Childhood games

Discussions on the Hokkien (Minnan) language.
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Childhood games

Post by SimL » Thu May 16, 2013 1:00 am


Ah-bin asked me what a "chiū-leng-chí" was.

I told her, and in that telling, I was inspired to give her lots more information about them.

As regular readers of this Forum probably realise, I enjoy sharing these sorts of "childhood memories" with people. Not just for the nostalgic act of remembering and sharing, but also to record "sociological behaviour" which might no longer be current / no longer be known by present generations.

I'd be interested to know if these things are still commonly done.

So, I decided to share my explanation to Ah-bin with the readers of this Forum (slightly edited and added to). Here it is:

"chiū-leng-chí" is simply a "rubber seed" 籽. They are about the size of horse-chestnuts (perhaps slightly smaller). Like horse-chestnuts, they are also quite nice to look at - not anywhere as shiny as horse-chestnuts, but still, they have quite a nice "grain" to them. They are light brown, and have a shell of (from memory) about 1 mm, and are hollow inside (with the actual "seed" rattling sort of loosely inside...?). Around a rubber tree there will be any number of them lying around on the ground (perhaps only at certain times of the year - I'm not sure any more).

They are an important part of a Malayan boy's childhood (certainly in the 1960's and 70's) because of the following 3 aspects:

1. There is a "game" of "Whose rubber seed is stronger?"

Two little boys (it's mostly boys who do these competitive things outside, in nature) - say "A" and "B" - will each take/have his own rubber seed. They will "challenge" one another. So, "A" will place his rubber seed on any hard flat surface (e.g. the ground, a table, a cement block, the top of a low wall, etc). And "B" will place his rubber seed directly above it. Then, "B" will give the top of the upper rubber seed (i.e. his seed) a short, sharp tap or bang, either with the palm of one hand or with one fist, while holding the two seeds in place with his other hand. The boy whose seed cracks / breaks is the loser; the boy whose seed remains whole is the winner.

I have a vague memory that it was usually the bottom seed which cracked, and the top seed which stayed whole, so it was a bit of a silly game. But still, kids in the pre-Internet / pre-PlayStation age did these sorts of things!

2. There is a naughty prank of "giving the other boy a burn" with a rubber seed.

In this prank, "A" will take a rubber seed and rub it vigorously and quickly back and forth over a rough hard surface (e.g. a wall, a big rock or brick, or unsmoothened concrete floor). This friction will cause the point of contact on the rubber seed to become quite hot. "A" will then quickly touch the rubber seed to "B's" leg or arm.

Of course, it's not a nice thing to do, but you know how boys are. It gives a very mild stinging burn. It doesn't cause any real damage, and the pain is no more than from an injection, or from the "zap" which one gets from static electricity, when one walks across a shaggy carpet and then touches a (metal) surface. So, the point is more to give one's friend a "fright", than to cause any real harm. The "victim" usually reacts with nothing more than amused annoyance.

[One of the reasons that one can never really burn one's victim seriously, is that it takes about 8-10 hard backwards and forwards motions across the surface to get the rubber seed hot enough to burn your potential victim. This vigorous action will usually be seen and heard by him, so he will have time to run away, or push your hand away, etc. All this means that the rubber seed isn't really that hot, by the time it touches the victim. It's only if your friend is distracted, talking to someone else, and you get a chance to really make the thing hot without him noticing, that it will give a burn. And even then, as I said, not really a serious one.]

3. They are used as ammunition in catapults.

This third is a very minor use. The seeds are quite large (so they don't fit into the smaller catapults), and quite light (so they don't fly very effectively). But they can be used, and they do fly a bit, so this is one of the things one did with rubber seeds!
Last edited by SimL on Wed May 22, 2013 4:38 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Childhood games

Post by FutureSpy » Thu May 16, 2013 8:03 am

Thanks for sharing your memories, Sim. I enjoyed reading them very much, so please keep them coming :mrgreen:

Being raised in a big city, I was never allowed to play outdoors. :lol:
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Re: Childhood games

Post by SimL » Thu May 16, 2013 3:10 pm

Hi FutureSpy,

Glad you enjoyed reading the posting - I certainly enjoyed writing it :P.

When I saw that you had responded (before opening up the topic), I suddenly thought to myself "Hey, of course! Rubber trees COME from Brazil! (I hadn't thought of this when posting the topic originally.) I wouldn't be surprised if FutureSpy had similar games, or other very different ones."

And then it turns out that as a city boy, you never had anything like that... Haha!

[Actually, I'm a city boy too - Penang is the second largest city in Malaysia, after the capital, KL. But still, there were always - in my youth at least - patches of deserted wasteland around the place (like behind our house), or school grounds with lots of trees and grass and bushes. So, I spent lots of time climbing high up into trees, roaming around in swamps, wading through rivers, etc.]

PS. shows some rubber seeds. They are even more "mottled" and prettier than I remember them.
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Re: Childhood games

Post by Ah-bin » Fri May 17, 2013 4:02 pm

FutureSpy wrote:Thanks for sharing your memories, Sim. I enjoyed reading them very much, so please keep them coming :mrgreen:
I second that!
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Re: Childhood games

Post by niuc » Thu May 23, 2013 10:56 pm

Hi Sim

As usual, I also enjoy reading your sharing very much. :mrgreen:

I never played with "chiū-leng-chí" as a young boy. Btw, from what I know, 奶 in Hokkien can be "ni / ne / lin / ling / leng". My variant has the first three pronunciations with different usage:
1. "lin" usually means milk, e.g. "gûlin" for cow's milk, "lânglin" for (human) breast milk.
2. "ne" usually means breast.
3. "ni" usually means rubber or plant sap, so "chiū-leng" is "chiū/tshiū-ni" in my variant.

My mom said that there was a small rubber plantation in Bagansiapiapi, near my maternal grandparents' house. However when I was born, my "guākong" had passed away and my "guāmàh" had moved to Belawan with my "akū". Therefore the house had been sold and we seldom went to that area. I have never visited the plantation, and in fact my mom is not sure whether it was still there at that time.

Back then, my childhood games usually were:
A. Hide and seek.
B. Cartoon cards. One of the way to play these was like poker and the one getting the most matching series won. The other way was to put one card on hand and slap again the other and let the two cards falling down. The card with picture facing up won. Another card game was monopoly.
C. "Caúsaliàp" (may be should be "caúsaliàh") where everyone would do "scissor paper stone" and the loser would chase all other until he could catch one of them and passed him the chaser role. This was played in open and big area, usually including the whole neighborhood.
D. "Thiⁿkonghuē" (fiddle crab) & "chìlêr" (hermit crab). I think we had a thread about this in this forum. I and my hometown friends also liked to catch "amui" (tadpoles), but usually released them after a while, before they became frogs. O yeah, also "cháuní" (grasshopper), "chân'iⁿ" (dragonfly), "ângthâng" (red millipede), "kimku" (ladybird) etc.
E. Occasionally boys would join the girls in playing skipping rope (thiaùsó).
F. There was a game (I don't remember whether we gave it a name) where two boys would hold hands while sitting or squatting, thus forming a fence. The others had to jump across their hands without touching them and then stood still in their landing position, also without touching anyone. The one who failed to find a spot to jump across or touched anyone would replace one of the "fence boys".
G. We also liked to roll an unused bicycle or motorbike's wheel and jumped over it.
H. My cousins' family sold one type of Bagan style Hokkien noodles called "kérmi", so they had many tables. Their business was open from late afternoon till pass midnight. So in the morning the tables were not used. Sometimes we would arrange them around their home (Taoist) altar and then some took turn to be "deities" sitting on the tables and others "worshippers". On other occasions we played church service and used "sianca'phìⁿ" (haw flakes) as "holy communion".
I. There were "seasons" when we really enjoyed playing "cuíchìng" i.e. water guns while chasing each other.
J. Running around under the rain was a favorite too.

