Chinese idiom for “Misfortune could be a blessing in disguise.”

Road Block sign

Road Blocked

On life’s journey, it is inevitable that we sometimes encounter setbacks. However, often they are not as bad as they appear to be.

Suppose you baked a chiffon cake, but something went wrong. Instead of a tender and uniformly pale perfection with just the right amount of moistness, the cake features a visible layer of goo settled somewhere in the middle. Before you declare the fruit of labor a failure, let me congratulate you. You have just produced what’s called a “magic cake”, or 魔术蛋糕 (móshù dàngāo).

And suppose, while mixing yeast, flour and water to make bread dough, you were absent-minded and accidentally added way too much water. You look at the poolish (wet dough sponge) and wonder if you should dump the whole thing and start over. Don’t. This is actually the perfect mixture for making the so-called “peasant bread”, or 农家面包 (nóngjiā miànbāo). You might need to add a bit more salt to adjust the taste, and then the dough is ready for proofing and baking. No need to knead, and I’m not kidding. The end product is a coarse bread that lives up to its name, but some people claim that it is the best bread they have ever consumed.

After the ingenious inventor and engineer Nikola Tesla 尼古拉 特斯拉 (Nígǔlā Tèsīlā) had a falling-out with Thomas Edison 托马斯 爱迪生 (Tuōmǎsī Aàidíshēng) and resigned from the latter’s company as an electrical engineer, he had to support himself by working as a ditch digger. Luckily, fortune turned in his favor. Had he stayed with Edison, his concept of using alternating current to deliver power would never have been implemented.

So it is that you find yourself in a bad situation, you might try to take it easy, as sometimes the loss might turn out to be a gain. There is a saying in Chinese that conveys this sentiment:

塞翁失馬,焉知非福.
Sāiwēngshīmǎ, yānzhīfēifú.
The old man lost a horse; how would you know if this would not turn out to be a blessing?

In the story on which this idiom is based, the horse of an old gentleman ran away one day. While his neighbors felt sorry for him, the old man did not take this incident to heart. Indeed, a few months later, the horse returned, accompanied by a fine steed. The old man ended up gaining an additional horse.

老人失掉了马, 但是他不在意.
Lǎorén shīdiàole mǎ, dànshì tā bù zàiyì.
The old man lost his horse, but he did not care.

There are a few other ways to say that you don’t care.

不在乎 (bùzàihū) means not minding something; not giving a fig about something.

他失掉了工作,但是他好像毫不在乎.
Tā shīdiàole gōngzuò, dànshì tā hǎoxiàng háo bùzàihū.
He lost his job, but he does not seem to care.

不介意 (bù jièyì) means not minding or not taking offence.

如果你不介意, 我明天就不来了.
Rúguǒ nǐ bù jièyì wǒ míngtiān jiù bù láile.
If you don’t mind, I won’t come tomorrow.

不放在心上 (bù fàng zàixīn shàng) means not taking something to heart.

希望你不要把这件事放在心上.
Xīwàng nǐ bùyào bǎ zhè jiàn shì fàng zàixīn shàng.
Hope you don’t take this matter to heart.

处之泰然 (chǔzhītàirán) is to handle a situation with equanimity.

他凡事处之泰然.
Tā fánshì chǔzhītàirán.
He is at ease with everything.

How would you say “It doesn’t matter.” in Chinese? Yes, 没关系 (méiguānxi), or 不要紧 (bùyàojǐn), or 无所谓 (wúsuǒwèi).

没关系; 我坐哪里都无所谓.
Méiguānxì, wǒ zuò nǎlǐ dōu wúsuǒwèi.
It’s all right; it doesn’t matter where I sit.

When faced with an issue about which one can do little, a person might simply let it be.

那么, 就顺其自然吧!
Nàme, jiù shùn qí zìrán ba!
Then, let it be.

顺其自然 (shùnqízìrán) is to follow nature’s course.

A confident person might be more optimistic and utter one of the following three idioms.

天无绝人之路.
Tiānwújuérénzhīlù.
Heaven never seals off all the exits – there is always a way out..

船到桥头自然直.
Chuán dào qiáotóu zìran zhí.
The boat will automatically straighten itself out when it gets to the bridge.
(We’ll cross the bridge when we get there.)

<font size=”5″>穷则变,变则通.
Qióng zé biàn, biàn zé tōng.
When at an impasse, one will try to change things, and then the path will open.

穷途末路
(qióngtúmòlù) is a literary expression for a dead end or an impasse.

No one knows how a person’s fate might change in the next moment. That’s expressed in the Chinese saying:

天有不测风云;
Tiānyǒubùcèfēngyún;
A storm may arise out of the blue;

人有旦夕祸福.
Rén yǒu dànxì huò fú.
people’s fate may change in a day.

旦夕 (dànxī) is the formal Chinese way of saying this morning or evening, i.e. in a short while.

