Essay: My First Telephone Call

Though the conclusion of this essay might fall a bit flat for all of us who are very used to having a telephone, this is an interesting glimpse into what a monumental rite of passage it is for children in rural areas to have one or use one for the first time.

A confusing word (and an important and often-repeated one) in this text might be 安. We know this word most commonly means “peace”. But the author keeps saying 安电话. This does not, contrary to appearances, mean “peace phone”. In this case, 安 is the shorter version of 安装 ān zhuāng, meaning “to install”. So, 安电话 means “to install a phone”.

There are also a few proper names in here, which we’ll point out early: 燃燃 is the author’s name, when the author is addressed by a loved one (typically who is older than them). 李燃 is the author’s actual full name. You can see from this that family members and close friends will sometimes take a Chinese person’s given name (which as we know, comes last, and in this case is 燃), and double it as a form of endearment. So 李燃 becomes 燃燃 to close friends and family. This isn’t always the case but you’ll see it a lot. It is inappropriate to address a Chinese person this way unless you know them very well, and you should never address an elder this way. It’s considered very cutesy. Another proper name is 王钰涵 wáng yù hán, the author’s best friend mentioned in passing.

In several instances, the author also mentions the “滋味” of using a phone. 滋味 literally means “flavor” or “taste” (noun). In English, we’d probably substitute the word “feeling”.

And a final grammar note on the phrase: 像是没见过电话似的. Pay attention to the 像 – it’s attached to the 似的 at the end. Together, wrapped around a phrase, these characters mean “as if…” or “like…”. This phrase means “… as if I had never seen a phone before”.

Here’s the original text of 第一次打电话

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Show English translation »
Fellow students, [though] it was several years ago when our new home installed a telephone, but when I think of it now it’s still fresh in my memory! Don’t believe me? Then I’ll give you a listen [to my story], and my shame will be apparent!

“Ranran, come quickly, we’ve installed a telephone!”

Oh? What? Installed one? Actually, we had a phone before, but when we had the phone installed, I was still an infant, and I didn’t know the feeling of making a call after the phone had been installed, but I’d always wanted to try!

I impatiently ran back towards the door of the house. When I entered the door, dad said to me “Ranran, didn’t you say you wanted to try the experience [lit: flavor] of using the phone when it had been installed? Come quick!”

I picked up the phone, as if I’d never seen a phone before, and stared at the phone for [what seemed like] half a day, carefully sizing it up: it had a green casing, and the numbers 0-9 were arrayed in neat rows.

“What are you doing just standing there? Quick, make a call!” papa urged me.

I thought: who should my first telephone call be to? Should I call my good friend Wang Yu Han, and let her share the joy of a phone call? Call close friends and family and tell them to come over to my house and play? No, I want to call my teacher. “8-5-8-6-1-1-5-8”, dad told me teachers phone number. [The call to] “8-5-8-6-1-1-8-5” went through.

“Teacher, this is Li Ran, we just installed a telephone, after this I…”

“Kid, you dialed the wrong number, I’m not your teacher.”

24 replies on “Essay: My First Telephone Call”

Very useful texts. Finding graded texts for Chinese learners – other than textbook samples – is still incredibly difficult. I’m very glad to have found this site!

A great site for improving character knowledge and grammar in everyday language. Also a nice touch having the translation hidden to stop easy ‘cheating’. Thanks for a great site.


The last character, in the mouse-over text, says ‘hou’ instead of ‘ho’ with the fourth sound mark.

Good story.

Question – naive one I expect….

I would transliterate 我的新家安电话的时侯还是几年前 as “My new home installed phone’s time still several years qian” How do you know whether this means “several years ago” or “several years ahead/in the future”?

“Qian”, in relation to time, always means “previously / before”. “Hou” is in the future.

I am confused between 后 and 侯 and 候. Which is the correct one to use when you mean “after” or “behind”?

我的新家安电话的时侯还是几年前 english translation of this one doesnt make sense are you sure it is written/translated correctly


I’d be delighted if a clever person could explain the grammar of this passage:


I would interpret it as “I may need to emit a bit of shamefulness”, but it sounds strange (and very different from “My shame will be apparent”). I wonder if I have misunderstood the grammar. Or is it some sort of set phrase? 🙂

Btw I love your website! Thanks for all the great work with translations and all 🙂 It’s a fantastic learning resource.

Yes,出丑 is a set phrase/verb meaning “to make a fool of oneself” or “to bring shame on oneself.” I think the 出 here is less “emit” than “allow to be seen.”

so “出点丑“ is “make a bit of a fool of oneself” (basically it’s 出一点丑 but the 一 is omitted)

and “我要出点丑了” is “I am going to make a bit of a fool of myself”

Then add 可 for emphasis (rather than indicating possibility), as in “definitely going to make bit of a fool of myself.”

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