To be honest in Chinese

Gray Zucchini Fruits (aka Mexican Squash)

My heart is filled with joy when I go to the garden to check on my gray zucchini plants. The huge dark-green leaves spreading out from turgid stems and the light-green fruits swelling up under attractive bright yellow-orange blossoms are indeed wondrous to behold, but my main concern is, “Which puppies will be ready to eat in the next couple of days?” Stir-fried young zucchinis are tender and mildly sweet – a delight to the discerning palate. (See recipe for Vegetarian’s Delight in my “Tame Migrain the Delicious Way” ebook.) I carefully remove any extra blossoms from the plant, chop the golden petals up and toss them into the frypan as well. Yummy! The Chinese call zucchinis 夏南瓜 (xià nánguā summer pumpkins) or 西葫芦 (xīhúlù western gourds). I prefer the latter name because of its interesting ring.

The Chinese word for fruits in general is 果实 (guǒshí). Our focus today is on the other meanings of the character (shí), which relate to the fact that a fruit is something solid and tangible, and therefore real and true.

When interpreted as a combination of a verb and a nouns, the word 结实 (jiēshi) means to bear fruit. Used as an adjective, 结实 (jiēshi) means sturdy, strong, tough or muscular.

实在 (shízài) means real, true, honest or dependable. As an adverb, it translates to indeed or really.

他做人实在.
Tā zuòrén shízài.
He is an honest and dependable person.

我实在不明白她为什么离开我.
Wǒ shízài bù míngbái tā wèishénme líkāi wǒ.
I really don’t understand why she left me.

说实在的, 我很想念她.
Shuō shízài de, wǒ hěn xiǎngniàn tā.
Actually (to state the fact), I miss her very much.

实际上 (shíjìshàng) means in reality or as a matter of fact.

实际上我不赞成他去巴黎.
Shíjìshàng wǒ bù zànchéng tā qù bālí.
In fact I don’t approve of his going to Paris.

不切实际 (bùqièshíjì) means unrealistic or impracticable.

他的计划不切实际.
Tā de jìhuà bùqièshíjì.
His plan is impractical.

On the contrary, 脚踏实地 (jiǎotàshídì to have one’s feet planted on solid ground) means to be earnest and down-to-earth.

The adjective 真实 (zhēnshí) is used to describe something that is true, real or authentic. 真实的故事 (zhēnshí de gùshi) is a true story. 真实的情况 (zhēnshí de qíngkuàng) is the actual situation or what is actually happening. This is often abbreviated as 实况 (shíkuàng). Therefore 实况转播 (shíkuàng zhuǎnbō) is a live broadcast. Similarly, 实情 (shíqíng) also means the actual situation or the true state of affairs. However, it is usually used to refer to the truth of the matter.

The idiom 名符其实 (míngfúqíshí) describes someone who lives up to his or her name. It can be applied to inanimate objects as well. On the other hand, 名不副实 (míngbùfùshí) means unworthy of the name or title.

天堂岛是一个名符其实的度假区.
Tiāntáng dǎo shì yīgè míngfúqíshí de dùjiàqū.
Paradise Island lives up to its name as a vacation area.

确实 (quèshí) means indeed or truely.

一般说来, 台湾的人确实很友善.
Yībān shuō lái, Táiwān de rén quèshí hěn yǒushàn.
Generally speaking, the people in Taiwan are indeed quite friendly.

货真价实 (huòzhēnjiàshí) describes merchandise that is genuine and fairly priced. When used to describe a person, this expression translates to “through and through”. For example,

他是一个货真价实的书呆子.
Tā shì yīgè huòzhēnjiàshí de shūdāizi.
He is a total bookworm.

To verify, or 证实 (zhèngshí), a physical law, one could do an experiment, or 实验 (shíyàn). The laboratory is called 实验室 (shíyànshì). To gain hands-on experience, it also helps to do fieldwork, or 实习 (shíxí).

忠实 (zhōngshí) means faithful or loyal, and 诚实 (chéngshí) means to be honest and not tell lies. 老实 (lǎoshi) means frank, honest and well-behaved, often borderin on being simple-minded, naive or gullible.

