Big Bird in China


“We’re Going to China”

Music by Dick Lieb, lyrics by Jon Stone and Joseph A. Bailey

Screen Shot 2019-08-12 at 11.21.30 AM

Ernie, Oscar, Grover, Bert, and Telly sing while Big Bird looks wide-eyed into the camera

[Big Big, spoken] Hurry, Barkley!

Let’s pack our bags, let’s call the station
Let’s grab a cab, make a reservation
For China

[Oscar, spoken] Hey, bring me a hunk of an old Chinese junk!

[Ernie] We’ll meet some new people
[Bert] Get some new kicks
[Cookie Monster] See some new places
[Grover] You eat with sticks
[BB, E, B, CM, G] In China

[Oscar, spoken] Take my advice, don’t eat the rice. [laughs]

[Telly] I’m not sure I’d wanna get stuck there
[O] If I were you, I wouldn’t press my luck there
[G] I hear they’ll even press a duck there
[BB] What?!
[O, E, T, CM] In China

[E] I hear they drink tea
[CM] Me hear they eat shark
[G] There’s one billion people
[B] So where do ya park?
[Two-Headed Monster gibberish-talks among themselves]
[E] When you get to China

[T] Go antiquing in Peking
[B] Then stop by in old Shanghai
[O] Don’t hang out in Hangchow
[G] Go dunking in Chongqing
[BB, O, B, E, T] Dunking in Chongqing?!
[G, O, B, E, T] While you’re there in China

[CM] Stop off in Canton
[B] A great place ta’ go ta’
[E] Open the door and see a pagoda
[2HM, O, CM, T, G] In China

[E] First to Rome
[B] And then to Nome
[T] And then Stockholm
[G] And then back home
[CM] Then Kathmandu
[E] Then Kalamazoo
[B] And Timbuktu
[BB] No, thank you!
[G] Kokomo
[O] Then Borneo
[BB] Borneo?!
[O] I told you so!
[G] Then Messina
[CM] Then Pasadena
[T] Then Al’s Marina on Catalina
[B] Then Argen-tine-ah
[CM, G, T, BB, 2HM, E] Argen-tine-ah?! [They confusedly talk among themselves]
[All] Then China

[BB, spoken to Barkley] Come, we’re off to find the Phoenix!
[Grover] I though Phoenix was in Arizona.


Nǐ hǎo

Music and lyrics by Jon Stone

Screen Shot 2019-09-02 at 10.46.28 AM

Left to right: Barkley with mouth slightly open, looking at Big Bird and Xiao Foo; Big Bird, sitting on a bench, wearing a large necktie striped in two shades of green, holding a rolled-up scroll, mouth open as he sings with Xiao Foo and looks down at her; Xiao Foo sits on the bench beside Big Bird, looking up at him, wearing a red jacket with colorful patterns. They are all dappled in sunlight and shadow, trees and stone buildings in the background.

[Xiao Foo] “How are you?”: Nǐ hǎo
[BB] Nǐ hǎo?
[XF] That means “hello”
And “goodbye”: z
[both] Zàijiàn
[XF] “I’ve got to go”
And if you wanna say “I love you”
Wǒ ài nǐ
means “you” and ài means “love” and  is the word for “me”
Big Bird: 
Dà Niǎo
[both] Dà Niǎo
[XF] Big Bird, that’s you
“Little Lotus,” that’s me
Chinese would say Xiǎo Foo
Now try ’em all at once
[both] Nǐ hǎo, Xiǎu Foo, Dà Niǎo, and then
Wǒ ài nǐ, I love you, zàijiàn
Wǒ ài nǐ, I love you, zàijiàn


“Monkey King Song”

Music by Dick Lieb

Screen Shot 2019-09-02 at 10.11.40 AM

The Monkey King wears an orange costume and hat with white and gold face paint. His mouth is open and hands are raised in front of him. He look at Big Bird, who is scratching his shoulder with his beak, head turned away from the Monkey King. The background is a canal and buildings on the far side.

[sung by an unseen chorus]

Listen, Dà Niǎo, to these handy words we sing
You should know some more about the Monkey King

At first the Monkey King will hide
Look day and night and far and wide
You couldn’t find him if you tried
And you could look forever

He’ll wear a suit for a disguise
Then faster than a phoenix flies
He’ll turn around before your eyes
That Monkey King is clever

He loves to hide, he loves to play
He’ll tiptoe off and run away
He’ll tease you and your dog all day
And even Little Lotus

But when he’s tired of hide and seek
He’ll pop right up beneath your beak
Then blink his eyes and scratch his cheek
Because you didn’t notice

And so to try to make you see
He’ll flip himself into a tree
While you just sit and scratch a flea
That’s biting on your shoulder

He’ll reach into his bag of tricks
Be one or two or three or six
He’ll be a monster just for kicks
[Two-Headed Monster appears and gibberish-talks confusedly to themselves]

The things he’ll do are quite absurd
But he’ll refuse to be deterred
He’s always had the final word
The strangest thing you’ve ever heard
The very thought had not occurred
To not be noticed by a bird


The Phoenix’s Song

[Title and writer(s) unknown]

Screen Shot 2019-09-02 at 12.20.16 PM

A double image. A woman dances with her arms outstretched; she is wearing a crown and blue dress. This is transposed against a backdrop of a river, arced stone bridge, small boats, and building on either side. In the foreground, a bush on the ground and vines hang down from tree branches. The light is bright and golden down the center of the water, suggesting sunset or sunrise.

