What’s the buzz?

In summer, or 夏天(xiàtiān), I can imagine people living in hotter climates waving their arms to drive off the 苍蝇 (cāngying flies) that are sampling their foods, or smacking their exposed arms and legs to smash the 蚊子 (wénzi mosquitoes) that are sucking their blood. If you have a good ear, you will be able to hear the buzz of a single fly or the hum of a single mosquito. Otherwise, wait until they come in swarms, then you will be sure to hear them.

I’ve been told that when you hear the drone of a 蜜蜂(mìfēng bee), it’s best to stay still and hold your breath or minimize breathing; and I know that when I hear the louder hum of a 蜂鸟 (fēngniǎo hummingbird), it’s usually too late to grab a camera.

So, we are talking about Chinese words that contain the radical for bugs, or (chóng). You will see this radical in the names of insects, or 昆虫 (kūnchóng), such as the following:

Do you recognize this character?

甲虫 (jiǎchóng beetle)
毛虫 (máochóng caterpillar)
蚂蚁 (mǎyǐ ant)
蝴蝶 (húdié butterfly)
蜻蜓 (qīngtíng dragonfly)
(chán cicada)
蚱蜢 (zhàměng grasshopper)
蝗虫 (huángchóng locust)
螳螂 (tángláng mantis)
萤火虫 (yínghuǒchóng firefly)

On 6/13/12, you learned that the ranking is equivalent to an “A”. Therefore, you may be tempted to interpret 甲虫 (jiǎchóng beetle) as “the top-notch bug”. However, also means finger nail, shell or armor. It is this meaning that applies to the beetles.

蜜蜂是益虫.
Mìfēng shì yìchóng.
Bees are are beneficial insects.

蝗虫是害虫.
Huángchóng shì hàichóng.
Locusts are destructive insects.

Actually, the names of mollusks and some worms, reptiles and amphibians also take on the (chóng) radical. For example:

蜗牛 (wōniú snail)
蚯蚓 (qiūjǐn earthworm)
青蛙 (qīngwā frog)
(shé snake)
螃蟹 (pángxiè crab)

Now, take a guess at what 大虫 (dàchóng) means. Literally it means a large bug. However, in many localities and in old literature, this term refers to a tiger. And tigers are not the only mammals that are referred to as (chóng). An idler or lazybones is called 懒惰虫 (lǎnduò chóng lazy bug) or 懒虫 (lǎn chóng). 懒惰猫 (lǎnduò māo lazy cat) or 懒猫 (lǎn māo) means the same thing.

Click here to learn a song in praise of fireflies, 萤火虫 (yínghuǒchóng). After you have become familiar with the lyrics, click here to listen to the song and watch the beautiful images.

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Spring Rolls

These little ones are a bit tricky to make.


Before spring slips away, why not make yourself a few spring rolls, or 春卷 (chūnjuǎn)? These delicious treats are so called because the original spring rolls are chock-full with spring vegetables. Essentially, a spring roll is made by placing 青菜 (qīngcài green vegetables) and (ròu meat) or (xiā shrimp) on a paper-thin sheet of wrapper and then rolling the wrapper up to form a log shape with closed ends.

There are two ways to enjoy spring rolls. You could simply stuff them with a stir-fried filling and eat them as you would a burrito. The Taiwanese love to add 花生粉 (huāshēng fěn powdered roasted peanuts) to the filling just before wrapping it up. Or, you could deep-fry the spring rolls and bite into the incredibly crispy exterior.

What’s so special about the spring rolls is their super thin wrappers. It takes special skills to make these wrappers. The quick way is to purchase a package of frozen “Lumpia” wrappers, or 春卷皮 (chūnjuǎn pí), from an Asian grocery store and let them sit in the 冰箱 (bīngxiāng refrigerator) overnight. As the closely packed wrappers are literally paper-thin, it can be tricky to separate them without tearing them. If you find it difficult to peel off individual wrappers, it may help to put a stack of about 10 wrappers on a microwavable plate, cover them with a piece of moist 纸巾 (zhǐ jīn paper towel) then microwave at 中火 (zhòng huǒ medium high heat) for 三十秒 (sān shí miǎo 30 seconds). After separating the wrappers, stack them up again and keep them covered to prevent them from drying up. Seal the remaining unused wrappers in a large freezer bag and put them back in the freezer for future use.

