I've come across Zhang Shaolin's Hoi-nam kai-fan (characters 海南鸡饭, lyrics only in subtitles), a song in Hakka. It is split into three parts. This question concentrates on part 1, part 2 being here and part 3 here. I have trouble translating it. The lyrics from the subs are:



Listening to the video carefully and accurately representing the sounds I hear, and subsequently tweaking the spelling for a "standard" spelling, I got the following transliteration:

Hoi-nam kai-fan

Cui kun co ko-sing kong hau nan
Chong tai fan-pan hau kui ya-man
Tou-chu khon tau fan-pan
Yit thiau kai yiu sip ki kan
Nyin-ka chan tau siau lui zong man ki phan
Fo yiu cin pu hau m tet han
Cong tau pan-si fa pak pi chen
Nyin-ka tiu co fan-pan
Sit dau cak-cak koi-hong m-han
Hi hoi yit kan Hoi-nan kai-fan
Che-ka sit hoi hiau loi ching-can
An hau ke sen-i hak-cai song cau man

This is a possible mandarin rendition:




  1. 讲 is kong, Hakka standard for "say"; replaced with "shuō";
  2. 笑镭 is pronounced siau-lui; my reference says "lèi" (tears) is read "lui", so I guessed this was some sort of misspelling, since I couldn't find any better option; replaced with "xiàolèi";
  3. 唔 is m/ng, a standard Hakka negation; replaced with "bù" in many cases;
  4. 只 can be used as a classifier; according to my reference, it's cak when classifier and cii when "only"; doubled, it should mean "every", like doubled classifiers can in Mandarin; replaced with gègè, since I interpreted it as "everyone" = "every person";
  5. 齐家 is che-ka; according to my reference, 齐 can mean "all", so this could mean "the whole household"; replaced with 全家;
  6. 晓 is hiau; I have learnt this means "can", though this meaning is in my reference only under "晓得"; replaced with "néng";
  7. 按 is an; my reference says 恁 (an) means "very"; replaced with "hěn";
  8. 嘅 is ke; my reference spells that 个, distinguished from classifier 個, and says it means "de"; replaced accordingly;
  9. 仔, cai, is a common noun suffix, like 子; after kè it should mean "kèrén"; replaced accordingly;
  10. There are some strange pronunciations: 张惠妹 is pronounced with Mandarin pronunciation (save for sh = s), 来 is sometimes pronounced lei instead of loi, 好 and 无 (actually 冇) are hau and mau, and the reference states they should be mo and ho, 两 is lioeng (compare Cantonese loeng).

With all that, my attempt would be:

Hainanese Chicken rice

Lately becoming a song star is, come to speak of it, very hard
Singing, dealing with very cunning and barbaric pirate versions,
Everywhere I see pirate versions:
One road has over ten (pirate version selling) places
People earn till their smiles and tears fill up a few plates,
Richnesses (cin-pu?) decidedly can't stay idle
Sing till half-dead and spend a few thousand money
And people do pirate versions, stealing.
I've been nibbled till every profession change is not a limit
So I go boil a Hainanese Chicken rice
Everyone eats and can praise
It's good business, and guests often (cau-man?)

As you can understand, the problems are many. I will make a few points.

  1. The second line doesn't convince me because those two verbs in a row sound odd; is it just Hakka or is my translation wrong?
  2. The part of the people is really mysterious: does it mean people are all poor? Because they earn little, so they have to feed on smiles and tears? Or is there a subject change in the "Chàng dào bànsǐ huā bǎi jǐ qián" line? And what is that "cin-pu"?
  3. The "nibbled away" line convinces me little, is it right?
  4. Is the next line saying he gave up singing and switched to cooking or that he prepares the chicken rice to get more income? Or is it just for him?
  5. And again, do the following lines imply the chicken rice is for other people who enjoy it really or is it not? And what is "cau-man"? And is the che-ka interpretation riht? That might mean the rice is for him and family, not for others. But then there is "business".

Edit: Another reference confirms liap (or rather, liak) means "clever", i.e. "cōngming".

  • I have no knowledge about Hakka at all and I don't know what a good question is defined as on this site, but I wanted to give you props on a well-researched effort! It is quite impressive how much thought you've put into this!
    – rramphal
    Sep 20, 2014 at 0:41
  • Seeing foreigners learning Hakka that seriously makes me ashamed of my Chinese identity >_< Sep 20, 2014 at 0:51
  • @rramphal thanks, but you didn't read about the ages I spent on looking at every character with certain readings in the reference. That was a real bore, and often left me with no result. I've been going with this song for over a year now, and this is what I got. I really hope someone can help me.
    – MickG
    Sep 20, 2014 at 7:50
  • @JosephSWU why do you get ashamed for that?
    – MickG
    Sep 20, 2014 at 7:50
  • Note how the references transliterate Hakka in a different way from mine, using voiced consonants for voiceless ones even for final unreleased stops and unvoiced ones for aspirated ones, much like Pinyin, whereas I use a more Wade-Giles like scheme, with voiceless for voiceless and an extra h for aspiration.
    – MickG
    Sep 20, 2014 at 9:42

