Chinese Proverbial Idioms – Check yourself before you wreck yourself, and Bitch! You trippin’

23 08 2013

Lollerskates. The first part of that title sounds super Conficius-ey. Like after you read that title there should be a loud *gong* in the background and then the sound of wind chimes and waterfalls. And then a geisha comes out and does a fan dance. And then everyone bows and eats kimchee.

Yeah. I’m getting my Asians mixed up. Who cares?

Anyways. I talked last week about the idiom 马马虎虎 (horse horse tiger tiger), where it came from, what it means. It got me thinking that I should talk more about Chinese Idioms cause some of them are pretty hilarious.

Back when I was a kid in Tempe, Arizona, all the Chinese parents were super worried that all of us 2nd generation kids were losing our “Chinese-ness”. It was a legitimate worry. I spoke fluent Shanghainese when I got to the States, and in two short years I could only understand it when my parents used it to scream at each other.

Their fights usually went something like this:

Dad: 脑子有毛病 You’ve got mental problems.

Mom: 侬再刚句试试看 Say that again.

Dad: …脑子. 有毛病 …Mental. Problems.

Mom: 吴XX侬拨吾死了远点 You can go and die far far away from me!

Then I’d cut in and be like: It’s not appropriate for adults to fight and throw rice cookers at each other in front of their kids!!

And they’d both be like: If you want to be part of this conversation, learn Shanghaiese!

Le Sigh. Anyways. They were both paranoid that my Mandarin would go the same way as my Shanghaiese, so they enrolled me in HELL ON EARTH. Tempe Chinese School. Look. I found an article that mentions the opening of the damn school, and they fucking printed my name FIRST on the list of inmates students in the article:

Every Saturday, I went to this school and learned geometry, algebra, Chinese history, Chinese language, Dance, physics, art, Chinese literature, and above all, how to feel inadequate. Who cares if you’re the top student in your class from Monday to Friday if every Saturday from 9 am to 5 pm, a jury of your peers pronounced you the weakest chain in the link, the loosest screw on the board, the shortest bamboo stick in the forest?

I mean, there was this kid there who was doing calculus at age 9, who’d skipped three grades, who could kill any one of us with his brain.

He has a job in D.C. now. Killing people with his brain.

You didn’t hear it from me.

Two things, Chinese school taught me:

1. You. Fei Wu. Are the dumbest Asian

2. Chinese proverbial idioms

To me, the idioms were the only interesting part of the whole curriculum. We used the exact same language book for our Chinese lessons that all the other kids in China were using. However, our teacher was careful to emphasize that although we were in Grade 5 in public schools, we were only qualified to study out of the Grade 2 Chinese books because we were so much more retarded than ALL THE YOUTH IN ASIA.

Our books looked like this:

I remember these two bastards because as soon as I got my copy, I drew a moustache on the boy and added a poop coming out from beneath the bird’s butt and made it land on the girl’s hair.

Mostly, the readings were about things like innovations in renewable energy or battles that the revolutionaries had fought. All of China’s wind turbines went right round better and faster than wind turbines in the West because they were righteousness and bought with the blood and sweat and tears of soldiers or scientists or farmers, and every battle ended with some guy stopping up cannons with his body to save his comrades (It was always the skinniest, rangiest guys stopping up cannons too. You’d think the fat revolutionaries would have made better cannon stoppers). Stuff that was just fascinating to an 11 year old girl forced to sit in a cold, dim classroom every Saturday morning. However, once in a while, there would be a short blurb about idioms along with pictures like this:

The first image is about the idiom 掩耳盗铃 and here is my explanation of it for your edification:

Once there was a dumb-ass who was also a thief. He was walking around one day, and he noticed a bell hanging off a rich guy’s door, and he was super into it. So he was like, ‘I’m totally going to steal that bell’. But then he thought ‘OMG if I steal that bell, everyone will totes hear it ringing when I move it, and I’ll get caught’. And he had a brain wave, so he was like ‘I’ll just cover my ears when I steal the bell, and then there won’t be any sound when I move it, I’m such a smarty party.” So he tried it, and he got caught because, duh, other people have ears too. Ha. The end.

So I guess the idiom 掩耳盗铃(yan er dao ling – cover your ears to steal the bell) could translate to “don’t assume the real world is the same as the wonderland in your head” or “check yourself before you wreck yourself”

This story made me think that bells were some kind of rare and precious treasure. We had a couple bells at home because my dad used to and still does collect random shit. The bells, they took on a new sheen after I heard this tale. I thought we were rich indeed. I hid them, and then forgot where I hid them.

The second image is about the idiom 自相矛盾:

Once there was a loud and obnoxious weapons salesman. He was selling his weapons one day on the town square, waking everyone up from their noonday naps and generally being a nuisance. As he brandished his spear for all to see, he shouted “This spear! This spear is so sharp, yo, that it can pierce any shield!” Then he lifted the shield above his head and he boasted “This shield! This shield can withstand any blow from any spear!” After watching the salesman for a while, an old man – the town busy-body walked up to him and asked “what happens when you strike the shield with the spear?” And the salesman was rendered speechless.

I think it would’ve been cooler if the salesman had responded to the old man’s question with “the time-space continuum will collapse.”

Anyways, 自相矛盾 (zi xiang mao dun) translates literally into “spear and shield each other”, meaning “to contradict oneself” or “Bitch! you trippin’!”




2 responses

24 08 2013

Do 二百五!such a brilliant idiom with a great backstory and commonly used!

24 08 2013

Maybe I’ll do one for all the Chinese insults

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