Say It Ain’t So + Strawberry Balsamic Jam

When we first landed in China 8 years ago, I could barely say “hello” and “goodbye.” Y’all, I hadn’t even taken the time to learn my simple numbers! I quickly learned them well enough to get by. But, oh, looking back on the videos of me teaching my one-year-old how to count makes me cringe! My tones (Chinese has 5 of them) and pronunciation were awful! After two years of floundering, we went to language school, which helped immensely.

Along the way, I learned some words and phrases that constantly run through my head, even now as we’re on furlough, not near a single Chinese person. Thankfully, I’ve caught myself before spitting out one of these words that obviously fits perfectly in the conversation, unbeknownst to whomever is listening. Here are some of my favorites:

Guānxì 关系 – relationships; connections

The English definition isn’t even close to reaching the depth of this word. Guānxì is needed in Chinese society. If you don’t have it, you won’t move up in your career, can’t get anything done medically in a timely or affordable fashion, and you have no “inner circle” of friends and family. This one is tricky as a believer because we obviously don’t want to take advantage of people, but realize that their culture is built on who you know, and everyone is expected to use it. It also carries weight when someone shows up at my house with a lavish, unexpected gift. The proper thing to do is deny it profusely at least 3 times to not be too greedy, then accept it, then expect something to be asked of me. It works the other way as well. If I want to ask someone to do a favor for me (big or small), I’d better have a gift—at least some fruit—in hand to show my appreciation and to “pay” them back.

Máfan 麻烦 – troublesome; inconvenient

This word is used daily! I make the 45-minute, every-other-week-trek into town to go to the grocery store and they’re out of ground beef AND chicken breasts…the main reason I go there. Máfan. I set off to retrieve a package I’ve ordered online, only to find out they’ve moved the pick-up location again. For the 5th time this year. Máfan. I hop into the shower after maybe a day too long of not taking one (mama of littles here!), and there’s no water. For days. Máfan. Feel free to adopt this word; I’m sure you have just as many troubles as me, if not more!

Jìhuà gēn bù shàng biànhuà 计划跟不上变化 – Plans can’t keep up with changes

This is a common saying that we learned upon arrival. It helped set expectations (read: expectations to be blown up at any moment!) then, and continues to do so. Before we left last month, a family invited us to a kids’ excursion in the woods/mountains near us. It sounded intriguing, so we agreed. The original time to meet was 8:30am. A smidge early for our late-rising family, but we’d make it work. Two days before the event, my friend texted and said the time moved to 8:15. No biggie.The night before, it changed to 8:00, then again to 7:50. Ok, my toddler is never awake by then, but we’ll make it happen. We were up and out the door by 7:50! Whew, a miracle! I rushed out to my friend’s car to find her on the phone with another mutual friend…whom she had just woken up with said phone call. Time was being pushed back already. We met up with the other families and started the journey no earlier than 9:00. In the scheme of things, not too bad (there are much worse stories!), but plans never seem to keep up with changes. And yet, they just roll with it. No one gets upset. It just is what it is!

There are a few Chinese characters that beautifully represent an aspect of the Bible that I just can’t not share…

Chuán 船 – boat

This may look like scribbles to some of you. Me, too! Ha! Kidding. Sort of. But stick with me. There are 3 parts to this character. The image on the left half means “vessel,” top right is a version of “eight,” and bottom right means “mouth.” Think through that…eight mouths/people in a boat. Noah and the ark! Amazing, right??

Yì 義 – righteousness

This one is tougher to see if you don’t know what you’re looking for, so you’ll just have to trust me. There are 2 main parts to this character. The top third, squished up there, means “lamb.” The bottom two-thirds means “me.” The Lamb on top of me makes me righteous. Whoa!

These characters, and many like it, prove that ancient Chinese people understood at least some of the stories of the Bible well. When we talk to our local non-believing friends, they are truly amazed that their own ancestors may have known the Truth. Just one more example to show them Christianity isn’t a Western religion, which the majority of them believe.

Languages are truly fascinating. God had good reason to create them at the Tower of Babel, and I’m so glad He did. I still have a long way to go, but I hope I can begin to fully appreciate languages for the unique perspectives they bring to the local culture. As we learned through language school, you truly can’t begin to comprehend a culture without learning the heart language first. So keep on studying! Jiāyóu 加油! Go get ’em! Keep going! You can do it! (Literally: add oil!)