Thanks, Sim, you just made me think and write down (most of) my childhood games! :mrgreen:
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Re: Childhood games

Post by SimL » Mon May 27, 2013 2:14 am

Hi niuc,

It's really great to see you back here :P.
niuc wrote:奶 in Hokkien can be "ni / ne / lin / ling / leng"
Yes, it's amazing how many pronunciations there can be for a character in Hokkien! Indeed, my mother's Amoyish variant of Hokkien calls rubber "chiū-ni", as in your variant. For cow's milk the usage is different from yours however: she says "gû-ni", with exactly the same "ni" as in her "chiū-ni". So in that sense it matches Penang Hokkien, which uses "-leng" for both of these too.

I really enjoyed reading your explanation of the various shades of meaning associated with each form of 奶, in your variant.

There's a word which little children used for women's breasts, when I was young. It was a half-forgotten word for me, so I asked my parents about it, a year or two ago. They said it was pronounced "nen-nen", whereas my memory of it is "nén-nên". My theory is that it (my parent's version) is simply a "corruption" of the word "neng-neng", itself a variant of "leng-leng". Under this theory, at least the tones are completely right, and one only has to account for the change of the "l-" to "n-" (which is entirely plausible, as there are forms of 奶 pronounced with an "n-" anyway). So then "neng" could just be yet another form of "ni", "ne", "lin", "leng". In fact, I'm particularly pleased to see your form "lin", as it shows that 奶 can have either nasalized, full-ng, or even an "-n" form. If even "-n" forms are known, then "nen-nen" is totally plausible. The only thing left unexplained is my memory of the tones. But that could purely be because I said it incorrectly.

AFAIK, there is only this very obscure (if it even really exists at all) variant form of 奶 in Penang Hokkien. For all three of your described shades of meaning, it is pronounced "leng". So Penang Hokkien is at the opposite extreme from your variant, when it comes to this particular character.

Thanks for a whole LIST of childhood games!

I'm not sure if I listed my childhood games in an earlier thread. [One of my resolutions is to go through the whole Forum one day and consolidate all the vocabulary. It's all there waiting to be consulted, but it's very hard to find any one thing which one is looking for!]

So, inspired by you, this is my list. I'll follow your numbering so that you can see where we had games in common. In addition, I remembered a couple more... [This entry is so long that I wonder if people will have the patience to read it :shock:!!!]


A. Hide and seek.

I also don't recall having a name for it, which is strange. I find that quite striking that we both don't remember a name for it, even though it was one of the most common games which I played as a child.


B. Playing cards.

With cards, we had the 'slap two cards together and let them fall' game, exactly like yours (with the same method of deciding who was the winner). I had totally forgotten about this game until you reminded me :P!

I have to confess that it's one of the games for which I now think to myself: "Hmmm… this seems like a rather 'trivial/silly' game; I'm sure kids of today would have more 'meaningful' things to do" !!!

One other game we played was "tiò-hû" 釣魚.

It was played with 2-4 people. The total number of cards given out is 24, so if 2 people play, then each player gets 12 cards; if 3 people play, then each gets 8 cards, and if 4 people play, then each gets 6 cards. The remaining cards are placed face down in a deck, on the floor (we usually played cards sitting on the floor), in the middle of the players who are sitting around in a circle (or opposite one another, if there are only 2). At the very start of the game, from the top of the face-down deck, 4 cards are turned up, and placed also in the middle, next to the face-down deck. One player starts, and the turn passes clockwise or anti-clockwise in the circle. When it's your turn, you can take any of the 4 central face-up cards if it matches one of the cards in your hand. If it does, then you take that central card, put it with your own, and put the pair down in front of you (i.e. the number of cards in your hand decreases by one). You then turn up one new card from the central deck, leaving (yet again) 4 face-up cards on the floor for the player whose turn it next is. [I think, but I'm not sure now, that if you have more than one card which matches the 4 face-up cards, you can keep going, and take them too, and in so doing, collect more than one pair during your turn. This applies even to the newly turned up cards which are produced after you have taken one to form a pair. But for every card you take up from the central 4, you must turn up a new card from the central deck, so that at any one time, there are always 4 face-up cards.] If none of the cards in your hand match any of the 4 face-up cards when it is your turn, then you can't do anything, and the turn just passes to the next person in the circle. The turns go round and round until the face-down deck in the middle is finished. The one with the most number of pairs at the end is the winner. [If the turns have gone around one complete circle, and no one has any cards to match the 4 face-up cards, then an additional card can be turned up from the face-down deck, to avoid a stalemate. From then onwards, 5 cards will be always face up, and the rule is again applied, if turns have gone around one complete circle, and no one has any cards to match the 5 face-up cards, etc.]

Another game we played was "gin-rummy". In it, each player gets 10 cards, and the aim was to collect sets of 3 or more cards, each set being either all the same rank (of different suits), or runs of the same suit (in a similar principle to mah-jong). After dealing out 10 cards to each player, the remaining cards are put in a deck face down, in the centre. The sets you collect are put down in front of you, face up (so that the other players can see that they are valid sets), and the first one to get rid of all their cards is the winner. As each player has 10 cards, one usually tries to collect two sets of 3 and one set of 4 cards (2x3+1x4=10) to win. But, at any time, if you already have a set put down, then you can get rid of any of your remaining cards by putting them on the sets put down by any other player, as long as that card or cards fit the rule of the set. (So, another common pattern to was collect three sets of 3 cards, and just get rid of your one remaining card by putting it on one of the sets of the other players (or on one of your own sets).) You "renewed" the cards in your hand (to try and collect sets) by picking up one card from the central face-down deck, and discarding one of your currently-held cards (or the one you had just picked up, if it turned out to be totally useless, with respect to the cards you already have). I think this is pretty close to the standard rules for gin-rummy.


C. What you call "Caúsaliàp" we called "À-cì-lút".

Is the "cáu" 走, and is the "liàh" 獵? What about the middle character? I don't think our name has any meaning to it – at least, I never wondered about the meaning when I was young; it was simply the name of the game.

We had a local name for "scissor paper stone" – it was called "one, two, sóm", based on what the two players would say when playing it. The way we played it, both players have one hand behind their neck (arm bent). Both players call out together: "one, two...", and then on the word "sóm" bring their hands forward, showing the "sign" that they had decided on.

