Recently an unnamed Aunt challenged her nieces and nephews to "get with the program and brush up on our Chinese language skills." Said Aunt then betrayed her old age by telling us to translate old school song lyrics. Below is her message of exhortation:
Translate the following song lyrics into Chinese, Cantonese first, then Toy San. Remember, it must be done with feeling. Please be prepared to recite (with feeling) your translations at the party for Baby E.
1. Love me tender, love me true.
2. I'm too sexy for my shirt.
3. Heavenly shades of night are falling, it's twilight time. Out of the mist your voice is calling, it's twilight time.
4. I want to hold your hand, and when I touch you I feel happy.
5. It's not unusual to want to be loved by anyone.
6. My my my my my my my baby, twist and shout.
7. Now the time has come to leave you. One more time let me kiss you, then close your eyes, and I'll be on my way. I'm leaving on a jet plane.
8. If I had a bell, I'd ring it in the morning; I'd ring it in the evening, all over this land.
9. Will the circle be unbroken, by and by lord, by and by.
10. It's now or never; come hold me tight. Kiss me my darling. Be mine tonight. Tomorrow will be too late. It's now or never. My love won't wait.
I decided to pick #2, "I'm Too Sexy For My Shirt", which was no problem since my command of the Cantonese dialect is MUY EXCELLENTE. However, I didn't know to translate "sexy". So I approached my good buddy T (a Chinese co-worker).
"T!" I said, "How do you say 'sexy' in Chinese?" We spoke Cantonese to each other on a regular basis, usually to ask how the other was doing or to snarl insults at one another. He paused for a moment.
"I'm not sure, there really isn't an exact translation for 'sexy'. Maybe I'll ask around," he replied.
"No problem," I said. A few days passed and T still hadn't gotten back to me. I bugged him about it again and he assured me he would have an answer by the end of the day. About an hour before I was about to leave work, I spotted T with the four other Chinese guys in the company. They were talking quietly amongst themselves.
"So," I asked them as I joined their group. "What is 'sexy'? Y'all have to tell me about the sexy, aiiiiiight?" There was a moment of stunned silence. A few in the bunch shifted uncomfortably. However, when they realized that I wasn't going to leave, they started debating the various possibilities of "sexy" in Chinese. When they came up with what they thought was a decent translation, I thanked them and went on my way.
I called my mom later that evening to chat and I mentioned my translation experience.
"Geez Mom, they were giving me these weird looks. What is up with that?" I complained.
"How old were they?" she asked.
"Probably in their late '30's and early '40's," I told her.
"Well if they are the old-fashioned type they tend to be pretty conservative. The idea of a younger woman asking about THOSE matters is not really done. Its like asking your dad about sex," she said.
"Oh," was all I could say.