MRT Poetry: ‘The Beginning of Spring’ by Zhan Che 捷運詩:詹澈的〈立春〉

立春

立春,雨把姿勢放軟了
紅日遲遲,還似深冬結痂的傷口
左右搖擺的夢境,有聲音潑啦
看見童年騎在牛背上,從水中走來

The Beginning of Spring

At the beginning of spring, the rain slouches
The sun is sluggish, like a wound that has scabbed in deep winter
The dreamscape sways back and forth with the splish-splashing
I see my childhood years riding on an ox back, walking towards me from the water

Zhan Che (詹澈 (Chan Chao-li) is a Taiwanese poet from Changhua. He has worked on various poetry journals and magazines, including founding Grassroots, and has long campaigned for local farmers’ rights.

Neighbourly Notes: Don’t Drive the Light

My note-writing neighbour (you can see their doctoral thesis here) has been at it again, although, to be fair, this doesn’t rank up there with their more passive-aggressive notes (although I would have appreciated a 「請」 thrown in there somewhere). I almost identified with them on this note, as it represents a phenomenon I often encounter when learning other languages, the tendency to assume that a specific usage of a multipurpose verb in your language can apply to all the usages of the verb in your target language, illustrated brilliantly below:

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壞了,一直在閃、很危險、不要開。 Don’t drive.

Broken, it keeps flashing, it’s dangerous, don’t turn it on.

「開」 in Chinese means “to start” or “to turn on”, in conjunction with 「車」 it can also mean “to drive”. So I’m guessing they googled “不要開” and got “Don’t drive.” I guess the solution is to always search for the terms you Google translate to see if it matches the idea you were going for and is used commonly in the target language. The only example I can think of going the other way is the tendency of foreigners to use 「是」 for adjectival phrases in Chinese, 「我是熱」, for example, as an overly literal translation of “I am hot.” Can you think of any examples that fit the brief more accurately?

My neighbour clearly hasn’t been taking notes since I corrected their previous note which was either on door closures or dog euthanasia:

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Pulling a fast one with 奧步 àupō͘

「奧步」 is the common written form for the Taiwanese expression 「漚步」 àupō͘ meaning a sly or crafty move.  This is just one of those phrases you’ll hear again and again. I heard it a while ago in the run-up to the election:

「尤其是大家其實現在都在期待就是民進黨最後會出什麼奧步。」

“Especially when at the minute everyone is actually waiting to see what crafty maneuver the DPP will end up pulling at the last minute.”

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You can hear it around the 11:04 point in the video below:

I heard it again just now while getting my hair cut (shorn off), in the Taiwanese soap opera 《炮仔聲》 (Ep 327) playing in the background.  It was translated into Mandarin in the subtitles as 「耍手段」:

「這個江宏傑真的有夠可惡,只會耍手段,不是用錢收買人,就是抓人的親人來威脅。」

“That Kang Hong-kiat is a real piece of work, he’s always got some sly trick up his sleeve. If he isn’t buying people off, he’s using people’s families to threaten them.”

arc

You can hear her say it here (1:46;47).

Earlier in the episode, one character describes getting a woman drunk in order to get her into bed (quite rightly) as an 「奧步」, although this time it’s translated into Mandarin as 「卑鄙手段」 “how could I use that kind of dirty tactic?”

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You can hear him say it here (0:40:56).

It’s one of those really useful phrases that’s really hard to find the right situation to use. In the first example I used, it’s used in a Mandarin sentence, so you can use it that way too, but make sure your tones are on point if you’re going to, or you’ll stand there shamefacedly repeating yourself until you have to spell it out like I did in the kitchenette at work when I called my colleague a 抓耙仔 jiàu-pê-á/liàu-pê-á (a snitch). I said bei instead of pei or something *shrugs*.