The usual rules of the A-sign beating the B-sign, the B-sign beating the C-sign, and the C-sign beating the A-sign applied. (This is one of the nice things about this game, in all its variations: only when the two players produce exactly the same sign is there a draw; in all other situations, one of the players is the winner.) Here I call them A-sign, B-sign, C-sign, because they are given different meanings (and sometimes have slightly different hand-forms) in different cultures. In my youth, they were: a clenched fist (like the standard "rock"), which we also called "rock/stone"; a flat, open palm, face upwards (like the standard "paper"), which we called "sea"; and finally, the tips of all five fingers all bunched up together, like the beak of a bird (different from the standard "scissors"), which we called "cup" (because the palm was seen as the bottom of the cup, and the tips of the fingers the top). So, in our version ("Cup, Sea, Rock"): "cup" beats "sea" (because the cup can scoop water out of the sea); "sea" beats "rock" (because a rock falls into the sea and is lost); and "rock" beats "cup" (because a rock can smash a cup).

[Because I grew up with my version, the "rules" for what beats what (in my version) seem to be totally logical to me. But whenever I think of the "rock-paper-scissors" version, I always get a bit confused. "Scissors" obviously beats "paper", because scissors can cut paper. Then I already get a bit lost. I suppose "paper" beats "rock" because a piece of paper can wrap up a rock...? And then finally, I'm totally lost, because the relationship between a rock and a pair of scissors is completely unclear to me. I suppose "rock" must beat "scissors", to keep the consistency of the game, but the logic behind that escapes me completely. To me, they are both hard objects. But, I suppose it makes sense to the people who grew up with it. After all, in my version, both a rock or a cup would be lost if they fell into the sea, so perhaps - to someone not familiar with my version - it's not at all obvious why cup beats sea. (And even my "explanation" of the cup being able to scoop water from the sea doesn't really make sense: just because a cup can scoop a bit of water out of the sea doesn't really mean that it defeats the sea!.) But, as I said, it seems obvious and logical to me :P.]

By the very nature of the game, "rock-paper-scissors/one-two-sóm" can only be played between two players - if 3 or more players do this, then it's difficult to work out who is the winner. For 3 or more players, we had "la la li la tam pong": everyone stood in a circle, hands outstretched downwards, towards the middle of the circle. Everyone chanted together "la la li la tam...", while moving their hands from palm face upwards to palm face downwards (and back again to upwards), in a "waving" sort of motion. On the final word "pong", each person would decide whether to have their palm facing up or down. For the whole group, if all the players had their palm in one direction, except for one person, then that person was eliminated, and the group got smaller by one person. The whole "la la li la tam pong" would be repeated with the smaller group, until the next person was eliminated. This whole process would be repeated over and over, until only two people were left, at which point, the "one-two-sóm" would be used to pick the final winner (or loser).

[Obviously, "la la li la tam pong" doesn't work for 2 people, because if they both show the same palm position, then neither is the winner, and if they both show opposite palm positions, then it's also impossible to say who is the winner. In this way, "la la li la tam pong" and "one-two-sóm" are two essential components which complement each other perfectly, when trying to pick a single person out of a group: "la la li la tam pong" (which doesn't work for 2 people) to reduce the group to 2 people, and then "one-two-sóm" (which doesn't work for more than 2 people) to eliminate the last person.]

This process of many rounds of "la la li la tam pong", ending with one round of "one-two-sóm" would be the way to pick (for example) the one person out of 5-6 who had to close their eyes and count to 100, while all the others went to hide, when playing hide and seek. Or for picking the one person who had to chase all the others, in "Caúsaliàp"/"À-cì-lút", called in English "Tag".

As can be seen from the above description, "one-two-sóm" and "la la li la tam pong" were (to us) not games in themselves. They were just preludes to games – a method for choosing a single person to play some role in a game.

As mentioned, the games most commonly played in this context were "Tag" / "Caúsaliàp" / "À-cì-lút" and Hide-And-Seek.

[Oh yes, I think our "À-cì-lút", like your "Caúsaliàp", and like "Tag" everywhere else in the world, had basically the same rules: there was one person who was "It", who had to chase all the other people in the group. As soon as the current "It" managed to touch any other person, that person became the new "It", and the whole process was repeated. This happened over and over again, until people were too out of breath to run any further.]


D. Very interesting that your childhood games included capturing sea-based animals. Ours were exclusively land-based ones (almost always small insects), except we caught tadpoles from ponds and (slow-flowing) rivers. But never sea-based ones. Perhaps Penang doesn't have enough places close to the sea. Most people would have to get a bus or drive by car, to get to the sea; or at least, to a seashore where there were many animals to catch and play with. "Downtown" / Chinatown in Penang is pretty close to the sea, but there there's hardly any beach, and so much pollution that there weren't really any animals, and no kids "played" there (at least, we were never taken there to play – I guess the kids who grew up there played there).

Our games with the small insects we captured have been described in detail elsewhere in this Forum. The one I loved most was that of the fighting spiders.


E. Yes, for some reason (maybe in the West too), skipping with a skipping rope was very much a girls' game.


F. Jumping over two squatting boys is unknown to me.


G. We never had spare bicycle or motorcycle wheels to play with like this.


H. My whole family (i.e. the non-Christian, father's side, which I spent most of my childhood with, in Penang) were quite "devout" practitioners of Taoism / Buddhism /Chinese Folk Religion (I mean, in the usual Chinese "layman" sort of way, I don't mean they studied Taoism or Buddhism), so I don't think the children would ever have thought of playing being gods and being worshipped. Conversely / for the same reason (i.e. not knowing the ritual), they never played doing "holy communion" either.


I. Water pistols.

Oh, yes, we boys certainly played with water pistols. But I don't remember us having a name for them. I'll have to check with my parents.


J. Playing in the rain.

You're lucky! I don't think my parents or uncles or aunts would have allowed any of their children to run around in the rain! It was only at the age of around 45, on a holiday camp with (more adventurous) friends, that I discovered how nice this feeling is! And this was in "cold Northern Europe"! I imagine it must have been simply wonderful to run around in the rain in the tropics :P!!!

Note: to be fair to my parents - they weren't paranoically over-protective or anything. They just didn't like the idea of me playing in the rain - they believed I would "catch cold" from it. When it wasn't raining, I was allowed to climb trees and roam through swamps, etc. [Though they always used to say after I came home from the swamp: "I hope you watched out for snakes", or "I really don't like you playing in the swamp, there could be snakes". But they never forbade me from going to the swamp, thank goodness!]


K. Marbles.

We had various marble games, which I'm sure have been recorded elsewhere in this Forum.


L. Kite flying.

1. My father tried to take me kite flying, to share one of his favourite boyhood pastimes with me. But I was so hopeless at it that he ended up having to fly the kite by himself the whole time! I couldn't get it into the air (despite his many attempts at trying to teach me what to do: how to run, pulling the kite behind me, to launch the kite; how to tug the string to get it to go a bit higher, once it was basically in the air; etc). And whenever he got it into the air and gave me the string to hold, I couldn't get the hang of what to do to keep it up there! So after a while it would come down, and he would have to start all over again. And even when I was holding the string, he could see that I wasn't really very excited about it.

