.









Case Study 5:


Although not eloquently stated, at least Waygo gives you an idea of the ingredients.


Well that’s not nice to call them stupid!

As you can see, Chinese continues to be a work in progress. Just like Chinese, Japanese is a complex language, presenting several new challenges to the Waygo team. For one, Japanese is made up of three different writing systems: kanji (Chinese characters used in Japanese), hiragana, and katakana. Each system has its own alphabet, but hiragana and katakana characters sometimes look similar in certain fonts. Yikes!

Remember, any and all feedback is welcome!! Please send us inaccurate, funny, or just plain wrong translations at feedback@waygo.com.

waygo funny 3

Hmmm…this might be difficult.


It’s All Chinese to Me: Explaining Chinese, Part 1

For those who have never studied Chinese, the Chinese language remains an incredibly mysterious entity. You’re not alone—in fact, Chinese remains one of the most difficult languages to learn, along with such languages as Japanese, Korean, and Arabic. Why is learning Chinese so difficult?

Chinese is a tonal language, in which meaning changes as you change the tone of a word. Plus, thousands of characters and a complex writing system make learning Chinese a formidable task.”



Learning Chinese might require more than just studying Chinese fortune cookie fortunes.

Although tools such as Waygo assist foreigners navigate Chinese with translations, it still proves helpful to take a step back and actually learn some basics of the language. One can easily become overwhelmed with Chinese, as it introduces some entirely new concepts you’ve never heard of before. As one of my favorite Chinese saying goes, 慢慢来 (mànmàn lái), or easy goes it. Today we’ll cover just 3 important concepts in attempt of demystifying this intimidating language, perhaps inspiring you to take on the challenge of learning Chinese further. Stay tuned for future posts where we will introduce and deep-dive into other topics!

1. Mandarin vs. Cantonese: What’s the difference? Does Waygo speak Mandarin or Cantonese? 

Mandarin and Cantonese are 2 of the many spoken dialects in China. Mandarin is the primary language in Mainland China, Singapore, and Taiwan, while Cantonese is the primary language in Hong Kong, Macau, and the surrounding area of Guangdong province.

Mandarin and Cantonese are written identically, just differing in the pronunciation. This means someone who only speaks Mandarin and someone who only speaks Cantonese could communicate by writing to one another, but couldn’t communicate speaking. You could say the two are as different from another as listening to Spanish and French.

There are dozens of more dialects within China beyond just these two. However, more and more people are learning Mandarin, an attempt by the government to prevent language barriers. Since the majority of dialects use the same Chinese characters, subtitles are always displayed on TV shows, so even if someone has never studied Mandarin, they could enjoy and understand TV by reading the characters.


2. Simplified vs. Traditional: Are these the same language? Is one harder than the other?

Simplified characters are the standard form of characters in Mainland China and Singapore. The government developed this simplified writing system back in the 1950s to encourage literacy, since these characters require fewer numbers of strokes than their traditional equivalents.


Simplified characters: simpler than traditional, but still not as simple as ABCs.

Traditional characters are still used today in Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan, and most overseas Chinese communities. Most mainland Chinese can recognize traditional characters (but might struggle if writing by hand, relying completely on memory) since most pop culture—karaoke lyrics included—are displayed in traditional characters since so much of China’s pop culture comes from Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Simplified characters can still contain close to 20 strokes, making them no easy feat at all! If you are trying to decide which set of characters to study, Waygo recommends studying the set used by the country that you are looking at living in or traveling to. Whichever you choose, knowing some of the most common characters and radicals (the components that make up characters) in both simplified and traditional would be helpful.


3. Chinese is a tonal language.

There are 4 tones in Mandarin Chinese, plus 1 neutral tone. Cantonese has 7 tones, but we will focus on Mandarin tones since Mandarin is the more common of the two dialects. Now that Waygo includes pinyin along with each translation, you have the opportunity to practice tones. Let’s try an example with the example sound of “ma.” This video goes through the different tones of ma.


The following sentence repeats the same sounds, but with different tones to produce a fairly complex sentence:

妈骑马。马慢,妈妈骂马。 (Māmā qí mǎ. Mǎ màn, māmā mà mǎ.): Mother is riding a horse. The horse slows down, and mother scolds the horse.

This will be a great tongue twister to know during the Year of the Horse. Try it out next time you meet a Chinese speaker!

P.S. For a review of Chinese numerals, take a trip back in time to revisit this blog post.


Hor(se)oscopes: Waygo Explains Chinese Zodiac

As the world reined in the Chinese New Year on January 31st, you probably heard lots of talk of horses. So what exactly does the Year of the Horse mean? Well hold your 马 (mă) and we will tell you!


A few weeks ago we talked about calendars and days in China in our Dating in China post, but we’ve never explained the Chinese zodiac. Chinese astrology dates back thousands of years to the Zhou dynasty (1046–256 BC), flourishing during the Han Dynasty (2nd century BC to 2nd century AD) alongside such principles of yin and yang, the five elements, and Confucianism.

