Raymond’s excursions into East Asian pop music, episode 2: China Dolls (中國娃娃)


The wife of one of my colleagues took a trip through the Far East as part of her work. One of the things she did was buy a bunch of music CDs from the various countries she visited. But not just any CDs. To decide which ones to get, she used a very scientific method that didn't require knowing how to read or speak the local language: She would go into a music store and just observe the teenage girls as they did their shopping. Based on this sampling, she would buy the CDs that appeared to be the most popular.

One of the CDs she loaned me is of a Thai pop duo called China Dolls (中國娃娃). (Here's a Japanese fan site.)

"Wait, if they are Thai, why is the group name China Dolls?" Well, because one of the members is Thai-Taiwanese and the other is Thai-Chinese, and they play up the Chinese angle.

The songs on the CD are translations of their top-selling first album from Thai into Mandarin so that they would appeal to a Taiwanese audience. (My untrained ears detect what I believe to be a Cantonese accent in some of their songs.) The plan was a success: The CD made it to #3 on the charts. YouTube has the video of what may be their signature song, 單眼皮女生, variously translated as Single Eyelid Girl or Girl with Slanty Eyes, performed in Mandarin Chinese with some Thai mixed in. And of course English, because in my experience, all East Asian pop music contains some English. It's just a rule.

What particularly impressed me about the performers was not so much their artistic ability (for their intonation is occasionally lacking, though they certainly dance with a lot of energy and the tunes are catchy enough) but that Hwa-Hwa speaks four languages [mpg] [wmv]. (And check out the sneaky backwards peace sign from Bell. Warning: Do not make this hand gesture in England!)

Episode 1.

Comments (16)
  1. Gabe says:

    I was surprised to see the video was subtitled karaoke style. Are all East Asian videos like this? I found it interesting that the English they used was "Style" and "Pretty China Doll". Is "pretty China doll" recognized as the idiom that it is in English?

    I was also surprised to see Latin characters for words that clearly weren’t English. I guessed (correctly) that it was a transliteration of the Thai so that the Chinese audience would be able to pronounce it. It turns out that "Sa-wad-dee ka" is just a generic greeting, like "ciao" in Italian, "shalom" in Hebrew, "aloha" in Hawaiian, or "good day" in English. So why not translate that into Mandarin also? Does it not have an equivalent, or does it just not rhyme well?

  2. Steve says:

    "Sa-wad-dee ka" is only if it’s a female speaker. A male speaker would say "Sa-wad-dee kaap".

  3. simon says:

    And for more info on the insulting V sign, see our good friend Wikipedia:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/V_sign#The_V_sign_as_an_insult

  4. nidive says:

    Recommended Chinese Pop Songs:

    曹操 by 林俊杰

    小薇 by 黄品源

    半兽人 by 周杰伦

    开始懂了 by 孙燕姿

    一生最爱的人 by 伍佰

    恋爱ing by 五月天

    And lots more …

    All illegally downloadable from mp3.baidu.com.

  5. Sheva says:

    Although she can speak four languages,she even cannot properly speak any one of them.

    You western guys shouldn’t listen to those unorthodox Chinese songs.

    Sheva

  6. Name says:

    Hey now, no one’s suggesting you should learn your Chinese/Taiwanese/Thai/English through a pop group.

    Also, songs are hardly the best resources for learning correct tones, and three of the four languages are tonal.

  7. shivram says:

    Well a lot of countries are multilingual and you have to be able to speak many languages. Take for example India. A lot of educated middle class folks in India are well versed (speak/read/write) in at least 3 languages. Why? Well there’s English which is the one true lingua franca and the medium of education in most city schools and colleges in India. Then there’s Hindi which you have to know due to the vast northern/north-western parts of India where that is the mother tongue. Plus popular Indian movies from Bollywood (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bollywood ) are in Hindi so you’d wanna know it even if your particular state is not so pro Hindi (some aren’t). Finally there is your own mother tongue which for many states (I’d say one third) is totally different from Hindi.

    Yes I’m effectively tri-lingual with my mother tongue being Tamil (which I’m weakest at!) :) Frequently people know more. My wife for example knows 5 languages. You see their family is originally from my state but they migrated to the neighbouring one. So in school they had to learn the local language which was in addition to the mother tongue. Plus she had to learn the local language of the state we met in while studying/working (which is neither of our home states). Her work involved a lot of communicating with people who only spoke the local language. Thankfully being a software engineer I didn’t have to :)

    Typically people in India can understand a bit of other languages since there are similarities (I can somewhat understand a couple more) But these are things which are quite normal in India. One former Prime Minister of India was true plyglot and spoke 17 languages! But even he didn’t know all the 23 constitutionally recognized languages in India. But wait there’s more. Apart from the officially supported ones, there are hundreds of languages in India (thousands if you count the dialects).

  8. Norman Diamond says:

    She would go into a music store and just

    > observe the teenage girls as they did their

    > shopping. Based on this sampling, she would

    > buy the CDs that appeared to be the most

    > popular.

