From 穿褲仔 to the 婆/T dichotomy Lesbians and putting on a spread in Taiwan

You have to respect a gay male podcast host for doing an entire episode on middle-aged and elderly lesbians! That’s exactly what the WetBoyRoom ( 「潤男的Room」) podcast host did this week, interviewing the contributors to a book about this subject called 《阿媽的女朋友》 (Grandma’s Girlfriends), lesbians from older generations in Taiwan.

If you’re not super familiar with the lesbian scene in Taiwan, many of them of about my generation (30s) tend to identify as either 「T」 (short for the English word “Tomboy”) or 「婆」 (lipstick lesbian). With time, the lines between these categories have blurred just as they have in the male gay community, and many people now consider these terms outdated and being a heteronormative way of perceiving gay relationships (i.e. trying to figure out who is “the man” and who is “the woman” in the relationship). It was interesting to hear in the podcast that this dichotomy was actually a more recent phenomenon in the lesbian community, but a Taiwanese term in the podcast really peaked my interest. At the 10:55 mark, one of the characters is described (in a Mandarin sentence) in Taiwanese as 「漂撇 ê 穿 仔」phiau-phiat ê chhēng khò͘ á (瀟灑的穿褲子/ dashing trouser-wearer). Although I think the host actually said 「穿褲ê」, 「穿褲仔」 or girls who wore trousers, could be identified more easily as lesbians (if they were in fact lesbians) back in the day. So, it can be considered as an older version of the concept of 「T」.

Another handy Taiwanese term in the podcast (which you could likely insert in a Mandarin sentence to compliment a dinner-party host, or, more likely, to mock your friend’s paltry offering of a packet of Lays as an hors d’oeuvre) is 「腥臊」 chhe-chhau (also pronounced chheⁿ-chhau or chhiⁿ-chhau), which is equivalent to the term 「豐盛」 in Mandarin, meaning “rich and sumptuous”:

那天同媽準備了很豐盛的食物,不只是麻油雞,我記得她準備了一整桌非常腥臊chhe-chhau click for audio) 的菜。

(That day, Aunty Tong prepared a bounty of food, not just sesame oil chicken, I remember she prepared an entire table of rich sumptuous food.)

Definitely looks like an interesting books to read, will have to add it to my list!

Word of the Day: Chinese ‘diplomats’ undiplomatic fuck up in Fiji「凸槌」 thut-chhôe / thut-chhê

There’s been a lot of media coverage in Taiwan and elsewhere over the past few days about the Chinese diplomats who allegedly put a Taiwanese official in Fiji in hospital after trying to take names and photos of guests at a Taiwanese reception in the country (seemingly to report to their superiors in Beijing and launch reprisals against said guests).

On my morning commute I was listening to Professor Su Hung-dah from National Taiwan University’s Department of Political Science (who also worked for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs early in his career) talk about the incident on New98 (a light blue leaning radio station). He’s mainly calling out China for its clumsy efforts, in that actual diplomats showed up to do the dirty work, when a more cunning approach would have been to send some Chinese hooligans with no ties to the embassy to stir things up. He also suggested Taiwan start hiring security guards for these kinds of events. The show is broadcast on YouTube too, and you can rewatch below (the segment on Fiji starts at 5:15):

The interesting part for me was the use of a Taiwanese term in the middle of a flow of Mandarin (from 12:09):

「大陸這個段數不高了,就說今天我用一個正式的外交官去收證。其實這就是……很容易,很容易 「凸槌」嘛!」

(This wasn’t very high-level stuff from Mainland China, in saying today we’re gonna send a diplomatic official to go collect evidence. This is actually… it could very easily turn into a scandal, no?)

The characters 「凸槌」 (thut-chhôe / thut-chhê) are just borrowings from Mandarin to represent the sounds. The two main dictionaries I use seem to indicate that original characters would have been「脫箠」and it can mean “to make a mistake”, “to blow one’s cover”, “to make a fool of oneself” or “to go off the rails”.

Interestingly enough, the Taiwanese translation of the Rowan Atkinson spy comedy Johnny English is 『凸搥特派員』, which really does add a bit of comedy to the word choice.

Penis Jokes Without Borders: Decoding Taiwanese

I heard this joke referenced on yesterday’s Commute for Me (臺通) podcast. The host didn’t actually tell the whole joke, but just the punchline:

「有兩個人一起生活 一個名叫詠蘭,另一個名叫貢九 詠蘭負責打獵,貢九則是負責在家煮飯做事 有一天,家裡發生大火,有人就趕快去通知在外打獵的詠蘭,要詠蘭快去叫貢九逃。 詠蘭叫貢九逃 用懶叫打石頭(台語)」 (I found the original joke on Dcard here).

(“There were once two people who lived together, one was called Yonglan (詠蘭) and the other was called Gongjiu (貢九). Yonglan took responsibility for hunting, while Gongjiu cooked at home and did the chores. One day there was a big fire in the house, so someone quickly went to find Yonglan, who was out hunting, to tell Gongjiu to flee. Yonglan told Gongjiu to flee.”)

