Nosy Neighbor: What Do the Characters on 47 Vestry Mean?

After walking by 47 Vestry countless times, I realized I had no idea what the foreign characters painted on the façade mean. So I asked myself to look into it.

I checked the AIA Guide, to no avail. I took the photos you see here and pondered the buzzers, but I didn’t see any that I could justify ringing. The super next door came over to ask what I was up to, and he offered to pass along my card. I Googled, naturally. I posted something on this site asking if anyone knew Korean, because it looked Korean to me. When I was about to give up, I left a note on the front door.

To my utter surprise and delight, the building’s board president, Amy Wolf, called me two hours later. She explained how the residents developed the building themselves, buying it in 1994. “It had that writing on the outside, and we thought it was the history of the building so we left it.” They’ve even maintained it over the years. Wolf said she was under the impression it was Korean for “international noodle corporation or something like that.”

The “something like that” wouldn’t leave me alone, so I asked the folks at my dry cleaners. They said the writing was actually Chinese. I asked again on this site.

Reader Jayne offered to take a look, pointing out that “Some Koreans can read Chinese, as in Korea, certain words are written in Chinese over Korean. Not sure why…. but that mostly happens in newspaper writing.” She didn’t know what the characters meant, but she passed the photos along to a friend, who said, “First letter means ‘Nation’ or ‘country.’ Not sure about the second letter….” As for the second photo, she said, “The first letter means ‘Eating’ or ‘Food.’ The second letter means ‘Product.’ Basically, putting the letters together means 식품 in Korean—Food products or Grocery.”

Then reader Betty volunteered to try: “Chinese characters were traditionally used by the Koreans and Japanese back in the day because it seemed convenient for them since they had not developed a comprehensive writing system,” she explained. “It was only within the last 500 years that each of the countries created a phonetic ‘alphabet’ for vernacular use.” I emailed the photos. “These are Chinese characters of two words with two characters each. The first two characters is the word ‘international,’ and the next two is ‘food/edible supply.'”

Note: Reader Mark emailed to say that “The Japanese readings of these words are: kokusai (International) and shokuhin (Food). Chinese speakers will pronounce them differently but the meanings are the same.”

Got a question? Email it to and I’ll try to answer it.

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