The main 材料 (cáiliào ingredient) in the filling for deep-fried spring rolls is one or more kinds of firm 青菜丝 (qīngcài sī shredded vegetable). I usually stir-fry shredded 高丽菜 (gāolì cài cabbage) briefly before mixing it with the other ingredients, such as 葱花 (cōnghuā chopped green onions), cooked salad shrimp or a little cooked 绞肉 (jiǎo ròu ground meat), shredded 蛋皮 (dàn pí panfried beaten eggs) and (yán salt) and 胡椒 (hújiāo pepper), to taste. If you use 豆芽菜 (dòuyácài bean sprouts), coarsely chop them up before adding to the other ingredients. Don’t pre-cook the bean sprouts, or they will lose their crunchiness. Keep the filling on the dry side.

馅不要太湿.
Xiàn bùyào tài shī.
The filling should not be too wet.

不然, 春卷皮容易破掉. .
Bùrán chūnjuǎn pí róngyì pò diào.
Otherwise, the spring roll wrappers are apt to break.

If you would like to make a mini version as shown in the above photo, then cut each wrapper into four equal sections by making two perpendicular cuts through the center.

Follow the instructions on the package of the Lumpia wrappers to roll up and (zhà deep-fry) the spring rolls. Drain them on paper towels and wait about 十分钟 (shí fēn zhōng 10 minutes) for them to cool down a little before serving (so they won’t burn your tongue). You could make a dipping sauce for your spring rolls but they will taste good without the help of any sauce. The sauces are usually based on 番茄酱 (fānqié jiàng tomato ketchup), or a mixture of (cù vinegar), (táng sugar) and 酱油 (jiàngyóu soy sauce) .

By the way, this is one (sneaky) way to get your kids to love eating their vegetables. You yourself may be tempted to think or say:

多多益善.
Duōduōyìshàn.
The more the better.

Keep in mind, though, that eating too much of deep-fried foods may give rise to 火气 (huǒqì fire in the vitals).

All right. How would you say this in Chinese?
“I love to eat spring rolls.”

Grades and Ranking

Another school year is coming to an end. If you are a student, I hope you have received good grades for all of your classes.

The Chinese word for grade, ranking or social stratum is 等级 (děngjí). The convention is for “up” or “high” to represent superiority, and “down” or “low” to represent inferiority.

上等 (shàngděng), or 高等 (gāoděng) means high-level, first-class, first-rate or excellent. So, 高等学院 (gāoděng dòngwù) is a higher educational institution.

Another word that indicates superior quality is 优等 (yōuděng). You would call an excellent student 优等生 (yōuděng shēng).

中等 (zhōngděng) is medium or average. Often, people will say 普通 (pǔtōng), 差不多 (chàbuduō), or 马马虎虎 (mǎmǎhūhū) to indicate that something or some condition is passable or of average quality.

低等 (dīděng) or 下等 (xiàděng) means low-grade or inferior. An invertebrate would be referred to as a 低等动物 (dīděng dòngwù).

高级 (gāojí) means high-ranking, high level or high-quality.

他请我去高级餐厅吃饭.
Tā qǐng wǒ qù gāojí cāntīng qùchīfàn.
He invites me to dine at a high-class restaurant.

中级 (zhōngjí) is average or middle-grade.

低级 (dījí) means low-ranking or of poor quality. It also means vulgar.

超级 (chāojí) means super. You can probably name one or two 超级钜星 (chāojí jù xīng superstars).

A grading system could be based on ordinal numbers. For instance, 一等 (yīděng) is first class or first-rate, 二等 (èrděng) is second-class and 三等 (sānděng) means third-class.

As the head houses the brains and is considered very important, 头等 (tóuděng) also means first class or first-rate.

我想订一张头等机票.
I’d like to reserve a first-class plane ticket.
Wǒ xiǎng dìng yīzhāng tóuděng jī piào.

