Sing Yiddish Song Tumbalalaika in Chinese

Balalalaika


I came across an old Yiddish folk song “Tumbalalaika” and found the lyrics rather amusing. Are you the type who will quiz your future mate to scrutinize his or her intelligence or integrity? Or, will you, like most of us, simply fall head over heels for the one with whom you think you will live happily ever after? Compared to this tough question, perhaps learning Chinese isn’t so hard after all.

Here is my translation of a couple of the stanzas of the song. If you would like to read or sing along, please click on this link: Sing Tumbalalaika in Chinese.

少女,少女, 我请问你:
Shàonǚ, shàonǚ, wǒ qǐngwèn nǐ.
Maiden, maiden, may I ask you.

什么会成长, 但不用雨水?
Shénme huì chéngzhǎng, dàn bùyòng yǔshuǐ?
What can grow, but it needs no rain?

什么会燃烧, 永远不停息?
Shénme huì ránshāo, yǒngyuǎn bù tíngxī?
What burns forever and never will end?

什么会思念, 但不流泪?
Shénme huì sīniàn, dàn bù liú lèi?
Which thing can yearn, but sheds not a tear?

Tumbala, Tumbala, Tumbalalaika.

Tumbala, Tumbala, Tumbalalaika.

Tumbalalaika, 彈我們的琵琶.
Tumbalalaika, tán wǒmén de pípa.
Tumbalalaika, strum balalaika.

Tumbalalaika, 願我們快樂!
Tumbalalaika, yuàn wǒmén kuàilè!
Tumbalalaika, may we be happy!

少年, 少年, 这没问题.
Shàonián, shàonián, zhè méiwèntí.
Young man, young man, no problem at all.

岩石会成长, 但不用雨水.
Yánshí huì chéngzhǎng, dàn bùyòng yǔshuǐ.
A rock can grow, but it needs no rain.

爱情会燃烧, 永远不停息.
Àiqíng huì ránshāo, yǒngyuǎn bù tíngxī.
Love burns forever and never will end.

真心会思念, 但不流泪.
Zhēnxīn huì sīniàn, dàn bù liú lèi.
True heart can yearn, but sheds not a tear.

Tumbala, Tumbala, Tumbalalaika.

Tumbala, Tumbala, Tumbalalaika.

Tumbalalaika, 彈我們的琵琶.
Tumbalalaika, tán wǒmén de pípa.
Tumbalalaika, strum balalaika.

Tumbalalaika, 願我們快樂!
Tumbalalaika, yuàn wǒmén kuàilè!
Tumbalalaika, may we be happy!

In the above, the Chinese verses mostly parallel the English verses and should be easy to understand. Please note, however, that the 琵琶 (pípa pipa) and the balalaika are two different musical instruments. The balalaika has three strings. It was featured in the film “Dr. Zhivago”. On the other hand, pipa is a Chinese musical instrument that has four strings. I used this word as it rhymes with balalaika. I could as well have used 吉他 (jítā guitar) instead.

Another thing worth pointing out is that the Chinese expression for “will never” is phrased as “always will not”, namely 永远不 (yǒngyuǎn bù) or 永不 (yǒng bù) for short.

Please see “Learn Chinese through Songs and Rhymes” for more songs and rhymes to sing or read in Chinese.

感恩节快乐!
Gǎnēn jié kuàilè!
Happy Thanksgiving!

Things to be thankful for in Chinese

Pumpkin and Acorn Squash

Pumpkin and Acorn Squash

 

As I bring in an acorn squash from my garden as the last of the harvest of the year, my heart is filled with gratitude. Indeed I’m thankful for many other things. Here is a partial list. I am sure you can add many more to your own list (in Chinese, please).

 

感谢父母的养育.
Gǎnxiè fùmǔ de yǎngyù.
Thanks to my parents for bringing me up.

感谢家人的爱护.
Gǎnxiè jiārén de àihù.
Thanks to my family members for loving me.

感谢老师的教导.
Gǎnxiè lǎoshī de jiàodǎo.
Thanks to my teachers for educating me.

感谢朋友分享欢乐及分担忧虑.
Gǎnxiè péngyǒu fēnxiǎng huānlè jí fēndān yōulǜ.
Thanks to my friends for sharing my joys and worries.

感谢邻居的友情和帮助.
Gǎnxiè línjū de yǒuqíng hé bāngzhù.
Thanks to my neighbors for their friendship and help.

感谢同事的合作.
Gǎnxiè tóngshì de hézuò.
Thanks to my colleagues for their collaboration.

