Chinese – the most logical yet crazy language

Hello again! Sorry to be writing again so soon… This is completely unrelated to my travel plans, though. I was reading the Chinese newspaper this morning in preparation for my exam and came across the word 龙卷风 (pronounced longjuanfeng). Now, the literal meaning of the three characters together is “dragon roll wind”. How logical is that?! A hurricane is, according to Chinese, a dragon spinning round viciously to create a powerful, rolling wind. In light of this, I thought I’d write my favourite bits of vocab and most bizarre explanations of characters for you to enjoy.

地震 (dizhen) – staying on the theme of natural disasters, this one means earthquake, and – very sensibly – the characters literally say “ground be excited”

龙凤胎 (longfengtai) – credit to Will Briscoe on this one. He is the male component of a boy-girl-twin-combination, and he thus looked up the word for this. You might recognise the first character from the hurricane explanation; this one says “dragon phoenix foetus”. A quick explanation is required: dragon and phoenix are the metaphors for successful males and females, respectively…

物流 (wuliu) – this one means logistics, and obviously enough, the characters mean “things flow”

吹风机 (chuifengji) – can’t quite express how amazing this one is. If someone asks you to pass the “blow wind machine”, what they’re after is actually the hairdryer

糟糕!(zaogao!) – this is an exclamation. My family will testify that it has become a bit of a mantra: whenever anything goes slightly wrong, I shout in Chinese, “messy cake!” English equivalent is fairly obvious, and not massively publishable…

公共汽车 (gonggong qiche) – on to transport now. This one means bus, and is in Chinese “public together automobile”

出租汽车 (chuzu qiche) – taxi is equally straightforward… “rent out automobile”

飞机 (feiji) – and aeroplane: “fly machine”

Now, I couldn’t have written this little post without a passing mention to Hu Laoshi (Teacher Hu). My first ever Chinese teacher, who played a part in compiling a version of the English-Chinese dictionary, had a fantastic knack for explaining characters. Although they sound bizarre, I have never forgotten many of them, so here are two of my favourites:

想 (xiang) – this means would like. You might be able to see the parts making up the character… top left is a tree 木, top right is an eye 目, and at the bottom is a heart 心. Mr Hu’s explanation for this one was an analogy of walking into a forest, seeing a beautiful tree, and feeling in your heart that you would like that tree. Simples.

突 (tu) – suddenly. Now, the top of this character is the radical (part) meaning a hole, and at the bottom is a dog. How, you may ask, does this mean suddenly? Well – if you were walking along, when a dog jumped out of a hole and started attacking your face, that would be quite sudden, wouldn’t it?!

Thanks again to Mr Hu for those two, and all the others along the same lines – we miss you greatly! To finish, I wanted to write three of my favourite “chengyu”. These are famous in Chinese: they are four-character idioms which are notoriously hard to learn, but are seen as a sign of your level of Chinese – the more you know, the more learned you appear.

对牛弹琴 (dui niu tan qin) – literal meaning is “to play the qin to a cow” (qin = a traditional Chinese instrument). In English, it’s best expressed as addressing the wrong listener! Full story is at

乱七八糟 (luan qi ba zao) – literally “random seven eight mess”. Although we use different numbers, the principle of at sixes and sevens is roughly the same…

守口如瓶 (shuo kou ru ping) – “to close mouth like bottle”. Self-explanatory, I feel… keep one’s mouth shut!

On that note, I’ll shut mine and get back to revision. 2 hours of cramming, here we go!


Eats, shoots and leaves

A panda walks into a restaurant, sits down, and orders a sandwich. He eats the sandwich, pulls out a gun, and shoots the waiter. As the panda stands up to go, the manager shouts, “Hey! Where are you going? You just shot my waiter and walked out, without even paying for your sandwich!”

The panda yells back at the manager, “Hey, man, I’m a PANDA! Look it up!”

The manager opens his dictionary and sees the following definition for panda: ‘A tree-dwelling marsupial of Asian origin, characterised by distinct black and white coloring. Eats, shoots and leaves.’

Aahh. The comedic value of misplaced commas.

I digress… As I’ve told you all, I’m off to Hannover in less than a fortnight. Up until now though, I’ve not been entirely clear on what I’ll be doing whilst I’m there. I had a meeting with my research supervisor during last week to clear it all up though, so here’s the lowdown!


At the university, the German department was involved in a translation and transcription project, called Schwitters@Newcastle. Kurt Schwitters was a German artist/poet, who was interned in PoW camps during the war. He wrote letters to his friends and family throughout the time, but most of these documents had remained unpublished. Also, most of the study done on him was done in German, based on his German works, or from an artistic viewpoint.

Being a linguist though, I’m taking the tack of looking at his English in some of the letters – how it develops, and analysing some of the ‘mistakes’ he makes to see whether they are in fact mistakes, or whether Schwitters may have used poetic and creative licence. Then I hope to write a dissertation on it – well, that’s the plan anyway!

