Pirate This: Music of the Laowai

The idiom for the day:

rù xiāng suí sú 入乡随俗 = When in Rome, do as the Romans do

For me that means embracing piracy and actually encouraging downloading and file sharing of my music. I’m sure I’ll never make a penny off of any of it (which would be more than some of it’s worth actually). I’m letting people zìjǐ dòngshǒu 自己动手 to my songs for free! Why so generous realistic?

Here’s exactly how it happened:

  1. My friend Jason and I wrote a Chinese pop song called “Wǒ Bú Shì Dōngxī 我不是东西” during the October holiday in 2007. We didn’t think anyone would care, but the students loved it.
  2. I played the song at various shows and events around campus and even recorded a little demo mp3 in my amateur home recording studio.
  3. On March 15, 2009 I was interviewed on a Radio Guangdong show called “Voice of the City” during which they asked me about the song and ended up playing the demo mp3 on the radio.
  4. The students here at the campus radio station didn’t see any reason why a real radio station should play the song and not them, so they played my demo on the campus loudspeakers a few weeks ago.
  5. Since then, I’ve had several students from each class ask if they can please have the song.
  6. Some of the readers of my book have expressed disappointment that the “About the Author” section says I’ve “written a few Chinese pop songs,” but they aren’t available for download with the audio files.

So to answer these demands, I’m pleased to announce my new music website:


(also available by clicking “Music” in the menu tabs at the top)

As a bonus (some would say punishment), there are other songs besides “Wǒ Bú Shì Dōngxī 我不是东西” on the site. There are, in fact, three separate albums in process.

About half a dozen other songs for the various albums have already been written and will be released in the months ahead.

If you’d like to stay up to date on any new music as it gets recorded and released, you can subscribe to the music site in the side bar or by clicking here.


15 Replies to “Pirate This: Music of the Laowai”

  1. Pretty cool stuff. You can definitely tell you’re a foreigner by your accent though.

    Also it’s a little unsettling hearing a laowai so openly embracing trashy Manopop (interspersed random english sentences and all) in a non-humorous manner.

  2. Lawowai888,

    I’d be interested to know if there are certain words that betray my laowai-ness, or if it’s just the whole time I’m singing.

  3. What part betrays your “laowai-ness”?

    Let’s see…

    1. your face.
    2. the fact that you wrote your own song and were able to perform it on a guitar with out a tape.

    and yes, 3. the whole time you are singing!

    But again nice job. They call it Mandopop for a reason, it’s popular!

  4. Albert

    I was listening to this song (yes, again 🙂 , and paying careful attention to the lyrics. I had a Chinese person with me – and the one line (the main line) got our attention …

    wǒ bú shì dōngxi
    I’m nothing

    Before we looked at the lyrics, we heard “wo bu shi dong zi” – and both took it as “I am not an object” or “I’m not just a thing”. In other words, I’m a person – not something to be objectified.

    I hope you’re getting me here.

    Anyway, when we looked at the official lyrics, it was translated as “I am nothing”.

    That’s fine – and I can see what that might be true. However, I would be interested if you have any comments to help me understand why your translation is the ‘right’ one?

    Much appreciated.

    • Greg,
      I’m shocked to hear you’re spending so much time with that silly little song 🙂 As compensation, I’ll try to answer your question. First of all, I’m not convinced that “I’m nothing” is the only correct translation for “wo bu shi dongxi.” I chose that because “ni bu shi dongxi” is an insult and by directing it at myself I’m insulting/criticizing myself. “I’m nothing” sounded more harsh and critical than “I’m not a thing.”

      I also don’t claim to know exactly how the song sounds to a native speaker of Chinese (that’s one of the exciting and sometimes baffling things about composing music in a foreign language). I’ve had native speakers hear the song and say, “Dui! Ni bu shi dongxi, ni shi ren,” with a twinkle in their eye. I’ve never heard of “dongzi” meaning object (nciku lists dòngzi 洞子 as “cave” but no others), but if you had a Chinese person corroborating that theory than I guess it does. I hope that helps.

  5. Albert, thanks for your reply.

    Firstly, I misspelled “dongxi” – I didn’t mean “dongzi”. Sorry if that distracted you.

    Secondly, I was thinking of this in the context of …

    i know everything: wo zhi dao shen me dou
    i know nothing: wo bu zhi dao shen me dou

    However, in English the second would be translated as “I do not know everything” which is very different to “I know nothing”. I thought that perhaps that is the direction you were going with that statement.

  6. Ah yes, that explains it. As one final thought, many students have come up to me saying, “If you want to say ‘I’m nothing’ you should say ‘Wo shenme dou bu shi'” or something like that. I then explain to them that we wrote the lyrics in Chinese, finished the whole song, and then tried to think of an English translation. So it’s not that we set out to say “I’m nothing” and came up with “wo bu shi dongxi.” Rather, we tweaked an already well-known idiom “ni bu shi dongxi” for our own (evil) purposes.

    • Greg,

      How exciting that there’s now someone who will listen to the next song! That really lights a little motivation fire under me. There are currently 2 new Mandarin songs already written (waiting to be recorded) and at least 3 other Blue Panda songs (one in process right now) that will be going up on the website within the next 8 years. Stay tuned!

  7. The translation you did was perfect! As a native speaker of Chinese, I can’t think of any better translation. If there any thing that can improve in your future songs, I felt that if you can put some effort in trying to match the tone of music to the tone of the character, that would really help beginners. E.g. put note C for dong, and note B for xi,…I’m no musician, I hope I explain myself well.

  8. I’m stunned, I really like the musicality and lyrics in your songs, way to go! I’m French Canadian and I’m a liuxuesheng about to graduate here in nanjing normal university. I’m planning to write my thesis (lunwen) on what betrays Americans when they speak Chinese. I’m really struggling myself to get rid of my foreign accent when speaking Chinese, and I want to know what are the reasons behind that. I find it frustrating that I find it so hard to get rid of my foreign accent. Partly it’s because of the tones, and the other part is the shengmu and yunmu which are not pronounced the way they should. to comment on ‘laowai888’ ‘s post, about your foreign accent, no i don’t think we can tell you’re a foreigner ‘the whole time you’re singing’. that’s a bit unfair to say such a thing. If someone will say that, he should analyze which parts are exactly betraying you 😛 in your case, I noticed that when you say ‘gudu’ (lonely), your ‘wu’ sound carries a little bit of the diphtongue particular of American English. for example, when you go ‘ewwww, gross!’ you will notice that the ‘ewww’ word carries two vowels inside of one. but the Chinese ‘wu’ should be a pure ‘wu’ vowel… your lips choose their position, and then should stop moving, to avoid transforming the vowel after you’ve made the sound. Another thing I noticed is that I think when you pronounce the ‘D’, your tongue is not as flat as the Chinese on your upper palate. I think in the case of the Chinese, the tongue is so flat that the tip of the tongue touches the point where the front teeth and palate meet. in your case, i would guess that the tip of the tongue is not touching your front teeth. it gives away a bit of an american accent! 🙂 PS if you got any English information on the research made about the topic I just mentioned, you’re most welcome to share it with me. I just began my research and I still need to collect info! in a nutshell, I’m a fan of your music, lyrics and website. and i appreciate your humility and down-to-earthness. way to go! 🙂

    • @Julie,

      Thanks for all the comments and the attention. I’ve long accepted the fact that I’ll always be a laowai speaking Chinese, and I’m just happy to be understood most of the time. You’ve got a great project going over there. Good luck with it!

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