Similarly, 一流 (yíliú) means first-rate, 二流 (èrliú ) means second-rate and 三流 (sānliú) means third-rate or inferior.

Another grading system used by the Chinese is based on the first few of the ten Celestial Stems.

(jiǎ) is the First Stem, and therefore is best. Smile if you see 甲等 (jiǎ děng) marked on your report card.

(yǐ) comes second, (bǐng ) is third. Suppose you get a (dīng fourth), which is equivalent to the letter grade “D”, and has the same initial consonant sound, don’t be disheartened. Not everyone is good at every subject. Try harder to master it, or switch to something else. What matters is that you always get a grade of 甲等 (jiǎ děng) for being a conscientious and caring human being.

Can one ever be too courteous?

When you see the character , you’re apt to associate it with 命令 (mìnglìng), which means a command or an order. In fact, has a number of other meanings, one of which is “excellent”.

(zūn) means respect, respectable, or a senior. 令尊 (lìng zūn your venerable father) is a polite way of referring to the father of the person you are talking or writing to. 令堂 ((lìng táng) means “your venerable mother”.

Similarly, 令夫人 (lìng fūren) is “your respected wife”, 令嫒 (lìng ài) is “your excellent daughter”, 令公子 (lìng gōngzǐ) is “your excellent son”, and
贵公子 (guì gōngzǐ) is “your noble son”.

姓名 (xìngmíng) is one’s full name. Following are a couple of polite ways to ask for one’s name:

请问尊姓大名?
Qǐngwèn zūn xìng dà míng?
May I ask what your name is?

您贵姓?
Nín guì xìng?
What’s your surname, please?

The essence of showing politeness is to relinquish superiority to those you wish to please. 先生 (xiānsheng) literally translates to “one born ahead (of me)”. This is the title conferred to teachers, gentlemen and doctors.

大师 (dàshī) means great master. It is also a title used to address a Buddhist monk.
仁兄 (rénxiōng) literally translates to “my kind elder brother”. It means “my dear friend” or “this gentleman” in everyday speech.

You know that 大哥 (dàgē) means eldest brother. It is also a polite way for a man to address another man in his age group. On the other hand, the man would refer to himself as 小弟 (xiǎo dì) even though they are not related.

In “The Butterfly Lovers”, 粱山伯 (Liáng Shānbó), was somewhat older than 祝英台 (Zhù Yīngtái). Therefore, he referred to himself as 愚兄 (yú xiōng), which means foolish elder brother, while he addressed 祝英台 (Zhù Yīngtái) as 贤弟 (xián dì), or virtuous younger brother.

敝人 (bìrén shabby me) and 在下 (zàixià lowly me) are old ways of referring to oneself. You’ve probably heard these terms in historical movies.

If you want to stay neutral, then simply refer to yourself as (wǒ I, me) or 本人 (běnrén I, me, myself).

作品 (zuòpǐn) are works of art or literature. When talking about someone else’s work, you want to say “your great work”, or 大作 (dà zuò). You could also refer to it as 佳作 (jiāzuò), or fine piece of work. As for your own work, you’d want to refer to it as 拙作 (zhuōzuò), or dull, awful work

意见 (yìjiàn) is an idea, point of view, opinion or suggestion. Your brilliant idea is 高见 (gāojiàn), while my humble opinion is 拙见 (zhuōjiàn).

To express that someone’s words of wisdom are much treasured like gold and jade, you can refer to them as 金玉良言 (jīnyù liáng yán).

府上 (fǔshang) means “your respected home” or “your respected family”. On the other hand, 寒舍 (hán shè cold shed) is how you would refer to your own abode.

The polite way to refer to your guests is: 贵宾 (guìbīn), or distinguished guests. To ask the guests to honor you with their presence, you would write on the invitation:

敬请光临.
Jìng qǐng guānglín.
We respectfully request your magnificent presence.

Always remember to say (qǐng please) and 谢谢 (xièxiè Thanks!) when making a request. When someone thanks you for a favor received, respond with 不谢 (bùxiè No need to thank me. Don’t mention it.) or 不客气 (bùkèqi You’re welcome. No need to be courteous.).

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