Old lady with Taiwanese song sheet on the bus 方怡萍的「夢袂醒」


Spotted this old lady practicing her Taiwanese song skills on the bus – I wonder if she was just getting her KTV on point or is planning get her man back? Before looking more closely at the lyrics I’ll admit that I thought it was a hymn sheet. Have you seen song sheets like this? There seems to be a cool notation system a little bit like TAB for the guitar.

The song is “Not yet awake from a dream” or 「夢袂醒」bāng bōe chhíⁿ  by Fang Yi-ping:

People in Mainland China can watch it here.

The lyrics are as below – it’s pretty easy as it’s just one section repeated over and over:

英暗的這杯酒 是咱最後的溫柔
This glass of alcohol tonight, is the last warmth we have
過去親像夢一場 明日咱變成朋友
The past seems like a dream, tomorrow we become friends
講要牽手天長地久 為何對我下毒手
We said we’d hold hands for eternity, why are you plotting against me
無論怎樣苦苦哀求 擱懇求返來這個巢
However miserably I beg and beseech you to return home

放你自由甭強求 我的心肝結歸球
I’ll set you free, there’s no point in forcing you, my heart is in a knot
Making it hard for me to accept

英暗的這杯酒 是咱最後的溫柔
This glass of alcohol tonight, is the last warmth we have
過去親像夢一場 明日咱變成朋友
The past seems like a dream, tomorrow we become friends
講要牽手天長地久 為何對我下毒手
We said we’d hold hands for eternity, why are you plotting against me
無論怎樣苦苦哀求 擱懇求返來這個巢
However miserably I beg and beseech you to return home
放你自由甭強求 我的心肝結歸球
I’ll set you free, there’s no point in forcing you, my heart is in a knot
Making it hard for me to accept

講要牽手天長地久 為何對我下毒手
We said we’d hold hands for eternity, why are you plotting against me
無論怎樣苦苦哀求 擱懇求返來這個巢
However miserably I beg and beseech you to return home
放你自由甭強求 我的心肝結歸球
I’ll set you free, there’s no point in forcing you, my heart is in a knot
Making it hard for me to accept

Some useful words in case you need to shout at your boyfriend for breaking up with you:
英暗/盈暗 êng-àm (今晚/晚上) this evening/evening
過去 kòe-khì (過去) the past
親像 chhin-chhiūⁿ (好像) to seem as if
朋友 pêng-iú (朋友) friend
kóng (講) to say
下毒手  hē-to̍k-chhiú (下毒手) to plot against someone
自由  chū-iû (自由) free (as in liberty)
結歸球 kat-kui-khiû (糾成一團) to be tangled in a knot
怎樣  chóaⁿ-iūⁿ (怎麼樣) how
接受 chiap-siū (接受) to accept

It seems like a great simple song to start you learning Taiwanese if you don’t know it already!

Multiculturalism in Action: Fish Crackers from Malaysia

The sales manager at my company recently went on a short trip to Malaysia, and, as per Taiwanese custom, brought back a bunch of snacks for the whole office.


Malaysian packaging is language overload:

First we have Malay:

“Muruku Ikan”

“Ikan” means fish in Malay, whereas “Muruku” is a borrowing from the Tamil language – “முறுக்கு” (Murukku) – a word that means “twisted” and which has been adopted as a word for the snack all over India and in Tamil diaspora countries. You can see why the word twisted is used to describe the snack once we open the bag:

13389203_10102538902842129_825311224_o It may not be the most twisted thing in the world, but there’s definitely some curvature there. So essentially it means “fish twirls”. That’s more or less what it tasted like too.

Next up is Arabic:

موروكو  ُيكن

More specifically, this is the traditional use of Arabic characters to write Malay words, known as Jawi script. I’m indebted to Penang local @SimTzeWei for this correction, he wrote:

The Arabic letters are actually Malay. The Malay language was written in the Arabic script before the arrival of the Europeans. This script is called the Jawi script.

It is pronounced “maruku uykn” in standard Arabic romanization, and Maruku Ikan in Jawi script, according to Sim Tze-Wei.

Then it’s English with “fish maruku”

The Chinese has a more complex name:


“Fragrant tasty fish bean pastry”

The 「香化」 for fragrant is a little odd in Mandarin as pointed out by Weibo user 「守望者青年客栈」(watcherxm).