What can’t-do-without words do you use often in your native or host country language? 


I’ve been making this jam for years. I like the sweetness of the berries melding with the tartness of the vinegar, and no pectin or ingredients I don’t normally have are needed. A great way to use up berries that are about to go bad or when they’re in full-season and on sale!

Does anyone else struggle with buying produce in the US (or your passport country)? It’s my #1 reverse culture shock issue. It’s expensive AND not fresh! Take me back!!

The smaller you chop, the more jam-like it’ll be. I don’t mind the sweet chunks, though.

It cooks down pretty quick. Easy peasy!

One pound of berries made 3 medium jars of jam. Yum!

This sweet, tangy jam is great on toast, biscuits, whatever suits your fancy!

Strawberry Balsamic Jam

Ready in: 45 minutes

Makes: 3 medium jars

Slightly adapted from: Pastry Affair

Strawberry Balsamic Jam

1 pound (16 ounces) fresh or frozen strawberries, diced
2-3 tablespoons granulated sugar
2+ tablespoons balsamic vinegar (to taste)

In a saucepan over medium heat, bring strawberries, sugar, and balsamic vinegar to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until strawberries have thickened into a jam. Add more vinegar if desired.

To store, keep chilled in the refrigerator. Enjoy!

Photo by Bryan Burgos on Unsplash


  1. Ruthie H. July 23, 2018

    Ashley, thank you for making me smile on this Monday morning. I loved learning some Chinese phrases and words. (I only wish there was an option of hearing the pronunciation. 😉 Here in Uganda, I have learned some important Lugandan words and phrases, like “Wangi,” meaning “Pardon me?”, “Simanye,” meaning “I don’t know,” and “Bambi” meaning – “Oh, sorry!” When I am in the U.S., I have to stop myself from using some Luganda words, but they do occasionally escape. (And, the jam looks delicious – if only strawberries were plentiful here. 😉 )

    1. Amy Young July 23, 2018

      Ruthie, is “Bambi” said like the Disney movie?! If so, I think I’m going to have to start using it!!!

      1. Ruthie H. July 24, 2018

        No, it’s pronounced like “bomb – bee” with the syllables drawn out. The more drawn they are, the sorrier you are. 😉

        1. Amy Young July 24, 2018

          Even better! I’m going to start using it today! My sister is in town and we are taking a family outing. My nieces will love this! Thanks Ruthie 🙂

          1. Ruthie H. July 24, 2018

            You are so welcome! Glad I could help provide some extra entertainment today. 😉

          2. Kathy Vaughan July 30, 2018

            Hi Ruthie! Loved reading this exchange between you and Amy. I learned that “Bambi” is for a particular kind of sorry, such as “Oh, poor you!”, but it’s not said when you are saying sorry because something is your fault. That’s “Nsinyuwa.” (Not sure of the spelling.)That’s another tricky thing about language – thinking I know what something means, only to find out I’ve been saying the wrong thing!

          3. Ruthie H. July 31, 2018

            Hi, Kathy! It’s fun to interact with you here. 🙂 You are so right, there are different kinds of “sorry” in Luganda. It’s also amazing to me how it has transferred over to the English usage. When something bad or wrong happens and I want to sympathize with someone or a situation, I just automatically say “sorry.” But, when I say it in America, I can get some strange looks and responses, as if others are communicating “Why are you saying sorry? It’s not your fault.” 😉

          4. Kathy Vaughan July 31, 2018

            Exactly! Expressing sympathy for the situation is such a part of Ugandan culture, but doesn’t always seem to fit here. That’s not the only time I use what I’ve become comfortable with in Luganda and then realize it doesn’t translate to the culture here very well. It takes me a month to stop saying “nedda, sebbo” and I’m still raising my eyebrows to say yes!

          5. Ruthie H. July 31, 2018

            Yes, I struggle too with that transition back. I find myself saying “wangi” in America and other words and phrases. Sometimes I don’t even realize I’ve done it, until I see quizzical looks. 😉

    2. Ashley Felder July 24, 2018

      Great words, Ruthie! Yeah, we need some audio for this post, eh? Maybe Google translate could help! Thanks for sharing your words! As for the jam–bummer! What fruits are plentiful there?