他太老实了!
Tā tà lǎoshi le!
He is so gullible!

When you want to start a remark by saying “Frankly” or “To be honest”, you could use the expression 老实说 (lǎoshi shuō).

老实说, 我对他没兴趣.
Lǎoshi shuō, wǒ duì tā méi xìngqù.
To be honest, I’m not interested in him.

To end this lesson on a funny note, I would like you to type “Frankly, I don’t give a fig.” into Google Translate and see what it shows for the Chinese translation. Do you know the correct way of saying this in Chinese?

Sing Chinese Song – A Breeze in May

White Tree Peony

White Tree Peony 白牡丹 bái mǔdan


It hasn’t been that windy, and it has rained somewhat. Still this proved a bit too much for the delicate tree peony in my yard to bear. The depressed branches and fallen petals remind me of a couple well-known songs. One is a Taiwanese song called 雨夜花 (Yǔ Yè Huā Flower on a Rainy Night). The other is 五月的风 (Wǔyuè de Fēng A Breeze in May) composed by 黎锦光 (Lí Jǐnguāng). At this link is a rendition of the latter.

五月的风,吹在花上.
Wǔyuè de fēng chuī zài huā shàng.
A breeze in May wafts over the flowers.

朵朵的花儿吐露芬芳.
Duǒ duǒ de huār tǔlù fēnfāng.
Each flower cheerfully gives off its fragrance.

假如呀花儿确有知,
Jiǎrú ya huār què yǒu zhī,
If the flower is actually aware

懂得人海的沧桑,
Dǒngde rénhǎi de cāng sāng,
And knows the hardship and vicissitudes of life,

它该低下头来哭断了肝肠.
Tā gāi dīxià tóu lái kū duàn le gān cháng.
It should lower its head and cry its eyes out.
(This line is different from the one sung in the above-mentioned video.)

(chuī) is to blow or to play a wind instrument. Colloquially it also means to blow one’s own horn, or to break up or fall through.

(duǒ) is a unit of measure for flowers. See how it is doubled here to indicate each and every flower.

吐露 (tǔlù) means to reveal the true state of affairs or one’s inner thoughts or feelings. Here it means the flowers are discharging their fragrance.

芬芳 (fēnfāng) is the sweet fragrance of flowers. These characters are often found in girls’ names.

假如 (jiǎrú) means “if” or “suppose”. (què) means actually, definite or accurate.

有知 (yǒu zhī) means to have knowledge about something. 懂得 (dǒngde) means to understand or to know how to do something.

人海 (rénhǎi) refers to a crowd or the multitude. 沧桑 (cāng sāng) refers to the hardship and vicissitudes of life.

(gāi) is short for 应该 (yīnggāi), which means “ought to” or “should”.

Here, 低下(dīxià) means to lower or to bend down. As an adjective this word also means to be lowly.

(kū) is to cry. ( duàn) is to break, snap off, to give up, or to be decisive. 肝肠(gān cháng) are the liver and the intestines. It refers to the insides of a person. That would be a gut-wrenching cry.

All the stanzas of the verses employ the same structure. It will be a good exercise for you to figure out the lyrics for the rest of the song. It seems like this tune could go on and on forever. You might want to sing it about six whole keys lower so as not to strain your voice box. I hope this song does not leave you in a melancholy mood. Rather, think of the warmth of a mother’s love and care and have a Happy Mother’s Day!

母亲节快乐!
Mǔqīnjié kuàilè!

How to say “I understand” in Chinese

The highest reward for an instructor is to have helped a student thoroughly understand the material conveyed. There are a number of ways to acknowledge that you have understood a statement or a subject matter. Study the following sentences to get a feel of the different shades of meaning in the various expressions.

(dǒng) means to understand, to have knowledge about a subject, or to know how to do something.

你懂中文吗?
Nǐ dǒng zhōngwén ma?
Do you know the Chinese language?

我懂中文.
Wǒ dǒng zhōngwén.
I know Chinese.