This is because it means “fragranced” or “fragrancified”, which is a rather unnatural way of expressing it.

The other interesting thing about the packaging is that the company’s name 「天祥」 is romanized using Hokkien or Southern Min, more commonly known in Taiwan as Taiwanese. I posted previously about a piece of wall art in Malaysia featuring the language that my friend spotted on a trip there.

The 「天祥」 is romanized as “Thien Cheong”, which is likely meant to represent a similar sound to the Taiwanese romanization “Thian-siông“.  Most Malaysian Chinese speak Hokkien so it’s not overly surprisingly that it makes an appearance on the packaging. There are also many speakers of the language and its variants in Fujian province in China. In terms of definitions, it literally means “divinely auspicious”, but I could only find it listed as a place name in the MOE dictionary.

@SimTzeWei suggested, however, that it might be Cantonese or Hakka rather than Hokkien and that it was just non-standard Cantonese spelling. The Jyutping Cantonese romanization for 「天祥」 is tin1 coeng4.

He stated:

‘Thien Cheong’ is probably Cantonese. Some people like to alter the spellings of their names to prevent them from having an obvious meaning in another language (in this case English). Instead of spelling it as ‘Thin Cheong’, they insert an ‘e’. It could possibly be Hakka or another Chinese language.

Food is definitely one of the highlights of Malaysia, as there are many Indian expats there and no shortage of curry buffet gardens. I got chatting to one of the waiters that served us at a place near Petronas Towers where we were staying. He had quite a dim view of incumbent Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who belongs to the Hindu nationalist party the Bharatiya Janata Party. The party, and Modi himself, is seen as unfriendly to Muslims, and many of the Indians I met there expressed concerns about him, some were Muslims themselves, while others were simply concerned for their countrymen.

This post was updated from the original on 15th June, 2016 to reflect suggestions made on Twitter.


Revisiting an Old Post on 「莊腳面」(庄腳面) Taiwanese for “Country Bumpkin Face”

I noticed a spike in views of one of my old posts, looking at the use of the term 「莊腳面」 in Wu Nien-chen’s Human Condition series of plays, which were the topic of my master’s thesis. When I googled the word again, the following news story from yesterday came up several times, suggesting it might be the reason people were looking for a definition of the term:


The article is entitled “Chang Jung-fa explains that even if you look like a bumpkin, you can still be a flight attendant” and seems to be largely a puff-piece. I just pictured a group of country bumpkins eager to become flight attendants eagerly googling what the term means.

Here’s the definition I previously posted:

莊腳面 chng-khabīn (click for pronounciation) , basically means that someone’s face looks like they’re from the countryside, or a bumpkin. It’s not always used in the negative, as it can imply innocence or directness and honesty too, I guess it depends on what your opinion on people from the countryside is. I found an answer on Yahoo which gives quite a good explanation of 莊腳 and other terms, although I’m not sure if the first three are still used in Taiwanese:

莊頭 進入村莊前緣的地方 The beginning of the village
莊內 村莊中心的地方 The main part of the village
莊尾 村莊末端的地方 The tail end of the village
莊腳 chng-kha 村莊外圍偏遠的地方 The places on the outer margins of the village
(I know, inception-like quotations within quotations)

So, this would make 莊腳 the bumpkin of bumpkins, as even the people in the village think he’s a bit rustic.

You probably noticed too, that the Chinese article I cited uses the character 「庄」, not the 「莊」 I used in my original post. 「庄」 is actually a variant of 「莊」(village)  according to the Ministry of Education Dictionary. I thought this was interesting, as I think that CNA used the variant in order to be sure people knew to read it as Taiwanese. As with most of my theories, I’ve got little proof, but would be eager to find out if anyone knows of similar examples.

It’s relatively unusual for newspapers not to put the Chinese translation in brackets after a Taiwanese phrase is used unless it’s extremely common, which might explain why so many people were Googling the word. If you’re Taiwanese you can comment on how common this word is. On the other hand it could just have been lots of foreigners who came across the Chinese article and didn’t know what it meant.

Feel free to comment below or message me with any strange or startling Taiwanese phrases you come across or even with sketches the typical 「莊腳面」.