There are twelve animals in the Chinese zodiac to represent the twelve full moons in a year. Just like the twelve signs in Western astrology, certain characteristics are associated with the different signs, and people belonging to each sign are said to possess certain traits. How were the 12 particular animals selected? Legend has it that long ago a Jade Emperor summoned all the animals to a meeting. The years of the calendar would be assigned according to the order that the animals arrived. Thus, the animals in the Great Race arrived in the following order: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, and lastly, pig.


The horse is associated with brightness, energy, intelligence, and competence. A go-getter person could be called a 千里马 (qiān lĭ mă), which is a horse that can gallop 1,000 li a day. 里 = lĭ , a measurement equivalent to about 400km.

A Zodiac Trick (well, kind of): Knowing someone’s Chinese zodiac makes it easy to guess their age. For example, if it’s 2014 and you’ve just met a horse, they are either 12, 24, 36, 48, 60, 72, or 90 years old.

You may have also heard of the tradition to wear red during your animal’s years, usually undergarments. Why you ask? Well it’s believed that during one’s zodiac year, or 本命年 (bĕnmìngnián), it’s likely to encounter bad luck. The best way to avoid this misfortune is to wear red clothes and red jewelry, especially effective if you purchase the gear for yourself.


Another component to the Chinese zodiac is the concept of the Four Pillars of Destiny, the four components which create a person’s destiny: the year, month, day, and hour of a person’s moment of birth. Not only is each year assigned an animal, but each month, day, and hour as well. So while you may be a Horse if you were born in the Year of the Horse, you might also be part Dragon, part Dog, and part Rabbit, depending on your exact time of birth.


Google’s homepage on January 31st.

The Chinese Zodiac also incorporates the idea of the Five Elements, or Wu Xing. Every two years the element changes; the current Year of the Horse is a wood horse, hence Google’s Doodle displayed a wooden rocking horse on January 31st. Last year’s Year of the Snake and the year before that’s Year of the Dragon were both water years, where as next year’s Year of the Goat will also be a wooden one. Read more here about the five elements pertaining to the zodiac.

五行 (wŭ xíng): The five elements are:
1.  木 (mù): wood
2. 火 (huǒ): fire
3.  土 (tǔ): earth
4. 金 (jīn): metal
5.  水 (shuǐ): water


Remember the Chinese New Year tradition of eating longevity noodles, symbolizing long life and endless prosperity? Well perhaps this year you can try the Guilin specialty, 马肉米粉 (mǎ ròu mǐ fěn)!


From all of us here at Waygo, happy Year of the Wooden Horse!

Say Hello to the Year of the Horse

The Chinese New Year, or Nónglì Xinnián, remains the longest and most important celebration in the Chinese calendar. New Year festivities traditionally begin on the first day of the first month of the Chinese calendar and continue through the fifteenth, when the moon is brightest. These 15 days of celebrations are also known as the spring festival. Celebrations for this Chinese Year, 4712, begin on January 31, 2014 and end on February 6, 2014.

The Chinese animal signs are an important part of the New Year. Legend claims that Buddha asked all the animals to meet him on Chinese New Year. A total of twelve arrived and Buddha named a year after each one. It is believed that people possess personality traits of their birth year’s animal. 2014 marks the year of the horse.

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Photo courtesy of YangmingRestaurant.com

During the Chinese New Year, the attention of the household is fixed on the celebration. Family members gather for visits and shared meals, most significantly a feast on New Year’s Eve. Festivals such as the lantern festival are held to celebrate the coming of the New Year.

Signifying the last day of the Chinese New Year, the lantern festival is held on the fifteenth day of the first lunar month. The dragon dance, a highlight of the event, is a trademark of the Chinese New Year. The dragon is typically made of silk, paper and bamboo and carried by young dancing men. Lantern Day festivities include music, dancing, acrobats and, of course, the sight of decorated lanterns everywhere. Lanterns are works of art and are painted with birds, animals, flowers, zodiac signs and scenes from legend and history.

Waygo Visits Dublin

Where in the world is Waygo now? Dublin! Waygo caught a bit of the travel bug and has been busy traveling Europe.

Although there is no Chinatown per se in Dublin, there are a number or Chinese businesses concentrated on Parnell Street and Moore Street. While this Chinese area is not as extensive as Milan’s, without a huge presence of Chinese residents, it was still fun to put Waygo to the test.


Parnell Street


Falun Gong Activists along Parnell Street.


Most businesses are Chinese along Parnell Street.


Although English is the predominant language in Ireland, the country has another official language, Gaelic. While Gaelic is a required subject for students, few people actually speak Gaelic outside of the classroom. That said, Gaelic is still spoken as a first language for some Irish, primarily from the west coast. All public signs and announcements in Dublin are in both English and Gaelic, sometimes making public transportation an adventure.


