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"Ordinary World" by Lu Yao - Difficult Words and Phrases


Woodford
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As was suggested in a separate thread, I have started this new discussion about "Ordinary World" (平凡的世界) by Lu Yao. The book is somewhat easy in comparison to other books out there, but there are some parts that are a bit difficult to parse! If anyone is reading Ordinary World, has read it in the past, or just wants to flex their Chinese skills, feel free to jump in!


This is one notably confusing place, in the beginning of Chapter 8:

Sun Yuhou hears the voice of his brother, Sun Yuting, calling out to him, and he wonders why Yuting doesn't just go right up to his house and sit down for a visit, like he usually does, and dig some tobacco out of Yuhou's tobacco pouch. Then there's this odd line:

 

他热心公家的事,庄稼行里又不行,因此营务不起来旱烟,满年四季都是他供着。


It seems to say something like, "He (Sun Yuting) was enthusiastic about public affairs, whether the crops were doing well or not, therefore in the carrying out of his duties, he couldn't obtain tobacco; all year, all four seasons, the tobacco was all provided by him (Sun Yuhou)."


I think it's saying that Yuting was too busy to go get his own tobacco, so he would always get it from his brother, Yuhou? And the phrase 庄稼行里又不行 feels rather confusing, especially with the presence of 又 and 里. Not sure what function those two words are serving.

Ultimately, Yuhou learns that Yuting isn't approaching him because Yuhou's son-in-law has been imprisoned and sent to a labor camp for capitalist behavior, and Yuting doesn't want to be associated with it and dragged into it.


Another difficulty I've encountered is what exactly 二爸 and 二妈 would mean. There's no Pleco dictionary that features those words. I'm guessing it's a word for aunt and uncle. The author uses a few strange terms from his regional dialect, including a word that's apparently pronounced "gelao," meaning "corner." The "lao" part features a character that isn't even included in a lot of character sets.

Anyway, that's my contribution so far!

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  • Woodford changed the title to "Ordinary World" by Lu Yao - Difficult Words and Phrases

Yes, as Publius points out, it's saying he was not a good farmer/market gardener - busy on public/commune etc business, no good at growing crops, so never got his own tobacco plants going and the whole year round had to get his supplies off his brother.

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I think I was yet again bamboozled by the stealthy "hang" (行)! Of course, if my skills had been good enough, I should have been able to recognize it, even in the absence of a Pleco dictionary item for it (it has words like 银行, but not 庄稼行).  I think what further confused me was the immediate use of 行 as "xing" directly afterwards! Lastly, there's the tendency in Chinese (unlike English) to not repeat the pronoun--it just uses 他 once at the beginning.

As in most cases of misunderstanding in this book, I can get the overall gist (this person was always freeloading tobacco from his older brother, because he wasn't in a place to get it by himself), but occasionally, I miss out on the finer details. So I often feel like I'm understanding the story well enough, but not getting the full enjoyment.

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On 7/19/2022 at 9:47 AM, PerpetualChange said:

I have no idea what this post means. Care to elaborate?

 

I may or not be correct here, but I think 庄稼行 refers to his job in tending to the crops (literally, "crop industry"), and 不行 just means "not good." So the whole phrase should be rendered something like, "Furthermore (又), he wasn't good in (里) the crop-growing business." I mistakenly thought that the first and second occurrence of 行 were the same word ("xing," meaning "go" or "good" or "okay").

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On 7/19/2022 at 1:00 PM, PerpetualChange said:

Oh the things dictionaries can't tell you. 


I'm starting to get into the book, and I feel like I'll be growing more accustomed to Lu Yao's style, but one of the most difficult aspects of reading books like this one is encountering compounds (whether the correct compound here is 庄稼行 or 行里) that don't have Pleco definitions--or, as in this case, it isn't immediately clear which characters should be grouped together into which words. Granted, as my skills grow, I should be able to figure out the meanings myself, but sometimes it can be tricky.

 

It's an interesting experience, because I'm only acquiring one new vocabulary word once every 2-3 pages (so the book is rather low on vocabulary complexity), but there's a scattering of places like this one where I either have to ask about it here in the forums, or else shrug my shoulders and move on, because the Pleco dictionaries don't have anything.

 

I think patience ultimately pays off! I feel like the book will become more and more enjoyable.

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Two sentences that stumped me recently:

 

 

人活着七十,谁不为一口吃食?

Man living to 70, who would not have a bite of food?

 

 

你老人家没看见,你这个女婿精能着哩?