He tried this exercise once, and only once. (I remember that afternoon very well - I was about 7 years old.) After that, we never tried flying a kite together again!

2. But lots of other kids - my friends - flew kites, and loved it. There was a kite-based game where a group of kids would grind up glass into a powder. They would then use glue to get the glass powder to stay on the entire length of the kite string. This was a really elaborate process, where the glue would be applied to metres and metres of string, and then the glass added, and then the metres and metres of string were hung out to dry in the sun, on a fence. Two groups of such kids would each get their kite into the air. They would then manoeuvre their kites so that the strings crossed. They would then "saw" the two strings against one another until one of the strings cut through the other. Both groups of kids would then chase wildly after the kite which fell from the sky because it was no longer attached to its string.

I only ever watched this game for a distance. The string would be wound many times around an old tin-can. I was a very timid boy, and didn't like the idea of the glass-covered string at all. Someone told me that a boy had his palm or hand cut open, when the string unrolled too quickly (because the kite was caught by a very strong gust of wind) and he tried grab the string with his hands. So, this game really "scared" me, and I had as little to do with it as possible.


M. Tops.

My physical co-ordination skills as a child were absolutely abysmal (as illustrated in the kite-flying exercise above), so I could never do anything with tops. Specifically (and most importantly): I couldn't get one to spin. This was done by winding a piece of string (about 1 mm in diameter, and very long) around the outside of the top. The top was symmetrical in the vertical axis, but asymmetrical in the horizontal axis: it had a sort of flatly curved "upper part", but most of the top was the "lower part" (rather like the "heart" icon, which has a lot more "lower part" than "upper part", and is also symmetrical in the vertical axis, but asymmetrical in the horizontal axis). The string was hence wound - starting at the very bottom point (which the top spun on) - and then slowly moving up along the outside, until it covered the "lower part" completely. It was wound in a sort of tight spiral, with each new "loop" of the spiral touching the previous "loop" (I hope this description makes sense!). You then "threw" the top onto the ground, holding on to the end of the string (the end which was left once you had wound the string all the way around the "lower part"). The action of the string coming free of the top itself would cause it to spin.

You can imagine that this whole exercise took quite a lot of physical co-ordination, so, for someone who couldn't even keep a kite up in the air which had been put there for him, getting a top to spin was really out of the question!

But many of my schoolmates were very good at it. I think most tops were bought from the local 菜店仔, but some were home-made - the kids cut them out themselves, from little blocks of wood, using a pen-knife. I remember these tops well - the "tip" was actually a nail. [Note: "chài-tiàm-á 菜店仔" was what we called the local grocery/hardware/stationery supply shop – it sold a lot more than just vegetables, in fact, only a small part was devoted to vegetables - it was more dried goods, canned goods, charcoal, matches, pencils and paper, and other household items (including some children's toys). I think in Malaysian English it was called a "Sundry Shop", and I think a more common name for it in standard Hokkien is "cháp-hòe/hè-tiàm" 十貨店". Hmmm... maybe I'm wrong. Maybe a 十貨店 is more like a hardware store, for crockery, cutlery, lamps, etc. If anyone knows, and wants to share about these two terms, please respond.]

For tops, the game was to spin the tops within a large circle drawn on the ground. People took turns to spin their tops. If your top span out of the circle, you lost. And someone - whose turn it was to spin after you - would try to "knock" your top out of the circle with theirs. Again, I only watched these games in the schoolyard - I never had my own top, and I never tried playing with someone else's. I knew that I would have absolutely NO hope of getting one to spin. So I only know very vaguely the rules of the game, when playing with tops.

For some reason, I think this game is learned from Malay culture. I don't think tops play a very big role in Chinese culture in the PRC and Taiwan. Can anyone confirm or refute this?


N. A sort of "sepak raga/takraw" using frangipani flowers.

You would gather a large number of frangipani flowers. You tie the bases of the flowers together with a rubber band, very tight. You then "dash/slam" the whole bunch against a concrete floor a number of times. As you do this, the petals - which start out quite white and waxy and stiff - slowly become softer and softer, as they get "bruised" - until they become brown and very floppy. At that stage, they are ready to use. This bunch of flowers plays the role of the sepak takraw "ball". You stand around in a circle and kick it into the air (and to one another) with the inside sole of your foot. Or you did it "solo": a group of kids would take turns, each kicking "solo", and counting each time you "kicked", trying to keep it in the air for as many kicks as possible. You stopped when you missed and the frangipani bunch landed on the ground. The aim of the game was to see who could keep the thing in the air for the most number of kicks. This one I had just enough physical co-ordination to do, so I could actually keep the thing in the air for quite a number of kicks. But I was never very good at it, so I would never win in this game, but at least I could play.

This game had a built-in limited duration. That's because the petals would get floppier and floppier as you played, until a point would be reached when the bunch was so soft and falling apart that it wasn't possible to use any more.

I think there's a more "official" version of this game, where a bunch of feathers attached to a rubber base is used. But for us, the frangipani flowers worked perfectly. The soft, floppy petals were the equivalent of the feathers, and helped to slow the object down, as it fell to the ground. (They also gave you a more definable object to kick.) Frangipani flowers were the only ones which could be used for this purpose. They were tough enough to last for the duration that the game lasted, and they were able to be "slammed" on the ground, to soften them up sufficiently to make this very special, floppy "ball".


O. Pop-guns.

This was a really cool thing we had when I was young.

You would take a little section of bamboo, about 20-25 cm long. This formed the basis of the pop-gun. From memory, the outside diameter might be about 1-1.5 cm, and the inside diameter about 4-9 mm. Along with this, one needed a long stick, longer than the section of bamboo, and thinner than the inner diameter. It needed to be thinner, because it would be inserted into the bamboo. Lastly, one needed "cherries" from a very special tree.

The tree was the "Malaysian native wild cherry" tree. I have no idea of its official English or scientific name, and it's completely unrelated to the normal/standard "cherry". This was a tree (actually a very tall shrub) which grows in jungle clearings, and on recently cleared land. It has hundreds of little cherries, about 5-10 mm in diameter. The cherries start out green, (I think turn yellow as they ripen), and end up quite a bright red. These trees are very nice to look at, because of the coloured cherries. The ripe cherries are very sweet (and soft and squishy), and have thousands of minute yellowish seeds distributed throughout a sort of liquid sludge (it's this liquid which is sweet). But the fact that the ripe ones were nice to look at and to eat is irrelevant to the current story.

These cherries were needed for a pop-gun; specifically the green (unripe) ones. The green ones were quite hard, but not as hard as stones or seeds. [Please bear in mind that the "cherries" in the description which follows are only 5-10 mm in diameter, so they are more like "peas", and are much smaller than the normal/standard "cherry". I use the word only for lack of a better one.] You took two of these green cherries, which had to be just 0.5 to 1 mm larger in diameter than the inside of your bamboo segment. You squeezed the first cherry into one end, and the other cherry into the other end. One of cherries was intended as the "bullet". The other cherry (along with the thin stick) acted as a "piston". Once you had inserted the cherries, you used the stick to (very rapidly) push the "non-bullet cherry" (at one end) towards the "bullet cherry" (at the other end), inside the bamboo segment. The "non-bullet cherry", moving rapidly inside the tube of the bamboo segment, would cause a build-up of air pressure inside the tube. This pressure would grow and grow, until it was strong enough to project the "bullet cherry" out of the other end of the bamboo segment. Usually, it would be shot out when the stick had pushed the "non-bullet cherry" about two-thirds to three-quarters of the length of the bamboo segment. The force at which the "bullet cherry" was shot out was considerable, and it would travel quite fast and far. And it come out with a nice loud "popping" noise, hence the name of the gun. A lot of fun for little boys!

