Read a novel in Chinese and English

Chinese edition of The Little Monk

The Little Monk in Chinese

The Little Monk

The Little Monk in English

Earlier this year I mentioned that I planned to publish a middle-grade novel in both English and Chinese. I am pleased to announce that the English and Chinese editions of “The Little Monk are now available as Kindle eBooks at

It’s been quite a few years since I started this blog site, and I hope that some of you have advanced to the intermediate level in your study of the Chinese language. Are you ready to take on the challenge of reading a complete novel in Chinese? To date there is still a shortage of bilingual English-Chinese reading material for intermediate level language students.

The fact is that reading the same material side by side in Chinese and English can greatly benefit both the Chinese and English language learners.

If you don’t have a Kindle reading device, you can still read Kindle eBooks─on your PC, Mac, iPhone, Blackberry, or Android-based phone or tablet. Please see the information provided at this link.

To give you an idea of what the story is about, here is a brief description.

十七世纪中, 台湾被称作福摩萨,  
Shíqīshìjì zhōng, Táiwān bèi chēng zuò Fú Mó Sà,
In the 17th century, Taiwan was called the Island of Formosa,

yì wéi měilì de xiǎodǎo.
meaning “Beautiful Island”.

岛上有宜人的气候, 令人瞩目的风景, 
Dǎo shàng yǒu yírén de qìhòu, lìngrén zhǔmù de fēngjǐng,
The island featured pleasant climate, eye-catching scenery,

yǐjí fēngfù de zìran zīyuán.
and rich natural resources.

各国强权纷纷来到, 建立了殖民地.
Gèguó qiángquán fēnfēn láidào, jiànlì le zhímíndì.
Foreign powers flocked to the place to colonize it.

Zhègè gùshi fāshēng zài yīgè bèi Xībānyá tǒngzhì de dìqū.
This story took place during the brief Spanish rule of part of the island.

Wáwa chūshēng zhīhòu bùjiǔ jiù yǔ tā de fùmǔ fēnlí
Shortly after Wawa was born, he was separated from his parents

ér bèi yī wèi shào lín héshàng shōuróng le.
and taken in by a Chinese Shaolin monk.

他十二岁时已经熟读佛经, 并且练了一身好功夫.
Tā shí’èr suì shí yǐjīng shú dú Fójīng, bìngqiě liàn le yīshēn hǎo gōngfu.
At the age of 12, he was already trained in Buddhism and kung fu skills.

Wáwa xiǎng yào cóng lìngwài yī wèi shīfu nàr xuéxí shí hóu gōng.
Wawa wanted to learn the unique Rock Monkey Kung Fu from another master.

在前往那位师父的途中, 他遇到了他的父亲尤大, 
Zài qiánwǎng nèi wèi shīfu de túzhōng, tā bùyì yùdào le tā de fùqin Yóudà.
On the trip to seek the other master, Wawa encountered his father Yotas,

Dànshì liǎng rén dōu bù zhīdào tāmen zhījiān de fù zǐ guānxi.
but neither one was aware of their kinship.

Wáwa yě yùdào tā de duìshǒu Míngshàn.
Wawa also encountered his adversary, Mingshan.

Míngshàn zhèng yào bāngzhù Xībānyá jūnduì dàibǔ Yóudà.
Minshan was helping the conquistadors to capture Yotas.

The twists in the plot of this story will keep you wondering what eventually happened to each of the main characters. At the same time, you will have a glimpse of the local scenery and the multi-cultural history of the place. You will be entertained by the amazing kung fu fighting actions, and hopefully also give some thought to racial prejudice and religious tolerance.

To watch a video showing scenes similar to those used as the background of this story, please click on this link:

To watch a video about the aborigine tribes in Taiwan, please click on this link:

Lost in Chinese Translation


Cucumber Seedlings
Cucumber Seedlings

It’s perfect weather out there for the snow peas that I have sown – sunshine interspersed with light rain. Inside, I have started a few vegetable seedlings to be transplanted to the garden when the soil gets warmer. Discovering that a seedling has pushed its way out of the soil overnight always brings me great joy and elicits a “Wow!” from me.. Shown in the picture here are two 黃瓜 (huángguā) seedlings. How would you say 黃瓜 (huángguā) in English? Literally, it translates to “yellow squash”. However, yellow squashes are not what I expect to harvest from these plants when they mature. Rather, 黃瓜 (huángguā) in Chinese refers to what you call cucumbers in English.

