Learn the Chinese radical for grass

红叶 (hóngyè) Red Autumn Leaves

The grass radical is very easy to recognize in the associated Chinese characters because it is always placed at the top and bears some semblance to a couple blades of grass poking through the ground.

The word (cǎo) means grass. The grass radical is conferred to many herbaceous plants and words directly or indirectly related to such plants. (yào) means medicine. This character takes on the grass radical because many traditional Chinese medicines are based on herbs. In fact, medicinal herbs are called 草药 (cǎoyào), which more often than not taste bitter, or (kǔ).

(miáo) are seedlings. Do you recognize the (tián fields) character beneath the grass radical? 荒田 (huāng tián) means a desolate unfarmed field.

(jīng) are the stems of herbaceous plants.

蔬菜 (shūcài) are vegetables. It is often abbreviated as (cài). However, (cài) also refers to a dish or course of food.

(yá) are the sprouts or new shoots of a plant. 芽菜 (yá cài) are edible sprouts. (dòu) is a general term for beans. Therefore, 豆芽菜 (dòu yá cài) are the bean sprouts.

(máng) are the arista on some grains and fruits. Therefore rays of light are referred to as 光芒 (guāngmáng).

你喜欢吃芒果吗?
Nǐ xǐhuān chī mángguǒ ma?
Do you like to eat mangos?

If you’d rather have potatoes then ask for 洋芋 (yángyù potatoes).

菊花 (júhuā chrysanthemum) and 荷花 (héhuā lotus) are favorite subjects in Chinese brush-paintings. 茉莉花 (mòli huā) are jasmin flowers. They are often described as 芳芬 (fēnfāng sweet-smelling) or (xiāng fragrant). 摘花 (zhāi huā) means to pluck a flower.

她送给我一朵芳芬的茉莉花.
Tā sòng gěi wǒ yī duǒ měilì de mòli huā.
She gave me a fragrant jasmin flower.

Please note that we don’t use “个(gè)” as the unit for flowers. Rather, we say “一朵花 (yī duǒ huā)”, in much the same way that we say “two ears of corn” in English. “耳朵 (ěrduo)” is the Chinese word for ears.

(mǎn) means full. 枝桠 (zhīyā) means the branches and twigs. Therefore, to describe that the branches and twigs are full of blooms, you could say,

花开了满枝桠.
Huā kāi le mǎn zhīyā.
The flowers piled on the branches and twigs.

(lán) is the blue or indigo color, which originally came from the indigo plant.

(yè) are leaves. The traditional character for this word contains the grass radical; the simplified character has retained only one half of it. (luò) means to fall. Therefore, 落叶 (luòyè) are the fallen leaves. This term is also used for describing deciduous trees.

You know that (rén) means a person. Well, 人人 (rénrén) means everyone. Similarly, (tiān) is a day, and 天天 (tiān tiān) means every day. There are many other terms that follow this pattern. See if you can find a few on your own.

(kuā) is an abbreviation of 夸奖 (kuājiǎng), which means to praise or commend someone or something.

人人夸奖我家的枫叶好看.
Rénrén kuājiǎng wǒ jiā de fēng yè hǎokàn.
Everyone says the maple leaves at my place look very nice.
(Everyone praises the maple leaves at my place.)

(jiā) means family, home or an expert in a specialized field. 别人 (biérén) means other people. Please note that 人家 (rén jiā) is a colloquial term that could refer to “those people”, “that other person”, or “I myself”, depending on the context of the sentence.

Now you’re ready to enjoy a well-known Chinese folksong from the Jiangsu Province, called “Jasmin Flower“. Why not look at the lyrics below and sing along?

好一朵美丽的茉莉花!
Hǎo yī duǒ měilì de mòli huā!
What a beautiful jasmin flower!

好一朵美丽的茉莉花!
Hǎo yī duǒ měilì de mòli huā!
What a beautiful jasmin flower!

芬芳, 美丽, 满枝桠;
Fēnfāng, měilì, mǎn zhīyā;
Sweet-smelling, pretty, adorning the twigs;

又白又香, 人人夸.
yòu bái yòu xiāng, rénrén kuā.
White and fragrant, praised by everyone.

让我来将你摘下,
Ràng wǒ lái jiāng nǐ zhāi xià,
Let me come and pluck you,

送给别人家.
sòng gěi biérén jiā.
and offer you to a certain someone.

茉莉花呀,
Mòli huā ya,
Jasmin flower,

茉莉花.
mòli huā.
jasmin flower.

