For those of you new to Chinese culture, one thing a Chinese child most looks forward to all year is the time during Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) when they get to go ask their neighbors and other adults for red envelopes containing some money – it’s a bit like trick-or-treating for cash. This essay is about what happened to one kid’s Spring Festival haul. We’ll cover a lot of beginner grammar here.
I should probably talk about a couple of points before we dive in. One is the use of the word 玩. Describing what he (or she, perhaps) does on Chinese New Year, the author says he can 玩得快活 – “play happily”. The Chinese don’t use “play” the way we do. While they do use it to mean “to play with toys” as a child does, they also use it to mean going out (like adults going out on Saturday night), or friends going out to a mall to go shopping – it’s really more of a blanket term better translated as “having fun”. So the kid is not saying they necessarily only play with toys happily on Chinese New Year, but also maybe that they go hang out at parents’ friends houses, or whatever. It’s not specified.
Another interesting point comes in here: 心里特别高兴，但是也很扫兴 – “In my heart I was extremely happy, but also very disappointed”. Note the use of the words 特别 and 很 – meaning “extremely” / “very” respectively. Thing is, in Chinese you can’t use a word like “happy” or “disappointed” without balancing it with a word measuring how happy or disappointed you were. There’s no way in general casual conversation to say “I was happy” – just regular ol’ happy. You can’t, for example, say just “我高兴“. Instead, say “I was VERY happy” 我很高兴, or “extremely happy” 我非常高兴 or “exceedingly happy” 高兴极了 or “fairly happy” 比较高兴 or whatever. So when we translate Chinese, we could actually drop the “very”s and “extremely”s and all that, because they have much less meaning in Mandarin then they do to us. This used to bug me a lot when speaking. I didn’t want to say I was “very happy” – I wasn’t. I was just normally happy. But it was finally explained to me how little that “very” actually mattered. So bear that in mind.
And another point: …收到了700余元… This means “received over 700 yuan”. Notice that the word 余, which means “over” / “more than” is written after the amount of money and before the actual word “yuan”. In English, this would be like saying “received 700-plus dollars”. You could also say 收到了700多元, which means the same thing.
And finally: Beware the definition I give for the word 由 here. It’s one of those grammar words that means a ton of different things in different contexts – kind of like how the English word “to” is hard to define and used often. In my definition list, I only ever show the definition relevant to this text, so you’re going to see the word 由 in many contexts in many essays and it doesn’t always mean what it means here.
The original is from my new favorite Chinese essay composition site.
Click to Listen
过 – guò – To celebrate
不但…而且 – bù dàn…ér qiě – Not only [sthg], but also [sthg else]
压岁钱 – yā suì qián – Money Chinese children get as presents during Chinese New Years
以往 – yǐ wǎng – Before, previously
上缴 – shàng jiǎo – To give money up to higher authorities
由 – yòu – To leave something to someone (to manage / handle)
爽快 – shuǎng kuai – Straightforward
肯德基 – kěn dé jī – Kentucky Fried Chicken
苦思冥想 – kǔ sī míng xiǎng – Rack one’s brains
订 – dīng – To subscribe to (a newspaper / magazine)
献 – xiàn – To donate
勤俭节约 – qín jiǎn jié juē – Diligent and thrifty
逐渐 – zhú jiàn – Gradually