Recently I finished writing a mid-grade novel (for ages 11 and up) titled “The Little Monk”. Not to leave out the Chinese-speaking readers, I have translated the story into Chinese as well, with the title “小和尚 “. I hope to get these two books published by the end of this year. Anyhow, what I want to talk about today is language translation between English and Chinese. At first, hoping to save time with the translation, I ran the text through an English-Chinese online translator. The result was totally unreadable and not even worth editing, but it did give me many a good laugh. I thought I’d share a few hilarious examples with you.

May Buddah bless you.
Incorrect: 五月菩薩保祐你. (Wǔyuè púsà bǎoyòu nǐ.)
Correct: 願菩薩保祐你. (Yuàn púsà bǎoyòu nǐ.)

In the above example, the auxiliary verb “may” was interpreted as the fifth month of the year, or the month of May.

He pressed his palms together.
Incorrect: 他按棕櫚葉一起. (Tā àn zōnglǘ yè yīqǐ.)
Correct: 他合起雙掌. (Tā hé qǐ shuāng zhǎng.)

In the above example, the word “palms” was interpreted as the palm leaves instead of the palms of the hands.

He lifted his wooden staff.
Incorrect: 他提起他的木職員. (Tā tíqǐ tā de mù zhíyuán.)
Correct: 他舉起他的木棒. (Tā jǔqǐ tā de mù bàng.)

In the above example, “staff” was interpreted as the employees instead of a long stick.

He raised the club.
Incorrect: 他提升了俱樂部. (Tā tíshēng le jùlèbù.)
Correct: 他舉起棒子. (Tā jǔqǐ bàng zi.)

Here, “club” was interpreted as an organization instead of a cudgel.

forceful strike
Incorrect: 強而有力的罷工 (qiǎng ér yǒulì de bàgōng)
Correct: 強而有力的擊打 (qiǎng ér yǒulì de jī dǎ)

See? When an English word has more than one meaning, it usually messes up the translation. Same with the following example.

The weather was fair.
Incorrect: 天氣很公平. (Tiānqì hěn gōngpīng.)
Correct: 天氣很好. (Tiānqì hěn hǎo.)

River bank
Incorrect: 河的銀行 (hé de yínháng)
Correct: 河岸 (hé’àn)

Question: Why are rivers rich? The answer: Each river has two banks.

a pitcher of spring water
Incorrect: 泉水的一個投手 (quánshuǐ de yīgè tōushǒu)
Correct: 一壺泉水 (yī hú quánshuǐ)

The above example makes me think that the translator must be a baseball fan. In the following two examples, the translator seems to be business-minded.

The board that trapped the man
Incorrect: 設陷井人的委員會 (shè xiàn jǐng rén de wěiyuánhuì)
Correct: 困住那個人的木板 (kùn zhù nàge rén de mùbǎn)

out of commission
Incorrect: 在委員會之外 (zài wěiyuánhuì zhīwài)
Correct: 壞了 (huài le) or 不能動了 (bùnéng dòng le)

As you can see, the problem with many translation software programs is the lack of artificial intelligence. Verbatim translation does not work well, as many English and Chinese words have multiple meanings, and the sentence structures of these two languages are quite different. How to do a good job with English to Chinese translation, or vice versa? You will first need to correctly interpret and understand the content in the source language. Then, you can put the other hat on and express the same meaning and sentiments in the destination language. It is all right to use different words and expressions in the translation as long as the idea is correctly communicated. For example, for “not worth a fig”, don’t mention figs at all, as the Chinese do not associate figs with worthless things. Instead, simply say “一文不值 (yī wén bù zhí)”, which means not worth a penny, or worthless. Speaking of Chinese sentence structures, please review Chapters 19 and 25 in “Learn Chinese through Songs and Rhymes“.

Learn Chinese words for near and far

(jìn) means near or closeby. For example, 靠近 (qīnjìn)
means to be near or close to someone or some place. As a verb, it means to draw near someone or something. What would you say when you want your sweetheart to snuggle up to you? The answer can be found on page 223 of “Learn Chinese through Songs and Rhymes“.

亲近 (qīnjìn) means to be on intimate terms with someone. However, 近亲 (jìnqīn) are close relatives.

不近人情 (bùjìnrénqíng) is a Chinese idiom that describes someone as being unreasonable or insensitive to human feelings.

(jìn) is also used to indicate proximity in time. 近来 (jìnlái) means recently or lately. Do not confuse it with 进来 (jìnlái), which means to come in.

最近 (zuìjìn) can mean recently or in the near future.

