Episode 16: 鹬蚌相争 The Fight Between The Shell And The Snipe

This is a fantastic parable about a clam who wouldn't let go of a snipe, and the snipe refused to let go of the clam. 

The snipe says to the clam: If I don't let go today, and I don't let go tomorrow, you'll get de-hydrated and I'll be seeing a dead clam on the beach tomorrow.

The clam says to the snipe: If I don't let go today, and I don't let go tomorrow. You'll simply starve, and I'll be seeing a dead snipe on the beach tomorrow.

Little do they know, neither of them are winners. They're both about to be dinner. (Oooo that rhymes!)

Learn to let go of the things before they consume you.

Episode 15: 盲人摸象 Blind Men And The Elephant

This idiom is a fantastic parable about 5 blind men who all touch only a part of an elephant and insisted they saw its entirety. Be humble. Allow the possibility that you could very well be wrong about something.




Episode 14: 叶公好龙 Mister Ye Loves Dragons

During the Spring and Autumn period (771-476BC), there was an official from the country of Chu by the name of Mister Ye Gong

Mister Ye was famous for being a huge fan of dragons. His ceilings would have paintings of dragons, the beams in his house would be carved with dragon designs. All four walls in his home had paintings of dragons.

His reputation for being a dragon-enthusiast spread to the dragon deity in the heavens. This real-life dragon was humbled by Ye Gong's devotion and thought: hmm, I must pay this Ye Gong fellow a visit. 

So the dragon deity flew down for an unannounced visit...determined to meet Ye Gong face-to-face. But here's the thing about dragons, when they descend from the sky, they are followed by thunder, lightning and a heck of a lot of wind. 

As the dragon approached, unbeknownst to Ye Gong, the heavy wind and rain caused his windows to fly open. As Ye Gong went to shut his windows, he was shocked to see a giant dragon face. A REAL LIVE DRAGON was staring right at him. Cheeses!

The sight of the dragon was SO tremendous for Ye Gong that he let out a blood-curdling scream before fainting on the spot. 

Moral of the idiom: Sometimes, you think you know and love someone/something, but you have NO idea. You really have to live or experience it to have a deeper understanding. 



叶公喜欢龙在当地出了名的,家中梁柱上雕着龙,墙上画着龙,被上绣着龙,简直是个龙的世界。天上的真龙知道了这事,非常感动,决定亲自去拜访叶公。真龙下凡,风起云涌, 电闪雷鸣,叶公赶紧去关窗,正好和探头进来的真龙打了个照面。真龙双角耸立,两眼闪亮,好不威风。叶公吓得大喊一声,瘫倒在地上。


Episode 13: 杀鸡儆猴 Killing The Chicken To Tame The Monkey

Killing The Chicken To Frighten The Monkey

Once upon a time, there was a street artist who purchased a monkey in hopes of turning it into a performing monkey. This particular monkey was not very obedient and gave the street artist a very hard time. The artist had enough and purchased a chicken on the market. He would terrorize the chicken by beating drums and making awfully loud noises. 

When the chicken was frozen in fear, the artist took a cleaver and beheaded the chicken in front of his disobedient monkey. By making an example out of the chicken, the artist was able to tame the mischievous monkey who never stepped out of line ever again.

Moral of the idiom: You might need to make an example of out something to prove a point. Also, fear (although not encouraged) might be the answer. 



Episode 12: 刻舟求剑 Marking The Boat To Retrieve The Sword

Marking The Boat To Retrieve The Sword


During the Warring States, there was a man from the country of Chu. He was sailing on a small boat when all of a sudden, a gust of wind rocked the boat and knocked his sword into the water. Everyone on the boat expressed concern for him and encouraged him to immediately retrieve the sword. But the man was not worried and simply took out a knife and made a mark on the side of the boat. He then nonchalantly added, "My sword fell at the exact location of this mark."

He then encouraged the boat to keep sailing toward the dock. Everyone on the boat was a bit confused by the man's actions but they kept sailing. Once they docked, the man from Chu removed his clothes and jumped into the waters. He swam around to the location of the mark he made on the side of the boat to look for his sword. And to nobody's surprise, the sword could not be found. 

Moral of the idiom: One cannot be so obstinate and unwillingly to change. While one method might work for one purpose, it might not work elsewhere. Don't settle for an one purpose fits all solution.