Preparation week

In Newcastle, next week, I’m doing some preparatory work: namely reading through a biography of Schwitters, and making a few contacts in Hannover. I hope to register with a couple of libraries and archives, and to enquire about the English-learning situation in the early- to mid-20th century. This will hopefully open up some avenues for research whilst in…

… Hannover

The Sprengel Museum in Hannover has the world’s largest Schwitters archive, so it’s probably a fairly good place to be. However, from what I’ve gathered, I don’t think I’ll be doing too much actual work, although that sounds pretty lazy 🙂

From what I’ve gathered, it’s more of an exploratory mission – I’ll be looking through the archive, scanning important materials that may be of use, in order to build up a catalogue for myself. The other benefit of going there, of course, is direct and intensive research into life in Hannover at that time – how would Schwitters have learned his English, for example?

Anyway, enough of the boring stuff!

Hopefully I’ll be able to hop on a train and visit my friends in Duesseldorf for a day or two while I’m there.

The Olive & Bean in Newcastle with my awesome mentees :)
The Olive & Bean in Newcastle with my awesome mentees 🙂

And on a more China-related note, I had afternoon tea in Newcastle with two of my lovely mentees, Grace and Sherry, today. Grace is from Beijing, and Sherry studies there, so when I mentioned my wish to visit the Chinese capital during the Spring Break early next year, they both very kindly said they would love to meet up, show me round, and maybe even accommodate me for a day or three. Very kind of them – I feel my plans are beginning to come together!

That’s all the news I have for now… Back to Chinese revision for my exam tomorrow afternoon :S

A Day in the Life…

Another feature I’ve decided to add (or arguably thieved from Laura) is my “A Day in the Life” page.

This will become the homepage for the site as I add photos to it – sadly I’ve just put a couple of testers in for now. The basic idea is to take one image to sum up each day of my year (starting 9th June, when I leave for Germany).

Together, they’ll form a slideshow, which’ll function as a bit of a picture diary for when I don’t have motivation/time/anything interesting to write (delete as appropriate). Hope you enjoy it!

Jack 🙂

The Bucket List

Hi guys!

Just a quick disclaimer to start – this post is NOT a bucket list, as such! I learned the reason for the term ‘bucket list’ the other day (a list of things to be done before kicking the bucket, for those of you who were unaware) and I thought it was an appropriate title for my first post, giving you all an idea of my plans, aims and goals over the next 15 months or so!

It’s an exciting time, to be honest (even more so thanks to Sohvi and Laura’s Hainan Doodles from our chat in The Hancock yesterday). This is the first time I’ve felt more excited than scared about the whole prospect of going to China for a year! Anyways, more on China later… Here’s a brief chronological lowdown of my plans, taking me from now through to September 2014:

End of academic year 2012-13:

This is probably the boring part, I guess, so I’ll not dwell on it for too long – a few exams, done by the second week of June.

Hannover, Germany:

From the 9th June, I’m off to Germany for a couple of weeks to do some research into a potential dissertation topic for final year. I’ve been involved in a translation workshop, for the Sprengel Museum’s archive in Hannover, translating unpublished war-time letters of Kurt Schwitters – a German artist who was held as a PoW in Britain. So I’m taking it a step further, and going there to research too!

It’s a bit of a double-whammy though. As I’ve got to go to China for a year, I don’t have the opportunity to go and practice my German at all – this is the next best thing!

Hainan, China:

Wow. What can I say about this? A small island off the coast of Hong Kong, a year’s studying with Will (my flatmate), tropical weather, occasional typhoons, Chinese bluntness…

Jack and Will

Will (right) and me. I’m sure many more silly photos will follow from around China…

Up until now, I’ve been about 75% bricking it, 25% excited. In the last couple of days though, my excitement has been building. It’s certainly getting real now, so maybe it’s just the fact that I can’t put it off any longer, but it’ll be an experience! Still to do before I go: injections, visa, book flights, plan travelling.

One of the major attractions of going to Hainan is the cost of living. Everything seems to be so cheap, for example the train from Haikou to Sanya (north of the island to the south) and back costs about 80 Yuan (roughly £8). For that reason, I’m seeing it as an opportunity to do things I may not get the chance to do again… These include (okay, this post is a sort of bucket list, I guess):

  • Guerilla slacklining (this also goes for Germany and Britain – any location suggestions are welcomed)
  • Visit Yunnan
  • Couch surf around China in Spring Break
  • Cycle the east coast of Hainan Island to Sanya
  • Climb 五指山 (wuzhishan in Pinyin – romanised Chinese)
  • See Beijing’s cultural sites

I’m sure this list will be added to in the days, weeks and months to come, but that’s all I can think of for now…

Summer Internship

When I come back, from the start of July 2014, I’ll be interning in Procter & Gamble’s Finance Department. This is probably going to help me get through the inevitable times of homesickness while away. For those who don’t know me too well, I’m starting to get a bit bored of student life, and am really looking forward to getting out into the real world. I do delve in and out of the business world from time to time (oh, and a quick plug: like me on Facebook!), but the prospect of an internship in a big company – which may well lead to a graduate job in the future – is a particularly exciting one. But there’s a fair bit of water to go under the bridge between now and then…

Roll on the next year, and I hope to keep you all informed of my progress – both linguistic and adventurous – and my pedantry through this blog!

Till next time!