近年来 (jìnniánlái) means for the past few years.

近代 (jìndài) means modern times, as opposed to 古代 (gǔdài ancient times).

近东 (jìndōng) is the Near East. (yuǎn) means distant or faraway. Therefore, 远东 (yuǎndōng) is the Far East.

远方 (yuǎnfāng) are distant places.

Yuǎn lái de héshàng huì niànjīng.
Monks who come from afar know the scriptures better.

You may have heard the chant of Buddhist monks, or 和尚 (héshàng), at a temple. Reciting or chanting the Buddhist scriptures is called 念经 (niànjīng). Some rich Chinese people do not employ local monks to perform ceremonies for them but hire famous ones from afar, thus prompting this satyrical remark from the locals. You are bound to feel the same if, instead of promoting you to the new position, your company enlists an outside expert. Another way to put it is:

Wàiguó de yuèliang bǐjiào yuán.
The moon shines brighter in foreign countries.
(“The grass is greener on the other side.”)

永远 (yǒngyuǎn) means always or forever.

遥远 (yáoyuǎn) means distant or remote. Remember the song we discussed a couple years ago, 在那遥远的地方 (Zài Nà Yáoyuǎn de Dìfang)? If not, here is the link to that lesson on the soil radical.

远虑 (yuǎnlǜ) and 远见 (yuǎnjiàn) both mean foresight. The latter may also refer to a vision.

双筒望远镜 (shuāngtǒngwàngyuǎnjìng) are binoculars.

疏远 (shūyuǎn) is to become estranged.

Hòulái tāmen liǎng rén jiù shūyuǎn le.
Later on the two of them drifted apart.

远近 (yuǎnjìn) means far and near.

Yuǎnjìn de rén dōu yǎngmù tā.
People from far and near all admire him.

We will conclude this lesson by offering two bits of Chinese wisdom.

Yuǎnqīn bùrú jìnlín.
Distant relatives are not as helpful as near neighbors.

不如 (bùrú) means not as good as. 近邻 (jìnlín) is a near neighbor.

Rén wú yuǎnlǜ bì yǒu jìn yōu.
If one does not think ahead, one may soon have problems on hand.

(wú) is the formal word for no, not or nothing.

Rén wú yuǎnlǜ bì yǒu jìn yōu.
If one does not think ahead, one may soon have problems on hand.

(wú) is the formal word for no, not or nothing.

(bì) is the formal for sure, certainly, or must. Colloquially, you would say 必定 (bìdìng) or 一定 (yīdìng).

(yōu), or 忧虑 (yōulǜ), are worries, sorrow or concerns.

In other words, when you see dark clouds overhead, take your umbrella along so you won’t get rained on. 🙂

The Monkey King in Chinese

Talking about (wù enlightenment) reminds me of a character in a major Chinese novel written during the Ming Dynasty. This book is titled “西游记 (Xīyóujì), often translated as “Journey to the West”. The general plot of this fantasy novel is not unlike that of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”, involving a journey on which the main character is aided by a number of other characters. However, “西游记 (Xīyóujì), 100 chapters long, features many more varied characters, mystical creatures, demons and seemingly endless episodes.

The principal character in “西游记 (Xīyóujì) is a monk, and the objective of his journey is to acquire sacred texts of Buddhism from 印度 (yìndù India). You can find a well written summary at this link.

Each of the main characters in the novel serves to illustrate a certain set of human characteristics. Let’s see if we can use some of the adjectives listed in Chapter 8 of “Learn Chinese through Songs and Rhymes” to describe the personalities of these characters.

The monk, 唐三藏 (Táng Sānzàng), is dedicated to his cause. He is idealistic and benevolent, but his defenselessness and impracticality are often taken advantage of by the team’s adversaries.

唐三藏心地善良, 但是无能.
Táng Sānzàng xīndì shànliáng, dànshì wúnéng.
Tang Sanzang is of a kindhearted nature, but incompetent.

The most capable and the most interesting of the monk’s three disciples is a mystical monkey born out of a rock. He becomes the Monkey King, 猴王 (hóu wáng), and receives training from a mentor, who gives him the name 悟空 (Wùkōng). As the word (sūn) also means monkeys, the author humorously assigned to this monkey the common Chinese surname (sūn grandson). At this link is a section of cartoon with helpful English subtitles that describes the early days in the life of the Monkey King. See if you can catch a few Chinese words here and there.