The moon radical


9/21/11 The moon radical

In Chinese culture, autumn is symbolized by the moon, the chrysanthemum flowers, the tinted maple leaves, as well as the cool autumn wind. Let’s first talk about the moon. The crescent moon character, (yuè), serves as the radical for a number of Chinese words.

You already know that (míng) means brightness, illumination and clarity.

Place two moons together side by side, and you get the word for friends, (péng).

(qī) is a time period, as in 星期 (xīngqī a week). 长期 (chángqī) means long-term. 期望 (qíwàng) means to expect; as a noun it means an expecation.

他长期住在外国.
Tā chángqī zhù zài wàiguó.
He lives abroad on a long-term basis.

我对他有很大的期望.
Wǒ duì tā yǒu hěn dà de qíwàng.
I have high hopes for him.

(zhāo) is the formal word for morning or day. (cháo), the same word pronounced differently, means a dynasty or an emperor’s court, such as in 汉朝 (Hàn Cháo) , the Han Dynasty.

(cháo) is also used as the adverb “toward”. In this sense, it is equivalent to (duì). Please note, however, that (duì) has a number of other usages that are not shared by (cháo).

他朝我看了一眼.
Tā cháo wǒ kàn le yī yǎn.
He cast a glance toward me.

他对我看了一眼.
Tā duì wǒ kàn le yī yǎn.
He cast a glance toward me.

The character, (ròu flesh, meat), kind of sounds like “row”, but make sure you pronounc it in the commanding 4th tone. Many Chinese characters that refer to muscles, organs, the abdomen and the limbs contain the “flesh” radical, as shown in the following examples:

(liǎn) is the face. (diū) is to lose or to throw. So, 丢脸 (diūliǎn) means losing face.

肌肉 (jīròu) are muscles. Yes, this sounds just like chicken meat, 鸡肉 (jīròu).

(gān) is the liver. The term, 心肝 (xīngān), contains two vital organs. It is the Chinese equivalent of “darling” or “sweathart”.

(cháng) are the intestines. 心肠 (xīncháng) represents what one feels in one’s heart.

她心肠好.
Tā xīncháng hǎo.
She has a good heart.

肚子 (dùzi) is the belly. 腹部 (fùbù) is a more formal word for the abdomen.

她肚子痛.
Tā dùzi tòng.
She has belly ache.

肩膀 (jiānbǎng) are the shoulders, 胳臂 (gēbei) are the arms, and (zhǒu) are the elbows.

(tuǐ) are the legs, 膝盖 (xīgài) are the knees, and (jiǎo) are the feet.

(pàng) is an adjective that means chubby or plump.

她生了一个胖娃娃.
Tā shēng le yī gè pàng wáwa.
She gave birth to a chubby baby.

Anyone can see that the “flesh” radical looks just like a skinnier “moon” radical. So how can you tell if a Chinese word contains the moon radical or the flesh radical? Simply ask yourself this question, “Does this involve anything related to the moon or a time period?” If so, it’s the “moon” radical. Also, generally, the “flesh” radical is placed on the left side of a word, while the “moon” radical shows up on the right side. If you don’t think it’s a big deal to be able to make a distinction between these two radicals, since they look almost identical, neither do I.

Meatballs or fishballs?

鱼园汤 (yú yuán tāng) Fishball Soup

Last week we mentioned disc-shaped food products. What would you call ball-shaped foods in Chinese? Following are a few options:

(yuán) means round. This word is used in naming a few food items, such as 肉圆 (ròuyuán meatballs), 鱼圆 (yúyuán fishballs), 汤圆 (tāngyuán), a round dumpling made of glutinous rice flour, and 桂圆 (guìyuán longan), which is a small fruit with a tough inedible covering, juicy white flesh and a large black stone.

(wán) is a small ball, pill or pellet. Some people refer to meatballs and fishballs as 肉丸 (ròuwán) and 鱼丸 (yúwán), respectively. In medicine, 药丸 (yàowán) are pills, and 药片 (yàopiàn) are tablets.

(qiú) is a general term for balls. 乒乓球 (pīngpāngqiú) are table tennis balls. 虾球 (xiā qiú) are deep-fried shrimp balls. In astronomy, 地球 (dìqiú) is the earth, or the globe, and 月球 (yuèqiú) is the moon.

