Talking about snow in Chinese

For those of you stuck at home on the east coast of the U.S., or elsewhere in the world that is not California, here is the adorable Jessica Beinecke of Crazy Fresh Chinese introducing some snow-related terms in Chinese:

If you don’t know about Crazy Fresh Chinese, you should. Jessica translates slang and other useful terms into Chinese and films herself explaining them. Check out her YouTube channel, website and Facebook page.


Let It Go, 放开手,随它吧

Since my daughter (like every other kid in the country, it seems) can’t stop singing Let It Go, the theme song from Frozen, I thought I may as well have her learn it in Mandarin too:

But then I noticed that some versions have different lyrics :

(The first one above, the mainland Chinese version, translates “Let It Go” as “放开手” and the second, from Taiwan, as “随它吧.” The full pinyin lyrics for both are here.)

Then a friend posted a classical Chinese version, which is pretty great. My children couldn’t understand the language but it was fun to listen to:

My personal favorite is the version sung in 25 different languages:

And if you want to watch the whole movie in Chinese, you can order it from and a book in Mandarin (in traditional characters) of the movie is available on Amazon.


Bilingual and Proud

During the Super Bowl, Coca-Cola aired an ad which showed heartwarming images of American families set to the soundtrack of “America the Beautiful,” sung in various languages. When an outspoken and angry group of people took to social media to express their outrage that average Americans could be shown speaking other languages, my friend Stephanie at InCulture Parent responded with the voices of bilingual children, proclaiming their pride in their linguistic abilities and their country. The result is a very powerful video, and I am so thrilled that my son got to be in it to represent Mandarin speakers:

Read Stephanie’s full explanation of her reasons for making the video. And if you don’t read InCulture Parent, a resource for “parents raising little global citizens,” you should. Please spread this video on your social networks, to show the world that most Americans are proud of our multilingual heritage.

In case you missed it, the original Coke ad is here:


Celebrating Lunar New Year

Happy New Year! Today is the first day of the Year of the Wood Horse. The Chinese New Year holiday lasts two weeks, from the new moon to the full moon, and each day has special significance. On the first day, people traditionally visit the elder members of their family and watch a lion dance performance. You can read about the meaning of each day of the holiday via Wikipedia. For a glimpse of how the New Year is celebrated in a rural Chinese village, ChinaFile has posted a beautiful slideshow showing the preparations and festivities. This video tells the story of the traditions of the New Year, and the monster Nian, who can only be chased away by loud noises and the color red:

If you are looking for ways to celebrate at home, InCulture Parent has posted a really useful round-up of craft projects, recipes and books. In our house, two books that are especially popular this year are The Year of the Horse: Tales from the Chinese Zodiac and The Runaway Wok: A Chinese New Year Tale

And if you live in the Bay Area, both 510families and Red Tricycle have posted lists of local events celebrating the New Year. Our favorite annual event is the Oakland Museum celebration, which is a pan-Asian festival full of amazing performances and activities. The mocha pounding demonstration is always a highlight.



Happy Year of the Horse!

Tonight marks the end of the Year of the Snake and the entrance of the Year of the Horse. The World of Chinese has a nice post explaining how to behave to increase your chances of a lucky horse year.

On the Chinese Internet, well-wishers share greetings and cards to celebrate the Lunar New Year. The Year of the Horse allows for especially creative greetings, as the word “horse” is used in various Chinese idioms. A common New Year greeting this year is “马到成功!” which is an idiom wishing someone success (it translates loosely as “Ride your horse to success” and comes from a story dating back to the Qin Dynasty).

The phrase, “马上” literally means, “on a horse” but is used in everyday language to mean “immediately” (because, of course, once upon a time in China, the fastest way to get somewhere was by horse). So this year, “马上” means both “in the Year of the Horse” and “immediately.” Greeting cards are using this to wish people good things, immediately, in the horse year.

This image and others like it are circulating in online forums in China to send wishes for things which are notoriously difficult in China; the image above sends wishes for the recipient to “have a new car, have a vacation, have money, and find a partner” on the back of the Horse.

Happy Year of the Horse! May you each ride your own horse to success, whatever that means to you.


Monkey takes New York

My family and I just returned from a trip to New York, where we had the pleasure of seeing Monkey: Journey to the West at Lincoln Center. Produced by Blur’s Damon Albarn, Jamie Hewlett and Chen Shizheng, who directed The Bonesetter’s Daughter by San Francisco Opera, the show is a lively and extravagant interpretation of the legend of the Monkey King. Full of acrobatics, martial arts, animated sequences, and a soundtrack that combines Chinese pop with ethereal Philip Glass-style sounds and Buddhist chanting, the show had moments of true beauty and of real hilarity, though it may be hard to follow for those not already familiar with the story. My five and eight-year-old loved it – especially the eight-year-old who knows the story of Sun Wukong inside and out. The production is composed of a series of acts which depict some of the well-known chapters from the legend and introduces many of the key characters, including a fabulous Sun Wukong, Zhu Bajie (Pigsy) and the monk Tripitaka who is leading them to India to find Buddhist scriptures. The Monkey character is slightly darker and more ill-behaved than the cuter, more mischievous depictions in many of the Chinese productions we have seen, but I thought he made the story more compelling. It is all in Chinese with English subtitles. Hewlett, who with Albarn created the virtual band Gorillaz, has produced a couple of short films based on the show:

The full website for the show is here and you can read reviews in the New York Times, Variety and The Guardian.

My children have watched, and loved, the animated version of the Journey to the West produced by CCTV, but inspired by the New York show, I am now going to make it a family project to watch the full TV serial which has been popular in China. Here’s episode 1:


The Art of Jimmy Liao

A couple of years ago, my children received a book in the mail from their grandmother, Sound of Colors by Jimmy Liao. I had never heard of the author but was intrigued as soon as I opened it. His illustrations are stunning, rich, and imaginative and my kids immediately wanted to read the book.
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Welcoming the Dragon

[Cartoon by Chen Chunming via China Media Project]

We are already on Day 5 of the Year of the Dragon, but it is not too late to celebrate. Lunar New Year is a two-week celebration, from the first new moon of the lunar calendar to the first full moon. If you are lucky enough to live in the Bay Area, there are lots of fun events coming up in the next few weeks.
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Dragon Songs

I am not a big fan of Chinese children’s music. Yet over the past seven years I have spent innumerable hours listening to it, in all it’s synthesized, saccharine sweetness, and have learned to tune it out to such a degree that after I drop my children off at school, I occasionally leave the CD playing because I no longer hear it. Nevertheless, early on, I bought and downloaded as many Chinese songs as I could, as I was (and still am) convinced that music is one of the surest and fastest ways for children to learn language. Now that my two children are comfortably fluent in Mandarin, I have tried to wean them off the CDs, which has worked without effort for my seven-year-old but not so well for my three-year-old.

So I was pleasantly surprised when I heard the new Little Dragon Tales, Chinese Songs for Children CD, performed by Shanghai Restoration Project featuring Yip’s Canada Children’s Choir. Read the rest of this entry »


Why Doesn’t China Let Baba Go Home?

I wrote an essay for InCulture Parent about our efforts to keep our children’s Chinese identity alive when their father cannot travel home. Please read it here. And for those who haven’t read it before, InCulture Parent is a fabulous resource for anyone raising a multicultural family (or anyone interested in the world outside the U.S.).