Mayday’s Latest Album 五月天最新的歌曲选

I don’t often write about music here, but I started listening to an album last night, and can’t get enough of it. It’s by Mayday, 五月天, a popular Taiwanese rockband who have been going strong since the 1990’s. The members now are all pretty much in their 40’s, they’re not anything like the young heartthrobs of One Direction.

Their latest 2016 album《自传》(History of Tomorrow) is said to be their penultimate album, and although I haven’t listened to any of their other albums from start to finish, this is one that I keep playing on repeat.

I understand Chinese, but often with songs, it’s harder to tell the meaning on the first time of hearing the words > see misheard lyrics so as it’s only the second time of me listening to the songs, I’m commenting more on the sound of the album rather than the lyrics. But Mayday are renowned and famous for their hard-hitting lyrics that are easy to relate to, talking about courage, patience, heartbreak and other such matters.

This album has a mixture of titles ‘party animal’, ‘what if we had never met’, ‘greatest day’ etc and they’re all pretty upbeat. They’re just an all round great boy band that’s stood the test of time.

Here’s a video to one of their new songs, it has English subtitles too if you switch them on on Youtube. The band are in the future as old men, they open a special vault, go back to the past (present day) and make all these people stop working hard and start partying, including yes, the token laowai (foreigner) and a girl who looks like she’s studying for her gaokao (Chinese college entrance exams you take in secondary school).

I plan to listen to the album a few more times, and look up the lyrics to some of my favourite songs, since Spotify isn’t like QQ Music and doesn’t give you lyrics (unless that’s on the premium version?)

I stumbled on the album by chance, after wanting to listen to one of my favourite soppy nostalgic Chinese songs 《倔强》 also by the band. I thought the band was done with recording, so was pleasantly surprised to hear some new music from them. Keep it up guys, I’m waiting for your last album and next world tour!



Translating Books

After waking up at 6am on a rainy day in Qingdao, instead of running, I decided to watch some TED talks whilst waiting for my friend to wake up. I stumbled across a playlist of talks for thoughtful travellers and was amazed at some of the great things people are doing across the world. One of those people was Ann Morgan, in 2012 she set out to read one book from each country in the world, but as an English speaker, the language barrier became a big problem. Her talk can be found here.

But on her journey she found people who sourced and even translated books into English for her. This got me thinking… Not about reading 196 books in one year, but about translating books.

It’s very true that lots of the books in British book stores are in English, as they were written. There aren’t a lot of translations available, and even at university where language students have to take literature courses, the books are usually written in the original language, much to our disappointment, as reading books like Don Quixote* in ancient Spanish is not an easy feat.

This limits the British public, readers and book enthusiasts. And I’m not criticising British, American, Canadian writers, but it’s good to look at things from a different point of view and if you don’t know a second or third language, it’s impossible to surpass the language barrier.

Ann’s story has inspired me to start work on translating a Chinese book. Not the likes of 《红楼梦》or any of the other big four literary works of China, but the work of a young contemporary author, 方慧.

I’m reading her debut book at the moment called 《手机里的男朋友》, it’s a collection of short stories about how girls date in the 21st century, with instant messaging and social media. I think it’s a hilarious book, telling stories that even young Western women can relate to, things like being too shy to speak to the guy you like, getting an outbreak of acne, talking to a guy online and then realising he’s different when you talk in person etc. But there is still a lot of Chinese culture embedded in it, and some things that make me say ‘woah, that’s strange’, or ‘why did she say that?!’.

The front cover

As it’s a small collection of stories, I can work on the individually and I hope to have three completed by the end of this year (there are 15 in total, but I’ll be working soon, so don’t want to set my goal too high).

But I’ve already hit some hurdles before I’ve even began this task. Do I translate literally, or do I change some aspects to things that English speakers would relate to and understand? For example, the title of the book is also a title of one of the chapters, literally it’s ‘The boyfriend inside my phone’, but I don’t think that has a good ring to it. I’ve also thought about ‘Online boyfriend’, but a lot of the interactions in the book are done through mobile technology, not through a computer, as online may suggest. Then there’s other options, like ‘My mobile boyfriend’, ‘Guy: online’ and other creative one’s I’ve thought up.

