Misheard lyrics (China)

Chinese is a tonal language, but in songs, it’s incredibly hard to incorporate the tones. For example one pinyin word like ‘wo’ pronounced in a different tone can mean me, nest, hold, crouch or snail depending on the tone and the character – 窝 and 蜗 are both the first tone, but one means nest, the other means snail. Therefore, this can lead to a lot of misheard lyrics, especially for us language learners.

Here are some of my misheard lyrics, I won’t tell you how long it took me to find out their real meanings:

你是我心内的一首歌 – Selina/ 王力宏
Pinyin: haoxiang wen ni
I heard: 好想吻你; I really want to kiss you
Actual lyrics:好想问你; I really want to ask you

The next line of this song is 对我到底有没有动心 (if your feelings about me have changed at all), so looking at it in that way, it’s quite obvious that it’s a question.

送你一首吉祥的歌 – 乌兰图雅
Pinyin: lailailai heipengyoumen
I heard: 来来来,黑朋友们; come here, black friends!
Actual lyrics: 来来来,嘿朋友们; come here, hey friends!

The ‘hey’ in this song is a Chinglish word, they used the English word ‘hey’, and the Chinese word for black is also hei. It sounds pretty similar. Other lyrics in the song also say ‘it doesn’t matter where you come from, we’re all friends’, so my interpretation 真有道理!

我的蒙古马 – 乌兰图雅
Pinyin: wo de menggu ma
I heard: 我的蒙古man; my Mongolian man
Actual lyrics: 我的蒙古马; my Mongolian horse

Wulantuya is my current favourite artist, so it’s only likely she’s on this list. She usually sings about the grasslands and she has some songs about a guy she likes, so I thought she was revealing that she liked a Mongolian man, and added the English word ‘man’ in, just because it’s cool to mix languages in songs. But I should have listened more carefully, actually, the first sound you hear when you play this song is a horse’s whinny, and yeah, the video is full of horses.

http://player.youku.com/player.php/sid/XNjM2NDU3OTI0/v.swf

时间都去哪儿了?- 王铮亮
Pinyin: yibeizi
I heard: 一杯子 (a cup)、亿倍次 (a million times)、一被子 (a quilt)
Actual lyrics: 一辈子; a lifetime

This song is about time passing fast and his parent’s relationship, but 一辈子 is a word I hear in a lot of Chinese songs. I first thought it meant a cup, like sharing a glass of wine or a nice drink together. The previous lyrics are 生儿养女: bearing and bringing up children, so maybe a million times would be suitable, meaning that his parents would do it all over again and again. Then I thought, as I’d heard yibeizi in plenty of love songs, it meant a quilt, like moving in with someone and sharing a quilt with them, cos that’s romantic right? All of those times I was wrong, and it was infact 一辈子,the Chinese word for ‘a lifetime’.

What songs have you misheard in Chinese or any other language? Did you make any of the same mistakes as I did?

Let me look that up

I’ve been studying languages for a long time (over 20 years in fact, because I’m still learning my native language English) so I’m pretty used to using dictionaries. I’ve had lots of foreign language dictionaries in the past and still do, from school learners dictionaries, to picture dictionaries, pocket dictionaries and native language dictionaries. So I always have a lot of choices when I meet a new word.

As now I’m focusing on Chinese language, I usually turn to Pleco when I don’t know a word. It’s a very useful app, where if you don’t know how to type the Chinese character, you can draw it and the app will recognise it. Pleco is a very useful tool for all Mandarin learners, and it has some pretty good translations of Chinese idioms too.

Lately, my vocabulary book has gone into overdrive and the words are colour-coded according to which text book they came from: comprehensive, listening, oral, reading and writing.

A few of my teachers have seen me looking up vocabulary on Pleco, and have told me that now I’m at an advanced level, I should be looking up unknown vocabulary in Chinese, not in English because the translations aren’t always right and there are some subtle differences with some words: for example, in English referee and judge are two different words, but in Chinese, 裁判 can be used to describe both of these. It’s also true that some things just don’t have a handy translation, try telling me what 辛苦你了 translates as!

Baidu dictionary app
Baidu dictionary app

This is not the first time this has happened. In our final year of university, in our Spanish translation classes, we were not allowed to use Spanish-English dictionaries, and instead were all made to download the RAE dictionary (the Spanish equivalent of the Oxford dictionary). We all reluctantly did this, but secretly would go home and check Wordreference when completing our homework.