Many Shrimp: Thanks in Taiwanese! To-siā/多謝/多蝦

So previously we learned that 蝦 xiā (shrimp) in Mandarin can be slang for guy with a hot body but an ugly face (not you, you’re beautiful!). We also learned to pun with shrimp in Mandarin here, and learned the Taiwanese phrase 「無魚,蝦嘛好」 (bô hî, hê mā ho) here. Today, however, we’re going to mix it all up, with a Mandarin/Taiwanese/pun crossover:

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These commemorative stamps (they can’t actually be used as postage stamps, they’re just decorative) were launched by the Taiwan Anti-Tuberculosis Association. The one with all the shrimps on it is their way of saying thank you to those who bought stamps in support of the cause.

Why does a bunch of shrimps mean thank you? 多蝦 duō xiā (many shrimps) is a transliteration of the Taiwanese for thank you to-siā (the actual characters are likely 「多謝」 which is how it is normally written).

So next time you’re in a taxi with a driver with a nice body but whose face has a “nice personality”, remember “many shrimp” and you can charm him by saying thanks the Taiwanese way.

 

The Control Yuan vs Getting 3 Meals a Day 「逐工就是顧三頓」

shabu-shabu-foodTVBS’s ‘The Situation Room’ has returned to talking about the impeachment proceedings launched by the Control Yuan against National Taiwan University President Kuan Chung-ming after he’d been in the post just a week. The discussion reveals a lot of interesting theories about the role of the「獨派」, or ‘pro-independence’, faction within the Democratic Progressive Party, who President Tsai is said to have appointed to the Control Yuan as a compromise, but who are now allegedly going rogue.

Kuan has been accused (so far) of having a second post while being an official, writing editorials in Yizhoukan (一週刊), although there is a lot of debate as to whether or not this constitutes a second post, as contributing to magazines and newspapers is quite a common practice among officials.

In the course of this debate, Cheng Li-wen (鄭麗文) used a Taiwanese phrase *09:50* to try and communicate what she feels is the disconnect between the priorities of the DPP and of the public:

老百姓(in Mandarin) 逐工著是顧三頓爾(in Taiwanese)

逐工 ta̍k-kang 就是 tiō sī 顧三頓  kòo-sann-tǹg 爾爾 niā-niā*

逐工 ta̍k-kang is equivalent to 每天 in Mandarin (every day)

就是 tiō sī is the same as Mandarin (are just)

顧三頓 kòo-sann-tǹg is equivalent to 顧三餐 in Mandarin (to concern oneself with getting three square meals)

爾爾 niā-niā is equivalent to 而已 in Mandarin (and only that)

*I’m not sure if she says niā once or twice here. 

From the context of her comments, we can guess why she chose to use a Taiwanese phrase. She’s talking about and appealing to the common man who hasn’t got time for politics, and Taiwanese is a way of appealing to this Taiwanese everyman.

Interestingly in the 五月天 (Mayday) song ‘I Love You無望’ both the phrase 逐工 ta̍k-kang (0.20), and ‘每一工’ muí tsi̍tkang (0.31) are used, to mean “every day”. In Mandarin 逐日 is more formal and is closer to on a daily basis, whereas 每天/每一天 is less formal. I’m not quite sure of the differences in Taiwanese, although one Taiwanese friend suggested that 逐工 can mean “the entire day”.

 

An Overbearing Duck? 「鴨霸」

ducks-3826244_1920Ko Chih-en (柯志恩), a KMT legislator-at-large, is another regular on TVBS’s political panel show ‘The Situation Room’.

In an interesting discussion on the long delay to Kuan Chung-Ming’s inauguration as President of National Taiwan University, she used the Taiwanese term 「鴨霸」(ah-pà) in the middle of a Mandarin sentence on political panel show ‘The Situation Room’, as follows (from roughly 5:29):

他為什麼會被卡

Why was the inauguration unable to proceed?

就是因為全面執政太鴨霸

Because the ruling party has been too overbearing about it all

 

According to the information I can find, it’s unlikely that 「鴨」(ah)  is the original character in the expression, and it’s likely used as a stand-in for either 「」(a) (as the original form of 「惡」 or「」(ah) (according to the Ministry of Education dictionary). The nearest Mandarin equivalent is probably 「霸道」, although 「鴨霸」 can also be used in Mandarin.