      1. Ruthie H. July 26, 2018

        I really can’t complain as we have a lot of great fruits here – pineapple, mango, papaya, several types of bananas, jack fruit, watermelon, passion fruit, oranges, lemons, etc. Strawberries are mostly from Kenya, so they can be found, but are expensive. I personally haven’t made jam, but have tasted some delicious ones. Oh, and mango salsa is amazing!

        1. Ashley Felder July 31, 2018

          Yes, mango salsa!!! You have some great fruits there. 🙂

    3. Spring July 25, 2018

      I too wish we had plenty of strawberries!! I could get them but they are so dang expensive, it isn’t worth it 🙁 Do you make jam out of any fruits there?

  2. Grace L July 23, 2018

    We love using the Chinese word, Máfan 麻烦. In fact, even here in China, we sprinkle it into our conversations in English. For us, it’s a borrowed word that is very useful to express things in English that doesn’t seem to exactly have an equivalent. Loved the reminders of some of our favorite words over here.

    And, when strawberries are back in season, we are going to try this jam. Well, my husband will try it; he’s the jam maker in the family.

    1. Amy Youg July 23, 2018

      Isn’t “Mafan” the best?! I think every language might donate a word we will all speak in heaven (not really, but who knows!). English might offer “bye-bye” (seems universal already!), and Chinese will offer “mafan” . . . but there might not be mafan in heaven. Still, it’s such the perfect word!

      1. Ashley Felder July 24, 2018

        Grace, I remember the first time I heard mafan (ok, that I recall) into an English convo. My friend said it about an avoidable traffic pile up in the middle of the intersection. I remember looking at her like…what did you just say?? You know I don’t speak this language! Ha! It’s the first word I teach the newbies. 😉

        Amy, you’re hilarious! I like how you’re thinking heaven’s language(s) out. 😉

  3. Spring July 23, 2018

    English is the “official” language where we live. It is interesting how I know English, and Spanish (the other prominent language) but struggle to understand at times.

    One phrase that is used frequently here is “right now” which actually means wait a minute. This obviously was confusing when we first moved here. Now I use it often. (especially when my kids are calling mom over and over again).

    1. Ruthie H. July 24, 2018

      Ha! This makes me think of a Luganda-English phrase used here in Uganda. Saying “right now” might actually mean 30 minutes from now, but if you say “now, now,” it is more immediate. 😉

      1. Spring July 25, 2018

        I love the now-now saying! We say “directly” in Belize if something his happening “now-now” My husband loves to tell the story of how when we were moving, a friend was helping him. He said “right now” and meant to wait and put the thing down. He said directly to pick it up. If we hadn’t been aware of this phrasing, the dresser could have had a tumultuous end!

    2. Amy Young July 24, 2018

      Ha! I love this spring! This makes me think of the Chinese phrase “ma shang” which means “right now: (the literal translation is “horse arriving” . . . so sometimes “right now” can be minutes or MUCH longer and we will joke that the horse is very slow :)!! I love learning about all of these language bits and pieces 🙂

      1. Spring July 25, 2018

        I guess it depends on what type of horse one has ;).

    3. Ashley Felder July 24, 2018

      Ha! Perfect example in how to help your kids acclimate to the culture! 😉 😉

  4. Phyllis July 24, 2018

    Hey, for those first two I have Russian words that I would be more likely to use than English ones, too: связи и неудобно. Obviously, there are connections in English, but when I mean “Connections” [wink-wink] with a capital C, of course I say связи. And неудобно literally means uncomfortable, but in the wider sense it sounds like it really fits with the meaning of “mafan.”

    1. Amy Young July 24, 2018

      I love how languages can be so different yet so similar!!

  5. Kathleen Vaughan July 30, 2018

    In Luganda (used in Uganda), one of my favorite words is “gundi”, because it all-purpose. It pretty much means “thing”, so if you don’t know the name for something, you can just use “gundi”, as in “I need one of those gundis to fix my gundi.”

What do you think?

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

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