Our teachers are right, looking up a word in an English- foreign language dictionary is a bit lazy. We just look at the first or second word and take it as it is, without question, but when we look up a word in a native language dictionary, it gives us a better understanding of the word and using our brain to figure out the meaning is better than just remembering what it seems like in our own language.

There are some difficulties in looking up words in a native language dictionary: synonyms. Imagine you don’t know the word ‘enormous’, you look it up and the definition says ‘huge’, but you realise you don’t know what ‘huge’ means either. You turn to , find huge only to find that the definition is ‘enormous’ – what do you do then? This is a problem I’ve found when looking things up in my 现代汉语词典. I’m trying though, and as I’m learning over 250 new words each week (yes I’m keeping track this semester), as my vocabulary expands, I’ll be able to use the Chinese – Chinese dictionary better than I am doing now.

What do you think about looking up unknown words? Do you prefer to use your own language to understand, or do you use a native speaker’s dictionary?

Putting on weight

There’s thousands of articles online about how weight is not an indicator of health, and how we shouldn’t pay too much attention to our daily or weekly weight changes. As long as I eat and drink well, and exercise regularly, I usually feel pretty healthy. I run a few times a week, eat plenty of fruit and don’t drink and fizzy drinks.

But there’s a phenomenon within foreign students (at least) who come to China, and that is that in general, women put on weight, and men lose weight. It seems no research has been done about this, but it was true when I went to Qingdao and seemed to be true here in Jinhua too. As I run a lot and eat healthily, and my body hasn’t changed (I’ve always been a size L in China, despite being an S back at home), I thought I’d escaped this weight gain phenomena. But last weekend, I was staying in a hotel with some scales in the bathroom. I decided to weigh myself…

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Low and behold, it was true, I had put on weight, and more than a couple of kilos. Even though I knew I am healthy and that I keep in shape, seeing those numbers on the scale did shock me a bit. How could I have put on that amount of weight in just a few months? Was it that I hadn’t run enough? Was it the spoonful of peanut butter I eat each morning with my oats? Was it the cheeky milk tea I treat myself to twice a week, or was it that I don’t really know what other additives and chemicals are in the food I eat?

The truth is, I don’t know.

Even though I’ve never been concerned about my weight, there’s something about seeing those numbers on the scale that did hit a nerve with me. I’m still exercising, trying to eat healthily and always moving around, and I’m not going to change my diet any more. I’ll probably do a few more planks each week, and push a little harder on the Strava segments in my run, but who knows…maybe the scales were wrong, this is China after all, can we trust anything?

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?

Settling into classes

This is now my fourth week in China and my third week of classes. At first, I was in the upper intermediate class, along with 30 other students, making it quite a cramped and loud class with not much opportunity to participate in discussions or receive feedback from the teachers. A few of us thought that this class was also too easy, as we had already covered most of the grammar points and key words. We asked for an advanced group, and after much deliberation, the university finally agreed!

This was my first week in the highly esteemed 高级 class and it was definitely harder. The texts are longer, there are new words like ‘snail 蜗牛’ and Chinese sayings like ‘the stupid bird flies first 笨鸟先飞‘ which I may never find an opportunity to use….but I really wanted to push myself this year. I feel in previous years, Chinese class has been too easy. The proof of this is that I have studied Chinese for 4 years, whereas my most ofnclassmates that have the same level as me have only studied for 1 – 2 years. There are definitely different teaching styles, methods and requirements in different countries and the Cameroonians and Koreans have learnt a lot quicker than me.

I like the style of Mandarin teaching in China. The text books used to have explanations in English (in advanced level the explanations are now in Chinese too), but even so, each lesson the teacher will go through each new word and explain how to use it, as sometimes there are different uses – in English we can ‘spoil’ children, boy/girlfriend, a surprise and food can spoil. But in Chinese 溺爱 (spoil) is only used to refer to children.

Our tex

We read the text and are given chance to ask questions about parts we don’t understand and then do the exercises in the text book, or have a class discussion. The teacher will always give us homework and we are expected to review the next lesson before coming to class. It’s going to be difficult, as now I’m getting involved with more things at university, I run each morning, I’m doing a talent show this weekend, I also signed up to some Chinese dance show which may appear on TV*. So I’m finding it hard to find time to sit down with my books and study.

The Chinese national holiday is coming up and I don’t have any travel plans, so I’ll probably use the time to continue my studies and crack on with my characters! I’m sure the teachers will give us plenty of holiday homework to keep us busy too.

*I’ve learnt my lesson never to write my name and Wechat ID on a list if I don’t know what it’s for.

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.

