Photos will have to suffice: Chinese zodiac silver notes from the Mint

When I first saw the 2016 Lunar Silver Notes of Fortune set on the Canadian Mint website, I was floored. It is so pretty. It being a complete and colourful set, it would count as Chinese art for my place that is truly unique.

You can make a one-time payment of $479.40 and receive the whole set at once or go the subscription route and receive one per month and be charged $39.95 each time. I opted for the one-time payment instead of keeping track over 12 months what I had received but after Christmas and upon evaluation of my finances and what is truly important, I decided to cancel my order.

I will simply have to enjoy the photos. :-)

Each creature is depicted in a different artistic style which isn’t altogether that pleasing to some people – including myself – and, to be honest, I don’t enjoy all of the styles equally. I think only Rat, Ox, Rabbit, Snake (!!), Sheep, Monkey and Boar are pleasing but not the rest.

Photos will have to suffice: Chinese zodiac silver notes from the Mint

Te amo: a lullaby that inspired a multi-language translation

When I was a regular at Baby Storytimes at the library – such a great resource! – in 2016, I learned this sweet lullaby named “Yo te amo”. The librarians taught the version which is the three verses you hear in the YouTube video, which included “I love you” in Spanish, French and English.

But I know more French than just “Je t’aime”, I took German in high school and there was also Chinese to incorporate. So here I’ve transcribed all of the lyrics I sing to E.

Te amo, te amo
All day long I’ll sing this little song to you
Te amo, te amo
Darling, I love you

Je t’aime, je t’aime
Toujours je chant ce petite chanson avec vous
Je t’aime, je t’aime
Bébé, je t’aime

I love you, I love you
All day long I’ll sing this little song to you
I love you, I love you
Darling, I love you

(all in Mandarin except underlined, which is in Cantonese)
我愛你, 我愛你
我愛你, 我愛你
寶寶, 我愛你

Ich liebe dich, ich liebe dich
All day long I’ll sing this little song to you
Ich liebe dich, ich liebe dich
Darling, I liebe dich

Te amo: a lullaby that inspired a multi-language translation

Alphabet flashcards for the (hopefully) bilingual toddler

This post’s title reminds me the Chinese version of the ABC song that I recently learned of (YouTube link). Of course, I want to learn it and comment about it a blog post.

But for now… NPY has stepped up in incorporating educational elements when he is entertaining E and it’s awesome. It’s not all in Chinese (not awesome) but we are having fun nonetheless training the little kid.

On his room’s door I have hung since he was an infant a wooden “E” plaque and NPY seems to have trained E to say, “eee” when he sees it. Except, he also says, “eee” when he see a “5” or “3” or “7”. Thus came about NPY’s suggestion that we teach him the first few letters and my eager response.

In Google Slides, I created “flashcards” with a joyful and colourful letter (in Cabin Sketch) alongside with an object that starts with that letter. The images I pick are relevant to the toddler experience and hopefully not confusing as he learns the difference between what is English and Chinese. (And if he is confused at the start, I’m not worried – I’m happy with getting the most Chinese into him and he’ll figure it out.)

I have only created about half the letters so far because his consonants aren’t complete anyhow and just the first five letters is quite a bit to absorb. Here is an example of my “bilingual alphabet”.

  • A is for apple
  • B is for ball or “bo bo” (Chinese for ball)
  • C is for cat
  • D is for “dan dan” (Chinese for egg)
  • E is for E!
  • F is for flower or “fah fah” (Chinese for flower)
  • G is for “gong gong” (Chinese for grandfather that is the mother’s father)
  • H is for happy or “hoi sum” (Chinese for happy)

Alphabet flashcards for the (hopefully) bilingual toddler

Survey of the 18-month-old’s vocabulary

At E’s recent 18-month appointment, his family doctor quickly went through a questionnaire to assess his developmental milestones – he passed with flying colours. I got stumped on how many words he says. On the order or 20? 30? And – more interestingly, how many of them are Chinese.

I can’t be too disappointed because I know that a lot of consonants and sounds he doesn’t have yet. And when he does, we better watch out!

