Chinese New Year - Part 3


Hello! Chinese New year is coming! This year, the first day of Chinese New year lies on February 12, 2021, 2021 年[nin4]2 月[yut6]12號[hou6], Friday 星[sing1]期[kei4]五[ng5]. Like I mentioned last year, every year Chinese New Year falls on a different date of our current Gregorian calendar, because the Chinese New Year is following the Lunar Chinese Calendar, so the dates and how long each year is are slightly different from the Gregorian calendar we have nowadays.

Last year I talked about some of the traditions we do throughout the Chinese New Year. We also talked about how the Chinese New Year came about and the stories behind it. If you haven’t listened to those episodes, those were one of the first few episodes I have ever posted on this Podcast channel, you can go back to those 2 episodes if you are interested.

So in the month of February, I am going to spend 2weeks talking about Chinese New Year. This post I will talk more about some of the sayings to use during Chinese New year. Next week, you will hear a conversation of people going to visit friends and family during Chinese New Year. Fairly exciting, stay tuned.

To recap, during Chinese New Year, us as a cultural Chinese ethnic group will go and visit friends and family during Chinese New year, which this particular activity we call, 拜[baai3]年[nin4] During 拜[baai3]年[nin4] or even Chinese New Year, for sure you will see people if they are married or divorced handing out these red packets or pockets which we call 利[lei6]是[si6], basically they are little red envelopes that we usually put a bit of money in there to give out to people who are unmarried, like your niece and nephews, sometimes the security guard so they will keep a close eye on your home in the upcoming year, sometimes your subordinates, etc etc.

Apparently the term 利[lei6]是[si6] came from the term 利[lei6]市[si5], meaning beneficial or benefiting the market. Originally referred to the profits of trading. Slowly developed to become the meaning of luck or lucky. And 利[lei6]是[si6] also is pronounced the same as another term 利[lei6]事[si6], meaning beneficial or benefiting the event or issue, also meaning luck or things getting done smoothly.

So the red pockets or packets that contain money is called 利[lei6]是[si6], but the red envelope without the money itself is called 利[lei6]是[si6]封[fung1], 封[fung1] means a seal or as a verb to seal. So say for example, a regular envelope is also called a 信[seun3]封[fung1], literally as letter seal. On the other hand, the action of going to people’s place to visit and exchange these Chinese New Year good luck sayings and eventually getting the red pocket, the whole event is called 逗[dau6]利[lei6]是[si6]. 逗[dau6] (Dummy PY: Dow) means to tease as a verb. So really the activity or this event of 逗[dau6]利[lei6]是[si6] means to tease for red packets or pockets.

When you do go 拜[baai3]年[nin4] and you bring some gifts for the person you are visiting, they usually will give you a red pocket in return for your gift, this action is called 扎[jaat3]禮[lai5](Dummy PY: Jaat lai), usually just a small amount to compensate for the price of the gift. The reason why they do this is so then there is give and take and the loop will continue next year. Back then, people did usually give back actual gifts as return. Let’s say someone brought some oranges, then you would return some mandarin oranges in return. But most people just 扎[jaat3]禮[lai5](Dummy PY: Jaat lai) give red pockets/ packets in return nowadays. When we go 拜[baai3]年[nin4], because it is the Chinese New Year, we like to offer some sayings that wish people well. Last time I talked about some common ones, let’s recap quickly.

The most commonly used ones are:

恭[gung1]喜[hei2]發[faat3]財[choi4] - Gung Hey Fat Choy meaning “congrats on your wealth!”

Usually the first line goes 恭[gung1]喜[hei2]發[faat3]財[choi4] - Gung Hey Fat Choy meaning “congrats on your wealth!”, for for playful people, mostly kids or even playful adults they will continue saying after 恭[gung1]喜[hei2]發[faat3]財[choi4],

利[lei6]是[si6]逗[dau6]來[loi4]! Meaning the red pockets/ packets be teased to come. Meaning “give me your red pockets/ packets” in other words.

It’s just a playful thing to say, then usually the adults will start handing red pockets/ packets to the children.

新[san1]年[nin4]快[faai3]樂[lok6] - san nin fai lok meaning Happy new Year!

身[san1]體[tai2]健[gin6]康[hong1] - San tie geen hong meaning “Healthy bodies!” - Good health

Last year I talked about

鼠[syu2]年[nin4]大[daai6]吉[gat1]- shu nin dai gut - meaning “Rat year good luck!” The first 2 words 鼠[syu2]年[nin4] means year of the rat, the first character 鼠[syu2] indicates the year of the Chinese zodiac, and this year is ox 牛[ngau4], then you will say 牛[ngau4]年[nin4]大[daai6]吉[gat1]. Etc etc. Whichever year it will be, you will just substitute the animal with the first character.