Moving Back Home

After four years of university, I have moved back into my family home. Like my other friends, I brought back boxes of books, cutlery, duvets, clothes and other bits and bobs that got picked up along the way that are hard to part with (UoN foam finger). Many, if not all, of my friends that have moved back home this summer after university ended have encountered some issues which I want to talk about today.

Freedom and independence

Freedom issues

At uni: Living with friends at uni in halls or a house gives you freedom, that’s without saying. There’s nobody telling you what time you have to be home for and if your housemates ask where you’re going, it’s because they’re interested, not because they are concerned for your safety.

At home: At home things can be more restrictive. Even though we are adults, our parents will always see us as their children and because it’s their house, they can impose curfews, a time to be out of bed in the morning or ask you to wait in all day for the gasman. Siblings may also get involved and sneak up on you, trying to see who you’re texting.

Food

Food issues

At uni: Meal times are when you want and that doesn’t mean I was one to have breakfast at 11am, just that I could schedule meal times around my plans for each day. With evening training sessions, I’d often have half my dinner at 5pm and the other half afterwards at 8.30pm. With supermarkets close by, I could put off deciding what to eat until late afternoon. No idea what to eat? You could experiment with spices, or invite a friend over or even just get takeout from the Chinese. I had a snack drawer in my bedroom and the kitchen was always open.

At home: Meals are usually planned a week in advance, or there’s at least a general overview of what we’ll eat during the week. Portion sizes are different, depending if your parents think you need to lose or gain weight. Meal times are set around a certain time, rather than just ‘waiting until people are hungry’ and we all sit down to eat together. The cupboards and fridge are full with food, which is great but a friend of mine told me how his parents lock the kitchen late evening, so no midnight snacking for him! There are also disagreements about food and cooking – one doesn’t like butter, the other doesn’t want meat, one doesn’t like stir-fry, etc.

TV

TV issues

At uni: You probably watched films and TV series on your laptop, meaning often grainy images and lots of buffering if you’re sharing the wifi with five other people. But you could watch what you wanted when you wanted and without too many interruptions or distractions.

At home: Your living room has a 40″ TV, the picture on this screen is great and you never want to go back to a 13″ again. But your brother/sister/mum all have their set programmes that they (or you!) watch at certain times, without fail. Whether it’s Coronation St at 7.30pm, or Great British Bake Off (Wednesdays at 8pm), they want to watch it live, well at the exact time of broadcasting.

Cleanliness

Interesting book!

At uni: Students aren’t known for their cleanliness, but most of us actually are in our own ways and time frames. We may leave washing up until there’s a stack of items, not make our beds at daybreak or not clean the bathroom as often as we should, but eventually we do it. Our rooms may often fall into a state of ‘organised chaos’ but it’s fine.

At home: Organised chaos is never ok. Things have to be cleaned up and put away much quicker than they are at our uni homes. You get told off for not bringing mugs into the kitchen (I got told off for this in my uni house too!) and there are certain places for certain things.

These examples are just a few of the many things that happen when students move back home after spending time away at uni. Despite the few adjustments you or they have to make, moving home is a great way to reconnect with your family.

What the prospectus won’t tell you

I’ve heard time and time again that university are the best years of your life, but I really don’t think that’s true in all cases. Especially not mine. I mean sure, if you’ve been through twelve years of school education, with homework, uniform, parents evenings etc and go straight to uni, you don’t have much to compare it to. But I didn’t do that…

I took a gap yah

Looking back on the past four years, yes they’ve been good. I’ve made a great set of friends, travelled to different places, learnt a lot and developed as a person. But it could have been better and there are little ways that uni has let me down, ways that I’ve only realised now but looking back they’ve been there all along.

  • No support for year out students – Coming back to the UK after a year overseas was tough, I’d been back from Chile for about three weeks before uni started. After spending a year in a small, isolated, religious village where everybody knows your name, the last thing I wanted to do was to go to a huge club with hundreds of people I didn’t know, who would be drinking excessively. There were some activities that didn’t involve drinking, but they were not advertised well at all and as I “hadn’t joined in with Freshers Week”, I felt it was harder to integrate with people in halls.
  • No compulsory sports – in China, students have to take sports classes alongside their degree. I think this is great to promote healthy living amongst students and would give students the opportunity to make new friends without having to necessarily buy gym or sports society membership. If sport was compulsory, I probably would have ended up joining the Triathlon club before I did.
  • Not enough stash – I went to the SU shop today to buy a UoN vest top, but they only had XL sizes left and they said they weren’t going to order any more in. I also had problems when ordering my tri club hoody, and only got it in March, despite wanting one since October.
    I want stash
  • No grad ball – The committee decided to make our graduation ball an exclusive event, so despite 9000 students graduating this year, only 2000 tickets were available, at a pretty expensive price of £70. Consequently, I haven’t been to a single university ball in these past four years.
  • Not so anonymous marking – Departments generally use anonymous marking so no bias is used when marking students work, obviously this doesn’t apply to oral exams. But sometimes it isn’t anonymous, for example you have to state your degree course on your hand in sheet and for one of my modules I was the only Spanish and Chinese student taking it…the module convenor knew this. Then after handing in ‘anonymous’ coursework, the marker says that if I’d taken my piece to him before handing it in, I might have got a better mark – cos that’s really anonymous isn’t it!