Waiting on Tenterhooks:「剉哩等」 chhoah leh tán


I found this Taiwanese phrase in the CNA article ‘The Legislative Challenge: Can Taiwan Keep Up with the TPP‘ from March:



Observing the TPP chapters dedicated to intellectual property rights, strengthening protection for the rights of original drug producers  will undoubtedly increase protection for domestic drug producers who engage in research and development, but domestic generic drug producers will be waiting on tenterhooks.

Unusually for a Taiwanese phrase used in a Mandarin sentence, there was no explanation in brackets afterwards, which suggests it’s pretty commonly used and understood. The first two characters used are just rendered phonetically with similar Mandarin characters:

Mandarin pronounciation: Cuo4li5deng3      Taiwanese pronounciation: chhoah leh tán

One Chinese-language blog I found suggested that the original Taiwanese character for 「剉」 is 「瘛」(chi4), a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) term for “clonic convulsion”, but here it means to shake or shiver (with nerves). The leh is sometimes represented by 哩 or 咧 in written form, but the original Taiwanese character is unknown. It is used in a similar way to 「著」 in the phrase 「坐著看」,i.e. Verb A 著 Verb B (to do Verb A continuously while doing Verb B). 「等」is the original Taiwanese character.

Photo by AFGE [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

If you’re going to say anything bad about someone… Say it in Taiwanese 「輸尬ㄊㄧㄢㄊㄧㄢ」 和 「小確幸」


「輸尬ㄊㄧㄢㄊㄧㄢ」 (Su kah thiám-thiám) which can also be written 「輸到添添」 means “to have been defeated by a large margin” or 「被打敗了」 or 「輸得很慘」 in Mandarin. You can leave out the 到 (kah) which is equivalent to the Mandarin 「得」, leaving you with Su thiám-thiám .

I thought this was an amusing use of Taiwanese, as it came at the end of an article which is pretty critical of the ability of Taiwanese students to compete with the drive of Chinese students. The author has to assert her identity as a Taiwanese person to show that she’s not an outsider making criticism, but rather an insider pushing for reform. You’ve no doubt seen this before with the awkward Taiwanese stumbling of waisheng (families which came from China with the KMT around 1949) politicians or foreigners trying to criticize Taiwanese culture without putting people’s backs up too much. Of course, you can put this to your own advantage by blunting any criticism you make of your friends by saying it in Taiwanese. Here’s the phrase in the context of the original article:


I’ll tell you a story. At first when I was at National Taiwan University (NTU) I only taught 50 students, but one of them was an exchange student from Tsinghua University in Beijing, because he’d missed the classes I gave there, he requested to join the class. He was a classic example of a Tsinghua student, with a real drive for achievement and a thirst for knowledge. When he was in Taiwan, the students from NTU didn’t really talk about him; when he left, they looked at each other uneasily. That’s right, everyone had the same feeling: “We can’t even compete!”

The education system in Taiwan has been the topic of a ream of articles recently, most of it criticism that it has not produced enough qualified professionals for industry here. In similar articles on Taiwanese students, I’ve seen a lot of criticism of the Taiwanese hipster concept of 「小確幸」 – which translates roughly to “little things in life that make it worth living”. The term originates from a collection of essays by writer Haruki Murakami entitled ‘Ways of Looking for A Vortex Cat’ or 「うずまき猫のみつけかた」 in Japanese.

According to a blog entry I read, the term in Japanese is an abbreviation of 「小さいけれども、確かな幸福」, which means “small but concrete feeling of happiness” and comes from a collection of essays entitled ‘Ways of Looking for A Vortex Cat’ or 「うずまき猫のみつけかた」, as follows:


If you want to find small but concrete feelings of happiness in everyday life, you at least need some personal rules to respect.

He then cites the following example:


Like the sensation of having an ice cold beer, after biding your time through a vigorous bout of exercise.

This term really caught on in Taiwan and has become synonymous with lowering your expectations of life, and enjoying the little moments of pleasure that consumerism can offer – ie Instagram pics with a coffee at Starbucks after a long day shopping and the phrase 「小確幸」. What kind of numpty would buy into that kind of thing?