Secondly, the first chapter of the book is called 《微博自杀记》Weibo suicide diary , but the majority of Westerners don’t know what Weibo is…do I replace it with Facebook, something that English speakers can relate more clearly to? But there are some specific Weibo features that Facebook doesn’t have, which would be lost if I changed it to Facebook.

I guess it is very difficult to translate a book, as you want to make the text accessible to your readers, but if you change it too much, it strays away from the original. If you keep some original elements (like Weibo), it becomes hard to read, messy, or the readers don’t know what these things are.

So that is my aim for this year. I will also try to get in contact with the author through Weibo, to let her know what I’m doing, and see if there could be any opportunity to publish my translation in the future (I’m not sure on copyright laws in China). Until then, I will continue reading the book and working on my 成语’s.

*Although there are English translations of Don Quixote, there are a lot of them, and no definite ‘best version’

Who put the 松 in 马拉松?

Chinese is a pretty ancient language, with some characters* still resembling the original drawings that people made thousands of years ago. But often, new inventions or words are invented, that weren’t in any previous Chinese dictionaries. Some of these words are Anglicisms – words that sound like the English words, but have been spelt out in Chinese characters. Here are a few to get you warmed up, let’s see if you can guess them (answers at the bottom)

  • 沙发 shafa
  • 可口可乐 kekoukele
  • 比萨 bisa
  • 伦敦 lundun

Another one is 马拉松, the Chinese word for marathon. As you can see, there are three characters, and each one has it’s own meaning:

  1. 马 ma
  2. 拉 la  and
  3. 松 song

So when you put them together, they sound like marathon – malasong. Do you hear it? So let’s look closer at the characters and their meanings:

  1. 马 means horse, which I think is fair, considering the distance in a marathon
  2. 拉 means pull, tug, transport, moving, play (string instruments) etc, which is also ok, considering you have to move yourself a long way to the finish line and it involves energy
  3. 松 however, is different. it means pine tree (which is fair if there are pine trees on the route), but it also means loose, relaxed, slack, untied which are not words I would associate with a marathon.

I just completed my first half marathon yesterday, it was in China, so I thought about this during the race. Who put the 松 in 马拉松? because there were points (especially after my dreaded 17km stage) were my muscles were definitely not loose and relaxed, I wasn’t relaxed, and I didn’t want my shoelaces to be untied either!

Do you have any idea where this came from? Do you think it’s funny?

Here’s a video to the Running Man tv show, the lyrics to the chorus are: brothers, let’s run together GO GO GO GO, run, run, run. People played it aloud on their phones during the race, it definitely got in my head and is kinda catchy.

*by characters, I mean the Chinese symbols they use as letters

Answers to the test: 沙发 shafa (sofa),可口可乐 kekoukele (coke), 比萨 bisa (pizza), 伦敦 lundun (London)

Park Life (in China)

Despite how polluted and urban China is, it still has lots of parks in it’s big cities. Today was  初一, the first day of the Year of the Monkey, and I decided to spend the afternoon in one of Chongqing’s parks, I settled for 花卉园 (Chongqing Flower Park). I was originally planning to go to 鸿恩寺公园 (Hongen temple park), as it looked bigger on the map, but as I was ill, I didn’t want to have to talk to a taxi driver too much, so just stayed at the flower park because it was right next to the metro station.

I first had a walk around, and I felt tired, so looked for a place to sit, most of the tables were full of people playing mahjong.

Mahjong players
Playing mahjong


So I found a seat in a quiet pavillion where there were some old men sitting quietly, at first they just stared at me in silence, then one started to talk about my shoes. He was talking in Chongqing dialect, but from what I understood, he said that young people like me like wearing flat shoes, but older people, aged 30-40 wear high heels, or maybe it was the other way round?