The cherries from this wild cherry tree were absolutely ideal for this purpose. This is because: 1) They were roughly the right size to fit into common lengths of bamboo which kids could get hold of (which were, in turn, a nice size for a pop-gun). 2) When green, they were soft enough to give way, so that they could be pushed into the pop-gun. If they had been much harder (like hard seeds, or small stones), then they couldn't be pushed into the gun. And if the hard objects were smaller than the inner diameter of the bamboo segment (and hence could be pushed into the gun), then there would be air around them, and they wouldn't form a seal (see later). And if the cherries had been softer (like the ripe cherries), then they would disintegrate when being pushed rapidly with the stick, and hence not be able to build up any pressure in the tube. So, these green cherries being exactly the right softness/hardness, and at the same time being slightly larger than the inside diameter of the pop-gun, meant that they would make a "perfect seal" – essential for building up the pressure. And the hardness of the cherries also made them ideal bullets. If they had been much softer, they would have just gone "splat" when they hit their target. And if they had been much harder, they might have hurt the person being fired at. So, in every single respect, these green cherries were perfect. Of course, other things could be used instead of these cherries - like a wad of paper, chewed in the mouth, then covered in spit, and then massaged to form a lump; but the cherries simply fitted the requirements perfectly, and worked without a lot of additional fuss.

Note: I said the stick should be slightly longer than the bamboo segment. This is because sometimes the shooting process would go wrong, and the cherries would be left stuck inside. This would happen for example if the seal hadn't been perfect. Then the leaking air along the sides of the cherry would mean that not enough pressure was built up, so "nothing happened". This would mean that the "bullet cherry" didn't shoot out the other end, and the "non-bullet cherry" would be stuck somewhere in the tube. Then you would use the stick to clear out both the cherries, and start all over again. This obviously wouldn't work if the stick was shorter than your bamboo segment.


P. "Caps".

I don't know how standard this term is, but that's what we called them. The guns which used them were correspondingly called "cap guns". "Caps" were thin strips of paper (usually red, in my youth), about 3-4 mm wide, wound up into a roll. Down the centre of the strip would be a single series of little raised dots (a bit like Braille), each dot about 1-2 mm in diameter. Each of these dots would hold some gunpowder in them. The roll was put into a "cap gun", which was specially designed to use "caps" (hence their name). The start of the strip would be pulled loose and put into a little slot in the gun, with the first dot under a sort of "hammer" built into the cap gun. Each time you pulled the trigger, the hammer would come crashing down onto one of the dots, which would "explode", making a bit of a bang (and producing the smell of burnt gunpowder). The gun would then automatically move the strip forward, so that the next little dot would now be under the hammer. So, you could fire several shots, even in quick succession. After a number of shots, there would be a little bit of the strip (3-5 cm) sticking out of the gun (= the spent caps), so every now and again, you had to tear this off and throw it away.

The cap-gun and the caps could also be bought at the local 菜店仔.

Note: after writing this elaborate description above, I thought to myself that I was silly for not first looking on the Internet to see if I could just post a link to an image of the caps ("One Picture is Worth a Thousand Words"). So I tried looking, but it produced very little which I could use here. This is because using the Google "Image Search" and searching for "cap guns" produced only lots of images of cap guns but none of the caps themselves. And using just "caps" produced only lots of images of the article of clothing, not the caps I had in mind! The only hit I managed to find was this: ... -say-that/, which actually shows a photograph of a strip of "caps". And even the images of the cap guns don't really reveal how caps and cap guns work.

The Wikipedia article ( at least told me that my childhood terminology for them was quite standard. And it explains that there were other variations on cap guns than the one I knew. But still, this article too has very little visual information to explain how the caps and cap guns actually work.

So I'm glad that I wrote my original description after all.


Q. "Aeroplane"

This is the classic children's game, played all over the world, and called "Hopscotch" in English. We called it "Aeroplane", because the design (usually drawn in chalk on a concrete floor or pavement) looked (to us) like an aeroplane.

There's a long description of this in Wikipedia ( Our version had the single squares the same size as the double squares (as squares), so the double squares "stuck out", like the wings of an aeroplane (hence the name). In the Wikipedia article, some of the designs have the single squares as rectangles, so that the single rectangle is as wide as the two double squares, which then result in something which doesn't look at all like an aeroplane. But the aeroplane design as known to me is also described in the Wikipedia article.

In my childhood it was mostly played only by girls. According to the Wikipedia article, this is also the case in India. I was surprised to read this. As is so often the case, children generalize from their own experience, and think it's valid for the whole world. So until I read the article, I thought it was mostly a girls' game all over the world. My childhood experience makes it very hard for me to imagine boys playing this, whereas that's apparently quite common in most parts of the world.

The article also says that one of the names for the game in Mexico is also associated with aeroplanes.

Note: to me, the fact that I call it "Aeroplane" places it so firmly in the 1960's and 70's. I think these days, the actual aircraft are just called "planes" or "airplanes", but in the colonial and immediately post-colonial period, they were called "aeroplanes" in British English. I wonder if anyone even says "aeroplane" nowadays!


R. "pûn-bót" (= blowing 'balls')

You used to be able to buy little metal (probably zinc or lead) tubes at the local 菜店仔. These were shaped like tubes for toothpaste (or paint), and were the same size as the little tubes for paint-sets used in school, i.e. about 3 cm long and 1 cm wide (0.5 cm thick). Inside these tubes was a strange coloured gel-like substance (usually red or green or blue). When you bought a tube, you also got a short little plastic straw with it (like a plastic drinking straw), also about 3 cm long, and about 2 mm in diameter.

You squeezed a little bit of the gel out of the tube, and then massaged it into a blob fitting on and over the tip of one end of the short straw. The gel had a very "aromatic/fragrant" chemical smell. Then you blew into the other end of the straw.

The blob of gel would slowly inflate into an odd-shaped "balloon". You then "twisted" the balloon off the end of the straw, and "pinched" the hole (the one the air came through) shut. Mostly, the balloons would be 5-8 cm in diameter, depending on the amount of gel you used, but skilful kids could blow balloons up to 12-15 cm. They were extremely light (and fragile), and you could "pat" them into the air, and they would slowly float downwards again. They looked weird, and the "plastic skin" (practically transparent by this stage, as they would lose the original colour of the gel as they were being blown to full size) also felt a bit strange. [These "skins" were about the same thickness (and had the same look and transparency) as the clear plastic wrapping one can buy nowadays, to wrap food in - to put into the fridge, or for sandwiches for taking to work.]