Maybe I’m blaming other people too much as it’s easy to blame an organisation or another person when things don’t turn out the way we want them too. Sure, I could have been braver and gone out on Freshers week, joined a sports team in first year, bought my stash earlier, queued from 3am to get a grad ball ticket or gone to see my teacher but the fact remains that I didn’t. I was too shy, too nervous, too scared. And that’s effected my grades, social life and emotions.

But looking back, I don’t regret not going out on Freshers week and I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed a grad ball where 80% of the people I’d want to be there wouldn’t actually be. So do I even have the right to complain?

I just wish things were more clear and transparent from the beginning. For one module there wasn’t even a mark scheme. I’m glad I’m almost done with it!

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!

Issues that matter

At university, there always seems to be somebody or entity complaining about something, whether it’s student activist societies, student led forums for discussing teaching issues or just individuals wanting to get more for their money or a higher coursework mark. These issues all seem very important when you’re in university and I myself have fallen into the university bubble that enveloped and consumed me when I received a low mark for a piece of coursework, bringing down my average dramatically and increasing the pressure for me to do well in other assessments. However, these past few weeks, I’ve been preparing for my Spanish oral exam which will be next week, and the task is to prepare presentations on five topics. Today I’m going to write about my Spanish oral topics and why these issues matter so much more in the grand scheme of things, over exam stress.

Poverty in the world

I’ve chosen to speak about food poverty in the UK as the amount of people relying on food banks in the UK is dramatically rising. My presentation is based on a paper produced by Oxfam, Church Action on Poverty and The Trussell Trust, called Below the breadline: The relentless rise of food poverty in Britain. It gives testimonies of those living in food poverty (when people don’t have the ability to afford food for a healthy diet) and reports figures about unequal wealth distribution in the UK and food banks. It’s a really interesting report that highlights an issue many of us never consider as being a problem. Although some of us donate to food banks, the food accepted by charities is tinned, long-lasting foods such as pasta, tuna, rice and cereals. Fresh fruit and vegetables are never accepted and as many fruits and veg are imported from other countries, people living in food poverty can’t afford it and their diet is affected by this.

Globalization

Globalization is the exchange of products, ideas or cultural aspects between countries and I have decided to look at the new trend in China for European finishing schools. Based on an article Western manners: The latest Chinese status symbol, in this presentation I look at how a Chinese woman, who attended an etiquette school in Switzerland has opened one in Beijing, offering courses on peeling fruit with cutlery and posing with elegance. What shocks me most about this isn’t the ridiculous prices of the school and the founder’s ambition for it to be accessible to all Chinese people, it’s the fact that Chinese people are prepared to study the customs and etiquette which derived in Switzerland. Funny enough, in Switzerland, due to the rise in feminism and changing views on gender roles, these schools are actually shutting down because they’re deemed old-fashioned.

Chinese people studying Western manners

Violence

Keeping to the China theme, I have been reading about Chinese death-row prisoners and executions. More specifically, China has a number of specially built Mobile ‘death vans’ which they use to execute prisoners in, via lethal injection. After this process is finished, doctors extract the organs from the prisoners (without permission) and sell them through hospitals. I have read other information about organ harvesting in China which is chilling, to say the least.

Studying these, amongst other, topics over the past few weeks has been eye-opening, shocking and distressing in some cases where I read more than I should have. However, the task has helped me to prioritise the issues in my life and appreciate the life I lead. I’m all for student activism, as many campaigns run do get listened to, but it puts complaining about a grade and worrying about an exam into perspective as I now know that hundreds of thousands on children in my country are going hungry each day and some corrupt Chinese officers are unjustly sentencing people to death as a means to obtain organs, which are of high demand in a country where there is no mentality or history of voluntary organ donation.