Episode 11: 猴子救月 Monkey Rescues The Moon


Once upon a time, there was a forest of cute little monkeys. You can imagine macaques, chimps, or even pygmy marmosets. They were playing near a well, but for the sake of Emily's version, it was a lake. Because let's be real, monkeys don't naturally gather around wells. 

One particular little monkey noticed that there was a reflection of the moon shining from the surface of the lake. Not knowing that it was merely a reflection, he freaked the heck out and thought the moon must have fell into the lake!

He then called all of his monkey friends over to the lake in hopes of scooping the moon back out. After all, if the moon fell into the lake, we must put it back into the sky! All of the monkeys agreed that the moon must be saved, and they all climbed up a nearby tree and clung to each other by their tails. (As pictured)



Sadly, as soon as the first monkey reached his hands into the water to scoop out the moon, the water slipped out of his hands. The moon's reflection disappeared and the monkeys realized they made a foolish mistake. 

Now, in the original story, the tree branch they hung from also broke and all the little monkeys fell into the water. But that's too gratuitous for my preferences. Monkeys can swim and I'm sure they were all fine.

Moral of the idiom:

Think before you act, don't jump to conclusions. And if you happen to be one of the monkey's buddies, maybe mull it over before you decide to hop on. Be like the moon and reflect :) sometimes the answer is right there if you simply look up. 





Episode 10: 对牛弹琴 Playing Music To A Cow











Playing Music To A Cow

In ancient times, there was a talented musician by the name of Gong Ming Yi. He adored music so much he would carry his Zheng (a classical Chinese string instrument) everywhere he went.

Classical Gu Zheng 

One day, when Gong Ming Yi was on a walk, he came across a beautiful green pasture. He noticed a cow grazing in the middle of the pasture and sat down to play his instrument. Gong Ming Yi wanted to serenade the cow in this picturesque field, so he strummed the most complicated song he knew. The cow showed no reaction whatsoever. 

Gong Ming Yi figured the composition was probably too deep for the cow to understand, so he played another piece. This time, the cow glanced up at him, wagged his tail but then continued to graze mindlessly.

The musician then realized the cow would never understand his music. He was saddened by the cow's indifference to his talent...thinking his skills were not up to par. People would tell Gong Ming Yi that it was not that his skills were unimpressive, it's that the cow will never understand musicality. They insisted that the cow is simply dumb. 

Gong Ming Yi replied, "It's not that the cow that is dumb, it is me who is dumb. I did not realize to whom I was playing music."

Moral of The Idiom: Not everyone will speak the same language as you, so do not expect them to understand. Don't expect everyone to see eye-to-eye with you. Know the people you are communicating with, it might not necessarily be their fault for not level-ing with you.


Hey folks! I sat down with Dr. Dennis Zheng...in his own home and forced him to discuss the castration process with me. I felt as if it is my duty to educate everyone on how Chinese eunuchs prepared themselves for their new role as palace watchdogs. Dr. Zheng is a Harvard graduate with a whopping 3.7 GPA, but don't be alarmed...he makes up the missing 0.3 with his charm. 

Episode 8: 指鹿为马 Pointing At A Deer And Insisting It's A Horse




秦二世很诧异: “丞相,这是一头鹿啊!“




Pointing At A Deer and Insisting It's A Horse

After the death of China's first emperor: Qin Shi Huang Di (or more famously known as Emperor Qin). His son Qin the 2nd inherited the throne and became Emperor Qin 2. 

Emperor Qin 2 was just a figurehead as Prime Minister Zhao Gao, a eunuch, was the real power behind the throne. Back in China, you had to be castrated to serve closely to the Emperor, as not to impregnate his concubines. Zhao Gao was an especially clever eunuch, and while he may not have any balls, he held a LOT of power in the political sphere.

Prime Minister Zhao Gao wanted the Emperor's spot for his own, so he devised a plan to test out the loyalties of the other officials in the imperial court. He presented Emperor Qin 2 with a deer and said to him, "VOILA your highness, this is a horse!"

The young Emperor Qin 2 was shocked and said, "But Prime Minister, this is clearly a deer."

Prime Minister Zhao Gao stubbornly retorted, "Your highness, this is a horse! If you don't believe me, ask the other officials in the court."

Several of the court officials followed in Zhao Gao's lead because they feared his power and wrath. They went along in deceiving the young Emperor bleating: "Yes! It's a horse, a fine horse!"

Others took the honest route and defied Prime Minister Zhao Gao, and they were brought to their deaths. The officials who lied for Zhao Gao survived the test and even ended up with a pleasant promotion...moving up in ranks.

