Flattery in Chinese

By now you should know how to write (mǎ horses) with your eyes closed. Beware, though, that there are a few other characters that look somewhat similar. For example, (yǔ and) is a conjunctive that is used in much the same way as (hé and). (niǎo) are birds. (wū) means dark or black, and 乌鸦 (wūyā) are crows.

There is a popular story from Aesop’s Fables with the title “The Fox and the Crow”. In Chinese, it is called 狐狸和乌鸦 (Húli Hé Wūyā) or 狐狸与乌鸦 (Húli Yǔ Wūyā). In the story the crow lost a piece of meat that she had found after a long search, all because she fell for the fox’s flattery.

阿谀 (ēyú) and 奉承 (fèngcheng) both mean flattery. You can also use them as verbs. Informally, people use the expression 拍马屁 (pāimǎpì) to describe the action of flattering or fawning on someone. (pāi) is to pat, to clap or to bat. 屁股 (pìgu) is an informal word for buttocks. When talking with people outside your family, use the word 臀部 (túnbù buttocks) instead. 马屁 (mǎ pì) is short for 马屁股 (mǎ pìgu horse’s rump). So, patting the haunch of someone’s horse and praising the horse (no matter if the horse is worthy of the praise) is tantamount to flattering the owner. Although the term 拍马屁 (pāimǎpì) is used among friends, as a rule of thumb it’s best to avoid saying in public words that contain (pì intestinal gas). This shouldn’t be difficult to remember as it sounds exactly the same as the English word pee.

他升得快是因为他懂得怎么拍马屁.
Tā shēng de kuà shì yīnwei tā dǒngde zěnme pāimǎpì.
He gets promotions because he knows how to flatter (the boss.)

At this link is “The Fox and the Crow” retold in Chinese. The narrative is delivered at an easy pace. You should be able to follow it with the help of the following word list.

山坡 (shānpō) means hillside.
树枝 (shùzhī) are branches of a tree.
(wō) is a nest, a pit for shelter, or a brood or litter of animals.
并且 (bìngqiě) means moreover or furthermore.
(fū) is to hatch or incubate.
(dòng) is a hole or a cavity.
好不容易 (hǎo bù róngyì) means with much effort.
找到 (zhǎodào) is to have found something.
(ròu) means meat, flesh, or pulp of fruits.
(diāo) is to hold and carry in the mouth.
足够 (zúgòu) means sufficient.
这时候 (zhè shíhòu) means at this moment or at this time.
肚子饿 (dùzi è) is to be hungry.
抬头 (táitóu) is to raise one’s heas and look up.
(xiāng) means fragrant or tasty.
(chán) means gluttonous.
流口水 (liú kǒushuǐ) is to salivate.
鬼主意 (guǐzhǔyì) is a wicked idea or scheme.
邻居 (línjū) are neighbors.
尊贵 (zūnguì) means honorable or respected.
作声 (zuò shēng) is to make a sound or utter words.
(pàng) means chubby.
仍然 (réngrán) is an adverb that means “still”.
羽毛 (yǔmáo) are feathers.
可怜的 (kělián) means pitiable.
麻雀 (máquè) is a sparrow.
(bǐ) is to compare.
(chā) means difference or being inferior.
再说 (zàishuō) here means “What’s more …”.
嗓子 (sǎngzi) refers to the voice box (larynx).
唱歌 (chànggē) is to sing.
欣赏 (xīnshǎng) means to enjoy or appreciate.
得意 (déyì) means to be proud of oneself.
(yǎng) means itchy or itching.
忍不住 (rěnbuzhù) means unable to hold back, or cannot help but do something.
掉到地上 (diào dào dì shàng) is for something to fall onto the ground.

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.”

Man, a radical? (continued)

Here are a few more simple characters that take (rén person) as the root.

(nèi inside, internal)
(ròu meat)
(qiū imprison, prisoner)
(liǎng two)
(zuò sit)
(jiá sandwiched between )
(lái come)

It makes sense to call one’s own wife 內人 (nèirén my wife), which, word for word, translates to “inside person”. The general term for “wife” is 妻子 (qīzi). So, 內人 (nèirén), 我的妻子 (wǒ de qīzi), and 我太太 (wǒ tàitai), all mean “my wife”. Some people refer to their wives as 我老婆 (wǒ lǎopo my old woman), which may reflect the speaker’s modesty but does not sound that great when translated to English.

Strictly speaking, some of the above characters contain the character (rù enter) rather than (rén person). With (rù enter), the slanted stroke on the right side extends beyond the slanted stroke on the left side. The printed font exaggerates the difference between these two characters. In reality, (rù enter) is simply the mirror image of (rén person).

Add another (rù) to the character (nèi inside, internal), and you’ll get the word for “meat”, (ròu).

Put a person inside a box, and you’ll get the word for confinement or imprisonment, (qiū).

You know that (èr) means “two”. (liǎng two) is also used to indicate “two”. It appropriately contains a pair of the character (rù).

Similarly, (zuò sit) contains a pair of the character (rén person). It represents two people sitting on the ground. The character for the ground or soil is (tǔ).

(jiá sandwiched between ) contains a person sandwiched between two other persons. 夾子 (jiázi) is a small tweezer. When you use your chopsticks to pick up food, the action is represented by the word (jiá).

The traditional Chinese character for the word “come” contains a pair of (rén). In the corresponding simplified character, (lái come), the two (rén) characters are reduced to a pair of tick marks.

来了 (lái le) can mean “to be coming” or “to have come”. Now, you can add one of the nouns you have learned, and form a sentence. For example, 爸爸来了 (bàba lái le).

While serving a meal to a friend, you could say:
(Lái)! 夾一塊肉吃 (Jiá yī kuài ròu chī).
Come! Help yourself to a piece of meat.

The umbrella is called: (sǎn). Doesn’t this character resemble an umbrella? Please look in your dictionary or textbook for other characters that feature a (rén) at the top.

Many Chinese characters contain the the radical (rén) on the left side. As we mentioned before, in this case, the radical takes on a squished shape to make room for the other parts of the character. You have learned that (nĭ) means “you”. The word for “he” is (tā). This word stands for “she” as well, although nowadays people often use (tā she) instead to avoid the ambiguity.

When two people are together, kindness is called for; hence the word (rén), which means kindness or benevolence.

(shí) is the number ten. A popular hand gesture among the Chinese is to cross the index fingers to represent this character.

Add (shí) to the radical (rén), and you’ll get (shí), which means “assorted” or “miscellaneous”. Understandably, if you get ten persons together, there would be an assortment of physical characteristics as well as personalities. 什么? (Shénme?) means “What?”. So, 什么人? (Shénme rén?) translates to “Who?”

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