The stats –
40 words
– 16 English (E)
– 16 Chinese (C)
– 8 Neither (X)

– “Hi” / hi (E)
– “Nie” or “No” / no (E)
– “Bye” and “Buh-bye” / good-bye (C)
– “Wow” / “that is cool” (E)
– “More more” / “I want more” (E)
– “Poe poe” / “Please carry me” (C)
– “Da” / “Please let me down” (E)
– “Uh oh” / “Uh oh” (X)
– “Muah!” / giving you a kiss (X)
– “Dang Doo” / “thank you” (E)
– “Bop!” / “pop!” (X)

– “Ma ma” / mom (C)
– “Ba ba” / dad (C)
– “Ye ye” / grandfather – father’s dad (C)

– “Bo bo” / balls, balloons, spherical objects (C)
– “Boo bo” / football – we find this one hilarious (E)
– “Che che” / car (C)
– “Dan dan” / bicycle (C)
– “Whee!” / slide (X)
– “Boo-k” / book (E)
– “Ta” / star (E)
– “Ya ya” / flower (C)
– “Buh-boe” / bubble (E)
– “Shees” / shoes (E)

– “Nai nai” / milk (C)
– “Joos” / juice (E)
– “Zeez” / cheese (E)
– “Nana” / banana (E)
– “Bao bao” / bread (C)
– “Dan dan” / egg (C)

– “Wo wo” / dog (C)
– “Mao mao” / cats and bears (C)
– “Moo” / cow (X)
– “Nei” or “Ma mah” / horse (C)
– “Ba ba” or “seep” / sheep (E)
– “Roar” / lion (X)
– “Duck!” / ducks and other birds (E)
– “Yu yu” / fish (C)

Brand name
– “Moe mo” / Elmo (X)
– “Why why” / Wild Kratts (X)

Survey of the 18-month-old’s vocabulary

On raising a bilingual child

I think that while I’ve wanted to write about this subject, I have had a difficult time getting started because it seems like a constantly but imperceptibly evolving subject. I fear that I need some kind of conclusion to a blog post and this is just ongoing. So I’ll just talk about how it has been so far.

Simply put, for as long as I could remember, I knew I would speak exclusively Chinese to my child. There’s no “ifs ands or buts” given the way I was raised and the pride I have in being able to speak what I can speak. I observed and eavesdropped as friends who started having kids five years ago spoke to their children. I listened for their accents, admired their determination and wished that my own child would respond as obediently as their children do. If they could do it – and some have thicker accents than I imagine myself to have – then I can do it, too.

But as D Day drew near last year, I wondered if I would execute it. Despite living in Vancouver and feeling in many aspects in my life surrounded by Chinese people, I don’t actually use it often: I don’t exclusively or often shop at the Chinese grocers, I don’t often talk to my mother or see the MIL, and NPY and I speak perfect and exclusively English to each other. Would I shy away from my intentions in self-consciousness?

It turns out that I spend a lot of time alone with the child and since what I say is a narrow set of words (to start), it’s not hard to speak exclusively Chinese to him. We often take videos of E and sometimes in them, I am speaking to him. I’m so picky whenever I hear my mistakes, but I am speaking to him in Chinese.

I attended a couple of Infant Communication sessions at the parent-infant classes and they made me wonder if I had made the right choice. In the first session I attended, the counsellor who lead the discussion advised us to use the language “closest to your heart”. I’d like to think that is Chinese but I might be forcing it and it ought to be English given my proficiency and love of writing. In any case Chinese does qualify as being “close to my heart” so I felt justified. In the second session I attended, a different counsellor advised that we use our “best language” with baby and unfortunately that would be English for me. I was reminded of what I fear, that my limited Chinese will limit E’s language development. For example, am I limiting E’s language ability because I only know one or two words that express “happiness” in Chinese but know about 10 in English? Would I be so fancy when talking to him to say such words as “joy” and “content” anyhow?

I give him all that I can give.

I started from the moment I met him, partly because I was afraid that if I started in English, I wouldn’t be able to switch. NPY is of the opposing belief that it didn’t matter when E was a newborn or infant. Now that he is a toddler, NPY is trying harder, but it is not exclusively Chinese because he’s not comfortable with it and that disappoints me.

I wanted NPY to bring the Mandarin component since I can’t. The way things are going right now, Cantonese will be even more marginalized but it is still vital to link the speakers to others of the population who know it. It connects a community that is proud, the one that paved the way for the rest of the Chinese population in Canada. But, practically and educationally, Cantonese is kind of useless. It twigs on me that I can’t give E Mandarin, the language that will pave the way to opportunities, that people learned to assimilate. It bugs me that E won’t get it from either of his parents and it is my MIL who can take credit for it.

Which is exactly why I am not explicitly requesting that MIL – who can speak English, Cantonese and Mandarin – conducts an exclusively Mandarin programme. That would acknowledge her knowledge and I won’t do it. E will attend Chinese school that all children despise and learn from the ground up and I will be enthusiastic and tutor him.