感谢农人生产粮食.
Gǎnxiè nóngrén shēngchǎn liángshi.
Thanks to the farmers who produce food for us.

感谢医护人员的医疗.
Gǎnxiè yī hù rényuán de yīliáo
Thanks to the health care professionals for their treatments

感谢邮差递送信件及包裹.
Gǎnxiè yóuchāi dìsòng xìnjiàn jí bāoguǒ.
Thanks to the mailman for delivering the mail and packages.

感谢能够居住在稳定的社会.
Gǎnxiè nénggòu jūzhù zài wěndìng de shèhuì.
Thanks for being able to live in a stable society.

感谢能够呼吸新鲜的空气及喝清洁的水.
Gǎnxiè nénggòu hūxī xīnxiān de kōngqì jí hē qīngjié de shuǐ.
Thanks for having clean air to breathe and clean water to drink.

感谢有美好的大自然可以欣赏.
Gǎnxiè yǒu měihǎo de dàzìrán kěyǐ xīnshǎng.
Thanks for the beauty in nature for everyone to appreciate.

感谢有悦耳的音乐抚慰我们的心灵.
Gǎnxiè yǒu yuè’ěr de yīnyuè fǔwèi wǒmén de xīnlíng.
Thanks for the beautiful music that comforts the soul.

感谢能够通过网路获取丰富的知识.
Gǎnxiè nénggòu tōngguò wǎnglù huòqǔ fēngfù de zhīshí
Thanks for the Internet that connects me with a wealth of knowledge.

感谢读者爱阅我的书及网页.
Gǎnxiè dúzhě ài yuè wǒde shū jí wǎngyē.
Thanks to my readers for reading my books and web page.

Granted that not all days are rosy, and each one of us has some problems to deal with, let’s remember, though, that it could be much worse. As we’ve mentioned before,

比上不足, 比下有餘.
Bǐshàngbùzú, bǐxiàyǒuyú.
Things may fall short of the best but still be better than the worst.

感恩节快乐!
Gǎnēn jié kuàilè!
Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Enlightenment in Chinese

There is a form of understanding that is gained via an awakening to a truth. In Chinese, it is called (wù). Notice the “heart” radical on the left side and the (wú formal word for I or we) character on the right side? (wù) involves a direct perception of truth by the mind. A person endowed with a higher intelligence or power of understanding, 悟性 (wùxìng), is believed to be more capable of perceiving the truth.and attaining enlightenment.

领悟 (lǐngwù) is to truly comprehend or grasp a profound principle or concept.

觉悟 (juéwù) means to come to realize the truth, or to wake up to reality, such as that involving one’s past misconception, mistakes or bad behavior. 悔悟 (huǐwù) is to repent.

The expression 执迷不悟 (zhímíbùwù) describes people who stubbornly stick to their bad ways or a wrong cause and refuse to come to their senses.

In life we experience joys and sorrows: 喜怒哀怨 (xǐ nù āi yuàn), 酸甜苦辣 (suāntiánkǔlà) and 悲欢离合 (bēihuānlíhé). Some of us may take things too hard and feel depressed. This is called 想不开 (xiǎngbukāi to take a matter to heart).

唉, 他就是想不开.
Ài, tā jiùshì xiǎngbukāi.
(sigh) He simply can’t get over it.

The Buddhist philosophy teaches people to take life as it is and not get too attached to anything. Just like the various wavelengths in the visible spectrum combine to produce “transparent” light, so all of life’s vicissitudes blend into one vast “nothingness”, or (kōng empty, emptiness). Only when one comes upon this realization can one hope to go through life’s journey in peace and with equanimity.

Many people believe it is possible to achieve (wù) through assiduous reading, studying and contemplating of the Buddhist canons. Zen Buddhism, on the other hand, emphasizes seeing directly into one’s mind. The belief is that the ultimate truth resides in each and everyone’s mind. When one continues to search in one’s mind through deep meditation, at the right moment one may experience what’s called 顿悟 (dùn wù sudden enlightenment). Such a revelation could also be triggered by an external event or incited by a capable Zen teacher. Click on this link, “An Introduction to Zen Buddhism”, if you are interested in learning a bit about the Zen school of thought.
http://buddhism.about.com/od/chanandzenbuddhism/a/zen101_2.htm

The Chinese word for Zen is (chán). Please don’t confuse it with (chán cicadas), which is pronounced the same way and looks quite similar. As an exercise, find out what other words have the same pronunciation as (chán Zen).