Haha, right? (*smile, nod and no-one will notice you didn’t get it*). Yes, the joke doesn’t work in English because it plays on the differences between Mandarin and Taiwanese. So the phrase 「詠蘭叫貢九逃」(yǒnglán jiào gòngjiǔ táo / “Yonglan tells Gongjiu to flee”) in Mandarin, sounds like the Taiwanese 用 lān鳥 摃 石頭 iōng lān-chiáu  kòng chio̍h-thâu (“Using your penis to hit rocks”). Brings back the heady whiff of teenage angst and high school locker rooms, right?

You can listen to one of the hosts telling this joke on the podcast below from the 9:38 point:

「這故事我從頭到尾有點忘記了,然後呢,最後就是出現一句話。詠蘭,裡面有個角色,阿姨叫貢九,然後詠蘭叫貢九逃。是台語『用 lān鳥 摃 石頭』。」

(“I’ve forgotten the ins and outs of the story, but, there’s a sentence at the end. Yonglan is one of the characters, and her aunt is Gongjiu. And so, YongLan tells Gongjiu to flee. Which sounds like “Using your penis to hit rocks” in Taiwanese.

你有多菜? Huh!? How much food are you?

Reila Liu, Creative Commons 2.0

「菜鳥」cai4niao3 for “rookie” or “beginner” is quite a common term in the Chinese-speaking world although it reportedly has its roots in the Taiwanese term 「菜鳥仔」 chhài-chiáu-á (the pronunciation is slightly better here). It can also be used as an adjective, i.e. 「很菜鳥」, but this is often abbreviated to 「菜」. This is helpful when you want to crush the hopes and dreams of new and enthusiastic colleagues, by sucking your teeth and whispering 「他很菜ㄟ」 (**smirks** Such a noob, eh?) in the boss’ ear when one of them gives a constructive solution to a problem.

You can hear the guys at 台通 (Commute For Me) discussing how the job of ordering bento boxes for work always tends to fall on the shoulders of the noobs from 14:12 below:

-而且我覺得通常接到訂便當工作這個人
-都比較菜
-都很菜
(-And I feel like that the person who has to order the bento boxes
-Is always quite new to the office
-Yeah, very new to the office

Podcast Code Switching: 好命囝 hó-miā-kiáⁿ Born with a silver spoon in your mouth

It’s always interesting to me to see which Taiwanese words people choose to use in otherwise Mandarin sentences, and it’s fun to speculate on the possible reasons behind the choice to switch, whether it’s humour, an attempt to sound down-to-earth or because the person being cited isTaiwanese.

I’ve become a regular listener to 台灣通勤第一品牌 (Commute For Me), and the largely Mandarin-speaking hosts used Taiwanese words and phrases from time to time.

Yesterday they used the term 好命囝 hó-miā-kiáⁿ

Context: 我媽都說我們是很 好命 hó-miā 了,不過我看到其他同學他們是更 好命 hó-miā。你們這些 好命囝 hó-miā-kiáⁿ 齁。其實 好命囝hó-miā-kiáⁿ 是一個很負面的詞。
對對對,是在批評人家,酸的時候才講。
( – My mum always said we were born with silver spoons in our mouths, but looking at my other classmates, they were even more like that. All you kids born with silver spoons in your mouths. Actually that term is quite a negative one.
– Yes, yes, it’s critical of others, you only say it when you’re bitter.
Listen here from 37:50

They’ve also been having fun with the Studio Ghibli movie stills on their Facebook Page (and in the comments section):

It’s time to start talking about sex

See the full post here:

There were a few other Taiwanese phrases peppered in there as well, but got blank stares when I tried to repeat them to my colleagues:

44:12 我信心put-tit – I didn’t have the confidence?

我媽有一陣子這樣子問我…….不一樣的事,還是問得我很煩。一直問我說,真的沒交女朋友?真的沒交齁? mài ma-ma pián eh。問到有一年我跟她說我陽痿了。
(For a while my mum kept asking me… about something different, and she got me really annoyed because she kept asking. She kept asking, “Have you really not got a girlfriend? You really haven’t? Don’t lie to your mother now. She asked me so much I told her one year that I was impotent.)
Listen from 45:26 – there were some Taiwanese interjections I didn’t catch just after this point, so appreciate any help.

Taiwan Slang: 𨑨迌/企投 Rolling with the Homies 被ㄠ/被凹 Forced into or Taken Advantage of

In retrospect, I was perhaps a little harsh on the Commute For Me (台灣通勤第一品牌) podcast, as it has grown on me in the time since I penned this blog on Chinese-language podcasts from Taiwan. The interview style is quite intimate and discussions are quite frank, although you have to keep up to know who and what they’re talking about, as they don’t give their guests much of an intro.

Anyway, I was listening to their interview of hip hop artist Chunyan 春艷 and it was an interesting conversation about his life as an introvert in different subcultures (temple gangs, graffiti art, hip hop). More importantly, there was quite a lot of Mandarin-Taiwanese code-mixing, which is always fun.