For another duck-related phrase, you might want to check out my previous post here.

Gone to sh*t! 走鐘(精)

For anyone keen on keeping up with current affairs in Taiwan but with a funny edge to it, I really recommend ‘Stand up, Brian’ (博恩夜夜秀). It takes its cue from Western late night formats and isn’t afraid to take the piss.

The show was crowd-funded and is run by young comics, so there’s a lot of contemporary slang and references which is quite fun to parse.

In this short clip, they’re taking the piss out of Taiwanese diet supplement advertisements. A woman says she’s lost her figure completely after having seven kids, but she uses the phrase 「走精」 (tsáu-tsing), commonly represented by the characters 「走鐘」 (presumably because they are pronounced the same in Taiwanese 「精」 (tsing) and 「鐘」 (tsing) ).  The phrase can be roughly translated as “losing your former lustre/losing your sex appeal”. The sentence starts at 0:39 in the clip below:

 

(Mandarin: 我的身材在生完第七胎以後
After having my seventh (child),
Taiwanese: 著(就)規個(整個)走鐘(精)去啊啦
My whole figure has gone to shit.

著規個走精去了 tio̍h kui-ê tsáu-tsing khì ah lah

Xi Jinping Breaks his Bowl: ‘More speed less haste’「食緊挵破碗」

3203291222_c0fe41d465_oOne of the great things about living in Taiwan is that when political leaders make speeches, like the speech made by Xi Jinping on Jan. 2, there is a flurry of discussions and critique on political panel shows and on social media, and people aren’t scared to express their own opinions on them. This is also a great learning opportunity, as people are more likely to come out with an interesting turn of phrase when they’re not being overly careful about what they’re saying.

One, such political panel show that I’ve grown fond of over the years is TVBS’s political chat show ‘The Situation Room’. Cheng Li-wen (鄭麗文), a politician and broadcaster previously aligned with the Democratic Progressive Party but who later became a Kuomintang member and is now the KMT Vice Secretary-General, is a regular on the show and is one of the more humourous panelists.

In critiquing Xi’s speech in which he proposed a “one nation, two systems” approach to Taiwan, she said that he’s trying to push cross-strait relations forward at such a pace that he risks not getting anywhere at all. She used a Taiwanese phrase similar to “more speed less haste”, 「食緊挵破碗」(lit. eating with such haste that you break your bowl), which is pronounced “Tsia̍h-kín lòng-phuà uánn“:

 

You can hear her say this phrase in Taiwanese while she’s primarily speaking in Mandarin at 5:27.

Photo by timlewisnm, licensed under Creative Commons.

 

Big in Taiwan: Bobby Hill – 佛系[Insert your job here]法

Recently I’ve started to hear the term 「佛系……法」 a lot. The term plays with the Buddhist concept of noninterference, essentially suggesting that instead of trying to follow your boss’ direction/ study in school/encourage internet users to Like your page/earn money etc., you should just resign yourself to the fact that things are beyond your control and that if what you want is meant to be, it will happen without any effort from you. In one sense it can be used as an attack on the perceived lack of a work ethic among millennials, suggesting that they think they deserve to get their dreams served to them on a plate, while millennials themselves have adopted it to counter this narrative, as an expression of their cynicism at how much of a difference they can make by following the rules. Different verbs or job titles can be inserted into the blank depending on what the author is describing.

