Books, Daily Life, Inspiration
comments 3

A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers

The closer I get to the due date, the easier I’m to get exhausted by physical activities. I guess that is what additional 18 kilograms do (including the little baby weighing approximately 3.1 kgs!) I actually do walk and practice some labor poses everyday, for an hour or two, to start the morning. However, the rest of the day is mostly spent by doing 2 things:

  1. Playing childhood favorite PC game, Pharaoh
  2. Reading

(Um, honestly I also do non-productive things like keeping myself update with the latest Indonesian celebrities’ news and gossips, BuzzFeeding, and online shopping, haha!)

Well, due to the pregnancy, I’ve been reading quite more books in these 38 weeks than I usually read in an entire year. Thanks to Big Bad Wolf Book Sale Jakarta last May, I still have some stacks of book unread and for that, I created a special shelf on my Goodreads account called Big Bad Wolf Book Haul just to make sure that I read them :p So far, I’m happy with the books I bought there (and their pretty crazy prizes) and some of them are gems, indeed!

So, yesterday, I finished another book. It is an interesting novel by Xiaolu Guo, a Chinese-British novelist and filmmaker called ‘A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers’. This book was shortlisted for Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction in 2007 (now called Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction), and Guo got Granta Best of Young British Novelists in 2013. Because, it was actually published 8 years ago, I can’t really say it is a review, but in case you stumble upon it in a second hand book shop or in Kindle deals, I do recommend it.

This is a book about 23 years old Chinese girl called Z (for Zhuang) who spent a year studying English in London. She met and fell in love with a bisexual vegan hippy in his 40s and moved in with him. Each chapter was only a couple of pages and titled with a particular English word and its definition. Story-wise, it’s not very special but I decided to rate it 5 stars.


Because it’s written in broken English, with bad grammar and structure. I can totally relate to that as someone who struggled learning English, whose mother tongue doesn’t have real grammar or have to change verbs all the time. It explains honestly cultural differences between East and West that tend to be forgotten by the milennials these days. It explains about China and Chinese which is a great contradiction itself. It explains about love and complicated feelings in imperfectly beautiful way.

So, here are some parts I really like.

Chinese we starting sentence from concept of time or place.
Order like this:
Last autumn on Great Wall we eat barbecue.
So time and space always bigger than little human in our country. Is not like order in English sentence, ‘I’ or ‘Jake’ or ‘Mary’ by front of everything, supposing be most important thing to whole sentence.


‘I feel so good about the love that you and I have with each other because it happened so quickly and spontaneously, like a forest fire.’


English sun is a fake sun, a literature sun.


The sunlight is like a knife cutting off the earth,  half of the world was in shadow, and the other half is bright. It is like a black and white movie, and everything is in slow motion. The sky is deadly blue, blue and blue. In alley ways, the old houses are silent, with rusty iron balcony and wooden window. They are sucking people’s soul. I understand why some foreigners travelled to a strange town for a short stay, but one month passed by, and then three months passed by, still there, and eventually ended up to live there for the rest of their life. That strange power, forces a person settle down in a foreign land, whatever how wild he was. I can feel the strange power. It is something opposite of adventure, something comes from the living habits, and acceptance of monotonous, the monotonous of everyday’s life.


‘But you never really ask me. You never really pay attention to my culture. You English once took over Hong Kong, so you probably heard that we Chinese have 5,000 years of the greatest human civilisation ever existed in the world… Our Chinese invented paper so your Shakespeare can write two thousand years later. Our Chinese invented gunpowder for you English and Americans to bomb Iraq. And our Chinese invented compass for you English to sail and colonise the Asian and Africa.’


‘Love’, this English word: like other English words it has tense. ‘Loved’ or ‘will love’ or ‘have loved’. All these specific tenses mean love is time-limited thing. Not infinite. It only exist in particular period of time. In Chinese, love is ‘?’ (ai). It has no tense. No past and future. Love in Chinese means being, a situation, a circumstance. Love is existence, holding past and future.

If our love existed in Chinese tense, then it will last for ever. It will be infinite.


‘How come art can be more important than food?’ I ask you in a little voice.

‘I agree with you, actually.’ You close up sculpture book. ‘I don’t think that art is so important. But art is fashionable in the West. Everybody wants to be an artist. Artists are like models. That’s why I hate it.’


Original Title: A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers
Published: 2007
ISBN: 0099501473 (ISBN13: 9780099501473)


Filed under: Books, Daily Life, Inspiration


Puty Puar. F/28. Indonesian. Working at home mom, blogger, illustrator, book author & enthusiast. Also a small business owner. Contact her through puti [dot] karina [dot] puar [at] gmail [dot] com.


  1. Hi Puty! I’ve been a silent reader of your blog and a secret admirer of your doodles. I decided to reveal my self today because I’m gonna steal your reading list :) All the best for the baby delivery :*

    • Hello Ditaa! :D Thanks for dropping by and reading! Also thanks for the best wishes hihi… Hope you enjoy my reading list (since it’s actually pretty random) :D

      • The more random the better! I mostly read young-adult fiction, but a good read is a good read ;) People who read diverse books is more interesting.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.