Presidential candidate, now president-elect Tsai Ing-wen used this term in one of the debates, attacking the Ma Ying-jeou administration and the KMT for encouraging young people to buy into 「小確幸」 as a replacement for real economic policy:

Here’s the sentence in which she uses it, (a larger section of the speech in Chinese can be found here):



When the government doesn’t have the capability to lead in a clear direction in the face of an economic slump, they can only put in effect some opportunities for the people to experience small pleasures, which are really limited in their effect.

I want to ask [KMT] Chair [Eric] Chu, where the KMT’s long-term economic plan for Taiwan is? People can pursue small pleasures, but whenever a government is only thinking about these small pleasures, the people will fall into grave misfortune.

The translation doesn’t really do her wordplay with the term any justice – 「幸」 also goes to make up the second part of the word for “misfortune” – but you get the gist.

In other news, I found this Chinese-language blog on Taiwanese language for anyone who wants to check it out.

Lead photo credit: Jessie Yang

Taiwanese Phrase: ‘Washing your Trousers while You’re Picking Clams’ 摸蜊仔兼洗褲 bong lâ-á kiam sé khòo

1280px-Nuns_clamming_-_Toni_Frissell_LC-F9-04-5709-012-17I found the Taiwanese equivalent for the phrase ‘catching two birds with one stone’  in the book I’m reading at the minute:


The phrase, which literally means ‘washing your trousers while you’re picking clams’ varies slightly from the written form in the Ministry of Education Taiwanese dictionary, which lists it as 「一兼二顧,摸蜊仔兼洗褲」 pronounced “It kiam jī kòo, bong lâ-á kiam sé khòo” (Click through link and press green button). You can see that the 「蜊」is rendered here with a 「蛤」, but this is just an attempt to find a stand in Mandarin character to render the Taiwanese word. The book also only uses the second half of the phrase as listed by the dictionary – bong lâ-á kiam sé khòo – this is as common in Chinese and Taiwanese as it is in English, in that you don’t have to state a whole phrase to get your point across.

I thought the image of people standing in the sea thinking they’re washing their trousers while they’re picking clams was quite amusing.

I also came across a Taiwanese word that is extremely common in Taiwanese Mandarin and is usually rendered using zhuyin (注音):


The word 「ㄍㄧㄥ」 has a variety of uses – but it generally means to tense up, either emotionally or physically. Here it is physical  – “You have to tense up all the muscles in your body.” In emotional terms, it can be seen as an equivalent to “clamming up”, or can be used to describe someone’s personality to mean that they’re unable to express themselves or express emotion normally, like repressed.

If you’ve learned any new Taiwanese expressions that you’d like to share with me over the Lunar New Year break or have any questions you can comment below or contact me.

Photo of nuns picking clams by Toni Frissell

Penang Hokkien – Zhangzhou with a twist 檳城福建話

Recently when flicking through my Facebook feed I saw this photo taken by my friend Tariel in Penang in Malaysia.


Photo Provided by Tariel Dzharkimbaev

What caught my notice was the speech bubble in the top right corner:


「教你讲(講)福建」- “[I’ll] teach you [to] speak Hokkien” which is romanized as “Kah Lu Kong Hokkien”.

In Taipei one would normally hear this pronounced as “  kóng Hok-kiàn” (Click each word to hear).

What struck me, was the that the 「你」 which I’d always heard pronounced “lí” in Taipei had been romanized as “lu”.

In Penang they mainly speak the Zhangzhou (漳州) dialect, similar to the dialect of Hokkien spoken in the cities of Tainan and Taichung, Yilan and Yuanlin. In this dialect words like 「你、豬」 end in the consonant “i”, whereas in the Xiamen dialect, they can end in Continue reading

Overheard Moments – Taiwanese on the streets 街巷台語


I love hearing snippets of people’s conversations on the street and it’s always a good opportunity to learn more of a language. I overheard the below exchange about a wedding invite grudge:

Woman: mài (不要) 等(tán) 七(chhit) 年(), mài(不要) 講(kóng抵好(tú-hó只好)  好() 一(chi̍t) 工(kang, 天) 伊(i他) 可能(khó-lêng) 硬(ngē) 掙(chiⁿ), 伊(i他) 都(to) 掙(chiⁿ) 去({k}hì).

Woman: Don’t wait seven years, then one day… Maybe even if she has to force her way in she will still go. She will still go.