Let’s hope that whatever problem you are facing now will turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

她被开除之后, 找到一个理想的工作, 可以说是因祸得福.
Tā bèi kāichú zhīhòu, zhǎodào yīgè gèng lǐxiǎng de gōngzuò, kěyǐ shuō shì yīnhuòdéfú.
After she was fired, she found an ideal job, which can be said to be a blessing in disguise.

妇女节快乐!
Fùnǚ jié kuàilè!
Happy International Women’s Day!

Chinese spooks join in on Halloween

万圣节 (Wàn Shèng Jié) Halloween


What will you be this Halloween, or 万圣节 (Wàn Shèng Jié)? A witch, 巫婆 (wūpó), a sorcerer, 巫师 (wūshī), or Dracula, 吸血鬼 (xīxuěguǐ vampire)? You may have thought that your macabre makeup and outfit would scare the wits out of everyone, until you come face-to-face with a ghastly apparition that makes you cringe. This is what the Chinese describe as 小巫见大巫 (xiǎowūjiàndàwū), or little sorcerer meets the great sorcerer. Figuratively, it means that one is dwarfed by another person who is much more capable and powerful.

(guǐ) and 鬼怪 (guǐguài) are general terms for ghosts, spirits, apparitions and devils. 鬼魂 (guǐhún) are spirits in the form of ghosts or apparitions.

A pair of ghosts, named 无常鬼 (wúcháng guǐ), are often featured as tall figures on stilts in some Chinese religious processions or ghost festivals. In keeping with yin and yang, folklore provides for a 黑无常 (hēi wúcháng) and a 白无常 . 黑无常 (hēi wúcháng) always brings disaster, while 白无常 (bái wúcháng), although also scary and feared, is believed to bring wealth sometimes. In any case, 无常 (wúcháng) means changeable and unpredictable. Understandably, it would be terrible to have to deal with someone or something that’s devoid of constancy and reliability.

(guǐ) also means terrible, damnable or tricky. In this sense, this character has many light-hearted applications.

鬼鬼祟祟 (guǐguǐsuìsuì) means being sneaky, and 搞鬼 (gǎoguǐ) is playing tricks.

他们鬼鬼祟祟的在搞什么?
Tāmen guǐguǐsuìsuì de zài gǎo shénme?
What (mischief) are they up to?

你们在搞什么鬼?
Nǐmen zài gǎo shénme guǐ?
What the hell are you doing?

有鬼 (yǒuguǐ) means “There’s something fishy.”

鬼话 (guǐhuà) is literally the devil’s talk. It is used to accuse the speaker of telling a lie.

鬼主意 (guǐzhǔyì) is a clever or wicked idea or scheme.

做鬼脸 (zuò guǐliǎn) means to make a grimace or a funny face.

他向我做了一个鬼脸.
Tā xiàng wǒ zuò le yī gè guǐliǎn.
He made a face at me.

死鬼 (sǐguǐ) is literally a “dead devil”. However, it just means “That wretch!” You’d be surprised how many housewives refer to their husbands by this term, in jest or in anger.

小鬼 (xiǎoguǐ) is a goblin or little devil. This is actually an endearing term people use to refer to young kids.

胆小鬼 (dǎnxiǎoguǐ) is a scaredy-cat.

酒鬼 (jiǔguǐ) is a drunkard or a person addicted to drinking.

活见鬼 (huójiànguǐ) is a phrase used to discount someone’s words as being preposterous or totally incredulous.

(hún), or 灵魂 (línghún), is the soul or the spirit. When preceded by such a gloomy word as (yōu dim, secluded) or (yīn shaded, sinister), the spirit turns into a spectre, namely, 幽灵 (yōulíng) and 阴魂 (yīnhún). A requiem is called 安魂曲 (ānhúnqǔ).

Any word containing the character (mó) involves something demonic, mystical or magical. 魔鬼 (móguǐ), 恶魔 (èmó), 妖魔 (yāomó), 妖怪 (yāoguài) and 妖精 (yāojing) all refer to demons, evil spirits or monsters. Temptresses are often called 妖精 (yāojing). A tyrant or despot is sometimes referred to as a 魔王 (mówáng), or the top monster.

着魔 (zháomó) means to be possessed or bewitched.

他为珍妮着魔.
Tā wèi zhēnnī zháomó.
He is enchanted by Jenny.

魔术 (móshù) is magic or a magician’s trick.

What to do with a host of demons and evil spirits surrounding us? Fear not. According to Chinese mythology, there is the King of all Demons, 钟馗 (Zhōngkuí), whom we may call on for help. Many traditional Chinese households and businesses have the image of this guardian spirit painted on their main gates. Others may put up a poster of his image during the New Year celebration.

In real life, there are fiends that we truly must fear, namely the hackers on the Internet. Kudos to whoever came up with the Chinese transliteration for hackers. (hài) means shocking or to be appalled. (kè) is a visitor, a guest, or a person engaged in some particular pursuit. And voila! 骇客 (hài kè hacker).

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