In Which I Get Into a Spot of Trouble

[Phone rings, then is picked up]

HELEN IN HOUSTON [in the ridiculously cute half-awake voice she talks in when she has just woken up – imagine a cross between the sound of a happy little girl and a purring kitten, if you can manage that]: Hello?

ME IN SINGAPORE [cheerfully]: Good morning, sweetheart.

SLEEPY HELEN [obviously smiling on the other end]: Good morning.

ME: Did you sleep well?

SLEEPY HELEN: Mmm-hmmm. Have you had a good day?

ME: Well, yes… [with some trepidation] But I have to confess something.

SLEEPY HELEN [clearly still smiling indulgently]: Okay. What’s that?

ME: Well, I heard a Chinese singer on the plane that I really liked; so I got someone here to tell me where I could buy CD’s, and I went to that shop to get her album. Only, they let me listen to a bunch of other Chinese singers too and…well, I spent two hundred dollars.

NOT AT ALL SLEEPY HELEN [very distinctly and clearly]: You spent HOW MUCH????

And that was the last I heard of the sleepy purring kitten voice in THAT conversation.

Now, the backstory, with musical recommendations:

Last year, on my long flight to Singapore, I took the opportunity to listen to the Mandopop (Mandarin pop music) available on the Singapore Airlines entertainment system, and discovered Stefanie Sun (孫燕姿 Sūn Yan Zī), who instantly leaped into elite status on my playlists despite the fact that I couldn’t understand much of what she was saying. Helen did some translating for me after I got home, and Ms. Sun turns out to have the same sort of melancholy narrative persona that Lydia Salnikova inhabits in her songwriting, which is fine with me except that it doesn’t give me many songs to sing to Helen. But when she does do an in-love song, the result (追 Zhuī / “The Chase”) is one of my all-time favorites – an inventive metaphor in a musical setting that suits it exactly.

At any rate, one thing I was looking forward to in coming back to Singapore, was the chance of finding another first-class Mandopop artist on my outbound flight. And sure enough, after a couple of musical bubbleheads, I ran across Genie Chuo (卓文萱 Zhuó Wénxuān). The first song was good and edgy and angry; the second song was almost as good; the third song was not only very good, but also was melodic and contemplative and showed she had more than a rock string to her bow; in fact every song was enjoyable – though my hands-down favorite was the light-hearted and bouncy and irresistible #7. Instant note to self: go find that Genie Chuo album and buy it.

A couple of days later, armed with a local’s recommendation of “That CD Shop” in the Great World shopping center just a ten minutes’ walk from my hotel, I went off to buy my album. But, as you already know, budgetary disaster struck. The girls in the shop were exceptionally knowledgeable, and they rapidly (and accurately) extrapolated my tastes from the fact that I liked Genie Chuo and Stefanie Sun…and before I knew it, they were playing one artist after another on the store stereo for me, and I was liking all of them. In the end I bought Tanya Chua (to whose mellow but uncompromising and creative soft jazz feel I wound up listening even more than to Genie Chuo, and whom Helen already knew and liked), countertenor Xiao Ma (singing “traditional Chinese songs” at least one of which is the classic “Dance with Me” most recently covered in America by Michael Bublé, and another of which is a fantastic ’40’s swing take on the habanera aria from Carmen), aboriginal Taiwanese artist A-Mei (阿妹 Ā Mēi), young male crooner Aska Yang (楊宗緯 Yáng Zōngwěi), and Rainie Yang (楊丞琳 Yáng Chénglín). Not to mention Yo-Yo Ma jamming out as part of a bluegrass jazz quartet… Well. I’ve enjoyed them all very much, even the musically weakest of the group, which is Rainie Yang. She turns out (according to Wikipedia) to be more of a television personality and actress than a singer – it seems she is best known for having played one of the female leads in an eyebrow-raisingly graphic Taiwanese lesbian movie a few years back. Though I have to admit I have no idea what the Taiwanese bar for “eyebrow-raisingly graphic” is – for all I know, the movie would have been rated PG in California. (Remember Grady Nutt’s bit about watching a movie at Baylor University in the fifties and having the entire student body take instant delight in the fact that the university censors had failed to intercept a sex scene? He fondly remembered that right there up on screen in front of God ‘n’ everybody, the leading actor gave the leading lady a “smoldering gaze.” Censorship fail!! And THAT reminds me of a Baptist joke that, alas, can’t be told on this family blog; but if you don’t know why Baptists avoid a certain amiable activity while standing up, e-mail me and I’ll tell you.)