After playing with them for a while, the balloons would either break, or start deflating. But there was one final bit of fun to be got out of the deflating/deflated ones. At the very end, you could "massage" your almost completely deflated balloon, so that it became a little layer/wad of soft plastic, with a number of small "bubbles" (each about 2-3 mm wide) in it. These were the remnants of air trapped in what was left of the outer skin. You then hit this wad against your own forehead or arm (or the forehead or arm of your friend), and the bubbles would burst with soft popping noises!

My parents, who were - and still are - very health conscious, were convinced that the gel was "cancer causing" (because it gave off this strong chemical smell), so I was only allowed to play with it very rarely. In fact, I was never allowed to buy it, so I only got to play with it when my cousins or friends bought some. I think my parents were aware of this happening, but they didn't make too much of a fuss, because it didn't happen that often, and I wasn't the one buying the stuff.


S. Mà-tâ-chhát / Cops-and-Robbers

This was played with two equal-sized teams, one the Cops, and one the Robbers. I don't remember what the rules were, and strangely, my 90 year-old aunt (who remembers the game too), also can't remember the rules. Obviously, there was some chasing and running involved.

What I do remember is how the two teams were decided. The group would stand around in a circle, and then one of the people would start. He would chant the following "rhyme":

- chúi-ló chúi-peng-peng
- chūi-chūi chiáh-pá chò-lám-peng

- chúi-ló chúi-chhát-chhát
- chūi-chūi chiáh-pá chò-lám-chhát

This could be something like:

- 水-ló 水兵兵
- 誰誰 食飽 做 lám-兵

- 水-ló 水賊賊
- 誰誰 食飽 做 lám-賊

With each syllable, he would point to the next person in the circle, going around the circle (not physically, just with his finger and his eyes). On the final syllables of the 2nd and 4th lines (peng 兵 and chat 賊), the person pointed to would be (respectively) a 兵 or a 賊. He (or she) would drop out of the circle and join the 兵-team or the 賊-team. So the circle would gradually grow smaller, until everyone had been assigned to one of the two teams.

If anyone knows this rhyme, and can give (or correct) more of the 漢字, then I would be very interested to see this.


So niuc, once again, thanks for sharing, and in so doing, giving me the opportunity to write these things up also. This turned out to be a much longer piece than I originally expected, as I remembered more and more (forgotten) games (and more and more details of the games). If I remember any others, I'll post them in further replies.

One request, niuc: could you give the Chinese characters for the terms from your posting? I asked about "Caúsaliàp" above, but I'm also curious about the others. In particular: "thiⁿkonghuē" (fiddler crab)), "chìlêr" (hermit crab), "amui" (tadpoles), "cháuní" (grasshopper), "chân'iⁿ" (dragonfly), "kérmi" (the special type of noodles), and "sianca'phìⁿ" (haw flakes). [Sorry if you already gave most of them in an earlier thread (I'm thinking of the long and detailed one we had about insects and other creepy crawlies). If so, and you can find the thread, just post a reference to it here :P.]

"ângthâng" (red millipede) (紅蟲), "kimku" (ladybird) (金龜), "thiaùsó" (跳索), and "cuíchìng" (water pistol) (水槍) are quite obvious (though please correct something like 金龜 if I got it wrong); and certain syllables in the others are also quite obvious: "thiⁿkonghuē" (天公<X>), "cháuní" (草<X>), "kérmi" (<X>面), "sianca'phìⁿ" (<X><X>片), but I'm interested in the remaining characters, if you know them.

Oh, and please add more games, if any of my descriptions make you think of others (of if you think of any independently). And of course, if you had variants of any of the additional ones I mentioned (or even just knew some of them), then please let us know here.
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Re: Childhood games

Post by niuc » Mon May 27, 2013 5:02 pm

Hi Sim

Your list & explanation is epic! Bravo! 8)

Beside consolidating all the vocabularies in this forum, it'd be great to put all the stories & sharings like these into a document. A book will be even better! If worry for copyright, at least you can publish all your stories. Mine are not that many, please include in yours if you are willing. :mrgreen:

Your list brings back to me lots of "forgotten" memories! Thanks a ton! It'll take longer time for me to write them, so let me answer your questions first and share my memories later.

Glad that you ask for 唐人字 of "caúsaliàp", which alerts me of my typo, i.e. it should be "caúsaⁿliàp". It sounds exactly like 走三粒, but of course the second and third are not the correct TLJ. Initially I thought the original name probably was "caúsaⁿliàh" 走相掠. Again, thanks to your question whether "liàh" is 獵, now I realize that it probably indeed is "liàp". 獵 is "làh"(colloquial) and "liàp" (literary), so BINGO! :idea:

掠 "liàh" means to catch, while 獵"liàp" can mean to hunt (but in daily conversation 拍獵 "phah-làh" is used). So, "caúsaⁿliàp" most probably is 走相獵.

相 is usually pronounced as "saⁿ" and seldom "sio" in my variant (col.; lit. is "siong"). So for 相拍, 相罵, 相疼 I say "saⁿ-phah", "saⁿ-mā", "saⁿ-thiàⁿ", instead of "sio-~".

Fiddler crab "thiⁿkonghuē" is 天公蟹. 蟹 is the standard Mandarin word for crab. My Hokkien variant usually uses "cîm" 蟳 for crab but here we use 蟹. May be 蟳 in Hokkien logic is bigger than 蟹.

Hermit crab "chì-lêr" is 刺螺 (“thorny snail”), so the name applies more to its “house” rather than itself.

Tadpoles "a-mui": I am not sure about this. 台文中文辭典 (, search for 蝌蚪) lists "am-iⁿ-á" (腌嬰仔) and "am-mûi" (am枚) among others for tadpoles. Probably my variant’s word is a corruption of 腌嬰仔. "Am-mûi" is very similar but the tones are different.

Grasshopper "cháu-ní" is 草蜢.

Dragonfly "chân-iⁿ" is 田嬰 (“field’s baby”!).

"Kér-mi" is 粿麵. 粿 is the same as first TLJ of 粿條"kér-tiaû" (kwetiau).

Haw flakes "sian-ca-phìⁿ" is 仙楂片. I believe you ever saw it before (

The others are correct as far as I know, except water pistol is 水銃. 槍 in Hokkien is chiuⁿ (tshiuⁿ) and it means spear in my variant.
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Re: Childhood games

Post by niuc » Mon May 27, 2013 5:49 pm

The same dictionary above lists 相 and 參 for "saⁿ". The latter now is usually pronounced as "cham" (參加 "chamka" take part) or "sim/som/serm" (人參 "jînsim" ginseng; 海參 "haísom" sea cucumber); yet it is also the "upper case" (大寫) of 三. Therefore 參 most probably is the TLJ for "saⁿ".
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Re: Childhood games

Post by AndrewAndrew » Mon May 27, 2013 7:13 pm

Sim: 奶 is also nE in Penang when it means mother, as in what Douglas would call "certain forms of vile scolding".

Nen-nen to me meant milk, tet8-tet8 meant breasts.
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Re: Childhood games

Post by SimL » Mon May 27, 2013 9:13 pm

Hi Andrew,

Cool! Thanks a lot. I really value your input on these matters, because you're a Penang Hokkien speaker whose Hokkien is far better (so your vocabulary is far bigger), you have remained there for longer (so your vocabularly is more up to date), and you speak Mandarin (so you have a better feel for meanings, punji, etc).