Some people like soft, tender meatballs while others like them bouncy. The 新竹 (Xīnzhú) City in Taiwan is famous for originating the bouncy meatballs made from pounded fresh pork. These delicious meatballs are called 贡丸 (gòngwán) because the “gòng” sound in the Taiwanese dialect refers to hammering. Nowadays, of course, you can save on elbow grease and let your food processor do most of the work. Here is a nice writeup on the process of making bouncy meatballs. Scroll down on that page to watch the included video. The same procedure can be applied to pork and chicken as well.

    A word of caution:

Like hot dogs, bouncy meatballs and fishballs are potential choking hazards for young children (and grown-ups if they tend not to chew well). As a safety precaution, cut the balls into small pieces before serving.

While it’s safe to assume that everyone is familiar with meatballs, some of you may have never seen or tasted a fishball. Fishballs are a little trickier to make at home, and people often rely on raw egg whites and potato starch as binders. As with meatballs, the end product could be made soft, (ruǎn), or bouncy, 有弹性 (yǒu tánxìng) , per one’s preference, and you could deep-fry it, brais it or add it to a soup.

What would go well with a bowl of meatball soup or fishball soup? 葱油饼 (cōngyóubǐng) quickly comes to mind. Don’t have the time to make it from scratch? Then let’s do a mock version that’s similar to a Mexian quesadilla sans the cheese. You will need one large non-stick pan plus the following ingredients for 2 servings:

1 – 2 tablespoonfuls vegetable oil
2 large flour tortillas (not corn tortillas); use the kind that doesn’t contain too much salt or baking powder.
1 egg
2 stalks green onion, cleaned and finely chopped
1 dash salt (to taste)
1 dash pepper (to taste)
Optionally, 1/4 cup finely chopped cooked ham or cooked bacon
(if used, add to the beaten egg along with the green onions)

简易葱油饼 (Jiǎnyì Cōngyóubǐng)
Easy Pan-fried Green Onion Bread

用中火将油烧热.
Yòng zhōng huǒ jiāng yó shāou rè.
Heat the oil in the pan on medium heat.

把蛋打匀.
Bǎ dàn dǎ yún.
Beat the egg well.

加入葱, 盐, 胡椒; 拌匀.
Jiārù cōng, yán,hújiāo; bàn yún.
Add the green onions, salt and pepper, and mix evenly.

把一张饼放入锅中.
Bǎ yī zhāng bǐng fàng rù guō zhōng.
Add one flour tortilla to the pan.

把蛋液均匀倒在饼上.
Bǎ dàn yè jūnyún dào zài bǐng shàng.
Pour the egg mixture evenly onto the tortilla.

把第二张饼放入锅中.
Bǎ dìèr zhāng bǐng fàng rù guō zhōng.
Add the second flour tortilla into the pan.

盖锅, 煎三分钟.
Gài guō, jiān sān fēnzhōng.
Cover the pan and pan-fry three minutes.

翻面.
Fān miàn.
Flip over.

开锅, 煎兩三分钟.
Kāi guō, jiān liǎng sān fēnzhōng.
Uncover and pan-fry two or three minutes.

装盘; 切成六块.
Zhuāng pán; qiè chéng liù kuài.
Transfer to a plate and cut into six wedges.

The pan-fried bread is done when both sides are crisp and golden brown and the inside is completely cooked. Flip again and cook a couple more minutes if this is what it will take to get the desired result. As you know your stove and pan the best, it’s up to you to make sure the egg between the tortillas is fully cooked but the tortillas are not burnt.

As an exercise for those of you who have the “Learn Chinese through Songs and Rhymes” book, try using the food and cooking terms in Chapters 20 and 21 to write up a simple recipe in Chinese.

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival

As the Mid-autumn Festival nears, watch the night sky and see the moon wax until it becomes full. Referred to as the Moon Festival in the West, 中秋节 (Zhōngqiūjié) is a time for fall harvest and family reunion, the perfectly round moon symbolizing completeness and fulfillment. And, as the Chinese poets will tell you, no matter how far apart you are from your family or friends, you can always observe and share the same beautiful moon in the sky. Next Tuesday night, as you sip on a cup of tea, coffee, orange juice, or whatever drink you fancy, admire the full moon along with billions of other people in the world.

中秋节快乐!
Zhōngqiūjié kuàilè.
Happy Mid-Autimn Festival!

(yuán) means round. (mǎn) means full. 圆满 (yuánmǎn) means satisfactory to all parties involved.

团圆 (tuányuán) is a reunion with family members. It can also be used as a verb.