[sung by the Phoenix, Feng-Huang]

Our beloved China, shining bright
Like a window candle calls us home through the night
She has come through a million mornings
Day by day
Every dawn, darkness gone away

In the east, little white-capped waves sing a song to her sands
In the west, mighty white-capped peaks _____
___-ing high to keep her from harm, bringing calm
And in turn, Zhōngguó offers beauty, peace, and repose

In the fall, scarlet splashes of light
In the winter, all silver and white
In the spring, little bubbles of green
And in summer, the spring’s running crystal and clean

Listen now, wicked demons who would steal her sun
We are children of Mother China, everyone
Zhōngguó has dried our tears
Zhōngguó has calmed our fears
Given hope, love
Given peace, pride
And she will for ten thousand years

But take the sun
Take the stars, the moon, the oceans, too
Still Zhōngguó forgives you

Underlined words are my best guess at deciphering the lyrics, but I need your help to finish them. Comment with your own best guess, and we’ll complete the puzzle together like we did with The Tale of the Bunny Picnic.

*This is what Google Translate gives for translating “China,” which is my best guess for the phoenix singer’s Americanized “June wa”

Music from Big Bird in China

Once again, we have to suspend our disbelief that anyone is letting a six-year-old and his dog go on another unsupervised international journey and just enjoy the ride.

Working backwards, I always loved the Phoenix’s song as a kid, but now I’m angry at the middle verse (“In the east…”), not just because I can’t figure out some of the lyrics but because none of it rhymes and therefore feels out of place with the rest of the song. *gets off soapbox*

Watching as a grownup gives you a chance to get jokes you never got before, like Big Bird saying on their ocean voyage, “Say, Barkley, doesn’t this strike you as an awfully slow boat?” Then of course there’s the fact that end of the “Nǐ hǎo” amounts to a very brief conversation: “Hello, Xiǎu Foo, Big Bird. I love you, goodbye!”

And then there’s “We’re Going to China.” It’s a fun song that evolves from excitement about a trip, to recommendations of what to do and see there, to the least efficient around-the-world trip in history. So, how long would it take to go to all these places in that particular order? According to AirTreks, Flighttime Calculator, and Google Flights (assuming a magical world where these are all direct flights with no stopovers)…

  1. New York City to Rome, Italy: 4299 miles, 8 hour and 40 minute flight
  2. Rome to Nome, Alaska
    1. Rome to Anchorage (because Nome’s airport isn’t international): 5267 miles, 10 hours 30 minutes
    2. Anchorage to Nome: 539 miles, 1 hour 30 minutes
  3. Nome to Stockholm, Sweden
    1. Nome to Anchorage: 539 miles, 1 hour 30 minutes
    2. Anchorage to Sweden: 4104 miles, 8 hours 15 minutes
  4. Stockholm to NYC: 3943 miles, 8 hours
  5. NYC to Kathmandu, Nepal: 7553 miles, 15 hours
  6. Kathmandu to Kalamazoo, Michigan: 7509 miles, 15 hours
  7. Kalamazoo to Timbuktu, Mali
    1. Kalamazoo to Bamako: 5012 miles, 10 hours
    2. Bamako to Timbuktu: 627 miles, 16 hour drive
  8. Timbuktu to Kokomo, Indiana**
    1. Timbuktu to Bamako: 627 miles, 16 hour drive
    2. Bamako to Indianapolis: 5047 miles, 10 hours
    3. Indianapolis to Kokomo: 51 miles, 1 hour and 15 minute drive
  9. Kokomo to Borneo, Malaysia
    1. Kokomo to Indianapolis: 51 miles, 1 hour and 15 minute drive
    2. Indianapolis to Borneo: 9354 miles, 18 hours 20 minutes
  10. Borneo to Messina, Italy: 6671 miles, 13 hours
  11. Messina to Pasadena, California
    1. Messina to Los Angeles: 6680 miles, 13 hours
    2. Los Angeles to Pasadena: 30 miles, 52 minute drive
  12. Pasadena to Santa Catalina Island, California
    1. Pasadena to Long Beach: 28 miles, 49 minute drive
    2. Long Beach to Catalina: 29 miles, 1 hour ferry ride
  13. Catalina to Buenos Ares, Argentina
    1. Catalina to Long Beach: 29 miles, 1 hour ferry ride
    2. Long Beach to Los Angeles: 20 miles, 28 minute drive
    3. Los Angeles to Buenos Aires: 6117 miles, 12 hours
  14. Buenos Aires to Beijing, China: 11,982 miles, 23 hours 20 minutes
  15. Beijing to New York City: 6856 miles, 13 hours 30 minutes

**Since the Beach Boys’ song “Kokomo” about a fictional island “off the Florida keys” was released in 1988 and Big Bird in China was released three years earlier in ’83, we can only guess which real-life Kokomo Grover is referring to. Kokomo, Indiana is the top Google search result.

Grand total: 92,964 miles (or, around the circumference of Earth about 3.7 times). Travel time: 9 days, 4 hours, and 15 minutes. It looks a little something like this:

Screen Shot 2019-08-24 at 11.39.59 AM

Screenshot of a digital map of the world. Locations are pinpointed in red with arcing gray lines between them.


The far more efficient route would be:

  1. New York City
  2. Kalamazoo
  3. Kokomo (by way of Indianapolis)
  4. Pasadena (by way of Los Angeles)
  5. Catalina (by way of Long Beach)
  6. Nome (by way of Anchorage)
  7. Borneo
  8. China
  9. Kathmandu
  10. Stockholm
  11. Rome
  12. Messina
  13. Timbuktu (by way of Bamako)
  14. Argentina
  15. “And then back home!”

but that is significantly less fun to sing.


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