Moral of the Idiom: Someone who points at a deer, but insists on saying it's a horse is deliberately lying. It's also used to refer to someone who distorts the truth/reality. 

Episode 7: 精卫填海 To Fill The Ocean




它就是女娃变成的精卫鸟。这种鸟形状像乌鸦,头上有花纹,叫声很像 “精卫!“


To Fill The Ocean

Once upon a time, ages ago...Yan Di (one of the forefathers of Chinese civilization) had an adorable daughter. Her name is Nu Wa. One day, Nu Wa was playing by the ocean, when an atrocious storm swept over and the fierce waves drew her in. 

Tragically, Nu Wa was unable to escape the storm in time and she drowned. 

That escalated quickly didn't it?!

Well, the story goes on...

The storm that sucked in Nu Wa eventually died down and when the ocean was calm again, a little bird known as the Jing Wei arose. The bird made a calling noise that sounded like: jing wei...jing wei! So people named the bird after its calls "Jing Wei."

This little Jing Wei (which was really Nu Wa's reincarnation) harbored a resentment for the ocean that drowned her. Her hatred of the ocean was so deep, that she wanted to get rid of it. Now, filling the ocean this may seem like an impossible feat, but the Jing Wei was determined.

So, everyday, little by little she would fly to shore an gather branches and stones. Then, she would fly back to the ocean and fill it up with whatever she could find. She would fly back and forth, back and forth, trying her best to fill up the vast ocean. And she never stopped.

Moral of the Idiom: Filling the entire ocean is an improbably task but not impossible. This idiom refers to the determination and perseverance that one possesses when faced with the impossible.

Episode 6: 开天辟地 Heaven Separated From Earth

This is the first idiom I'm introducing a Chinese idiom in 2016. I figured...what better way to kick off the year with a Chinese myth! Funny enough, this myth is also an idiom, which means it has 4 characters: 开天辟地. The literal translation is: heaven separated from earth. 





但是盘古担心天地会合拢,他就弯曲着背把天地撑开. 他手托青天,脚踏大地,站在天地之中。这样又过了一万八千年,天地再也不合在一起,盘古才安然死去。



Heaven Separates From Earth

According to a legend long ago, the sky and the earth were glued together. There was no up, down, left or right. The world was a glob of delicious chaos…like an egg! 

18,000 years after the world was created, an entity known as Panku awoken from this egg. But he couldn’t see anything through the nebulous glob and felt the atmosphere was too suffocating. 

Now Panku was very powerful, like a super genie and he conjured up a magic axe, hacking his way out of the cloudy environment.

Shortly, the murky clouds opened up and the skies became clear. The dark muck on the ground cleared up and became dirt. He had hacked away so much the sky and the earth slowly separated.

Panku however, was concerned that without his constant hacking, the sky and the earth will eventually stick back together again. He wedged his back against the sky, and lifted his hands up to keep it in place. He placed his feet firmly on the ground and pushed the sky and earth away from each other. 

Poor Panku stayed in this uncomfortable position for another 18,000 years, making sure the sky and earth would never close ever again. 

It was in this position that Panku passed away…but his entity blended in with the world. His every breath became the winds. The sounds that he once made, became the thunder we hear. His left eye became the sun, and his right eye became the moon. His hair and his beard disintegrated and became the stars we see at night. The blood that was once coursing through his veins became the rivers and oceans. 

Moral of this idiom: This is how the Chinese explained how the world was created. But it is also used when referring to something that is unprecedented. Or, to refer to a trailblazer. 

Episode 5: 买椟还珠 To Buy The Jewelbox But Return The Jewel

Hello readers/listeners! I'm a bit late with last week's Chinese idiom because I got super sick during this temperature change. Won't happen again! I got sick because I hate wearing pants, but I learned my lesson and will wear pants more often during these winter months.

This next story is one of my faves. It talks about how some rich folks know the price of everything, but the value of nothing. 

It's called: 买椟还珠, which means "to buy the box, but return the jewel"






To Buy the Box, But Return the Jewel

During the Spring and Autumn period (circa 771 - 476BC) before China was modern day China, there was a kingdom called Chu. There was a man from the kingdom of Chu who got his hands on a huge pearl. He wanted to sell this pearl at a decent price, so he hired a designer to custom-build a box made with magnolia wood...specifically for this pearl. 