你懂吗?
Nǐ dǒng ma?
Do you understand?

我懂.
Wǒ dǒng.
I understand.

你听得懂吗?
Nǐ tīng de dǒng ma?
Are you able to understand what is being said?

我听得懂.
Wǒ tīng de dǒng.
I am able to understand what is being said.

你懂了吗?
Nǐ dǒng le ma?
Did you get it?

我懂了.
Wǒ dǒng le.
I got it.

The last sentence above indicates a state of completion. Please review the verb tenses in Chapter 15 of “Learn Chinese through Songs and Rhymes“.

了解 (liǎojiě) means to understand or to comprehend completely.

他最了解我.
Tā zuì liǎojiě wǒ.
He understands me the best.

理解 (lǐjiě) means to understand the sense or logic of something. 不能理解 (bùnéng lǐjiě) means unable to make sense of.

我不能理解他的作为.
Wǒ bùnéng lǐjiě tā de zuòwéi.
I cannot understand his conduct.

明白 (míngbai) as an adjective means clear, plain or obvious. As a verb, it means to understand, to know or to realize.

现在我完全明白了.
Xiànzài wǒ wánquán míngbai le.
Now I totally understand.

清楚 (qīngchǔ) means distinct, clear or obvious. As a verb, it means to understand clearly. 弄清楚 (nòng qīngchǔ) or 搞清楚 (gǎo qīngchǔ) is to find out more about something to figure it out.

我搞不清楚他的意思.
Wǒ gǎo bù qīngchǔ tā de yìsī.
I can’t figure out what he means.

知道 (zhīdào) and 晓得 (xiǎodé) both mean to know, to understand, to realize, or to be aware of something.

你知道我的意思吧?
Nǐ zhīdào wǒ de yìsī ba?
You know what I mean, don’t you?

你知道吗? (Nǐ zhīdào ma?) could also be used to start an informal conversation – “You know? Blah, blah, blah.”

Elementary school teachers habitually follow their instructions with 知道吗? (Zhīdào ma? Understand?) and 晓得吧? (Xiǎodé ba? Understand?) We had a family friend who used to be a teacher. He would punctuate every remark with his pet phrase 晓得吧? (Xiǎodé ba?). This made him sound quite presumptuous.

领会 (lǐnghuì) is to understand or grasp the meaning of something.

会意 (huìyì) means to perceive someone’s unspoken thoughts or meaning. 会心 (huìxīn knowing, knowingly) is normally used as an adjective or an adverb.

她给了我一个会心的微笑.
Tā gěi le wǒ yī gè huìxīn de wēixiào.
She gave me a knowing smile.

Black and White in Chinese

Black and white contrast nicely in a graphic design.

Black and white contrast nicely in a graphic design.

As a color, (hēi) means black, and (bái) means white. Both of these words have a number of different meanings and connotations.

白菜 (báicài) is a general term for Chinese cabbage, of which there are several varieties. 大白菜 (dàbáicài) is the large and heavy variety with tightly-wrapped pale leaves. It is also known in the West as Napa cabbage or Chinese lettuce. The pale green and slender loose-leaf type is called 小白菜 (xiǎobáicài white rape). If you are after the smaller variety with crunchy dark-green leaves shaped like Chinese soup spoons, then ask for 青康菜 (Qīng Kāng cài) or 瓢儿菜 (piáor cài). What’s known as “bok choy” has very dark green leaves with sturdy white stalks. Actually, “bok” and “choi” are not Mandarin sounds. “choi” is the Romanization of the Cantonese pronunciation of (cài vegetables).

白米 (báimǐ) are rice grains from which the husks have been removed. It is the regular white rice sold in grocery stores. 蛋白 (dànbái) are egg whites, and 蛋白质 (dànbáizhì) are proteins. 白血球 (báixiěqiú) are white blood cells.

White is usually associated with cleanliness and purity, as in 洁白 (jiébái spotless). It is also associated with brightness or clarity, as in 白天 (báitiān daytime) or 明白 (míngbai clear, to understand), respectively.

现在我明白了.
Xiànzài wǒ míngbai le.
Now I understand.