I will teach you a couple more today. Next we have


this one is a good thing to say during the pandemic just like 身[san1]體[tai2]健[gin6]康[hong1] - San tie geen hong meaning “Healthy bodies!” - Good health. 出[cheut1]入[yap6]平[ping4]安[on1] literally means out in safety and peace, that is to say to go outside and coming home, I wish you safety and peace.

The next one we have is usually for ladies or people who care about their appearance.


青[ching1]春[cheun1] means young or youthful. 常[seung4] means always or usually. And 駐[jyu3] is a word that relates to the military, it means to station or to post. So basically to say, that youth will stay with them always.

For kids you can say


Meaning literally quickly grow in height and grow big. Meaning grow big and tall quickly or soon! 快[faai3] means fast or quickly, 高[gou1] means tall, 長[jeung2]大[daai6] means to grow up.

Another one that is good to say to kids is


Meaning literally school work improve, so very clearly wishing the kids to have progress in their studies. 學[hok6]業[yip6] means school work or studies, 進[jeun3]步[bou6] means improvement or progress.

The next one we have is similar, but for both adults and kids,


Meaning literally step step high rise, basically to say getting higher and higher every step of the way. So this one is for everyone in general, just wishing them progress in the upcoming year.

I just thought, since the Chinese New Year revolves around the 12 Chinese Zodiac, which are mostly animals 動[dung6]物[mat6]. We might as well talk about those. The Chinese zodiac, in Cantonese we call them 生[sang1/saang1]肖[chiu3], meaning literally birth look alike. It basically is to say that that particular zodiac or animal is what is similar or associated with you in terms of fate and all that, and your 生[sang1/saang1]肖[chiu3] Chinese Zodiac’s fate is all written in a book called 通[tung1]勝[sing1/sing3], which you can understand it as the Chinese divination guide book. This book is based on the Chinese Lunar Calendar and also was written based on the system of astrology. Oh by the way, have you ever heard of the story of how the 12 Chinese zodiac came about? Let me tell you the story right now and you can also learn all the animals that are in the 生[sang1/saang1]肖[chiu3] Chinese Zodiac. As most of us know already, the 12 Chinese Zodiac representing animals 動[dung6]物[mat6] are 鼠[syu2] rat, 牛[ngau4] ox, 虎[fu2] tiger, 兔[tou3] rabbit, 龍[lung4] dragon, 蛇[se4] snake, 馬[ma5] horse, 羊[yeung4] sheep, 猴[hau4] monkey, 雞[gai1] rooster, 狗[gau2] dog, 豬[jyu1] pig. But have you ever wondered why it is these particular animals that are representing the Zodiac? Why cats 貓[maau1]are not a part of it?

The legend goes, long time ago, Chinese people still did not have a way to calculate time, so they went to ask for help from the Jade Emperor 玉[yuk6]皇[wong4]大[daai6]帝[dai3], who was the deity that was overlooking the entire heaven. So the Jade Emperor 玉[yuk6]皇[wong4]大[daai6]帝[dai3] felt that humans 人[yan4]類[leui6] and animals 動[dung6]物[mat6] were the closest and if they were to quantify time based on animals 動[dung6]物[mat6], it would be the easiest for people to understand. But there were so many animals動[dung6]物[mat6], they had to choose only 12. So then on the day of the Jade Emperor 玉[yuk6]皇[wong4]大[daai6]帝[dai3]’s birthday, he decided to have an animal 動[dung6]物[mat6] river crossing competition, the first 12 that could arrive at the destination across the river would be the 12 animals that would be used to quantity time. Once the animals 動[dung6]物[mat6] heard the news, they were very excited.

The cat 貓[maau1]and the rat 老[lou5]鼠[syu2] originally were good friends. They were thinking that they were too tiny compared to other animals 動[dung6]物[mat6], and they were not very skilled in water, they were destined to lose. So the cat 貓[maau1] came up with a way to get the buffalo 水[seui2]牛[ngau4] to pick them up in the morning so they could get a head start, because the cat 貓[maau1] knew the buffalo 水[seui2]牛[ngau4] usually woke up before dawn. So the next morning, the buffalo 水[seui2]牛[ngau4] came to pick up the cat 貓[maau1]and the rat 老[lou5]鼠[syu2] as promised, they were even able to sleep in on the buffalo 水[seui2]牛[ngau4]’s back. The next thing you know, they were already almost at the finishing line. The rat 老[lou5]鼠[syu2] was cunning, it was not satisfied just being the first 3 of the animals 動[dung6]物[mat6]. It wanted to be the first. It came up with a way to distract the cat 貓[maau1] and the rat 老[lou5]鼠[syu2] pushed its friend into the river. The buffalo 水[seui2]牛[ngau4] noticed some weight was off its back but it was noticing other animals 動[dung6]物[mat6] were catching up so it quickened the pace instead. Right before the finishing line, the cunning rat 老[lou5]鼠[syu2] just jumped right off the buffalo 水[seui2]牛[ngau4]’s back and got to the finishing line before the buffalo 水[seui2]牛[ngau4]. So therefore in the order of the Chinese Zodiac 生[sang1/saang1]肖[chiu3], the rat 鼠[syu2] is ranked 1st, and ox 牛[ngau4] is second, and no cats 貓[maau1] involved.

