Mandarin Love: I Miss You (in Chinese)

A blonde girl looking up with a longing look on her face
(photo by Lavinia Marin)

During that first Autumn I dated John, I truly learned the meaning of “I miss you” in Chinese.

John started his graduate studies at a university in Shanghai, and I stayed back in Hangzhou because of my job. I craved those weekends every two weeks when John returned to Hangzhou like a heroin addict craves their next hit. Which is why, when John wasn’t in town, I’d spend an embarrassing amount of time envisioning our next weekend together — from the the restaurants and the sights we’d see right down to how I’d greet him when he stepped off the bus in front of my community.

So one night, I decided to greet him with an idiom that captured all of the yearning in my heart (a yearning that, admittedly, must have been so nauseating to my Chinese friends at work that they taught me said idiom to get me off the subject). That weekend, I met John at the bus stop with a dozen red roses and the phrase wàngchuānqiūshuǐ (to look forward to or await with restless anticipation).

John loved it, though I’m certain my friend Caroline called the whole scene “nauseating” when I shared it with her at work.

Now that Spring is upon us, a season of longing and love, I thought I’d share a few good Chinese idioms that come in handy when you’re missing or thinking of your sweetheart, or just can’t wait to see them. Each explanation comes with my own intentionally nauseating example of how to use it (you know you love it, Caroline). 😉 Continue reading “Mandarin Love: I Miss You (in Chinese)”

8 Bands to Help You Learn Mandarin Chinese, Pub’d on Matador

Screenshot of my article, 8 bands to help you learn Mandarin Chinese
Check out my latest article at Matador

Matador just published another piece of mine titled 8 Bands to Help You Learn Mandarin Chinese. In it, I recommend eight bands and artists, primarily folks who write and sing their own original music, that can help boost your Mandarin Chinese studies. Here’s a snippet of it:

HEAVY APPLICATION OF THE “KARAOKE METHOD” has improved my Chinese and taught me some conversational phrases like bùzhībùjué (unnoticeably) and búyào jiànwài (don’t be a stranger).

 To find out what bands and artists I recommended, read the full piece at Matador now. And if you like it, share it. Thanks!

Mandarin Love: Chinese Phrases On Love and Destiny

A night sky filled with stars and glowing with possibilities
In this first installment of Mandarin Love, I share some of my favorite Chinese idioms that invoke love and destiny. (photo by Billy Frank Alexander)

Love and destiny, love and destiny. In China, they’re as inseparable as Chinese New Year and fireworks. So if you want to talk love in Mandarin Chinese, some of the best phrases invoke or suggest destiny. Here are some of my favorite idioms:

有缘千里来相会 (Yǒu yuán qiānlǐ lái xiānghui)
“We have the destiny to meet across a thousand miles.”

This is my favorite phrase combining love and destiny in Chinese, probably because my Chinese husband uses it all the time to refer to our marriage. It’s no wonder either — the use of distance perfectly captures how a foreigner and a Chinese, separated by thousands of miles and geography, came to love one another. Continue reading “Mandarin Love: Chinese Phrases On Love and Destiny”

Ask the Yangxifu: Language Barriers in Love

An English Dictionary
Sara Jaaksola offers insight from her own relationship with a Chinese man on what to do when language barriers get in the way of your love.

Over a month ago, Jin Feng asked me if I could share some advice on a special kind of relationship between Chinese men and Western women — where language poses a problem. 

I said “sure, I’ll do it.” But then faced a problem of my own. How could I write about this? After all, the closest I came to this happened in my relationship with Frank — but even then, I spoke decent enough Chinese that communication didn’t really get in the way.

So I decided to turn to Sara Jaaksola at Living a Dream in China, who you might call an “expert” in this — she and her Chinese boyfriend literally have trouble speaking the same language. Many thanks to Sara for stepping in to help out! Read on for her advice. Continue reading “Ask the Yangxifu: Language Barriers in Love”

10 Extraordinarily Useful Mandarin Chinese Phrases, Pub’d on Matador

fortune cookie message
(photo by Nathan Sudds)

Matador just published my piece on 10 Extraordinarily Useful Mandarin Chinese Phrases, which covers everything from receiving compliments to refusing that extra helping of cai. Here’s a snippet:

You’re just as likely to hear “Ni Hao” as “Hello” in my home. After living in China for five and a half years, I returned to the US with a Chinese husband, the fluency to be a freelance Chinese translator, and a heaping rice bowl of expressions in Mandarin.