Unfortunately, that bouncy song #7 that I liked so much and wanted the lyrics to so that I could sing along with it…you know, my favorite song from the airplane? Turns out that the narrator in the song is an empty-headed teenager who is singing either to her parents, or else to a boyfriend who is a few years further along than she is in college and who is MUCH more responsible than she is…and her point seems to be along the lines of Britney Spears’s “Baby What You See Is What You Get” except rather more smart-alecky and irresponsible. I tried to translate it myself and was getting along pretty well until I got to the line, “天知道 我知道 谁杀了一只猫” – which seemed to me to mean, “Heaven knows, and I know, who it was that killed a cat.”

???????????!!!! Is this some sort of Taiwanese folk idiom, or what?

I passed the lyrics on to Helen, who basically said, “It’s a stupid song and the person singing it is stupid and irresponsible and I don’t like the song, and yes, the line about the cat, it means what you think it means, and no, it doesn’t really mean anything – it’s just a stupid song for stupid teenagers, and did I mention I don’t like songs like that?” That’s not an exact quote but it’s pretty much the gist. And I got a second opinion from another grown-up Mandarin speaker who agreed with Helen and said my translation was as accurate a translation as you could expect for a song that makes about as much sense as does your average bubble-headed teenage girl, which is clearly the target demographic for that particular song.

[pouting] Well, I don’t care, it’s still a fun song and I’ll sing it if I want to. [blows a raspberry]