What we want to look at today are a couple interesting verses associated with a well known legend about the Sixth Patriarch of Zen Buddhism. When the Fifth Patriarch was looking for a successor, he asked his disciples to write a few lines to show their understanding of Buddhism. His top disciple wrote the following lines on the south wall of the temple:

身是菩提树, 心如明镜台.
Shēn shì pútíshù, xīn rú míngjìng tái.
The body is a Bodhi tree; the mind is like a mirror stand.

时时勤拂拭, 勿使惹尘埃.
Shíshí qín fúshì, wù shǐ rě chénāi.
Through diligent polishing let no dust upon the mirror land.

The Fifth Patriarch approved of the verses, but felt they lacked the spirit he was looking for. Nevertheless, he instructed the other disciples to study this practical advice to improve themselves. An illiterate monk, named 惠能 (Huìnéng), who was assigned to do odd jobs around the place heard the other monks recite the poem. He asked a fellow monk to write for him the following lines on the west wall of the temple:

菩提本无树, 明镜亦非台.
Pútí běn wú shù, míngjìng yì fēi tái.
Bodhi is not a tree, and the Mirror is not a stand.

本来无一物, 何处惹尘埃.
Běnlái wú yī wù, héchù rě chénāi.
There are no objects after all; where is the dust to land?

What happened next is a long story, but, to put it in a nut shell, 惠能 (Huìnéng) became the Sixth Patriarch of Zen Buddhism.

菩提 (pútí), the Bodhi tree, is the symbol of enlightenment because it was under such a tree that Buddha himself received enlightenment through meditation. 惠能 (Huìnéng) pointed out that the focus should not be on the tree but rather what it represents.

明镜 (míngjìng) is a bright mirror. It represents one’s mind. Again, 惠能 (Huìnéng) drew the attention to the mind rather than the physical object. (tái) is a stand, a table or a platform.

时时 (shíshí) means frequently or constantly.
(qín) means diligently.
拂拭 (fúshì) is to wipe off.
(rě) is to cause something undesirable to happen, or to attract unwanted attention.
尘埃 (chénāi) means dust.
本来 (běnlái) means originally or the way things actually are.
(wù) is a general term for things and substances.
何处 (héchù) means what place, i.e. where.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could acquire the Chinese language through meditation, or if someone could just beam it into your mind? Current technology does not permit this to happen. However, if you take a moment from time to time to reflect upon what you have already learned, some of the material may suddenly start to make more sense. Also, it helps to turn yourself into an active learner as described in this article.

During this holiday season, let’s be thankful for our wonderful family, friends and neighbors, as well as for all the problems that we could have but don’t.

感恩节快乐!
Gǎnēn jié kuàilè!
Happy Thanksgiving!

How to give thanks in Chinese?

For those of us who are robust and healthy, let us give thanks and rejoice. For those of us who are not so well, let us be grateful that we can still survive with medical help and self-help. Whether we are strong or weak, smart or not so smart, handsome or homely, each of us has his or her own blessings. As the Chinese say, each blade of grass receives a drop of dew. For this, we are thankful.

一枝草, 一点露.
Yī zhī cǎo, yī diǎn lù.

Following are a few ways to express gratitude in Chinese:

谢谢你.
Xièxiè nǐ.
Thank you.

多谢你的帮助.
Duōxiè nǐ de bāngzhù.
Thanks for your help.

我们非常感谢您的招待.
Wǒmén fēicháng gǎnxiè nín de zhāodài.
We are very thankful for your hospitality.

为了这个缘故, 我很感激他.
Wèile zhègè yuángù, wǒ hěn gǎnjī tā.
For this reason, I am grateful to him.

谢天谢地, 她的病已经好了.
Xiètiānxièdì, tā de bìng yǐjīng hǎo le.
Thank heavens, she has already recovered from the illness.

To respond to someone’s appreciation of your kindness or assistance, simply say 不谢. (bùxiè You’re welcome.) or 不用谢. (bùyòngxiè Don’t mention it.)

When you are greatly indebted to someone, you will regard that person as your benefactor, or 恩人 (ēnrén). The kindness or favor rendered is called 恩惠 (ēnhuì favor or benefaction) or 恩德 (ēndé kindness or grace). 感恩 (gǎnēn Thanksigiving) is the concatenation of 感谢 (gǎnxiè) and 恩德 (ēndé).

On the other hand, hatred is called 仇恨 (chóuhèn), and the person who did you wrong is called 仇人 (chóurén a personal foe).

报答 (bàodá) is to repay a favor, while 报恩 (bàoēn) is to requite a life-saving favor. 报仇 (bàochóu) is to take revenge.