And now we come to this point when he is 13 months old and no longer in my care 100% of the time. For two days a week, he spends business hours with his grandparents and he learns whatever they speak. For two days a week, he is at daycare and that is exclusively English exposure. And for three days a week – greater than the 33% guidelines – he is with us and I speak to him in Chinese. There is a hope it sticks but now that we are approaching the time when he will say his first words, I do wonder if it will be Chinese.

I observed that my friends were doubling up their Chinese words, like it is more difficult for children to use the proper name and it is more appealing to a child to give it a “nickname” that is the word repeated. “E, would you like some 奶-奶 or 水-水? And then read a 書-書?” You don’t hear in English parent’s saying to a child, “Would you like some milk-milk? And then read a book-book?” And certainly not, “Would you like some water-water?” Why is that? I swore I wouldn’t do that but there I go.

My final opinion is this statement: My mother is first-generation Canadian and while she knows English well enough that I could speak English to her and she understands, she continued to speak only Chinese to me and my sister and I benefited from that. I am second-generation Chinese so there is that natural loss of the language ability and E is third-generation Chinese. And a boy. He’s going to rebel either from the very beginning or at some point. And that is natural and I accept it.

On raising a bilingual child

August 2016 update

Aside from the post I just published about Chinese calendar web tools, which was essentially me flushing my Drafts and it was an easy one, I haven’t blogged here in nearly a year! Amazing how time flies and it certainly reinforces that I need to make some domain name changes (i.e., next year I won’t renew this .com domain but move to .ca or I might give it up altogether and this blog will be a subdomain of another blog, etc.).

After all, I still like this moniker which is uniquely me. I haven’t heard of it from anyone else and it is also a sign of my times, too, as I don’t think “Catch Star” is that often used any longer. Chinese slang has evolved since the ’90s and there’s some other term for us probably.

In any case, to catch you up on the past 11 months….


Since November 2015 and now, I visited Toronto and Halifax twice, in November 2015 and April 2016. Dining in Toronto during each trip was heavily skewed towards Asian food but I didn’t have the time or sufficient material to split off the Asian dining.

Oh, and we went to Portland in July 2016 and what Asian food we had was anything but Chinese!


I just looked at my 2015 recap and all four Asian-American novels I read are Ian Hamilton’s Ava Lee installments. Funny. It was that kind of year!


Here’s the biggie. As intimated three posts ago, I reproduced (had a child). Running up to that eventful day, I had lots of disagreements in my head with elders about what I should do, coming up against superstitions galore. Long story short, I still think the superstitions are a bunch of hooey and hate to even give them a brain cycle’s attention. After E was born, yet more traditional customs were foisted on me including confinement and the confinement diet. Long story short, I didn’t need to be confined as I didn’t want to go anywhere and I’m grudgingly accepting that the food that was prepared for me was convenient and it was in my interests to comply.

Then there’s this lifelong project we have now taken on to raise E. Eep. I haven’t gathered together my thoughts about the language thing so, among other reasons, I have not blogged about it. Further, it’s an evolving matter anyhow. And long ago, I created a category called “Parenting a 3rd Gen’er”. It’s a lousy name I should change. So a post that has been kicking around my head is to state my expectations.

Finally, reproducing and having a third demographic in the household just opens up the can of worms that is shopping for both materials and services. The former might not be so relevant to this blog but the latter, as I seek supplementary educational services, is.


And… this template is so drab. I should find a new one.

August 2016 update

Chinese calendar web tool

Last year, NPY’s birthday on the Gregorian calendar fell on the same date as his birthday on the lunar calendar. According to MIL, and quite incredible to NPY, this is the first time it has happened in 38 years. She doesn’t have to check really since NPY’s birth date fell on a festival day she observes every year so she can easily tell if the two dates ever coincided.

So it made me wonder if it just so happens that next year my “Western birthday” and “Chinese birthday” happen to coincide and they do!

And to thoroughly check, I looked back on all of the years using a web tool. It’s a lot of years to check… I found that my birthdays coincided once before in 1997.

Chinese calendar web tool

Heritage speakers

“Why It’s Easier for Children to Become Bilingual”
“Meaty Middle” of Grammar Girl podcast episode #482
– Written by Syelle Graves, read by Mignon Fogarty

[emphasis are my own]

Many people all over the world spoke one language at home and then a different one at school, as young children. Because both languages were technically acquired in that critical period, we (and these speakers themselves!) expect them to be balanced bilinguals. However, this is rarely the case, because language dominance will occur quickly, especially if the speaker does not attend a bilingual school, or learns to read and write only in the community language. Also, if speakers don’t have other types of exposure, like regular travel to a country where they can become immersed in the other language, the school language can take over.