Lads in the park
Lads in the park

More men came along, one by one and they all greeted each other with a closed fist 拜年 action. One talked to me in normal Mandarin, asked what I was doing here etc, then they all started discussing those semi politically incorrect questions you’re not supposed to ask Brits between themselves – was Thatcher good or bad for the UK?; are the Falkland islands are British or Argentinian? I let them discuss it by themselves and continued writing my diary.

So much love for his hat
Love his hat

Then one of the old men started talking about good luck, and how luck varies for each person, depending on where and when you were born, so no two people in the world have the same luck. One wise guy was like ‘what about twins?’ but he was quickly shut down. He told them how to read their hands to find out something, so they all held their hands up to their faces. It was really interesting sitting with them, but after a while I left to explore more of the park.


I heard the familiar sound of a corny square dance song 广场舞 so followed it. To my surprise there were loads of people there, dancing all different kinds of styles, I couldn’t keep up and stayed watching for a while. A man much older than me asked me to dance with him, I politely declined. It was a bit school disco-ish in the way that people sitting around were waiting to go dance with someone or be chosen, I just wanted to people watch. Each song lasted about 10 minutes, then people changed partners or sat down to rest.

I also came across a group who had a little KTV karaoke session set up, with a prop-up TV with the lyrics and songs on, an amp and a mike.

After an awfully scarring toilet break, which I may or may not share on this blog, I went to the ‘good view platform’, but the view wasn’t all that good at all before going back to the square with all the dancing. This time I was a little bombarded by the guy in the stripey top, as you can see below towards the end of the video. He told me he was a professional dance teacher and he would teach me for free. I kept telling him I didn’t want to and eventually ran away when he turned his back, because he came and whispered “你们英国人很美” in my ear.

I had a great afternoon in the park, chilling with the locals, listening to Chongqing dialect and taking lots of pictures too.

If you’re in Chongqing and want to visit the Flower Garden, take the metro line 6 (the pink one) to 花卉园 Huahuiyuan, leave the subway at exit 2 and the park is right there.

How old am I?

I’ve got to an age where age isn’t so important. I remember in primary school when we would calculate our exact ages “I’m 6 and a half” because that half a year made us so much older and wiser than our classmates. Anyway, this post is about my age in China.

I met a Chinese guy a few weeks ago, and we had the usual introduction conversation, what’s your name, where are you from etc? Then the conversation went as follows:

Me: I’m 23, you?

小刘: Me too

Me: Oh cool, so you’re also a Goat [Chinese zodiac]

小刘: What? No. I’m a rooster.

Me: That’s impossible, how can you be 23 and a rooster?

小刘: How can you be 23 and a goat? What year were you born in?

Me: 1991

小刘: 1991? Then you’re not 23… you’re, let me check…you’re 25 years old.

I was slightly confused and for a few moments wondered if I really was 25, and what had I wasted the past 2 years of my life doing?

I did the maths again, 1991 to 2000 is 9, + 15 means I’ll turn 24 this year but I haven’t had my birthday yet so I was definitely 23, not 25. I asked him to explain his method, but he couldn’t. He just insisted I was 25.

Then this week in class, our teacher gave us an explanation of Chinese ages. There are two main types, 周岁 and 虚岁*:

周岁 [zhousui] is your ‘actual’ age, which increases on your birthday. But unlike in the west, in China, when you are born, you are 1 year old, not 0 months. My teacher said it’s because women are pregnant for a year before the baby is born. All the females in our class shouted an anonymous NO, it’s 9 months! Which shows how little our teacher knows about pregnancy.

虚岁 [xusui] is your nominal age, so the age that you will turn at the end of the year. It’s also based on the same idea as 周岁, that when you are born you are 1 year old. So regardless of whether you’ve had your birthday or not, you will always be slightly older.