This bespoke box was then decorated with jade and other gems and was absolutely beautiful. The box itself looked like it was worth a million bucks.

So this man from the kingdom of Chu went to the neighboring kingdom of Zheng where he could peddle his precious pearl. He then placed the pearl in the beautiful custom box and took it to the market. 

A rich fellow from the Zheng kingdom was strolling through the market and immediately fell in love with the box. He simply could not keep his hands off of it!

When the salesman from Chu saw that the rich fellow wanted the box, he jacked up the price. Without hesitation, the rich man immediately took out his money to complete the transaction. To the surprise of the salesman, the wealthy buyer took the pearl out of the beautiful box and returned it to him...walking away with only the box. 


Moral of this idiom: Some people completely miss the point. They ignore the fundamental situation at hand because they have poor judgment (or in this story - poor taste in jewels).

Episode 4: 画蛇添足 Adding Feet To The Snake

This long-awaited idiom is called "Adding Feet to The Snake."

In Chinese it is called Hua She Tian Zu 画蛇添足。What does it mean to add feet to the snake you ask? Well it means you are adding more than necessary. Because everyone knows snakes don't need feet! Even if you give snakes feet...they won't know how to use them!

* This is one of my favorite Chinese idioms aka Chengyu. From now on, if I use the term "Chengyu," please understand that it is interchangeable with "Chinese idioms."




有个人画得快,一会就完成了。他一把拿过酒壶,说:“再蛇蛇画几只脚也来得及!” 说着,就动手给蛇添足。



那个先画成蛇的人,因为 “画蛇添足,” 反而没有喝到酒。

TRANSLATION: Adding Feet to A Snake

Long long long long time ago, in the Hegemonic state of Chu (during the Zhou dynasty circa 260 BC) there was a family paying respects to their ancestors. After the tribute, the master of ceremony took out a bottle of wine to share with other members who came to pay their respects. 

There was too little wine to go around. So, they decided to come up with a little challenge where the winner takes all. The challenge was to make sketches into the dirt, and see who would be the first to complete a drawing of a snake. Everyone agreed.

One member was especially fast, he snatched his trophy wine and bragged to the others, "I was so fast, I even have time to draw feet for the snake." With that said, he picked up his drawing stick and added little feet to his already complete snake.

At this moment, another member of the family finished his artwork, grabbed the bottle of wine from the first winner and declared, "Snakes don't even have legs! That's completely unnecessary, this wine is rightfully mine!" Everybody agreed with his logic.

The dude who originally finished first but decided to add unnecessary legs not only failed to draw a snake, but also failed to sip that sweet sweet wine.

Moral of the idiom: Don't go out of your way to do unnecessary things, it might have repercussions. 


Episode 3: 守株待兔 To Sit By The Tree, And Wait For The Rabbit

Jumping right into the story here. Today's lesson is a call for action- to stop being lazy and do something with our lives. I've translated it to: Sitting by the tree, waiting for the rabbit...

In Chinese, this idiom is known as 守株待兔. A bunny bashes its head into a tree and sets off a sequence of unfortunate events. Ultimately, this idiom is telling us to work hard and not rely on anyone else! Man, we can't rely on bunnies for anything! 




The literal translation for this proverb would be: sitting by the tree waiting for the rabbit. But since that makes no grammatical sense, I figured the translation is simply sit back and wait.

The ancient Chinese passed down this proverb to warn us the downsides of sitting back and waiting. Long long ago, during the Spring and Autumn period (770BC-476BC) there was a farmer from the Song country. One day, he was plowing his field under the harsh sun...sweat dripping down his back and all that jazz. 

Suddenly, out of nowhere, a wild rabbit appeared and frantically ran into a tree. It bashed its head into the tree trunks, and immediately passed away. (And went to heaven I hope).

The farmer saw this and was thrilled. He grabbed the lifeless rabbit and took it home to make rabbit stew. He thought to himself: working on the fields is such hard work, if only I could pick up a rabbit like this every day. Life would be just dandy!

Ever since then, he put a stop to his farming and decided to guard the trees- waiting for rabbits to bash their heads again. Days go by and there's not even a tiny hint of rabbits nearby.

Now of course, this proverb is strictly metaphorical. But the character in this story was literally sitting around on his butt, waiting for a suicidal rabbit to come his way. His methods were ludicrous, wouldn't you say?

Moral of the idiom: Don't be delusional because of one lucky incident. Don't sit back and wait around for luck, get up and take action!

