Sunday, March 21, 2010


One of the reasons I brought my daughters to Asia was to learn how to read. Now, let’s face it, as an English teacher, instilling a lifelong love of English literature is second nature, but imparting to them a desire to delve into the intricacy and complexity of Chinese characters is something else. I also knew I would never be able to speak as well as them as they are sponges and literally, man, soak this crazy stuff up. I mean, after only three months in school, my two year old Kinu kicks my tail, and Xi’an and Rebekah, well… their speaking Chinese is something to behold.
Yet, and I know this is from years of helping people see the meaning behind words, that true fluency doesn’t occur until one can read. This being said, over the last two weeks as I finalize my India / Nepal trip, I’ve been regularly taking Chinese classes. Here are some of the characters I’ve learned and the meaning (stories) behind them. Enjoy and I hope you can learn some with me too.

This is the symbol for Beautiful which in Chinese is “Mei.” It is used to describe a beautiful mountain (Mei Shan), or a beautiful woman (Mei Xiaojie), and also is used in the name for my country, America (Mei Guo), despite the snickers from Caleb the chubby faced New Zealander in my class who thinks all Mei Guo are lazy and stupid. Thanks dude. (By the way, I’m sorry for calling you a douche bag in class, okay?) But it’s origins are funny. It is a combination of (羊) sheep and (大) big, meaning: that is one peace loving, admirable sheep you got there, it’s beautiful.

This is the symbol for “Is” “Am” or “Are” and is pronounced “shir.” As you can imagine, this is a very commonly used word and it’s meaning is really cool. There are two components. The first is the sun (日) and the second part is correct (正). This means, when the sun is directly overhead it is at its best distance. It just “is.” Pretty nifty, huh?

Another I love is “No” or “Not” and that is pronounced “Bu.” What I like about this is, the top line is meant to be the sky, and the stroke running left to right is a bird trying to gain access. It can’t, so it flies away. Therefore, “No” in Chinese means, a bird looking to soaring upward that cannot reach the sky. How beautiful is that? You want one more, don’t you?

This is the symbol for “I” pronounced “Wo.” It is very commonly used as you can imagine. The Chinese may try to convince people they are still communist, but come on… they’re pure capitalists with a capital “I want it all” just like the rest of us. What is cool about this symbol is that there is one spear running left to right that two people (人) are grasping at. This is to note how we as individuals are in constant struggle with our own ego to satisfy our selfish desires. So, this struggle as to which part of our conscious will win, means “I”.

But the best was this, as stated from my Chinese class, after about the first week, I read my first sentence completely in Chinese. It was (我 不 是 日 本 人) which stands for, “I am not a Japanese Person.” I cannot tell you how happy it made me feel to read that sentence. Seriously, and I love Japanese people. Anyway! Here is to literacy in all the wonderful forms. Keep studying, and good luck language students everywhere!

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