For an example, a child that was born on 02/12/2000 is now:

  • 14 in Western terms
  • 15 周岁
  • 16 虚岁

Confused? I still am. And now I know the theory behind the ages, when people tell me their age, I don’t know if they are telling me their Western age, 周岁, or 虚岁. Is it rude to ask them to clarify how old they are? I also don’t know whether to keep telling people I meet that I’m 23, as they may think I’m 虚岁 23 [so actually 21].

*my dictionary says there are other ages, 足岁 and 实岁 but I don’t want to confuse myself anymore, so will stick to these two.

Is the pen dead? Mine definitely isn’t.

I recently read an article about how pens, paper and handwriting are all dead in British society, at least. The figures are shocking, reading about how few young people have written a letter, but even with the increase of technology, this isn’t true for me. Maybe I’m a special case, but I can’t see me putting my pens down anytime soon (neither can these hard working students in the library).

At the library
At the library

As I study Chinese, it’s incredibly important for me to keep on top of my handwriting, not only for the weekly dictation spelling tests we have, but also for character recognition and ingraining new characters into my memory. There are many characters that look similar 人 and 入, which look alike but also ones like 休/体, 偷/愉 and semi symmetrical ones like 部/陪, Then there are the really complicated characters like 藏 or 囊,which are usually traditional characters that even China hasn’t been able to simplify.

I find the most effective method of remembering them is by writing them, from 1-10 times on neat squared paper. As I’m on a 20hr/week intensive language course, I have over 100 new pieces of vocabulary to learn a week, some of which are Chinese idioms (成语) which consist of four characters. That’s not even including my homework, notes in class and writing my diary. It’s safe to say,I use a lot of pens and paper here in China.

After spending 20p on each gel ink pen, that I would finish in a couple of weeks, I decided this was quite expensive. I saw refill ink cartridges in the stationary shop which were 10p each, or a box of 20 for £1.60, At first I thought I doubted I would use a whole 20 pens worth of ink, but then I realised I probably would use all of them, so bought the box. Who said the pen was dead?

Another one of my goals for this time in China is to learn some 练笔,joined up handwriting – in Chinese. At the moment, I write like a 7 year old Chinese student, clearly marking each stroke of the character, but this takes time and my Chinese friends don’t write like this. Sometimes my teachers comments are also in cursive Chinese, so I want to learn how to write it in order to read it too. It will save me time when writing down points in listening class and hopefully not affect the beauty of my printed characters.

Cursive Chinese
At the library

How often do you write with a pen and paper?

Ridiculous Texts

I’ve been studying Chinese for over four years now, and have used a variety of text books. Some of the texts are really interesting and give us students a real insight into Chinese culture and history – one of my favourites was about 武则天, an evil empress from China’s history. But today I want to talk about three texts which have just been ridiculous, texts that I probably will never forget. I’ve ranked them in order of ridiculousness, and am sorry if I ruin the surprise for any of you currently studying Chinese.

3. God’s punishment for the golf playing Rabbi

This text is from an oral text book and it tells the story of how one day, there is a Rabbi, who love to play golf. One Sabbath*, all he wants to do is play golf, and he thinks that as it’s the Sabbath, nobody will know if he goes to play 9 holes (*Jews are supposed to rest at home on the Sabbath). He goes out, and of course, nobody is on the golf course to catch him out, except suddenly on the third hole, an angel spots him and goes to God to tell on him. God says he will punish the Rabbi, so for the remaining holes, the Rabbi plays excellently, nearly all his shots are holes in one, so he plays another 9 holes to complete the course. The angel goes back to God and asks what kind of punishment is this? He’s getting great results. Then God says to the angel, “Aha, he won’t be able to tell anybody about his excellent round of golf because they’ll know he’s broken the rules by going to play on the Sabbath. Not being able to share your happiness with other people is a punishment”

I like this anecdote, but I just think it’s a bit out of place in a Chinese text book, since religions aren’t practiced the same way as they are in other countries, and I don’t think there is a big Jewish community in China, nor many golf courses.