Merrion Square’s hours are posted.


The Year of the Horse is announced.



Walking throughout the city, you’ll see banners advertising the New Year of the Horse. If you happen to be in Dublin for Chinese New Year, make sure to partake in the festivities.






Even far away from Parnell Street, you’ll find a variety of Chinese businesses, mostly restaurants, grocery stores, hair salons, and travel agencies. Some clearly advertise to a Chinese-only audience without any English signs (thank goodness for Waygo!).


This poster is advertising air travel only in Chinese.


Rather than simply translating to “Wuhan,” Waygo tells you more about the city.










hot pot dublin

This hot pot restaurant only advertises to Chinese readers.


Waygo translates a menu.









The majority of Chinese residents in Dublin are students, first coming to learn English, and then enrolling in universities to study other subjects. Many students work part-time in Chinese businesses to help pay for studies.



Chinese grocery stores in Dublin offer a quick teleport to China.


Some signs are so well done, they don’t even need words. Good thing this isn’t usually the case throughout the world, or Waygo would be out of a job!


The most important signs you’ll see in Dublin are reminding you to LOOK RIGHT since cars drive on the left hand side of the road. In fact, it’s super easy to tell tourists from locals, as they are always taking a few more seconds before crossing the road to determine which way to look.

Look right

Happy Friday and happy travels!

Waygo Visits Milan’s Chinatown

Where in the world is Waygo? Milano! Che cosa?! Waygo anche parla italiano?

No! However, we were happy to discover that Waygo still speaks Chinese while traveling in Italy. Milan houses Italy’s largest Chinese community with about 19,000 Chinese residents, making up about 1.5% of its total population.


Meat cut for Chinese recipes.


Watch Chinese television programs from the sidewalk.










You don’t need a map to know that you’ve arrived in Chinatown. Street signs and billboards quickly change from Italian to Chinese. Milan’s Chinatown does not feel touristy like Chinatowns that you’ll find in other parts of the world. Milan’s Chinatown is no frills—it serves the needs of the locals, and creates an area where one can live without needing to know how to speak Italian. While San Francisco’s Chinatown does serve the needs of its Chinese residents, it also is one of San Francisco’s top tourist destinations, making the area a bit of a show, where as a trip to Milan’s Chinatown is just a view into ordinary life for the locals.


Store windows display cakes for Chinese holidays.


Businesses cater only to Chinese customers, without any Italian signage.










After just a short walk down the main drag, Via Paolo Sarpi,  it’s easy to learn Chinatown’s niche in the Milan economy: electronic repairs and sales. Each block seems to contain no less than 5 shops specializing in the electronics industry. The area is also replete with Chinese food markets and restaurants, inexpensive household items, and clothing stores that carry totally different clothes than clothing stores throughout the rest of the city.


The city connects with locals by displaying signs in Chinese, as seen in the photo on the left. Throughout the other parts of Milan, the same signs appear as the photo on the right.


Outside of Chinatown, the same sign is featured in Italian.


City signs in Chinatown are written in Chinese, rather than Italian.










Just like any Chinatown in the world, the Chinatown of Milan brings together Chinese and Italian tastes to create a unique fusion.


Pizza alongside eggrolls.

And what would be a Chinatown without karaoke? Before dinner we saw advertisements for a karaoke bar, followed the directions, and headed downstairs to the basement business. We could not wait to “sing leading role!

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However, once we arrived and inquired in Chinese, the hostesses quickly shooed us away, telling us it was only for Chinese customers. Although she explained that we wouldn’t enjoy it because they only had Chinese songs, we suspect there was something else (read: non-singing activities) taking place that she didn’t think we’d be interested in. We were probably the first non-Chinese customers to have ever wandered in, as all the signage was in Chinese, and without a friend that can read Chinese, like Waygo, you would have never known that there was a karaoke bar.


beef and chives

Manzo all’erba cipollina in Italian, or 牛肉韭菜 in Chinese.

While most Italian restaurants close after lunch and don’t open until about 7pm for dinner, Chinese restaurants are not just already opened at 7pm, but they are full of patrons. Waygo dined at Long Chang, and despite it only having a 3-star average on Yelp, we had a 5-star experience. Besides a handful of customers speaking Italian, and the Chinese menu translated into Italian (or “Chitaliano“= Chinese + Italiano), you would have never known you were in Italy. The majority of customers were speaking Chinese (along with the entire staff), the atmosphere mirrored a restaurant in China, and the food tasted like the homeland.



All of us here at Waygo wish you happy travels and a happy new year! Or as we like to say these days, buon viaggio e buon anno! Stay tuned for more of Waygo’s travel tales.

Oh and if you happen to be flying out of Milan’s Malpensa Airport, just follow the signs to your gate: