Saturday, January 16, 2016

Countdown to Spring...in Mandarin 数九歌

The holidays have passed, and although we haven't had a real winter yet (according to the kids), the winter doldrums have set in and we (...um..that would be me) have begun the countdown to spring. 

My mother-in-law shared this great Mandarin poem that was used long ago in China as a way to keep track of the days between Winter Solstice and the spring planting season, The Number Nine Song (数九歌, shǔ jiǔ gē).

Winter Solstice (冬至dōngzhìis a Chinese holiday celebrated by family get-togethers and tāngyuán (汤圆), which are those wonderful glutinous rice dumplings with sweet or savory fillings (my favorite are black sesame paste), floating in a vat of steaming hot water. Yum!

Back to the poem: 


Number Nine Song describes the changes in the weather that occur between the Winter Solstice and the beginning of the spring planting season from a child's perspective.  Time is counted in increments of 9 days, so the "1st 9" in the poem refers to the first 9 days beginning from the Winter Solstice, the "2nd 9" the 9 days after that, and so on. 



What I love about this poem:

  • Good for intermediate students. Chinese poetry can be confounding (to say the least), but this is a pretty approachable poem for intermediate language learners due to its heavy use of numbers.
  • It's a riddle! Once you understand that the 9's in the poem refer to increments of 9 days, the poem can be used as a riddle. Have your kids figure out when the 1st 9, 2nd 9, 3rd, 9, etc... occur (Hint: Winter Solstice was December 22 last year). 
  • Great lesson idea for Winter SolsticeYup, it's already passed this year, but put it on the calendar for next year (December 21, 2016) and plan to eat some steaming hot tāngyuán (or eat those now just because you never need an excuse to eat tāngyuán).
  • You can hear it performed on a goofy youtube video. There is a goofy youtube video that animates the poem's text (recited by children). FYI: the third line of the poem slightly differs in the video.


How do you count down the days until spring? 


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