2 Answers 2


I'm a native speaker of Mandarin and I asked someone who speaks Hakka, hope this can help.
1. It seems there is a problem with your translation. "唱带翻版" means just pirate versions of tapes."唱带" means tapes. And "翻版" means pirate versions.
2. "人家" means other people. "人家赚到笑" means other people earn a lot by selling the pirate versions of my (the song star's) tapes. "泪装满几盘" means I (the song star) am very sad because those who sell pirate versions took my money! Therefore, "人家赚到笑" and "泪装满几盘" should be different sentences rather than being the same one. The subject of "唱到半死花白几钱" is me (the song star). The subject for "人家赚到笑" is other people. The subject for "泪装满几盘" should also be me - I am very sad. For "cin-pu" (乘补), I think it means get more tapes in stock for selling. So "货又乘补好不得闲" means other people can't be idle because the tapes are so "red-hot" and they need to get more pirate versions in stock.
3. "蚀到个个改行没限" means all singers are going to do something else (instead of singing) because there are tons of pirate versions and they cannot earn money. I'm not sure about what "唔限" means because that person didn't explain every word to me and I don't know a lot about Hakka.
4. You are correct for part of this. I - the song star - runs a Hainanese Chicken Rice restaurant rather than just cooking Hainanese Chicken Rice. Other people switched to do something else as well (as he says before), but they might not also run a restaurant.
5. The following line means people eat my food and says it's good, not "can praise", it should be "praise". "cau-man" means full--my restaurant is full of consumers. "che-ka" means everyone, but it means the whole family in Mandarin.

I'm not good on English, so maybe there are some errors... Sorry. At least I tried.

  • 1. I guess I just couldn't find 唱带 = tapes :); 2. Now I fully well see why I had problems there: every half line there is a change of subject, how was I supposed to guess that? 3. I think you should quote the song by using the Hakka lyrics rather than the attempted Mandarinization; maybe "唔限" means "with no exceptions"? Could you ask that guy? 4. I see. That explains the "很好的生意". 5. Let's take a look at the line: "齐家吃开晓来称赞". che-ka is everyone. So che-ka sit = "Everyone eats [my food]". Then "loi ching-can" = "praises [it]", i.e. "says [it] is good". And "hoi hiau"? As for the English, …
    – MickG
    Sep 26, 2014 at 8:31
  • 1
    2. I think it's not about "guess." For example, if people who sell pirate versions are so happy to earn money, how would they cry? So maybe you will see the change of subject by understanding the context better and clear./3. I will ask that guy for the meaning of "唔限." Are there any other words you want me to ask?/5. There is a mistake with separation of words. It should be "che-ka" and "sit hoi". "che-ka" means everyone, "sit hoi" might just means eat (I can't be sure. But in mandarin "吃开" means eat, and usually used for already start eatin) "hiau loi" means will and "ching-can" means praise.
    – user4324
    Sep 26, 2014 at 11:00
  • 1
    So "唔限" means no limitation. Singers are switching their jobs and nobody stops them or limit them to do so.
    – user4324
    Sep 26, 2014 at 11:09
  • 1
    Well there are many meanings for the same word or phrases, I can't even know all of them. "吃开" indeed means being popular or being comfortable/suitable to the environment. But it can also means eat, this is more informal and more intuitive. The complete phrases should be "吃开了," but "吃开" should be the same meaning. The same usage can be found in other phrases, such as "玩开了." Usually I don't use this kind of phrases, so it's rare and I might be wrong. As for me, it could have the meaning of eat. You can check with other native speakers.
    – user4324
    Sep 26, 2014 at 13:35
  • 1
    "蚀" means losing money. I didn't know this meaning before, it seems it's special for Hakka. But in mandarin "蚀" means to take something away or eliminate something. It can be interpreted as money is reduced, so there is connections.
    – user4324
    Sep 26, 2014 at 13:44

Chong Sau Lin's Hakka is a bit different from standard (Meixian) Hakka. In particular, [ɛu] is replaced by [iau] or [iu].

1) As others have said, 唱带 means music tapes.

2) 镭 lui = 钱 cen (money) in Malaysia/Singapore, derived from duit, the Dutch coin, through Malay. There isn't a Chinese word for it, so they use 镭 for the sound. Then it makes more sense: 人家赚到笑,镭装满几盘。Other people earning till they laugh (i.e. laughing to the bank), money filling plates.

As for cin-pu, they used the wrong word. It should be 尽补, i.e. keep restocking. Then 货又尽补好唔得闲 means they keep restocking, no time to idle. If you listen to his 炒面 cau men song, cin appears in 尽加凳 cin ga den (keep adding chairs).

3) 蚀 is a fantastic word, it combines the meaning of 食 and 失 with are both also sit. Meaning, the pirate sellers "eat" the profits, and the singers "lose" the money. So 蚀到只只改行唔限 would be losing (money) till everyone changes industry.

4) 去开一间海南鸡饭 means open a shop to sell Hainanese chicken rice, i.e. 去开一间店卖海南鸡饭

5) 齐家 literally means whole house, but is extended to mean everybody, i.e. all the customers. I believe zau-man is 招满, meaning customers come and fill the whole place.

I'd translate it as:

Lately, being a singer is so hard
All those barbaric pirated music sellers
Everywhere i see pirated copies
One street has ten-plus stalls
Those people laugh to the bank, money filling their plates
They keep restocking, don't even have time to idle
I sing till half dead, spend over a hundred thousand dollars
Other people steal and make pirated copies
Singers lose money till all of them change jobs without limit
Go open a Hainanese chicken rice shop
Everyone comes to praise after eating
Such a good business, customers often fill the whole place
  • I see "restock" translated to 重新进货 on Wiktionary. Was that 尽补 meant to be 进补?
    – MickG
    Oct 1, 2017 at 21:53
  • Mmh, 进补 spelt that way means "take a tonic" in mandarin though…
    – MickG
    Oct 1, 2017 at 21:54

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