I’ve listed some of the phrases below, although there were a lot more.

One of the most interesting was 𨑨迌 (normally the characters 企投 are borrowed to represent the sound):

𨑨迌 chhit-thô, which literally means to play or “遊玩” in Mandarin, but in the context of this conversation means getting up to no good in a gang context (what gang banging meant before porn redefined it), commonly referred to as “混” (hùn) in Mandarin:

“其實那裡就是不挑人 說真的 但我不能說這是陣頭 它只是一個𨑨迌(chhit-thô)”
(Actually, they are not selective at all about people to be honest. But I’m not saying that this is really a temple parade (zhentou), it’s just messing around with gangs.)
Listen here from 43:49

被ㄠ/被凹 phē au is an interesting one because the Mandarin and Taiwanese are similar enough that the bei is often pronounced in Mandarin, with the au being pronounced in Taiwanese. It means being forced into things or taken advantage of or “被勉強” in Mandarin.

你那時候去是有被挺的感覺
更多的時候是你要挺
對啊,因為是互相的 所有別的人來的時候你就要挺他
所以有時候會覺得被凹,對不對
挺你一而已 不過你要挺他五
(-So when you went there, you felt they had you back
-More often it’s you that has to have their back
-Yes, because it’s mutual, so anyone who came there, you had to have their backs
-So sometimes you’d feel forced into things, right?
-They have your back over something trivial, but you have to have theirs over something really serious)
Listen here from 44:51

Another example is captured here in people trying to get engineers to reformat their computers for free (found on a jobs page on Facebook):

(Tell us how people try and take advantage of your profession!
“You’re a doctor? You have time to do me a favor and take out this tumor, right?”
“You just have to talk right, why don’t you just do me a favor and argue my lawsuit for me! It’s pretty easy for you as a lawyer, no?”
“You’re an engineer, right? Can you fix my computer for me? You wouldn’t charge a friend though, right?”)

Other bits and pieces I thought were fun, was the use of the Taiwanese word for temple (宮kiong) in the context of a Mandarin sentence to indicate that the temple here stands in for gang affiliation – although it’s not explicit. The other one was a phrase I’ve heard a lot but couldn’t quite pin down. Looking it up in dictionaries, it is defined as “to stand up” but 徛起來(khiā-khí-lâi) seemed to imply being worked or hyped up here, which is why it stuck with me more.

kiong

我們這個(kiong)跟另外一個(kiong)的一個年輕人 有人有衝突,然後聽說等一下會有人來處理這件事情。
(A young person from our temple got into a conflict with someone from another temple, and some people were coming in a bit to sort things out.
Listen here from 28:46

徛起來(khiā-khí-lâi)

那我朋友就說,我要去打
不要啦
我要去我要去
他那時候就整個徛起來(khiā-khí-lâi)
我要去我要去
(My friend said, I wanna go fight
Don’t
I wanna go, I wanna go
He’d already gotten all worked up at that point
I wanna go, I wanna go)
Listen here from 29:09

Any additional suggestions welcome!

You can see the rap battle they repeatedly reference here:

The Ko Wen-je collab here:


And more of Chunyan’s music here.

Taiwan Podcasts 聽台灣播客(Podcast)

Podcasts have really taken off over the last couple of years but Chinese-language podcasts from Taiwan have been rather limited, with most just being radio segments repackaged for podcast platforms. However, recently more have taken off, so I thought I’d feature them here and you can feel free to share more in the comments section! I’ve focused on Chinese-language podcasts here, although there are also an increasing amount of English-language podcasts too.

Ghost Island Media:

大麻煩不煩 (In the Weeds with Lawyer Zoe Lee):
This is a great intro into Taiwan’s weed landscape, informing people of their rights in terms of getting stopped and searched by police, what to do if you’re arrested, and the progress of efforts to legalize weed in Taiwan for medical or other uses. (Links to different platforms listed on site)
5/5 Recommended

台灣通勤第一品牌 (Commute For Me):
Haven’t heard much of this and it seems a little disorganized, but the first episode explores Chinese-language slang across the Taiwan Strait. It seems to feature a lot of in-jokes and the hosts laughing at how funny they are.
Spotify
Apple Podcast
Soundcloud

股癌 GooAye
Stock podcast. Structured well and brings in a lot of cultural and movie references. 5/5 Recommended
Spotify
Apple Podcast
YouTube

Firstory Lab 最偏激的Podcast
Tried one episode which consisted of a group of guys making fun of the way a female host spoke. Maybe it gets better if you listen from the start?

If you have any recommendations, let me know in the comments section below!

Readers Recommend (Update):
WetBoys 潤男的Room recommended by Erik K. (NSFW mens issues)
百靈果 Bailingguo News (bilingual news podcast) and Spotify Podcast Chart recommended by Matthew Ryan
馬力歐陪你喝一杯 DrinkWithMario recommended by William Peregoy (Interviews)
美食關鍵詞 Taster Life recommended by 三qtwn