Soon after the tiger 虎[fu2]emerged from the river, and the tiger was ranked the third. Next came a rabbit 兔[tou3]仔[jai2], then followed by the giant dragon 龍[lung4] descending from the sky. The Jade Emperor 玉[yuk6]皇[wong4]大[daai6]帝[dai3] was curious why the dragon 龍[lung4] which could fly was slower than a rabbit 兔[tou3]仔[jai2]. Turned out because the dragon 龍[lung4] is the “animal” that oversees the rain, so he was particularly responsible and had to go and manage a huge rain from the East, so it took him some time. Next, the horse 馬[ma5], goat 山[saan1]羊[yeung4], monkey 猴[hau4] or 馬[ma5]騮[lau1] and the rooster 公[gung1]雞[gai1] came running. Right before the horse 馬[ma5] crossed the finishing line, a snake 蛇[se4] came jumping out from the ground and got there before the horse 馬[ma5] did. Then came the goat 山[saan1]羊[yeung4], monkey 猴[hau4] or 馬[ma5]騮[lau1] and the rooster 公[gung1]雞[gai1]. They couldn’t swim so they all drifted on a piece of log together then ran once they got to the shore. Then the dog 狗[gau2] finally came. It should have gotten here sooner because it could run fast. But because the dog 狗[gau2] was naturally curious so it was spending too much time playing with the water at the river. So the dog 狗[gau2] got the 11th place of the Chinese Zodiac 生[sang1/saang1]肖[chiu3].

The competition was almost over, they all wanted to figure out who the last animal 動[dung6]物[mat6] that would make it. After a while, they heard the sound of a pig. By the way we say 葛[got3]葛[got3], instead of oink oink. For example, 瞓[fan3]到[dou3/dou2]葛[got3]葛[got3]聲[seng1], meaning so asleep that you snore. Basically saying someone is deeply asleep, even making sounds of snores. So therefore, they saw the pig 豬[jyu1] that made it to the finishing line. They were curious why the lazy pig 豬[jyu1] would come. The pig 豬[jyu1] came because it thought there was food. So the pig 豬[jyu1] made it to the 12th place of the Chinese Zodiac 生[sang1/saang1]肖[chiu3].

So then the Jade Emperor announced, “The 12 animals that made it to the Chinese Zodiac 生[sang1/saang1]肖[chiu3] are, in the order of 1st to 12th place, 鼠[syu2] rat, 牛[ngau4] ox, 虎[fu2] tiger, 兔[tou3] rabbit, 龍[lung4] dragon, 蛇[se4] snake, 馬[ma5] horse, 羊[yeung4] sheep, 猴[hau4] monkey, 雞[gai1] rooster, 狗[gau2] dog, 豬[jyu1] pig”

Then in the river, some furry figure emerged. It was the cat 貓[maau1], “I made it! What place am I?” “Nothing, you lost.” The Jade Emperor 玉[yuk6]皇[wong4]大[daai6]帝[dai3]said. The cat 貓[maau1] was enraged. It flashed its claws going after the rat 老[lou5]鼠[syu2], but The Jade Emperor 玉[yuk6]皇[wong4]大[daai6]帝[dai3] stopped the cat 貓[maau1]. Of course the cat貓[maau1] was not going to let the rat 老[lou5]鼠[syu2] go so easily.

Therefore, even though the rat 老[lou5]鼠[syu2] won the first place of the Chinese Zodiac 生[sang1/saang1]肖[chiu3], it still has to walk on eggshells even until today, worrying that the cat 貓[maau1] will eventually seek revenge. So therefore, the moral of the story is that even though revenge hasn’t come yet, but you have to worry about it everyday, that is the karma of doing things that are shameful or doing things that go against your own conscience.

Back then at school, we had to recite the order of the the Chinese Zodiac 生[sang1/saang1]肖[chiu3]. It goes like this in all Cantonese.


If it helps you, maybe you can also recite it. They are also 動[dung6]物[mat6] animals so they are good to know as well.


Story in Chinese about 12 Chinese Zodiac