Normally, one would repay kindness with the same. However, it’s not unheard of that kindness is sometimes paid back with hostility. This is called 恩将仇报 (ēnjiāngchóubào).

There are also people who treat their enemies with kindness. This is called 以德报怨 (yǐdébàoyuàn).

“The Count of Monte Cristo”, a novel written by Alexandre Dumas, tells the story of a man who was wrongly imprisoned and who took revenge big time after escaping from the prison. The fortune he had accidentally acquired allowed him to indulge in 以牙还牙 (yǐyáhuányá A tooth for a tooth.). Yet, in the end, it was only through mercy and forgiveness that he was able to find peace for his soul. The name of this book in Chinese is 基度山伯爵恩仇记 (Jīdùshān Bójuéjì Ēn Chóu Jì).

Let’s think of everyone who loves us, everyone we love and everything we enjoy, and be thankful.

感恩节快乐!
Gǎnēn jié kuàilè!
Happy Thanksgiving!

The fire radical

The Chinese call the planets “moving stars”, or 行星 (xíngxīng). Five of the planets were given the names of the five elements: 木星 (mùxīng Jupiter), 火星 (huǒxīng Mars), 土星 (tǔxīng Saturn), 金星 (jīxīng Venus), and 水星 (shuǐxīng Mercury). Therefore, a Martian is called 火星人 (huǒxīng rén).

你相信有火星人吗?
Nǐ xiāngxìn yǒu huǒxīng rén ma?
Do you believe there are Martians?

(huǒ fire) is a pictograph of a person on fire, with a tongue of flame flickering on each side of the person. This character represents burning energy, such as that exhibited in a rage, or火气 (huǒqì). On the other hand, in Chinese medicine, 火气 (huǒqì) refers to the internal heat generated when yin and yang, 阴阳 (yīnyáng), are out of balance. The excess “fire” in the internal organs can manifest itself as an inflammation, which is often accompanied by bad breath. In fact, in ancient China, it was common practice to put the blame on火气 (huǒqì) for any ailment of unknown cause.

老爷今天火气很大.
Lǎoye jīntiān huǒqì hěn dà.
The master is in a very bad temper today.

A wagon spitting steam fueled by fire is called 火车 (huǒchē train). On the other hand, the fire engine is called 救火车 (jiùhuǒ chē), where (jiù) means to rescue.

If you remember, in one of the scenes in the film “Red Cliff’, Zhuge Liang was summoning the southeast wind that favored his “fire arrows” war scheme. The fire arrows are called 火箭 (huǒjiàn), which in modern days refer to rockets.

I’m not sure why the turkey is called the “fire bird”, or 火鸡 (huǒjī). My guess is that it has something to do with the turkey’s fiery red wattle.

火锅 (huǒguō hot pot) is a chafing dish that is a favorite at family gatherings during the cold winter days. A traditional hot pot is heated by coal, and an occasional spark, or 火花) (huǒhuā), may escape when the coal is fanned.

Whenever you see the fire radical in a word, you can expect the involvement of heat or fire. For example, (dēng) is a lamp (in earlier times, an oil lamp), 火炉 (huǒlú) is a stove, and the flames are called 火焰 (huǒyàn).

炒的, 炸的, 烤的, 烘的, 样样都有.
Chǎo de, zhá de, kǎo de, hōng de, yàng yàng dōu yǒu.
Stir-fried, deep-fried, roasted or toasted, they’re all available.

火熄了, 但是还在冒烟.
Huǒ xī le, dànshì háizài màoyān.
The fire has been extinguished, but there is still smoke coming out.

汤还太烫.
Tāng hái tài tàng.
The soup is still too hot.

You know that (huī) is the gray color. This is because it is the word for ash. In the case of (qiū autumn), there is not an actual fire, but the leaves do seem ablaze.

When you see the 灬 symbol at the bottom of a Chinese character, think of the flames dancing on your gas stove. Indeed this symbol is another form of the fire radical, such as featured in (rè hot, passionate), (zhǔ cook), (jiān pan-fry), (zhēng steam), (jiāo burnt, charred) and 燃烧 (ránshāo to burn).

(shú) refers to the state of something that has been cooked and is not raw anymore. This word also means ripe, mature, being familiar with someone, or being, skilled or experienced with something. The following adage is worth remembering:

熟能生巧.
Shú néng shēng qiǎo.
Practice makes perfect.

I’d like to conclude this post by expressing my appreciation for my family, my friends, my readers, as well as the Internet, which helps to keep us all in touch and provides so much knowledge for us to acquire and enjoy.

感恩节快乐!
Gǎnēn jié kuàilè!
Happy Thanksgiving!

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