Chen A-yi introduces...

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Who is Chen A-yi? 陈阿姨是谁?

Chen A-yi is the best Chinese teacher I’ve ever had. Back in the days when I had just landed in Beijing, she drilled the tones, characters and a love for the language into me. Although she kept a torrid pace, she always reminded me that you cannot become a fat person by taking a single bite ("不能一口吃成个胖子" bu4 neng2 yi1 kou3 chi1 cheng2 ge pang4 zi4). Her enthusiasm for Chinese, matched only by her love of cooking and finding the best vegetable buys in town, came to life when she introduced idioms and "xie hou yu" during her lessons. "Your knowledge of idioms represents the true level of your Chinese," she sternly lectured me when I complained that I was becoming an idiom spewing machine.

Chen A-yi and I remain extremely close. I was her first student, and today she is well-known throughout the China Daily compound where she has seven or eight students. Here, (a little) China Insight brings to the web Chen A-yi’s love for idioms, xie hou yu, gossip, cooking and a good description. As the Chinese say, "Let Chen A-yi know the world, let the world know Chen A-yi."

Chen A-yi (whose real name is Chen Xi -- "a-yi" is an endearing and respectful term reserved for a woman older than you) has lived in Guangdong, Shanghai, Kunming, Harbin and Beijing, and speaks all of those dialects fluently (yes, she is 利害 -li4 hai4). Most of her professional career was spent in Harbin, where she worked as a medical doctor (ear, nose, and throat specialist). Today she and her husband, Lao Gu ("lao" is a term used for someone familiar and generally older or respected), are retired and live in Beijing. She is currently searching for the next 大山 -Da4 Shan4.

Comments? Yes, Chen A-yi has entered the electronic age, although this hotmail thing is still throwing her for a loop. Click here to send her your comments, although you may not get an immediate response.

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歇后语 (xie1 hou4 yu3): a two part saying, of which the first part,
always stated, is descriptive,
while the second part, often unstated, carries the message.

May 1998
"铁公鸡 - 一毛不拔"
Tie2 gong1 ji1 - yi1 mao2 bu4 ba2
"Like an iron rooster - you can't pull a single feather from it."

Chen A-yi explains: "The second half of this xie hou yu, 'single feather' is the same tone as the word for "mao" or the Chinese penny. It therefore is used to describe someone who is stingy - who you can't pull a single penny out of. An iron rooster, of course has no 'feathers' or 'mao' to pluck!"

Ex. Eating with him is like eating with an iron rooster. You always foot the bill!

April 1998
"小葱拌豆腐 - 一青二白"
Xiao3 cong1 ban4 dou4 fu - yi1qing1 er4 bai2
"Like scallions on tofu (a cold Chinese appetizer) - it's green and white."

Chen A-yi explains: "The second half of this xie hou yu, 'green and white,' sounds like the words in Chinese for 'very clear' and therefore the expression means something that is very clear."

Ex: This matter is liked cold tofu with scallions - it's so utterly clear.

March 1998
Gou3 na2 hao4 zi4 - duo1 guan3 xian2 shi4
"It’s like a dog catching mice" – "being involved in stuff you shouldn’t be."

Chen A-yi explains: "If you’ve ever lived in China, you’ll know this xie hou yu is especially fitting. A dog, after all, shouldn’t be chasing mice, but should be catching robbers and thieves. Cats are meant to catch mice. Therefore, when you use this phrase – which is pretty powerful and should be used carefully – you are telling someone that they are sticking their nose in somebody else’s business."

A: 你在哪跄敲脆钱?
B: 你够拿耗子-别管我。
A: How do you earn so much money?
B: Hmp! Why are you like a dog catching mice? Stay out of my business!

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成语 (cheng2 yu3): Chinese idioms.

May 1998
yi1 ju3 liang3 de2
"killing two birds with one stone"

April 1998
wen1 gu4 zhi1 xin1
"review the old and you'll gain new insights"

Chen A-yi's note: "This is why we study the past, why we study old classics."

By reviewing our schoolwork we receive new and fresh insights.

March 1998
yi4 ru2 fan3 zhang3
"easier than turning over your hand"

Chen A-yi’s note: "This is my favorite – and the first idiom I taught Michael."

Foreigners think that Chinese food is really difficult to make. Actually, for Chinese, cooking home cooked dishes is as easy as turning over your hand.

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俚语: (li2 yu3) Chinese slang

May 1998
tai4 bang4 le
Excellent! Awesome! Incredible!

Chen A-yi explains: "Yes, this originated first in Beijing. Unlike the entire decade of the 1970's, this slang is like "cool" in English -- it will never go out of style."

我们赢了吗? 太棒了!
We won?! Excellent!

April 1998
gai4 le mao4 le

Chen A-yi explains: "This is a Beijing favorite, popular for several years now. It originally came from describing the act of slam dunking a basket (Chinese are short, so it's kind of rare, you know) - the words mean literally mean cap/cover the hat."

The article he wrote rocks!

March 1998
Chi1 bu4 liao3 dou1 zhe2 zou3

Chen A-yi explains: "This was first used to mean ‘if you can’t finish it (the meal), take it with you.’ Now it is used to describe someone who should take on responsibility - as in, if you screw something up you should handle it."

Tonight you must finish your task. If you don’t finish it, well, you’ll just have to take the responsibility for it (eat it).

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This page authored by: Chen Xi and Michael Wenderoth
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Last updated05/28/98.