2. Buying a banana apple

This story was from my first year and was a very simple dialogue about a Canadian student 林娜, buying fruit in a market in China. She asked for a kilo of bananas, half a kilo of apples and a kilo of banana apples. Wait, what, banana apples yes, you read correct. We were told that in China, there is a fruit called “banana apple”, which looks like an apple but tastes like a banana. I’ve been in China for over 6 months in total now, and have yet to find one. When I searched on Baidu (the Chinese Google), apart from photos of apples and bananas beside each other, I found pictures showing yellowish apples as below. Until I eat one, I refuse to acknowledge that they actually exist!

Banana Apple
Banana Apple

1. Is that really our daughter?

This by far must be the most ridiculous text I’ve come across so far. It’s from a text book I used last time I was in China. A couple with straight, blonde hair, small (one lidded) eyes and white skin have a baby. They take the baby girl home, and one day, the Mum says to the baby “are you really our daughter? You have such dark skin, black curly hair and big (double lidded) eyes”. The Mum isn’t convinced, so goes back to the hospital to check. She meets the nurse who delivered the baby, who realises that on that day, there were two baby no. 6’s born. She gives the white couple the address of the other couple who’s baby was no.6. They go to this family’s home and a black lady with curly black hair opens the door, holding a small white, blond baby girl. They realise that their babies have been switched at birth, so meet another day and swap toys, clothes and babies.

I like the variation of our texts, as sometimes learning Chinese, you find yourself always talking about Chinese food and being a foreigner in China (as well as the basic “where are you from, what do you study, WOW your Chinese is so good, how long have you been in China). But sometimes, the texts are a bit strange. Have you had any strange texts in your Chinese text books, or do you remember reading any of these texts yourself?

Worst Chinese Meal Ever

When I tell people I’ve been to/am living in China, sometimes food comes up as a topic for discussion, the most common questions being:

  • What’s the strangest food you’ve eaten and liked? Chicken hearts
  • Have you ever eaten a spider on a stick? No
  • What about a scorpion, or snake? No
  • Have you eaten dog meat? I heard it’s popular in some Chinese towns. Not to my knowledge

The Chinese cuisine is varied according to the different provinces, and although there are dishes you’ll get anywhere in China, a lot of towns and provinces have their own specialities and their own twists on the national classics.

Anyway, today I fancied noodles, so I went into a small restaurant on campus, where I’ve had tomato and egg noodles before that were nice. I looked at the menu and decided to have the chicken and mushroom noodles. I paid my 8¥ (80p) and waited a short while. Soon enough, a large bowl of steaming hot noodles came out. As I carried my tray over to an empty table, I realised that something smelt like gravy… my noodles smelt like gravy.

I don’t like gravy. I think I’ve been traumatised by gravy every since that one time when I was younger when I went to my friend’s house for Sunday lunch and when everyone had finished eating, the gravy bowl was passed around the table and everyone had to drink a spoonful of it before passing it along. So to see my tasty noodles swimming in a bowl of thick gravy wasn’t a nice thought.

Nervously I dipped my spoon in the broth just to check I wasn’t imagining it all, but sure enough, all I could taste was thick, gloopy gravy. Normally when eating in China, either you go with friends and choose a few dishes to share, or you’ll go to the canteen and pick your own mini dishes of food so if you don’t like something, there’s always something else you can have instead. There’s always the standard bowl of plain rice too if you don’t like any of the dishes. With my noodles however, there was no escaping the gravy,

Trying to shake the gravy off my noodles
Trying to shake the gravy off my noodles

I picked up a bunch of noodles on my chopsticks and tried to shake the gravy off the noodles, but it didn’t work so I had to eat sloppy, gravy noodles for my lunch and it was definitely the worst meal I’ve had in China, ever. I thought back to when I was in Qingdao and can’t remember any meals I didn’t like there – even the chicken feet weren’t too bad.

What’s the worst meal you’ve had in China?

