Fake it ’til you make it: Inappropriate wordplay using characters from Jin Yong’s martial arts novels

1280px-Gay_Pride_Taiwan_2009If you’ve been in Taiwan for a substantial period of time but didn’t grow up here, chances are you’ve sat on the outskirts of an hilarious conversation involving characters from the books of martial arts novelist Jin Yong (also known as Louis Cha) during which you’ve had completely no idea what was going on, or what the jokes were about. This has been my fate on several occasions, as, although I’ve bought several volumes of Jin Yong’s novels, I’ve never mustered up the courage to commit to reading a whole one and they’re currently rotting on my shelves. Given that generations of teenagers in Taiwan have read most of the Jin Yong canon, there are a lot of mainstream cultural references that revolve around these books.
When listening to this rather racy podcast on four Taiwanese guys’ experience of “romantic” dalliances with gay foreigners in Taiwan (click here to download it directly or click on 「台灣及其他國家」 under the 「收聽下載點」 section after following the link), I was perplexed when everyone started laughing at one point in the podcast over the nickname that one of the hosts had adopted for the show: 「獨孤求幹」. “Lonely, asking to be fucked” is the literal reading of the nickname, but this in itself was too crude to inspire so much mirth. The wit (well, you can call it wit), comes because the phrase is a corruption of the name of a Jin Yong character, 「獨孤求敗」”Lonely in search of defeat”. He has this name because he is so expert at swordplay that he wants to be defeated just to find someone who is on par with his skill.
Now the joke is starting to become a lot clearer – swordplay, seeking someone equally skilled at… There we go.
For those still none the wiser: The 「幹」 meaning “fucking” suggesting that he is a master at it, but is looking for someone that can beat him in terms of skill and, here, suggests that he could be turned from a “top” to a “bottom” if he found someone more skilled at it.
I’ve found that in Chinese tones being the same, ie 敗bai4 and 幹gan4 both being fourth tones, tends to be more important in wordplay than rhyme or off-rhyme as in English.
Let me know if you’ve had a similar experience in finding a Jin Yong reference that you just didn’t get.
Quick note that the podcast contains some very adult content.
Lead photo credit: Liu Wen-cheng

Taiwanese: Little Monkey 猴囡仔 kâu-gín-á

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A few years ago I was digging around trying to find some good Chinese-language podcasts to listen to when I came across an old radio program which had been archived online called 「真情酷兒」(Sincere Queer). As I was working on a piece for eRenlai involving the gay rights movement in Taiwan I got in touch with the presenter of the program Vincent Huang. I ended up interviewing him on his role as an activist for gay and disabled rights as well as disabled rights within the LGBTI community, which you can view below:

Vincent has recently relaunched the program on another platform, branding it 「真情酷兒1.0」(Sincere Queer 1.0). In the 「年夜飯」(Lunar New Year’s Eve dinner) edition, he talks to Taiwanese gay couple He Xiang and Wang Tian-ming (何祥和王天明) – featured in an Isabelle gay wedding cake (喜餅) commercial that got a lot of media attention when it came out- who have been together now for over 30 years. You can watch the commercial below:

The podcast is an interesting look into what it’s like to be an out gay couple in Taiwan, particularly on family occasions. As well as this, at around 7:37 in the download version of the podcast, the presenter uses the Taiwanese word 「kâu-gín-á」 (alternative Taiwanese audio here) in the context of the following Chinese sentence concerning mahjong:

「 雖然他們需要耐心,跟我這個kâu-gín-á打麻將。」

Although they need patience, to play mahjong with a … like me.

I’d heard the word “gín-á” or 「囡仔」 meaning children before, but not with the prefix “kâu” added. This rather appropriately for the time of year, turns out to mean “monkey”. So the term 「猴囡仔」 kâu-gín-á literally means an infant monkey, but is used in an affectionate way to refer to human children, in much the same way as we sometimes refer to kids as “little monkeys”. Here it is used as a form of self-effacement, in that he is referring to himself as relatively young and not as skilled at mahjong as his boyfriend’s mother. This kind of code-mixing between Taiwanese and Chinese is particularly common when it comes to humor, so it’s always good to learn Taiwanese if you want to be able to get the joke in conversations.

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.