花好月圆 (huāhǎoyuèyuán flowers are beautiful and the moon is full) is a blessing offered to newly weds to wish them perfect marital bliss.

While a Chinese family gathers after a scrumptious feast to watch the full moon, they will also be enjoying the mooncakes, or 月饼 (yuèbǐng). Although it could come in various sizes, the typical mooncake is a round pastry about 3.5 to 4 inches in diameter and 1.5 to 2 inches in height. The traditional mooncake is filled with red bean paste, lotus seed paste, or a mincemeat concoction, but nowadays there’s probably a kind of mooncake filling to suit every taste. In fact, my aunt just informed me that you can now get an icecream mooncake!

By the way, the word (bǐng) represents a variety of disc-shaped food products. 饼干 (bǐnggān) is a general term for cookies, 煎饼 (jiānbǐng) is a pancake, 烧饼 (shāobǐng) is a baked flat bread, and 圈儿饼 (quānr bǐng) is a donut. 葱油饼 (cōngyóubǐng) is a flaky pan-fried flatbread containing chopped green onions. For the non-vegetarians, there are also the 肉饼 (ròubǐng ground meat patties) and 鱼饼 (yú bǐng minced fish patties). Now, 铁饼 (tiěbǐng) is literally an iron disc that you don’t want to sink your teeth into. This is the discus used in sports.

中秋节 (Zhōngqiūjié) is a happy time. Let’s listen to 风飞飞 (Fēng Fēifēi) sing a happy song. Click on “Show more” to display the lyrics. The first stanza of this song should be easy to understand and remember.

春天的花 (chūntiān de huā) means flowers in the spring. 秋天的月 (qiū tiān de yuè) is the moon in the fall.

When the word (shǎo) is pronounced in the third tone, it means few or little. For example, 少量 (shǎoliàng) means a small quantity, 不少 (bùshǎo) means quite a few (not a small quantity), and 多少 (duōshao) means how many or how much.

不少美国人会说中国话.
Bùshǎo měiguórén huì shuō Zhōngguó huà.
Quite a few Americans know how to speak Chinese.

When the word (shào) is pronounced in the fourth tone, it means young, junior or minor. 少年 (shàonián) is a youth or a young man, while 少女 (shàonǚ) is a young lady. In a traditional Chinese family, the young master of the house is addressed as 少爷 (shàoye), and his wife would be addressed as 少奶奶 (shàonǎinai). 少将 (shàojiàng) is a rear admiral.

多么 (duōme) is an adverb that can be interpreted as “so” or “how very”. For example:

他是个多么可爱的孩子!
Tā shì gè duōme kěài de háizi!
He is such a lovely a child! (How very lovely a child he is!)

知道 (zhīdào) means to know. 不知 (bù zhī) is an abbreviation of 不知道 (bù zhīdào) that is often used in writing. In everyday convervation, you would say, “不知道 (bù zhīdào).”

怎么 (zěnme) is an adverb used colloquially for “how”. For example:

月饼怎么做?
Yuèbǐng zěnme zuò?
How do you make moon cakes?

我怎么知道?
Wǒ zěnme zhīdào?
How would I know?

怎么样 (zěnmeyàng how, how about) is a phrase that can be used in a few different ways. The following three examples are straightforward questions:

她现在怎么样?
Tā xiànzài zěnmeyàng?
How is she doing now?

你觉得怎么样?
Nǐ juéde zěnmeyàng?
How do you feel about this? (What do you think?)

你考得怎么样?
Nǐ kǎo de zěnmeyàng?
How did you do on the exam?

怎么样 (zěnmeyàng) also serves as the answer when used in the negative.

不怎么样.
Bù zěnmeyàng.
Not so good.

After making a suggestion to someone, you could ask, “怎么样?” (zěnmeyàng) in a friendly tone. This translates to: “How about it? OK?” On the other hand, when you’re quarreling with someone, the same question issued in an angry voice would translate to: “So you’re not happy, and what are you going to do about that! (Want to fight?)”

When you explain to someone that you’ve run out of options to deal with an issue, you would throw up your arms and say:

我能怎么样?
Wǒ néng zěnmeyàng?
What can I do? (There’s really nothing I can do about it.)

Another common expression containing 怎样 (zěnyàng) is 又怎样 (yòu zěnyàng). This is the Chinese equivalent of “so what”, but it is placed at the end of the clause and never at the beginning. For example:

他不来, 又怎样?
Tā bù lái, yòu zěnyàng?
So what, if he is not coming?
(He’s not coming, so what?)

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