你好不好 其实我不想知道
Nǐ hǎo bù hǎo, qíshí wǒ bù xiǎng zhīdào
Whether things are good with you or not, I don’t really want to know
我好不好 你也别来客套
Wǒ hǎo bù hǎo, nǐ yě bié lái kètào
Whether things are good with me or not, don’t come acting like you care
主角 配角 其实我不太烦恼
Zhǔjué, pèijué, qíshí wǒ bù tài fánnǎo
Starring role, supporting cast, I don’t really care that much
你了不了 我不屑比较
Nǐ liǎo bù liǎo, wǒ bùxiè bǐjiào
Whatever you understand or not, I don’t think it’s worth comparing
天知道 你知道 谁藏了一把刀
Tiān zhīdào, nǐ zhīdào, shéi cáng le yī bǎ dāo
Heaven knows, you know, who was hiding a knife
天知道 我知道 谁杀了一只猫
Tiān zhīdào, wǒ zhīdào, shéi shā le yī zhī māo
Heaven knows, I know, who killed a cat
别炫耀 别骄傲 做作不宜拿翘
Bié xuànyào, bié jiāo’ào, zuòzuo bùyí ná qiào
Don’t show off, don’t be conceited, you look stupid when you put on airs
快祈祷 快治疗 不然就等着逃
Kuài qídǎo, kuài zhìliáo, bùrán jiù děng zhe táo
Quick, say your prayers; quick, make the cure; or else you’re just waiting for me to run away
小心我会哇哇叫 让这【个】世界看热闹
Xiǎoxīn wǒ huì wāwā jiào, ràng zhè[ge] shìjiè kànrènao
Careful, I know how to weep and wail and give the public a good show
谁的完美能丢掉 天塌下来我也不鸟
Shéi de wánměi néng diūdiào, tiān tā xiàlai wǒ yě bù niǎo
Whose perfection can be thrown away, I could care less if the sky falls
小心我会哇哇叫 别说我不礼貌
Xiǎoxīn wǒ huì wāwā jiào, bié shuō wǒ bù lǐmào
Careful, I know how to weep and wail, don’t say I’m being rude
做自己 天经地义 真糟糕
Zuò zìjǐ tiānjīngdìyì – zhēn zāogāo
I make my own rules – too bad for you.
你罩不罩 我一点都不需要
Nǐ zhào bù zhào, wǒ yīdiǎn dōu bù xūyào
Whether you protect me or not, I don’t need anything at all
我瞧一瞧 难道怕你反咬
Wǒ qiáo yī qiáo, nándào pà nǐ fǎn yǎo
I take a quick look – could it be you’re afraid to bite back?
斤斤计较 只有你这麽无聊
Jīnjīnjìjiào, zhǐyǒu nǐ zhème wúliáo
Haggling over every little thing, you’re just so boring
你了不了 别搞我就好
Nǐ liǎo bù liǎo, bié gǎo wǒ jiù hǎo
Whether you understand or not, don’t give me a hard time
小心我会哇哇叫 让这【个】世界看热闹
Xiǎoxīn wǒ huì wāwā jiào, ràng zhè[ge] shìjiè kànrènao
Careful, I know how to weep and wail and give the public a good show
谁的完美能丢掉 天塌下来我也不鸟
Shéi de wánměi néng diūdiào, tiān tā xiàlai wǒ yě bù niǎo
Whose perfection can be thrown away, I could care less if the sky falls
小心我会哇哇叫 别说我不礼貌
Xiǎoxīn wǒ huì wāwā jiào, bié shuō wǒ bù lǐmào
Careful, I know how to weep and wail, don’t say I’m being rude
做自己 天经地义 真糟糕
Zuò zìjǐ tiānjīngdìyì – zhēn zāogāo
I make my own rules – too bad for you.
胡说八道 谁能受得了
Húshuōbādào shéi néng shòu déliǎo
You’re talking rubbish – who can stand such suffering?
莫名奇妙 你没你想的重要
Mòmíng, qímiào, nǐ méi nǐ xiǎng de zhòngyào
indescribable, amazing, you’re not as important as you think
无理取闹 我背地里笑
Wúlǐqǔnào, wǒ bèidìli xiào
Just being provocative, I’m smiling behind your back
你很老 你很老 你很老套
Nǐ hěn lǎo, nǐ hěn lǎo, nǐ hěn lǎotào
You’re so old, you’re so old, you’re so old-fashioned
小心我会哇哇叫 让这【个】世界看热闹
Xiǎoxīn wǒ huì wāwā jiào, ràng zhè[ge] shìjiè kànrènao
Careful, I know how to weep and wail and give the public a good show
谁的完美能丢掉 天塌下来我也不鸟
Shéi de wánměi néng diūdiào, tiān tā xiàlai wǒ yě bù niǎo
Whose perfection can be thrown away, I could care less if the sky falls
小心我会哇哇叫 别说我不礼貌
Xiǎoxīn wǒ huì wāwā jiào, bié shuō wǒ bù lǐmào
Careful, I know how to weep and wail, don’t say I’m being rude
做自己 天经地义
Zuò zìjǐ tiānjīngdìyì
I make my own rules…
啦啦啦啦啦啦 啦啦啦啦啦啦
La la la la la la, la la la la la la
啦啦啦啦啦啦 天塌下来也不鸟
La la la la la la tiān tā xiàlai wǒ yě bù niǎo
I could care less if the sky falls
小心我会哇哇叫 别说我不礼貌
Xiǎoxīn wǒ huì wāwā jiào, bié shuō wǒ bù lǐmào
Careful, I know how to weep and wail, don’t say I’m being rude
做自己 天经地义真糟糕
Zuò zìjǐ tiānjīngdìyì – zhēn zāogāo
I make my own rules – too bad for you.
真糟糕
Zhēn zāogāo
too bad for you

UPDATE: I did manage to find a live version on YouTube, though its primary effect is to make me think it’s a good thing there are music studios. Not exactly high-quality recording; the muddiness of the sound and the bad acoustics rob it of the light-hearted bouncy quality that’s what I really like about it. Besides, I think it’s a promo appearance for her new album, and she’s basically just mailing in some on-stage karaoke. The opening four syllables of each line require crisp staccato treatment, which is there on the album; but here she just sort of slurs her way through them. There is no band. She doesn’t even stay in character during the musical bridges but instead fills in the time by waving to people in the crowd and saying howdy to them so as not to be bored while she waits until it’s time to sing again. Just generally speaking a lazy performance. [sigh] I almost didn’t link it. But in the end I decided that you can sort of get a feel for the intent of the song, at least. I do promise you that on the CD she actually manages to hit the right pitch on the high note of “tiān-JING-dìyì” rather than just landing somewhere in the same register and calling it close enough…

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One thought on “In Which I Get Into a Spot of Trouble

  1. Pingback: In Which I Am Stubborn To No Avail | redneckperil

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