Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Oh Yeah, Play Them Duì Bù Qǐ Blues - I Like That

As part of my recent fooling around with Chinese, I stumbled upon (via) this video of a song from the perspective of a struggling learner of Chinese. It's in Chinese, but the chorus (save in the final iteration, where it changes) translates as follows:
Sorry, my Chinese is not so good!
Really sorry
I don't understand what you're saying!
Sorry, my Chinese is not so good!
Really sorry
I just want to be friends!
(That's as given in the subtitles of the video). The pinyin lyrics (although without tones, so sort of crippled pinyin) can be found here, and the Chinese lyrics here. (Warning: both of those links open with automatic sound playing -- and not the song in question, either.)

I'm not quite sure what people who haven't taken Chinese as a foreign language, or been fooling around with Chinese on their own, will make of it -- it might not be at all funny or fun to Chinese-free English speakers (on the one hand) or native Chinese speakers (on the other). But for anyone who's spent time in the vast region in between those two places, it's highly recommended.

Getting information about the song and the band is a bit tricky, because the name of the band (Transition) is a very non-googleable word -- and if you manage to target it more precisely (perhaps by googling the name of the band as they always give it, first in English then in Chinese -- "Transition 前進樂團"), then you get a lot of pages in Chinese. So for the benefit of those who's 中文不好 (zhōng wén bù hǎo -- Chinese is not so good), I thought I'd give a bit of information & links that I managed to find.

First, the song. In the Roman Alphabet (which is as close as the title gets to English) it seems to be called Duì Bù Qǐ (which means "sorry"), but in Chinese characters the song seems to be called by its entire first line -- 對不起我的中文不好 (duì bù qǐ wǒ de zhōng wén bù hǎo -- Sorry, my Chinese is not so good). Presumably this is because calling the song just "對不起" would make it identical to a thousand other songs, whereas (in the Roman script verse) there aren't that many songs called "duì bù qǐ". Anyway, once again, the video is here. (I'm not going to embed it, because in general I find that doesn't work that well on this site -- so click through if you're interested). The band's official page has a page offering a free mp3 download of the song, but the user interface on the page is pretty bad; you have to go to what looks like the play bar of a video, but is actually a song under a jpg image, and use the button on the far right to either save as source (which is an mp4, I think, although it's not labeled as such) or as a quicktime movie (which isn't actually a movie, just a sound file). Basically, it's less a free mp3 than a really irritating scavenger hunt. TANSTAAFL, I guess.

(Incidentally, the video begins with a little dialogue which is not on the mp3. A person working at a store calls to one of the band members (in Chinese), "Hey, American, Hello!" And the band member replies, "I'm English". The rest I couldn't catch, but I think it was about a misunderstanding anyway.)

Second, the band. It's called, as noted above, Transition 前進樂團*. It's an English band, but seems to be based mainly (entirely? I'm not sure) in Taiwan, and it's fanbase seems to be more Chinese than British. That link goes to their official site, but the site is, as noted above, not great. They don't, for instance, have links to their albums, either to buy or sample, or any information on what they've recorded -- let alone useful extras like lyrics or an actual, honest-to-God introduction to the band (they have one, but it's poor). They also have an official facebook page, but honestly it's not all that much better -- fairly little information, and what there is is in Chinese. Their Wikipedia page is brief and out of date. Frankly, it's a pretty good lesson on how not to present your public face in the digital age (2011 version). The best source of info I've found on them is this (translated) article from a Taiwanese newspaper. The band is made up of two pairs of brothers (although, judging from their web site & videos, one of the four has now left), has done three albums, and now lives in Taipei.

The other song of theirs I've found so far that I like is a bilingual song called "Turn Me Around", which is done in collaboration with some musician named "Wing 羅文裕"**, about whom I've been able to find out nothing (even less information via English-language google*** -- but since he seems to be just a Chinese audience, it makes more sense than the equivalent situation with a British band). Anyway, click here if you want to hear it -- as far as I can tell, the band is not on iTunes nor Amazon, so I think youtube is the only way to hear them.

But mostly I recommend duì bù qǐ 對不起我的中文不好, at least to those who have ever expressed the sentiment.

* Google translate turns their Chinese name into "Forward orchestra", which this dictionary breaks down into "advance" (前进, qiánjìn) and "orchestra" (乐团, yuètuán) -- take with the usual boatloads of salt for trying to unearth meaning from such sources, and add salt.

** My best guess about "羅文裕" is that it's just a Chinese name, and has nothing to do with "Wing" -- "羅" is the traditional form of 罗 (luó), which is the twentieth most common Chinese surname. But again: salt, salt, salt.

*** The thin gruel I found: a few photos of him posted by the photographer; a brief reference in a post about another singer; a livejournal post that might have an album of his for (illegal?) download. That's it in English.

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