 

You old people haven't seen this son-in-law is really spirited?

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On 7/20/2022 at 7:05 AM, PerpetualChange said:

人活着七十,谁不为一口吃食?

Man living to 70, who would not have a bite of food?

This reads to me as something along the lines of, "Three score and ten years on the planet and basically it's all about scrabbling along and getting by." 为一口吃食 meaning getting enough to eat, obviously not something everyone could guarantee for most of history.

 

On 7/20/2022 at 7:05 AM, PerpetualChange said:

你老人家没看见,你这个女婿精能着哩?

"I say sirrah! Have you not noticed what a clever fellow this son in law of yours is!" Excuse the cod language, but 你老人家 is a direct address to one person "you, old fellow", 精能 is a thing: https://hanyu.baidu.com/zici/s?wd=精能

On 7/20/2022 at 7:13 AM, PerpetualChange said:

Also, what is 猫蛋 and 狗蛋?

:D I know the latter is dogshit, so presume former works same way.

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On 7/19/2022 at 6:13 PM, PerpetualChange said:

Also, what is 猫蛋 and 狗蛋?

It took me a moment to learn that those were the names given to the two children. I was originally thinking, “What??? Cat egg? Dog egg?” Some of the names and descriptions of the characters are really funny and not very flattering. It seems there’s a bit of humor in Lu Yao’s portrayal of country people.

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On 7/19/2022 at 6:05 PM, PerpetualChange said:

你老人家没看见,你这个女婿精能着哩?


This is another example of one of those compound words that aren’t in Pleco. I was able to guess the meaning of 精能, but only because I’ve seen a lot of other compound words where 精 takes on the meaning of “competent, clever, capable,” etc. Like 精通,精明,精悍,and 精壮, to name a few.

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It seems like the difficulty of the book has gone down significantly from Chapter 10 and onward, and things are going pretty smoothly! However, I have encountered two new puzzling spots:

 

1. The context is that a young man keeps coming over and visiting a young woman, and he talks endlessly. She's getting annoyed at all the little boring, mundane things he talks about. Then this: 她已听够了他那些沟里上洼里下的不上串话。 I'm not sure what the expression 沟里上洼里下 is supposed to mean, or the 不上 that's modifying 串话. Google Translate (which I use as a last resort, because it's often wrong) gives the reading, "She's had enough of his ramblings." That sounds right, and I suspected it meant something like that, but I'm not sure how it's right.

 

2. Later, this woman's mother tells her that she should marry this man, because he's the son of a wealthy family, his education/social status/career prospects are good, etc. After lavishing all this praise on the man, her mother then says, "你不听人家说,在咱们山区,方向盘一转,给个县长也不换!“ It seems to say something like, "Haven't you heard people say, 'In our mountain region, give the steering wheel a turn..." then something about a county magistrate and...not changing. Not sure if maybe the 给 here is being used in the sense of "give" or "for," or if it's being used like the passive voice particle, 被.

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I think your reading ability is higher than mine, but here's my two cents awaiting the pros.

 

1.  不上串 has an entry in MoeDict: "不成材料。比喻品性不端的人。" Surely 沟里上洼里下 is just another "heaven and earth" kind of thing, as in "rambling on about everything between heaven and earth" (if that is what you say in English, it's not my mother tongue).

 

2. To my brain, this sentence reads as "You're not hearing what I (or others?) say. In our (mountain) region, when the steering wheel turns, you won't even be able to marry a county magistrate.

 

I have zero knowledge about this book so my comment might be way off the mark, but it's good training for me as well.

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1. is as has been said a rural turn of phrase for going on and on about nothing in particular, with 不上串 here being and none of it related to the rest/ just a jumble of blather.

For 2. does mother mention he can drive as well, as it reads to me as saying a bloke who's got a driving job wouldn't swap it for a top government post i.e. being a driver is about as good as it gets in them thar hills.

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On 7/22/2022 at 10:06 AM, Insectosaurus said:

Surely 沟里上洼里下 is just another "heaven and earth" kind of thing, as in "rambling on about everything between heaven and earth" (if that is what you say in English, it's not my mother tongue).


That sounds about right! It seems to mean something like "this and that," "all sorts of things," "all over the place," etc. 

Your comment on #2 makes me think--I wonder whether the gist of the phrase is, "In a place like this, it's a rare opportunity to marry a rich person, so you'd better take the opportunity, because in an instant ("at the turn of a wheel"), it will be gone!"

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