I checked with my relatives in Penang, and indeed, there is no word for the Western "lemon", and suiN-kam is the larger of the limes, with a thicker skin, and kiet-la is the smaller of the limes, with the thinner skin. One of the reasons I got confused is that I call the larger of the limes suiN-kam-a, with diminutive, but the relative confirmed that and siuN-kam are interchangable terms / both mean the larger lime.
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Re: Childhood games

Post by SimL » Tue May 28, 2013 2:56 am

Hi Niuc,
niuc wrote:Your list brings back to me lots of "forgotten" memories! Thanks a ton! It'll take longer time for me to write them, so let me answer your questions first and share my memories later.
I was hoping it might. It's amazing how much one forgets, but remembering one thing triggers another. I look forward to your future input on this topic.
niuc wrote:Glad that you ask for 唐人字 of "caúsaliàp", [...]
Thank you! Your replies solved several mysteries for me:

1. I have been wondering for a couple of weeks about the difference between and .

For Mandarin, I found:
lüe4/lüe3 : rob, ransack, plunder; pass by
lie4 : hunt; field sports

Because seemed "negative" and seemed more "neutral", I felt that was closer to the meaning to Hokkien "liáh" (which isn't "negative"). But I had no other (firm, rational, known historical) reason for associating "liáh" with . The Mandarin meanings could easily have diverged from the Hokkien meanings, so my reluctance to associate with Hokkien "liáh" was not really justified.

I mean, if I have two characters X and Y which sound roughly the same in Mandarin, and X means "kill" and Y means "save", and I have a Hokkien word Z which I could write as either X or Y (based on similarities in sound), but Z means "damage", then I would be very tempted to associate it with character X rather than with character Y. In such a situation, the Mandarin meanings should influence my decision.

But in the case of and , the meanings (in both Hokkien and Mandarin) are not as dramatically different. So, as you apparently are quite sure of the respective Hokkien words, and their characters, then I will happily accept this (for example, I was totally unaware of "láh" and "liáp" as Hokkien words, so I wasn't able to "feel" anything about other possible associations.)


2. Since my very young days, I have been aware that when my maternal Amoy grandmother said "saN-kap-chiN", it corresponded to Penang Hokkien "sio-chEN". I instinctively always knew that Amoy "chiN" was the same morpheme as Penang Hokkien "chEN" (which I later associated with the character , when I started learning Mandarin), but I never ever dreamt that my grandmother's Amoy "saN" was the same morpheme as Penang Hokkien "sio"! [I totally don't hear any nasalization in the latter.]

Learning Mandarin, and knowing /xiang, with its nasal final consonant, and knowing that occurs in so many places in Mandarin that my Penang Hokkien "sio" occurs in (and the closeness in meaning), I grew to accept that Penang Hokkien is definitely , and probably lost its nasal (or retains it, and I don't notice). But now, your explanation has helped me make the final connection to my Amoy grandmother's "saN".


3. Thanks for all the TLJ.

Most of it makes total sense, so there's little for me to comment on. Perhaps I could express my slight surprise that Mandarin "m-" in corresponds to a Hokkien "n-".

>> Haw flakes "sian-ca-phìⁿ" is 仙楂片. I believe you ever saw it before
>> (

Thanks for this. Actually, a few hours after I had asked about this, I searched for (and found) it on English Wikipedia - because you had been kind enough to provide the "English term" for it. I never knew either the English or (as far as I can recall) the Hokkien term, but I certainly remember eating them. They left the surface of your tongue quite a bright red :mrgreen:. I don't know if I'm remembering correctly, but this is probably another one of those common things which my health-conscious parents were a bit suspicious of!(Because of the bright colour...)

>> water pistol is 水銃. in Hokkien is chiuⁿ (tshiuⁿ) and it means spear in my variant.

This was also very helpful for me, as I had simply associated with Hokkien "chhèng" (= "gun"), when I first came across it when learning Mandarin. I teaches me (yet again) that I should be very careful about just "assuming" that two syllables which sound similar (in Hokkien and Mandarin), and which have similar meaning, can immediately be associated as cognates, and written with the same character. I was quite aware that (in Mandarin) can also mean spear or lance, but because it can mean gun or rifle, I simply equated it with the Hokkien equivalent.

I know it's quite risky to do this. For years, I simply assumed that Hokkien "chíah" (= "eat") was . I think it was only after quite a few years of reading this Forum, that I learnt about . [BTW, does Mandarin have a Hokkien equivalent?]

Finally, just a random question (but related to this topic). Should Hokkien "sēng" (= "indulge, spoil; e.g. a child") be written ? The possibility suggests itself, because of the meaning in Mandarin. The two meanings are the same, and there is some phonetic resemblance, but the general rule is that Hokkien stops correspond to Mandarin affricates (,,,; ,,,; ,; etc ), and Hokkien affricates correspond to Mandarin fricatives (,,,, etc). Of course, you get Hokkien stops corresponding to Mandarin stops too (,,,; ,,,; ,,,; etc), and Hokkien affricates corresponding to Mandarin affricates (,,,, etc), and Hokkien fricatives corresponding to Mandarin fricatives (,,,, etc). But it is quite uncommon that a Hokkien fricative corresponds to a Mandarin affricate - as it would, if we associate Hokkien "sēng" with Mandarin "chǒng". [I remember being surprised at one or two others, but I can't think of them now.]

What I'm trying to say is that if we see stops as "strongest" (=1, maximum blockage of air), and affricates as "slightly weaker" (=2, medium blockage of air), and fricatives as the "weakest of all" (=3, minimum blockage of air), then the most common patterns we see is that Hokkien "1" matches Mandarin "1" or "2", and Hokkien "2" matches Mandarin "2" or "3", and Hokkien "3" matches Mandarin "3", i.e. the Mandarin equivalent of a Hokkien word is never "stronger", it can be the "same strength", or "weaker", but never "stronger".

But associating Hokkien "sēng" with Mandarin "chǒng" would have the Hokkien consonant "weaker" than its Mandarin equivalent.

[BTW, all this "stronger" and "weaker" stuff has nothing to do with "Hokkien chauvinism", or trying to prove Hokkien superiority or anything. It's just connected to linguistic processes, where consonants "naturally" (in the course of time) go from "stronger" to "weaker" - because people are lazy to make a full blockage (a stop), and so let some air leak through (=> an affricate), and after a while, if the affricate becomes the "normal" sound for that word, then they get even lazier, and let even more of the air leak through (=> a fricative). Some "dialects" move along this path faster than other "dialects", so you frequently see this pattern. E.g. English vs. German: "pepper/Pfeffer", "water/Wasser", "make/machen" (and hundreds of other such pairs). In each case the "strong" stop in English "-p-", "-t-", "-k-" has "weakened" to the corresponding fricative "-f-", "-s-", "-ch-". It's got nothing to do with German being a "weaker" language, culture, etc; simply with German consonants having gone through this (natural) weakening process at a faster rate than English.]