坦白 (tǎnbái) means to be frank and candid.

坦白说, 他不适合这职位.
Tǎnbái shuō, tā bù shìhé zhè zhíwèi.
Frankly, he is not well suited to this position.

(bái) also means blank, gratis or in vain.

白痴 (báichī) is an idiot. On the other hand, 白吃 (báichī) means to freeload.

白白 (báibái) means “for nothing”. Do not confuse this with 拜拜 (báibái), which is the Chinese transliteration for “bye-bye”.

为了这件事, 我白白损失了一百元.
Wèile zhèi jiàn shì, wǒ báibái sǔnshī le yī bǎi yuán.
Because of this, I lost one hundred yuan for nothing.

苍白 (cāngbái) means pale or ashen. You could use it to describe gray hair or a wan face.

In contrast, 黑油油 (hēiyōuyōu) means jet-black, or black and shiny. 漆黑 (qīhēi) or 黑漆漆 (hēiqīqī) means pitch-black.

外面黑漆漆; 我不敢出去.
Wàimian hēiqīqī, wǒ bùgǎn chúqu.
It’s pitch-dark out there; I dare not go outside.

黑暗 (hēiàn) means darkness or dark, both in the sense of lacking illumination and in the sense of being shady or evil.

黑心 (hēixīn) is an evil mind. As an adjective, it means being unconscionable. You may have heard news stories about 黑心食品 (hēixīn shípǐn) produced by dishonest manufacturers who have no regard for the consumers’ health. These foods contain cheap non-food-grade ingredients or are tainted with toxic substitutes. One really needs to be careful about what one chooses to ingest.

黑帮 (hēibāng) is a sinister gang, and 黑手党 (hēishǒudǎng) are the Mafia. 黑名单 (hēimíngdān) is a blacklist, and 黑客 (hēikè) is another way of saying computer hackers. When you exchange news about corruption or other wrong-doings in a conversation, you might shake your head and add this remark:

天下乌鸦一般黑.
Tiānxiàwūyāyībānhēi.
The evil are all the same the world over.
(All ravens in the world are equally black.)

黑白 (hēibái) means black & white, or right and wrong. For example, 黑白照片 (hēibái zhàopiàn) is a black & white photo.

你们不可以黑白不分.
Nǐmen bù kěyǐ hēibáibùfēn.
You should not be without a sense of right and wrong.

清楚 (qīngchǔ) means clear and well-defined, easy to see or understand. Suppose an argument comes up regarding your rented apartment, and you are in the right, show your 房东 (fángdōng landlord or landlady) the rental agreement and say:

白纸黑字, 一清二楚.
Báizhǐhēizì, yīqīngèrchǔ.
Here it is in black and white, and crystal clear.

Sing “The Moon Represents My Heart”

“The Moon Represents My Heart” is the title of a very popular Chinese song. This slow-paced song contains a good sample of various parts of speech and a number of different types of sentences. I think you will enjoy listening and singing this song as well as learning the Chinese verses in a most beautiful way. In fact, we have already covered the nouns, adjectives and adverbs used in this song. All you have to do today is to learn a few additional verbs.

You already know that 代表 (dàibiǎo) means to represent. When used as a noun, this word means a representative.

The words, (wèn to ask) and (dá), both feature the mouth radical, (kǒu). If you picture these two words as two person’s faces, which one appears to be more self-assured? A new term is formed when you put these two words together: 问答 (wèndá), which means questions and answers, or Q&A.

问题 (wèntí) can be interpreted as a question. In this sense, it means the same as 疑问 (yíwèn question or doubt). 问题 (wèntí) also refers to a problem or an issue.

她问我一个问题.
Tā wèn wǒ yī gè wèntí.
She asks me a question.

这是一个大问题.
Zhè shì yī gè dà wèntí.
This is a major issue.

没问题.
Méi wèntí.
No problem.

询问 (xúnwèn) means to inquire or to obtain information about something. On the other hand, 质问 (zhìwèn) means to or to interrogate or grill someone.