The first time I saw it was when a friend sent a meme featuring a familiar cartoon character, Bobby Hill from King of the Hill. Although my friend had no idea who Bobby Hill was, the meme featuring him meditating while incense burns in the foreground seems to have caught the Taiwanese imagination. I’ve put some examples of the use of the meme I found on the internet below. There was one example I saw of an English use of this meme, but it doesn’t seem to have caught the imagination of the English-speaking world quite so much:

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Source: https://dailyview.tw/Popular/Detail/1656

 

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‘When you can’t fatten your pig, but your dog is ballooning’ 「豬不肥,肥到狗去」

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A friend of mine posted a Taiwanese phrase in a Mandarin-language Facebook post recently that caught my eye:

「人生第一次抽中1元飲料,居然是幫[某某人]買咖啡,這就叫豬沒肥,去肥到狗~~」

The post translates roughly to:

For the first time in my life I got a drink for NT$1 in a lucky draw, and it turned out to be when I was buying a coffee for [name omitted], isn’t this what they call [lit.] the pig not getting fat, while the dog balloons.

There seems to be several variations of this phrase, including the one above, the version my colleague suggested 「豬沒肥,肥到狗」(ti bô pûi, pûi tio̍h káu) and the one listed on the Ministry of Education dictionary 「豬毋大,大對狗去」(Ti m̄ tuā, tuā tuì káu khì (Click link for audio)). A literal reading of the phrase is someone being unable to fatten their pig for market, while the dog, which is meant to serve as a guard dog, and should be agile, is getting fat instead.

One explanation of this phrase I found at this blog, suggests that it was originally quite a misogynistic phrase, as it could be used to describe a situation wherein the son of a house, who would actually benefit the family if he got a good education, gets bad grades in school, while the daughter, who wouldn’t benefit the family with an education, gets good grades:

未命名1

A very horoscope-heavy profile on Weiling Chen (陳慧翎), the director of the Taiwanese drama On Children (《你的孩子不是你的孩子》) and the actor in the recent first episode, Ivy Yin (尹馨) makes reference to this interpretation, when the director (Chen) mentions that her mother once used the phrase, comparing her and her younger brother:

雙魚座的陳慧翎成長壓力來自不被了解,難忘媽媽說過「豬不肥、肥到狗」,意旨為何她比弟弟優秀。

“Piscean Chen Weiling’s pressure growing up came from not being understood. She always remembers when her mother said, “the pig won’t get fat, while the dog gets fatter,” questioning why she was more brilliant than her little brother.”

It does seem to have a wider application, however, as both the poster and the subject of my friend’s post were male. In this context it’s kind of a mixture between ‘casting pearls before swine’ and a bitter cry of ‘why do some guys have all the luck.’ My friend is suggesting (jokingly) that he deserves good luck, but instead it’s being wasted on his friend.

A report in the Liberty Times used the phrase in a political context too, although the fact that Tsai Ing-wen is a woman may make the use of the phrase more natural. If you couldn’t tell from the subtle objective tone below, Liberty Times is not a big fan of the KMT:

國民黨一向認為兩岸關係為其強項,其領導菁英都想跑北京領命,現在恐怕成了選票毒藥,致英雄無用武之地。

在這樣的情況演變下,如果蔡英文不犯錯,十一月的選舉大勢不難推估,唯有執政黨穩固了這次中期選舉,才有可能促使北京重新考慮其對台對口的設定,兩岸在明年才有機會鬆動緊繃的局面。不過,中國到頭來肯定會發現竟是「豬不肥,肥到狗」。這樣的辯證關係,豈不是很好玩嗎?

“The KMT has always considered cross-strait relations its strength, and its leading elites take their orders from Beijing. Now, it seems, this has become toxic to their election hopes, so these heroes are unable to make use of their skills in this department.

As the situation continues to evolve, if Tsai Ing-wen doesn’t make any mistakes, the overall trend of the November election isn’t hard to guess at, as only the party in government will be sitting pretty in the mid-term elections. It’s only this situation that will drive Beijing to reconsider their stance on Taiwan. Cross-strait tensions are unlikely to ease until next year. However, China, in the end, is sure to discover that “the pig isn’t getting fatter, while the dog is ballooning”. Isn’t this dialectic quite good fun?”

This suggests that China will end up working with the DPP (the fat dog), rather than the KMT (the skinny pig), despite its idea of which party should be the best for it to work with.