Linguists often refer to these bilinguals as “heritage speakers.” Heritage speakers may understand that home language better than they produce it, or, have “no accent” yet not know very basic vocabulary. The more fluent in the school language that these speakers’ parents are, the more likely the children are to lose their home language because children quickly figure out that their parents understand the school or community language. Then, their brains “resort” to the community language, in order to save resources and communicate more expediently. Heritage speakers come in many different levels of fluency, but all possess a rich and special familial and cultural connection to the home language. It can be helpful for these folks to understand that it is totally normal to default to a dominant language, and to realize how challenging it can be to maintain two languages throughout one’s life, when both languages aren’t necessary.

Heritage speakers

Chinese name numerology and other considerations

My paternal grandfather, 爷爷, gave me my Chinese name. He also named my sister and two male cousins. While it is not the case in other families, my male cousins and my sister and I share the same generational name, the second character.

I’ve always liked my Chinese name. My surname means camel and it is fairly uncommon. It even has as a radical, the character for horse (馬), which is my Chinese zodiac sign. The more popular surname that sounds the same is , which means happiness. The second character, as mentioned above is the generational name that ties my name with my sister’s and my cousins’, 文, means literary and I like to think that it comes from the artistic side of my late grandfather who passed away when I was just four or five years old. The unique part of my Chinese name is the last character, 慧. It is half of the common word for wisdom, 智慧, and I guess means wisdom on its own, too. Besides appreciating having a solid name meaning wisdom, perhaps I also like the character because its pronunciation starts with a “w” sound like my first name.

I’ve always liked my Chinese name and have been saddened – in the height of my identity crisis a couple of decades ago – it wasn’t used by anyone. My maternal grandparents referred to several of their twelve grandchildren by their Chinese names but not me and my sister. I wonder now if my mum didn’t want to use the name that her in-laws gave. Or she was so “modern” that she made her parents work with our English names.


My MIL named her three children and she also came up with the Chinese names for her five nieces and nephews who carry her maiden name. Since I was named by my grandfather, I thought it would be a patriarch’s domain (i.e., her father’s) but if she displays the most interest in it, why not let her?

I gather that of her children and nieces and nephews, I’m the one who displays the most interest in this subject and I also have the most background knowledge. It is not merely that she is naming my future child, but that is certainly a factor in my interest!

At first, MIL was pulling together names she liked, counting the number of strokes in the characters and guessing what would be auspicious. But then she dug out the naming book from her storage room packed full straight from a Hoarders episode and guided me through the process. Now, I can look things up and cobble together a name with the correct strokes to be auspicious… but I can’t read the fortunes associated with the numbers!

Here is Chinese name numerology and determining a Chinese name in a nutshell:

  1. Count the strokes in the surname and find the page with the charts for that number of strokes (first image below – page on the right)
  2. Select one of several sets of stroke counts that are determined to be auspicious in every way, e.g., 15-stroke surname matched with 9-stroke generational name and 7-stroke unique name (first image below)
  3. Select from the pages listing characters based on stroke count your generational name and unique name keeping in mind (a) the characters are appropriate for the sex of the child and (b) the elements associated with each of the characters (fire, water, earth, air) are compatible with the other characters selected (second image below)

Here is the process of reading the numerology of a Chinese name:

  1. Add up total strokes in the name – is that a lucky number?
  2. Add up the total strokes in first two characters – that number is associated with your early life fortune
  3. Add up total strokes in the last two characters – that number is associated with later life fortune
  4. Add 1 to total strokes in last character – is that a lucky number?
  5. Are the elements (fire, earth, water, air) associated with each character compatible – e.g., water extinguishes fire and they should not be together.

In the case of my name above, the total strokes for all three characters is 35 and this is a good number, denoted in the book with a circle. MIL read the fortune to me and I can’t remember it all but it was acceptable. (And what if it wasn’t??) Then we added the strokes to determine my early life fortune and later life fortune, neither of those numbers, 20 and 19, are lucky, marked with an “x”. MIL is not a master interpreter and reassured me the entire number is good and that’s all that matters!

Further, my surname has a “fire” element which is okay with the “earth” element of my generational name. But the third character is a “water” element that clashes with the fire but we’ll shrug that off, too.