If you’re traveling to China and looking to dig your own linguistic chopsticks into Chinese culture, I recommend these 10 extraordinarily useful phrases.

Head on over to Matador to read the entire article. And as always, if you love it, share it. Thanks!

I Love You, Just Not in Chinese

A red kiss mark left on a piece of paper
All these years, my Chinese husband had told me “I love you” in English but could never bring himself to say the same in Mandarin Chinese. (photo by Jenny Rollo)

My husband tells me “I love you” all the time. When I’m dashing out the door to the library. Just before we hang up our phone conversation. As we tell each other goodnight under the covers. There’s nothing really strange about it — except that he’s Chinese, and the Chinese don’t usually express love in words.


For the longest time, I figured he had learned to say “I love you” for me — just as he learned to love so many of my favorite things, from aromatic cups of peppermint herbal tea to vegetarian pizzas with soft, focaccia crust.

But sometimes, it’s not what you say, but the language in which you say it.

“Sweetie, it’s not right to suggest a phrase with ‘ài’ in it, right?” I conferred with him the other day while brainstorming an article about the Chinese language, and realizing that ‘ài’ — the word for love — seemed to pack more punch than necessary. “People don’t really say ‘ai’ in everyday life, as I can remember.”

John nodded. “Definitely not. It’s too strong.”

Suddenly, I thought about how often John said ài in English, to me. “But you tell me ‘I love you’ all the time,” I teased him, nudging his arm. I watched my husband’s face wrinkle into an embarrassed laugh, as he shrunk his his chair.

“I’ll bet it’s because you’re saying ‘I love you’ in English, isn’t it?” I continued, pulling playfully at his shoulder.

John kept giggling until he finally gave me one of those “you’ve got me” looks.

All these years, he had hidden his feelings behind English, a language where saying “I love you” just didn’t seem so forbidden. I still welcome “I love you” in my native tongue. But I have a feeling I’ll be waiting some time for a Wǒ’àinǐ (我爱你) from my sweetheart.

Does your Chinese lover or spouse prefer saying “I love you” in English? Or, if you’re Chinese, do you prefer using a foreign language to express your love?

Travel China with the Yangxifu: Getting Beyond the “Postcard China”

John and I cooking Chinese food during Chinese New Year
Sometimes, it's the ordinary moments in travel that can make China come alive. Here are a few ideas to help you get beyond the glossy "postcard China"

Last week, someone asked me the China travel question. “What’s your favorite place to visit in China?”

Faster than she could say “Terracotta Warriors,” I had just the place in mind: “My husband’s family home in the countryside.”

Okay, yeah, it’s easy for me say that. I’ve bounced around Beijing, sashayed my way through Shanghai, and chilled out in Chengdu. And while I love the allure of the road, I still find myself yearning for those small moments at the family home — whether it’s making dumplings with my mother-in-law or reading my father-in-law’s story about his ancestral village.

The thing is, sometimes it’s the most ordinary things and places that make travel extraordinary — and China is no exception. So, for my last article of the year for “Travel China with the Yangxifu,” I thought I’d help you find more small moments in your own travel — and you don’t need a family home in China to do it. Continue reading “Travel China with the Yangxifu: Getting Beyond the “Postcard China””

How I Learned to Read Chinese, Published on Matador

Reading Chinese characters
I detail my pathway to Chinese literacy in "How I Learned to Read Chinese," published on Matador.

Great news! Matador just published my article titled “How I Learned to Read Chinese.”

For those of you dying to know about my path to fluency, this piece tracks how I left illiteracy in Chinese behind. Curious? Here’s a snippet:

When I came to Hangzhou, China in August 2001 as a writer – and to work on Mandarin fluency – I faced a great, embarrassing wall: I was illiterate.

Sure, I could speak and understand basic conversational Chinese, because I’d studied while teaching English in China from 1999 to 2000. Then, as a beginner, speaking and listening in a tonal language was so challenging that I didn’t want to deal with the characters.

But in Hangzhou, my ignorance was a big deal. Even though I could chat with locals, order food and ask directions, I was baffled by business cards, menus, and even store signs. I needed to read so I could build vocabulary and truly be fluent. But how?

For the “thrilling conclusion” — and to discover the Meteor Garden connection in all of this — read the full piece at Matador. And if you like it, share it. And thanks! 😉

UPDATE: Got this in an e-mail from Matador:

I wanted to let you know that your article was featured in this week’s Traverse newsletter, which means it was picked out by senior editor David Miller as one of the strongest pieces published during the week.

That made my day!