Chinese idioms and folk wisdom

Ripe Indigo Rose Cherry Tomatoes

Beautiful Ripened Indigo Rose Cherry Tomatoes

This spring, out of curiosity, I planted an interesting variety of tomato named “Indigo Rose”. The fruits maintained a deep indigo color with a green bottom until they finally matured. That was when the green portion turned orange-red. Only after I began harvesting the ripened fruits did I realize how this cultivar got its beautiful name. Why, a cute orange rose revealed itself on the tomato when I removed the tiny stem. There is no way I would let this season slip by without sharing the beauty of these tomatoes with you.

Now, what does this picture have to do with the idioms we will be talking about today? Well, here’s an idiom that is arguably relevant:

情人眼中出西施.
Qíngrén yǎn zhōng chū Xīshī.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

情人 (qíngrén) are lovers. In the lover’s eyes, the object of love compares to 西施 (Xīshī), who was touted in Chinese literature as the most flawless beauty in China.

I am halfway through reading ” Don Quijote 1 & 2 Español – English: Complete and Unabridged (Spanish Edition) “. I only read the English portion as I don’t speak Spanish, but I think this bilingual book can be very helpful for Spanish-speaking students who are learning English, or for English-speaking students who are learning Spanish because each paragraph in Spanish is followed by the corresponding paragraph in English. The conversations between the characters in this book are filled with idioms and wisecracks, and it struck me how so much of the same folk wisdom sprang up independently within different cultures.

Some Chinese refer to Don Quixote as 唐吉诃德 (táng jí hē dé). In Don Quixote’s imagination, Dulcinea was the 西施 (Xīshī), even though he had never set eyes on her. Such was the power of “pure and chaste” admiration from afar.

Following are a few idioms and sayings selected from the above-mentioned book, accompanied by their Chinese equivalent.

“a heart of marble”

铁石心肠
Tiěshíxīncháng
heart of iron and stone

“The wheel of fortune turns faster than a mill-wheel.”

风水轮流转
fēngshuǐ lúnliu zhuàn
Every dog has his day.

轮流 (lúnliu) means to take turns, such as while playing a card game. Good fortune does not always stay with the same people. This means you might get your turn yet.

“One devil is like another.”

天下乌鸦一般黑
Tiānxiàwūyāyībānhēi
Evil people are bad all the world over.
(All ravens are black.)

“Let us not throw the rope after the bucket.”

无济于事 or 无补于事
Wújìyúshì or wúbǔyúshì
of no avail

济 (jì) means to be of help or to benefit.
补 (bǔ) means to mend, repair, supply, make up for, nourish, or help.

“to have companion in trouble gives some relief”

同病相怜
Tóngbìngxiānglián
Fellow sufferers commiserate with each other.

“If the blind lead the blind, both are in danger of falling into the pit.”

盲人骑瞎马
Mángrén qí xiā mǎ
A blind man riding on a blind horse (heading to disaster)

“As we have loaves, let’s not go looking for cakes.”

知足长乐
Zhīzú cháng lè
Be contented with your lot and you will stay happy.

Please note that 足 (zú) has several meanings: foot, leg, sufficient, enough, ample, satisfied. 手足 (shǒuzú hands and feet) refers to brothers.

“come for wool and go back shorn”
偷鸡不得失把米.
Tōu jī bùdé shī bǎ mǐ.
Failed in attempting to to steal the chicken and lost a handful of rice in the process.

“Love has no greater enemy than hunger and constant want.”

爱情不能当面包.
Àiqíng bùnéng dāng miànbāo.
Love cannot not quell hunger like bread.

“All comparisons are odious.”

人比人气死人.
Rénbǐrén, qìsǐrén.
Comparing yourself with others will only make you angry.

“Tell me what company thou keepest and I’ll tell thee what thou art.”

物以类聚.
Wùyǐlèijù.
Like attracts like. (Birds of a feather flock together.)

“He who’s prepared has his battle half fought.”

有备无患
Yǒubèiwúhuàn
Preparedness averts peril.

准备 (zhǔnbèi) means to prrpare, or preparation.

我们要预先做好准备.
wǒmén yào yùxiān zuò hǎo zhǔnbèi.
We should make preparation beforehand.

This is particularly true when you have a test to take, or when the electric power might go out.

Now, let’s watch a video clip of “The Impossible Dream” (不可能实现的梦想 Bùkěnéng shíxiàn de mèngxiǎng) How can one help falling in love with such a beautiful melody, such as marvelous voice and such a brilliant performance?

By the way, if you have little ones, they might enjoy the Chinese nursery rhyme for counting frogs.

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