Anyway, to get back to the original point - from examining large sets of cognate words in Hokkien and Mandarin, one can see that Mandarin consonants have weakened more rapidly than Hokkien, so whenever I see a pair of syllables (Hokkien/Mandarin) where the relationship is the other way around, but I would like to associate them because of the strong connection in meaning, then I get suspicious.

So, can you (or any other readers) throw any light on the validity of as the 本字 for Hokkien "sēng"?
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Re: Childhood games

Post by AndrewAndrew » Wed May 29, 2013 4:51 am

SimL wrote:Hi Andrew,

Cool! Thanks a lot. I really value your input on these matters, because you're a Penang Hokkien speaker whose Hokkien is far better (so your vocabulary is far bigger), you have remained there for longer (so your vocabularly is more up to date), and you speak Mandarin (so you have a better feel for meanings, punji, etc).

I checked with my relatives in Penang, and indeed, there is no word for the Western "lemon", and suiN-kam is the larger of the limes, with a thicker skin, and kiet-la is the smaller of the limes, with the thinner skin. One of the reasons I got confused is that I call the larger of the limes suiN-kam-a, with diminutive, but the relative confirmed that and siuN-kam are interchangable terms / both mean the larger lime.
Thanks Sim, you are too kind. In reality, I am still mainly an "e-hiau thiann, be-hiau kong", someone who is not comfortable speaking and expressing oneself in Hokkien.
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Re: Childhood games

Post by SimL » Wed May 29, 2013 6:36 pm

AndrewAndrew wrote:Thanks Sim, you are too kind.
You're welcome! I'm really glad you picked up my mistake on the "lemon" thing. I'm a bit embarassed about it!

Looking back and trying to re-construct, I guess my mother started using the word "suiN-kam" for lemon, when we migrated to Australia, when I was 14. This makes sense, as (certainly in the primitive and isolated Darwin of the 1970's) there were no limes available (let alone kiet-la), but heaps of lemons, shipped up from the Southern states.
AndrewAndrew wrote:In reality, I am still mainly an "e-hiau thiann, be-hiau kong", someone who is not comfortable speaking and expressing oneself in Hokkien.
Well, different people can be shy in different areas of human interaction. I mentioned before that I'm completely tongue-tied when someone speaks to me in Mandarin (the incident I posted about wasn't the only time!).

But... I've been invited to the birthday party of my first (and only) Mandarin teacher here in Amsterdam, later this month. I got to know her when she first came to study in the Netherlands, as a young woman, straight from Beijing, about 10 years ago. We remained in touch over all those years (I was only in her class for 3 years), and I've been to a number of her parties. This time however, (for the first time) her parents are here on a visit from Beijing. And I don't think they speak any English... I've already asked her if she could avoid emphasizing the fact that I have been studying Mandarin since 2004!

As for speaking Hokkien, I'm constantly surprised how tongue-tied I am when I'm speaking to Taiwanese. Their variant is so unfamiliar to me, that I feel quite at a loss. I was always aware of this, but it was brought home to me very dramatically once, in one Taiwanese Studies Conference I was at, where there was a Medan Hokkien speaker (this was the only time I have ever comes across a North Malayan / North Indonesian Hokkien speaker at a Taiwanese Studies Conference). Suddenly, my tongue was set free! I could just speak so confortably to her. As this was my 4th or 5th conference, I knew how tongue-tied I was in interacting with the Taiwanese speakers, so the contrast was really brought home to me.

A parallel situation occurred when a North-Malayan Hokkien speaker visited me in Amsterdam. A friend I've known for a long time had never before seen me interacting with such people. He had been to a number of Taiwanese Studies Conferences too, so he had already formed an image of my speaking abilities in Hokkien as being "incredibly limited". He probably thought that my mastery of Hokkien was barely beyond the level of a non-native speaker after 6 months of evening classes in a foreign language. So, he was quite astounded when he watched me interacting with this visitor to Amsterdam. He had to revise his image of my Hokkien mastery after that ("Amazing! You can actually have a whole conversation in Hokkien!".)
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Re: Childhood games

Post by AndrewAndrew » Wed May 29, 2013 9:31 pm

SimL wrote:A parallel situation occurred when a North-Malayan Hokkien speaker visited me in Amsterdam. A friend I've known for a long time had never before seen me interacting with such people. He had been to a number of Taiwanese Studies Conferences too, so he had already formed an image of my speaking abilities in Hokkien as being "incredibly limited". He probably thought that my mastery of Hokkien was barely beyond the level of a non-native speaker after 6 months of evening classes in a foreign language. So, he was quite astounded when he watched me interacting with this visitor to Amsterdam. He had to revise his image of my Hokkien mastery after that ("Amazing! You can actually have a whole conversation in Hokkien!".)
I should have thought that you would be able to get by fine if you just stuck to Penang Hokkien and let them reply in Taiwanese Hokkien. I don't see any point trying to speak Taiwanese Hokkien unless you are actually going to live there, and I'm sure they would be interested in hearing your dialect..
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Re: Childhood games

Post by SimL » Wed May 29, 2013 11:42 pm

AndrewAndrew wrote:I should have thought that you would be able to get by fine if you just stuck to Penang Hokkien and let them reply in Taiwanese Hokkien.
Indeed, this is a possibility, but I find it "psychologically" very difficult to do.

Some people here in the Netherlands do it. I had a colleague in my previous company who was an ex-pat English woman who had lived here for more than 15 years. She was married to a Dutchman, and had 1-2 children, born and raised in the Netherlands. So, she understood Dutch perfectly well, and could follow everything which was said at work meetings and at parties. But (apparently) she never felt confident about speaking Dutch, so her solution was to just speak English. This led to situations in the canteen, in entire conversations with another colleague, where the colleague would speak and reply exclusively in Dutch, and she would do the same exclusively in English. I always found this very odd.

So, what I end up doing is trying to speak the Amoyish variety of my grandmother, under the (perhaps mistaken!) belief that it sounds much less different to the Taiwanese.

You're absolutely right that there's no reason for me to do this. AFAIK, there are Chiangchiu-derived or Chiangchiu-influenced variants on Taiwan as well. So, if those people and the Amoy-derived or Amoy-influenced ones speak to one another, they would do exactly what you recommend. For that matter, that's exactly what my two sets of grandparents did with one another, whenever they met up: my Penang Baba paternal grandparents would just speak and reply in Penang Hokkien, and my Amoyish maternal grandparents would just speak and reply in Amoyish Hokkien. And I never found it odd as a child.

[Though my paternal relatives did admit to me (years after my parents had got married) that in the initial stages, they had very little idea what my maternal relatives were saying :mrgreen:! My maternal relatives never had any problems the other way round though. I've always attributed this to the fact that "Mainland Peninsular" Chinese are much more exposed to other "dialects", whereas Penang Chinese (if they are Hokkien) tend to be only exposed to Penang Hokkien. That was my explanation for the relative linguistic ability/talents of my maternal relatives, and the relative linguistic incompetence of my paternal relatives. But perhaps it had less to do with this sociolinguistic background, and more to do with simple "genetic" predisposition to and ability in language.]
Last edited by SimL on Thu May 30, 2013 12:59 am, edited 1 time in total.