á 阮(góan我) a 姊 (chí) 伊(i他)   (也) 無() 可能(khó-lêng) 去({k}hì), 因為(in-ūi) 伊(i他) koh(又) 食素(chia̍h-sò͘). 人(lâng人家) 都(to) 無() 位(ūi) 褪 (thǹg (讓))  hō͘ (給) 伊(i) 坐(chē), 伊(ibeh(要) 去({k}hì) 創啥 (chhòng-siáⁿ做什麼)?

My sister can’t possibly go, because she is a vegetarian. They aren’t able to give her a place to sit, so why would she go?

Man: 無() 位(ūi) 妳(koh(還/又) beh(要) 去({k}hì)?

Man: If there is nowhere to sit she still wants to go?

Woman: 人(lâng人家) 曾XX (姓名) 干單(kan-nā(只有)) 僎(chhôan(準備)) 一(chi̍t) 桌toh  ??? (anninia). m̄是(m̄-sī不是) 阿強 著是(tio̍h-sī就是) 愛(ài(要)) 坐(chē)  主(chú) 桌toh.

Woman: Zeng XX should at least prepare one table for her. Shouldn’t A Qiang in the most important spot.

Feel free to contact me if I’ve misunderstood the above conversation or if you’ve got any Taiwanese words or phrases you hear and want featured on the blog.


Misappropriating money in Taiwan – 挨錢 or A錢?

111223A錢 e chîⁿ (click syllable to hear) means to steal or misappropriate money, but there has been debate online about what the “A,” pronounced “e” (click to hear) actually stands for, with some people attributing it to an abbreviation of an English word and others assuming that it represents a Chinese character. After looking online I found around three theories in total.

1. The first I found pretty unconvincing, essentially that this is an abbreviation of the English word “abuse”. Why this word would come to Taiwan when it isn’t really used in this context in English is anyone’s guess, maybe “appropriate” would be more convincing. I don’t think that verbs like this would be adapted from English however, not to mention that “A” means “adult” or “porn-related” in Mandarin Chinese in Taiwan.

2. The second two examples posited two separate characters as the Taiwanese for “A.” One was a random poster on Forumosa in English, who said:

It is a false adaption from Taiwanese. “A錢” should be “挈錢”(qie4 qian2).

The Taiwanese for 挈 (to lift/ to raise) is kho̍eh though, so it doesn’t really fit.
The second was on the comments section of a messaging board for UCPenn which stated it was 掖:

From what I have found, A錢 originally comes from 掖錢 (pronounced as yē qián in Mandarin), 掖 means “to hide under armpits and take away.”

But 掖 is pronounced  (click to hear) in Taiwanese, so this doesn’t seem to fit either.

3. The third and most convincing argument is from the Taiwan Language Blog which posits 挨 or the now defunct ae98ca21-1  – both of which can mean “to meet with” or “to push,” to pull” or “to grind.” The blog states that the use of the term in the sense of misappropriation and specifically in the verb-object phrase A錢 began to appear in newspapers at around the end of 1999. The blog owner suggests that in this context means to pull, and by extension to shift about or to take a bit from this to make up for that, which can by turn be extended to misappropriation of money:

“e(挨)”有“拉”的意義(如前述的挨弦仔,e-hien´-na`,拉胡琴),e-lai´-sak-k‘iʟ 也就有拉過來推過去的意思,也就是“挪東補西”,把那邊的錢挪過來補這邊的坑洞的意思了。

All in all I have the most faith in the third solution. If anyone else has a clearer idea let me know in the comments section. Feel free to contact me with any cool Taiwanese words or phrases you hear and want featured on the blog.

When shit flows out of my eyes 流目屎 lâu-ba̍k-sái

One of the more amusing literal translations from Taiwanese is the phrase for crying –  lâu-ba̍k-sái, which literally means “flow eye shit.” It’s only really amusing as a foreign language speaker though, as for Taiwanese it’s obviously normal.eyeshit 不甘/毋甘 (m-kam) is the phrase for 捨不得 in Taiwanese. So the phrase in the Taiwanese song above (愛人的目屎 by 黃克林) means “I can’t bear to see you cry”

Feel free to contact me with any cool Taiwanese words or phrases you hear and want featured on the blog.