One day, just before my husband and I hit the road — and left Idaho in our rearview mirror — I joked with him, “Finally, we’re breaking up with Idaho.”
Then I got to thinking about breaking up, and the idioms people use in Chinese to talk about it. Sure, I’m happily married, but I’ve had my share of breakups on the road to my own “double happiness” (including two other guys in China before John) and chances are, so have you — perhaps even at the moment you read this.
I’ve been dating this Chinese guy in Beijing recently. We have this great chemistry and he’s wonderful to me in every possible way except one thing….he doesn’t really want to speak Chinese with me. Whenever I would try to talk w/ him in Chinese, he would answer back in English, so we would just usually end up speaking only English. He knows I studied Chinese before, and I asked him if we could speak a little more often….he always says he will, but we never do. I know my Chinese isn’t perfect but it’s not that bad. What gives?Continue reading “Ask the Yangxifu: He Won’t Speak Chinese With Me?”
You might call it “lust in translation.” This Chinese-English online quiz, one I agreed to do complete well before I met John, turned into a perfect excuse to visit John a little more often at work. I translated the English words into Chinese, and then brought my work over to him for proofreading. Sure, in between our “how do you say”s and “zenme shuo”s, we flirted a little. But we also learned something too, more than just the right way to say rainjacket or maozi. We made a pretty awesome translation team.
Nearly eight years later, we still help one another with language and translations. John’s my go-to guy for Chinese when I’m stuck on translating a word, and I’m the one he calls on to give his English writing a final check. One week, he tells me about a new Chinese idiom; the next, I’m explaining a new saying in English. You might say we’ve re-written that old cliche — now, the couple that wordplays together, stays together. Continue reading “The Couple That Wordplays Together, Stays Together?”
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)”
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).
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this from Chinese friends. As much as I love when people suggest my husband and I are a lucky match, a couple destined to stay together forever, fūqī xiàng leaves me puzzled. How could anyone think we look that much alike?
I could imagine why such a saying came from China, a country dominated by the Han people, who share the same black hair and eyes, and similar skin tones. With that background, it wouldn’t take much for any couple to look alike. At a minimum, they’d need the same nose and the same shaped eyes; maybe the same shaped face, if you were a stickler. But even so, the odds are good you’d find many couples with their match reflected in their faces.
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”
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.
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.
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