问好 (wènhǎo) is to inquire about someone’s well-being, or to send regards to someone. 问候 (wènhòu) is also to extend greetings to someone (e.g. by asking what the weather is like over there).

(yí) and 移动 (yídòng) mean to move or shift. 移民 (yímín) means immigration, to emigrate, to immigrate, or an immigrant. It’s pure coincidence that the Chinese word sounds similar to the initial part of the English word.

(biàn) and 改变 (gǎibiàn) mean to change or transform. 变心 (biànxīn) is a change of heart with respect to being faithful to a lover.

打动 (dǎdòng) is to move or touch one’s heart.

(jiāo) means to teach or to instruct. When used as a noun, it is pronounced in the 4th tone, as in 教师 (jiàoshī instructor). (jiào) also used colloquially to mean “to make someone do something”. For example,

教我思念到如今.
Jiào wǒ sīniàn dào rújīn.
Makes me think of it until today.

教我如何不想她?
Jiào wǒ rúhé bù xiǎng tā.
How could you make me not miss her?
(This is actually the title of a well-known Chinese song.)

(qù) means to go, to leave, or to remove. As an adverb, this word indicates a motion away from you. It is the opposite of (lái come), which indicates a motion toward you. Therefore, 拿去 (ná qù) means to take (it) away, whereas拿来 (ná lái) means to bring (it) over here.

去年 (qùnián) is the year that has just passed, i.e. last year. You may also come across such an expression as 去冬 (qù dōng), which is an abbreviation for 去年冬天 (qùnián dōngtiān last winter). However, do not apply this scheme to other time periods. In fact, last month is 上个月 (shànggèyuè), and last week is上星期 (shàngxīngqī).

(xiǎng) means to think, to consider or to want to do something, or to miss somebody. It is customary to use a verb in the phrase pattern: verb + 一 (yī) + verb. Often the 一 (yī) is omitted.You could interpret the second occurrence of the verb as a noun. For example, 想一想, (xiǎng yī xiǎng) could be interpreted as “give it a thought”.

你去想一想, 这问题么办?
Nǐ qù xiǎng yī xiǎng, zhè wèntí zěnmebàn?
Go think about it; how to resolve this issue?

让我想想.
Ràng wǒ xiǎng xiǎng.
Let me think (it over).

(kàn) has various meanings, among them: see, look, examine, visit, consider, appear to be, keep watch on, and care for.

你去看一看, 他睡了没有?
Nǐ qù kàn yī kàn, tā shuì le méiyǒu?
Go take a look and see if he has gone to sleep.

You may wonder why the heart is likened to the moon in “The Moon Represents My Heart”. The heart connotes a hot, vibrant mass of energy, whereas the moon is that cool and detached object peering down at us from high above. Well, in this song, you are trying to respond to the question: “How much do you love me?” Instead of giving a direct answer, you ask your sweetheart to go think and see for himself or herself – Your true and unwavering love shines bright and clear in your heart just like the moon that constantly gleams in the sky. This is my own interpretation. If you have other thoughts, feel free to share them with us.

In Chinese poetry, the moon is often referred to as 明月 (míng yuè clear and shiny moon). The character (míng) has a sun on the left side and a moon on the right side. So it’s not surprising that it represents brightness and illumination. You may think of 明天 as the time when the sky becomes bright again, ie. tomorrow. In the broader sense, (míng) also represents enlightenment or clarity. For example,

现在我明白了.
Xiànzài wǒ míngbai le.
Now I understand.

Now, enjoy Teresa Teng’s lovely voice, but also pay attention to her clear and distinct enunciation. The video at this link has Chinese and English subtitles as well as the pronunciation aid.

The lyrics displayed on the video are in traditional Chinese characters. Click here to see the verses in simplified Chinese characters.

Will a western student of Chinese be able to handle this song with ease? Of course. Here’s proof.

As an exercise, check your Chinese dictionary for a few other characters that contain the radical (rì the sun). At this link there is a nice list of most of the Chinese radicals. Maybe you can show off what you have learned by filling some of the blanks at that site with a sentence or two of your own.

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