Episode 2: 一举两得 Achieving Two Things At Once

This episode gives a brief history surrounding the myths of where Chinese people came from! Before this podcast, I didn't even know! Oh the shame of not knowing one's ancestors...

Anyways, today's story is the Chinese equivalent of the English idiom "kill two birds with one stone." This is the idea that an individual can accomplish two things with a single action. I personally found it curious that this idea is prevalent among several cultures.

Most of us are familiar with "kill two birds with one stone," and upon further discussing idioms with my boyfriend (who is Ukrainian) he tells me that the Ukrainians also have a similar story.  I was so excited by this discovery, I wanted to share the Chinese version of the idiom as well, and it goes ( Yi Ju Liang De ). Here's the story for your amusement, it's actually quite violent:


卞庄子是春秋时鲁国人,他力大无比,胆量过人。有一次,山上出现了两只老虎,卞庄子一听,马上拔出宝剑,就要上山刺虎。旅店里有个仆人一把拽住他说:壮士,不用急,现在,现在那两只老虎正在争吃一头牛!它们拼命搏斗,力气小的会被咬死,力气大的也一定会精疲力竭,伤痕累累。那时候你再上山去,对付剩下的那只老虎,岂不是轻而易举! 而且还可以赢得刺死两只猛虎的美名!


One Action Achieves Two Things

During China's Spring and Autumn Period (770BC-476BC) there was a brave warrior called Bian Zhuang Zi. He was from this area named Lu- but the geography isn't important. 

Anyway, he was as strong as warriors come. One day, two tigers were fighting at a nearby mountain, and Bian Zhuang Zi's first instinct was to take out his precious sword and hike up the mountains to slay the two tigers. 

At this time, a guest at the same hotel Bian Zhuang Zi was staying grabbed the warrior by his arm and said: Don't rush to the mountains, right now the tigers are tearing up a live cow. After that, they'll fight to the death and there can only be one survivor. The winning tiger will be exhausted by the time the fight is over. THAT'S the moment you should go up the mountains to slay the remaining tiger. Then, you can even take credit for killing BOTH tigers. Wouldn't that be a glorious reputation to uphold?

Bian Zhuang Zi agreed. That was the way things had to be done. He took the wise man's advice and without much effort, easily slain the surviving tiger. Hence the Chinese idiom: one action achieves two things.

I hope you enjoyed this Sunday's story, along with the whimsical photo! 

Episode 1: 一字千金 One Word Is Worth 1,000 Pieces Of Gold

The idiom in this episode is called: 一字千金 which means, one word equals one thousand pieces of gold. That's a lot of gold! Why are words so expensive? Listen to find out!

This is where I introduce ancient Chinese idioms (成语故事) that have been passed down for centuries, and I do my best to make them more understandable to the non-Chinese-speaking world. 

Learning Chinese is HARD. Even a fluent speaker like myself (so humble I know...) will have trouble understanding the backstory behind each idiom. But I cannot emphasize the importance of learning Chinese in this decade. So here's to making my language fun!

I'll begin the first entry with the importance of the number one.


战国后期,吕不韦当了秦国的丞相。他广招学者名士,一时竟有三千人之多。吕不韦叫他们发挥个人的特长写作,然后将作品编辑成一部巨作。这部作品共26卷,计260,000 字,内容可谓应有尽有。
吕不韦把书定名为 《吕氏春秋》,并把原稿公开展览,还宣布说:能指出错误的人,或能删一字的人,重赏千金。


One Word is Worth One Thousand in Gold

During China's Warring States circa 475-221 BC, a wealthy businessman by the name of Lu Bu Wei became the prime minister. He invited celebrity scholars from across the land, and gathered at least 3,000 of them all at once. Prime Minister Lu asked them to collect their finest work to put together one final masterpiece. This compilation resulted in 26 volumes, with an estimate of 260,000 words, featuring content about everything in life. 

Prime Minister Lu called it, <The Annals>, and published it for the world to see. He decreed, "Anyone who can find fault in the compilation of works, or can eliminate even one word, will receive 1,000 pieces in gold." 

Several days passed, and not a single soul dared to edit <The Annals> for the people feared the power of Prime Minister Lu. Nobody wanted to challenge authority. 

Moral of the Idiom: It literally meant that one word was equal to 1,000 pieces in gold. "One Word is Worth One Thousand in Gold" refers to the massive power that can come from a single word.