If you would like to see in animation how 孙悟空 (Sūn Wùkōng) meets up with the monk, you could watch the following two videos in English. (Video 1, Video 2) In these videos, Sun Wukong is referred to as Goku because this is how 悟空 (Wùkōng) is pronounced in Japanese

With a name like 悟空 (Wùkōng), which means being enlightened to the nothingness of life, Sun Wukong is, however, anything but. He has to get involved in any and everything, jumping at every opportunity to utilize his prowess to right the wrongs.

孙悟空聪明, 能干, 勇敢, 但是时常冲动.
Sūn Wùkōng cōngmíng, nénggàn, yǒnggǎn, dànshì shícháng chōngdòng.
Sun Wukong is clever, capable and brave, but often acts impulsively.

Tā shì xǔduō nánháir xīn zhòng de yīngxióng.
He is the hero in the heart of many young boys.

One cannot help but chuckle when thinking about the second disciple who takes on the form of a hog. This 猪八戒 (Zhū Bājiè) represents many human faults – avarice, laziness and sensualism, which are counterbalanced by his amicable personality, straightforwardness and extraordinary physical strength.

猪八戒懒惰, 好吃, 但是强壮, 热情.
Zhū Bājiè lǎnduò, hàochī, dànshì qiángzhuàng, rèqíng.
Zhu Bajie is lazy and gluttonous, but strong and affectionate.

沙和尚 (Shā Héshàng) is kind of an average guy. He obeys the rules, does his duty with an even temper and takes a down-to-earth approach to solving problems. Being thus not an exciting character, he only gets a small part in the novel.

沙和尚正直, 忠实, 任劳任怨.
Shā Héshàng zhèngzhí, zhōngshí, rènláorènyuàn.
Friar Sand is upright, loyal, works hard and puts up with chiding and criticism.

The idiom, 任劳任怨 (rènláorènyuàn), could be translated as “being willing to put one’s nose to the grindstone”.

In reality, each one of us probably has some of the above-mentioned personality traits. Hopefully our strengths will compensate for our weaknesses and help us eventually achieve our individual goals.

Teamwork in Chinese (2)

There was once a monk who lived by himself in the mountains. Each day he had to walk a distance to a creek, fill a large wooden tub with water and carry it back to use as drinking water. Years later, another monk came to join him at the small temple. Everyday the two monks would each hold one side of the handle of the large tub to carry water back from the creek. The first monk was glad to have someone share the heavy load. Then came a third monk to join them, and a problem arose: Each monk counted on the other two to do the chore. Hence the following Chinese saying:

Yī gè héshàng tí shuǐ hē.
One monk will carry the water by himself for drinking.

Liǎng gè héshàng tái shuǐ hē.
Two monks will carry the water together for drinking.

Sān gè héshàng méi shuǐ hē.
With three monks there will be no water to drink.

和尚 (héshàng) is a Buddhist monk, usually with shaven head and wearing a long robe.

(tí) is to carry something, such as luggage, with the arm down. (tái) is to lift something up, or having two people carry something together. (méi) is the abbreviation of 没有 (méiyǒu have not, be without).

Appareantly, the three monks had not thought of taking turns in doing their share of the work.

Wǒmén lúnliu zhíbān.
We take turns in being on duty.

A team needs responsible and reliable members who are willing to help oneanother and work together to resolve issues.

负责 (fùzé) means to be responsible for or to be in charge of. Please note that 负责人 (fùzérén) refers to the person in charge, while 负责的人 (fùzé de rén) describes a conscientious person.

(kào) means to lean on. Therefore, 可靠 (kěkào) means dependable, reliable, or trustworthy. 可靠性 (kěkàoxìng) is dependability or reliability.

Zhègè rén bù kěkào.
This person is not trustworthy.

互相帮助 (hùxiāng bāngzhù) is to help each other out, and 互相容忍 (hùxiāng róngrěn) is to tolerate or to put up with each other.

和谐 (héxié) means harmonious, and 相处 (xiāngchǔ) means to get along with each other. Therefore, 和谐相处 (héxié xiāngchǔ) means to get along harmoniously.

The adverb “together” has several Chinese equivalents, with slightly different nuances in meaning.
一同 (yītóng) applies to doing the same things together at the same time and place.
一齐 (yīqí) applies to doing things together at the same time or in unison.
一起 (yīqǐ) applies to doing things together in the same place.
一道 (yīdào) applies to doing things together alongside each other.

Wǒmén yītóng bǎ wèntí jiějué le.
We resolved the issue together.

Hǎo jíle!

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