    Uh huh.  Then obviously she bought pirated CDs ^_^

    [I’m not sure what you’re getting at here. Are you saying that the music store sold pirated CDs? -Raymond]

    > sneaky backwards peace sign from Bell.

    > Warning: Do not make this hand gesture in

    > England!)

    Um, I thought that gesture was also known in China and some other countries.  In particular there was some paper money issued in China under the Japanese invasion.  In one case the designer sneaked this greeting into a vignette of Chinese welcoming their Japanese liberators.  Fortunately or unfortunately it seems that the Japanese involved didn’t know there was some meaning to it.

    Tuesday, August 22, 2006 10:32 PM by shivram

    > Well a lot of countries are multilingual and

    > you have to be able to speak many languages.

    True, but “have to” is a completely separate issue from “can”.  Even in a country where schools only teach one language (or predominantly teach one language) some students get good grades in that subject, some students get bad grades in that subject, and of course there’s a wide spectrum in between.  Multiple languages give more opportunities to get more variation.  Some people speak 4 languages fluently, some speak 4 languages badly, some do some better than others.

    > Thankfully being a software engineer I

    > didn’t have to :)

    Yup.  Fortunately we only have to write one language ^_^  And if we want a good job, we have to make sure that we list that one language correctly and omit all others from our resumes.  Do not dare mention that we can write both the language that was last month’s flavour AND the language that was the previous month’s flavour.

  9. Neil says:

    恋爱ing

    What language is that supposed to be in?

    [What does it mean?]

  10. uniware says:

    恋爱ing is "falling in love with sb". Like doing, running …

  11. required says:

    "Are you saying that the music store sold pirated CDs?"

    What? In China? A land where IP is so well protected? No. Surely not.

  12. Norman Diamond says:

    Are you saying that the music store sold

    > pirated CDs? -Raymond

    Required beat me to it, but still, think about it.  Whether it was China or Thailand or other countries near either of them, consider these:

    (1) Pirated CDs (music or software or whatever) outnumber real ones, which doesn’t prove that the music store sold pirated CDs but only indicates a probability; and

    (2) The statement

    >>> she would buy the CDs that appeared to be

    >>> the most popular.

    Um, OK, "appeared" to be the most popular only means that they "appeared" obviously to be pirated ones, since there’s no way that genuine ones would be more popular.

  13. reader says:

    Um, OK, "appeared" to be the most popular only means that they "appeared" obviously to

    > be pirated ones, since there’s no way that genuine ones would be more popular.

    Um, aren’t you making the assumption that the music store sold a mix of pirated and non-pirated CDs?  I’d think it’s more likely that either they are reputable and sell only non-pirated stuff, or they aren’t and everything they sold is pirated.  My understanding is that the scoping of "most popular" is for each store.  And if instead the scoping is done over all stores visited,  then isn’t it possible that Raymond’s colleague’s wife would make note of the CDs she observed to be popular but then buy a genuine copy of the CD?  Perhaps she even went to another store to buy the CD for all we know.

  14. Norman Diamond says:

    Tuesday, August 29, 2006 12:14 AM by reader

    > Um, aren’t you making the assumption that

    > the music store sold a mix of pirated and

    > non-pirated CDs?

    As mentioned before, that is a statistical probability.  There is some chance that the purchaser might have wandered into a store that only sells genuine ones, but the store would not be crowded and there would be no such thing as choosing CDs that appear popular.

    > I’d think it’s more likely that either they

    > are reputable and sell only non-pirated

    > stuff, or they aren’t and everything they

    > sold is pirated.

    As a rough guess I’m inclined to agree.  I’ve seen a lot of stores that seem to sell only pirated merchandise, and I’ve seen a smaller number that have a mix.

    In some countries there are more stores that sell only genuine CDs than counterfeits, but this thread doesn’t address those countries.  In tourist areas of Hong Kong and some other places the situation might be the same, but go where the natives go and you’re not going to see that.  In Thailand and China and places like that, there is no way that an average customer is going to spend a day’s salary to buy a genuine music CD.

    Sorry for a digression to software CDs, but maybe a year or two ago I read a news article that helped explain this situation.  One reason why Linux in those countries is that Windows comes on a single CD for around US$1 and the most popular Linux distros come on around five CDs for around US$5.  Sure the Linux ones are legal even if they’re produced by the same pirates, but not many customers are going to spend that for experiments.

  15. Norman Diamond says:

    One reason why Linux in those countries is

    > that […]

    Should be:

    One reason why Linux in those countries is less popular than we might expect is that […]

    I have a feeling that for these input boxes in these blogs, maybe Internet Explorer is using the same Edit control that Notepad uses.  When Notepad is set to wrap at the right-hand margin, and the user clicks the mouse to set the text cursor, Notepad perfoms different editing internally than what it displays on the screen.  I think this feature was added by a patch around 3 months ago or so.  If Internet Explorer is using the same Edit control then it would sure explain how errors of this magnitude creep into postings.

  16. A logistical nightmare.

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