Wechat Moments (1)

I’m calling this Wechat Moments (1) as I imagine this will be the first of many miscommunications, misunderstandings or strange things that happen on Wechat. For those of you that aren’t familiar with Wechat. It’s an incredibly popular social media app and is huge in China where Facebook is banned. It has an interface like Whatsapp for chatting and voice messages. You can also send animated stickers, photos, music etc. Then there’s your ‘Moments’, which acts like your Facebook wall where you can upload photos and/or statuses, as well as sharing articles by companies that publish regularly. There’s a part where you can Shake your phone and chat to anyone else in the world who happens to be shaking at that moment, use GPS to chat to People Nearby and you can play games too.

Because it’s so popular and used by pretty much everyone in China, people will ask you for your Wechat ID to continue your friendship. People that ask for your Wechat can vary from your actual friends and classmates, other students walking around campus, your teachers, to strangers on the bus who want to be friends with a foreigner.

The fashionable thing is to have your profile picture of 1) someone other than you 2) a flower or 3) a cartoon caricature. It’s also cool to have your screen name as something other than your name so when people add you, sometimes it takes a while to figure out who it is that you’re talking to.

I got a friend request from LU yesterday, the picture was of a small Chinese child and I didn’t know who this person was. Here is our conversation:

Me: Hello

LU: Hello

LU: How was your weekend?

Me: Fine, yours

I wasn’t going to give this Lu character any actual information until I knew who they actually were. I’ve had some strange spam messages come through before and I didn’t know if this was spam.

LU: Not bad, also hehe

LU: Did you go and play with your friends?

Me: Yes, you?

Again, one word answers seemed the best way to go with this.

LU: I was working

LU: I didn’t go out

Me: Oh, it’s like that (said in Chinese internet slang)

By this time, I looked on LU’s Wechat moments and realised that he’s my Chinese teacher, here at university. So this time it’s not a stranger trying to sell me gynaecological treatments.

LU: Haha, you really can speak Chinese

LU: Great!

LU: Where do you live?

This is where it started to get a bit strange, I didn’t want to tell him my whole address so simply replied

Me: In the international student dorms

I wasn’t going to ask where he lived.

LU: Ok, not bad

LU: Can I see one of your pictures?

Because I want to fit in to Chinese society, my profile picture isn’t me, it’s this cute picture of a panda in a panda cap.

My profile pic
My profile pic

Me: So you want me to send you a photo of me?

LU: Yes, send me one so I can see you

LU: Your level of Chinese really isn’t bad at all

LU: You could directly study a Masters in Chinese

Me: *sends picture*

Me: I haven’t thought of studying a Masters

LU: Oh, not bad

LU: Are you married?

It’s definitely weird now, he’s asked where I live, if I’m married and I’ve just sent him a photo. What if he tries to marry me off to someone?

Me: No, why do you ask?

LU: Just thought I’d ask, hehe

Me: In our culture, we don’t usually directly ask these sorts of questions…

LU: Oh, sorry

LU: Chinese people usually ask these questions, I’m really sorry

Me: It’s ok, don’t worry

The conversation then continued by him asking me to help teach his 3 year old son English, as he’s in nursery and they don’t have English classes. I said I was interested but still don’t know my timetable and if I’ll do other activities in the afternoon as I don’t want to commit to teaching my teacher’s son from the beginning and then encounter difficulties or more awkward moments. He said we’ll discuss it another day.

Learning Mandarin

As I prepare for my last Chinese exam at university, I want to share this post with you, from Learn Mandarin Now, the website collected the views (including mine) of bloggers, teachers and natives to find the most effective ways people have of learning Mandarin.

The top 10 methods

Out of the top ten methods mentioned above, I’ve used half of them and I don’t really have much time to experiment with the other five online learning tools mentioned above before my exam on Wednesday.

If you want to check out the full list of recommendations and other bloggers who are learning Chinese click here, there are categories of the best books, dictionaries, apps and video/news websites to use. I definitely agree that Pleco has been the most useful and I will use the flashcards to test my character knowledge over the next few days, with my favourite Chinese shows 《非诚勿扰》 and 《爸爸去哪儿?》 on in the background!