Then, aside from the numerology calculations, to help you narrow down from the still large number of possibilities, there are personal considerations:

  • What would be their nickname and do I like it? Mine would have been 慧慧 (“Weiwei”) which is not bad.
  • We prefer a softer sound name that has fewer hard consonants.
  • Simplistically, we want something “easy to write” but it’s not as simple as that. I want a name that is beautiful to write, a name that does not necessarily have fewer strokes but is constructed such that it’s not too difficult to write it tidily. That is, there are some characters where if I’m not careful (or even if I am), it comes out lopsided – top-heavy or not balanced. It is the part of my name that couldn’t be helped, but I don’t think I write my surname beautifully, especially not the component on the right side. And my generational name is a little too simple – I always feel it looks awkward when I’ve written it.
  • How does it all sound together in Mandarin and in Cantonese? This is, of course, the most subjective. I don’t naturally know what sounds good and I came to accept my Chinese name fully only when I learned how it shows up in some HK singers’ names either the exact same character or homophones: Karen Mok (莫文蔚,”rhymes” with my whole name), Sammi Cheng (鄭秀) and Kelly Chan (陳琳).

So, MIL came up with a generational name: . I’m not previously familiar with this character and find it tricky to pronounce and until I get the hang of it, I might say it wrong! It’s also a bit of a balancing act to right the character, ensuring it has a solid enough base. The character was first defined to me as “handsome/pretty” and I was resistant. I’m not sure I wanted a physical attribute to be part of the name. But it also means “talented” so I’ll take it.

Then, MIL presented me with the options for the unique part, the third part of the name:

  1. A word I already know and means “accomplish, success, mature”.
  2. This was defined to me as “protect” and I quite like that attribute but found the character too simple.
  3. MIL really liked this one and told me it meant “great” and the dictionary agreed, adding “magnificent”. NPY and I didn’t like how it sounds as a nickname “宏仔”. Further, the whole name sounded flaky to me – “handsome” + “great” – so I resisted.
  4. 賢 (贤) This was defined to me as “composed” but the dictionary says “virtuous” and I quite like it but NPY didn’t. This is one complex character to write but that simplified version is ugly.
  5. I know this name from male HK singers Andy Lau (劉德華) and Alex To (杜德偉) and it means “morality, kindness”. Unfortunately, it sounds like “duck” in Cantonese and we’re so Anglophone we don’t like it or its associated nickname “德仔”.

While we are keeping the English name under wraps because – who knows, it might change – it’s different with his Chinese name. A Chinese name is full of calculation (literally!) so I feel like I can share it. It’s more of a “prediction”, a statement, than something that NPY and I have privately enjoyed as “our little secret” for several months.


Interestingly, MIL found that, just as in English, boy names were harder than girl names to find. Also, this name will set the precedent for any other child we might have and the one(s) NPY’s brother has in the future.

We also know that we won’t be putting the Chinese name on the birth certificate. This is the stance NPY’s family took for the three siblings. Meanwhile, both my sister and I have our Chinese names as part of our legal names. There’s an argument for both avenues. NPY and his siblings never had to deal with spelling out their Chinese names the way I did and the horrid spelling my parents selected. But I find it a little sad their Chinese names are not at all a part of their life, not used by grandparents either. So, when I asked NPY which way we’d spell the name, using Pinyin or Wade-Giles, he was seriously baffled. He had never “spelled out” his own name before, never needed to. We concluded that, if forced, it would be spelled the Cantonese way to match his Cantonese surname and neither of us are fond of the “zh”, “x” and “j” so prevalent in Pinyin!

It’s one thing to look up the fortunes for my early life (past) and whole life (going on) but then it started to feel like we were predicting/setting a life on earth not yet begun! Wild! And cannot be taken overly seriously. :P

Chinese name numerology and other considerations

Chinese seals and typefaces

Once upon a time, a Chinese seal was lovingly made for me. My late aunt carved it in a block of stone but part of one character (the “E”) she mistakenly carved backwards so I couldn’t ever use it.

For my next crafty project, I needed to look up my name in a particular “font” or “script” I what even are the names of different typefaces you see?

In my search, I came upon the Chinese Seal Generator and my quest is satisfied.

Actually, while I put in my Chinese name to trial the typefaces, I will need to look up the giftee’s name. Finding the Chinese Seal Generator website, in any case, is a good start.

Since no typeface names were given for each style that was available, I have – tongue-in-cheek – given them my own names below.

First row
Fat Brush Script
Your Dad’s No-Nonsense Handwriting
Calligraphy Handwriting
Chinese Arial

Second row
Chinese Hieroglyphics
Chinese Seal Typeface (the typeface I was looking for)
Chinese Comic Sans
Handwriting with a Pen

Third row
Chinese Newspaper (a.k.a. Bolded Impact Typeface)
Elegant Cursive Albeit Simplified Chinese
Comedic Movie Title Typeface
Chicken Scratch Typeface

Fourth row
My Rudimentary Ridgidly Upright No Personality Whatsoever Typeface
Chinese Reader Typeface

Chinese seals and typefaces