personal


18

Feb 2008

Thesis Crunch and a note on Pinyin Tooltips

My thesis is taking up most of my free time these days. The deadlines are coming real soon and I have a lot of work left to do. (How could I have ever known an experiment would be a lot of work??)

The good news is that I have a pretty good idea of how the paper is going to turn out, even if I don’t have all the particulars nailed down yet, and I think it’s pretty interesting. The bad news is I have to have 30,000 Chinese characters on paper to turn in way too soon!

Anyway, for that reason, over the next month I will probably not be posting as frequently as my usual one post every 2-3 days, and when I do post, they will likely be quickies. Once all this is over, I will have a lot to say about my Chinese grad school experience. But it just wouldn’t be prudent to say too much yet.

On a wholly unrelated note, I finally managed to add javascript tooltips to pinyin on my site, like this: 拼音. The cool thing is that the tooltips are all still in the HTML markup and will work without javascript, but if you have javascript enabled you get the fancy ones. (On the site only, you lazy RSS-reader readers!) Anyone interested on how I did this? I could make it a topic of a future post if there is interest. I have to thank Brad for his help with the javascript, but the specifics can come later.


14

Feb 2008

Mao: History's Biggest Pimp?

I can’t really believe this, but it’s still hilarious:

> In a long conversation that stretched way past midnight at Mao’s residence on February 17, 1973, the cigar-chomping Chinese leader referred to the dismal trade between the two countries, saying China was a “very poor country” and “what we have in excess is women.”

> He first suggested sending “thousands” of women but as an afterthought proposed “10 million,” drawing laughter at the meeting, also attended by Chinese premier Zhou Enlai.

> Kissinger, who was President Richard Nixon’s national security advisor at that time, told Mao that the United States had no “quotas” or “tariffs” for Chinese women, drawing more laughter.

> […]

> “Let them go to your place. They will create disasters. That way you can lessen our burdens,” Mao said.

> “Do you want our Chinese women? We can give you ten million,” he said.

> Kissinger noted that Mao was “improving his offer.”

> Mao continued, “By doing so we can let them flood your country with disaster and therefore impair your interests. In our country we have too many women, and they have a way of doing things.

> “They give birth to children and our children are too many.”

Story on Yahoo: Chairman Mao proposed sending 10 million Chinese women to US: documents. (via Hank)


12

Feb 2008

Adsotrans Upgrades

While some of us have been slaving away on a stupid never-ending masters thesis over the CNY break, others (David Lancashire) have been updating their “open source natural language processing engine for Chinese text” (Adsotrans).

Dave started up a blog for Adsotrans (again), and he’s got some interesting news to share:

1. Adsotrans now has “sexier popups!”

2. There’s an Adsotrans WordPress plugin in the works!

Really cool stuff. If you’re studying Chinese and haven’t used Adsotrans before, be sure to try it out. Oh, and in case you didn’t know, you can download Adsotrans now.


10

Feb 2008

Your Favorite Board Games Have Come to China

I saw these board games on a recent trip to my local Carrefour supermarket.

Chinese Monopoly Chinese Monopoly (Beijing version) Chinese Life Chinese Risk Chinese Clue Scrabble

Makes sense; they’re all translated into Chinese except for Scrabble, because that just doesn’t work. [There are at least two Chinese adaptations of Scrabble, though, called Magi Compo and Chinese Squabble.]

Did you notice the price stickers? Yikes! In case you missed them:

Monopoly (地产大亨): 198 RMB
Monopoly, Beijing version (地产大亨,北京版): 349 RMB
Risk (大战役): 249 RMB
Life (人生之旅): 199 RMB
Clue (妙探寻凶): 169 RMB
Scrabble: 238 RMB

Still cheaper than back home? I’m not so sure… What do these game go for in the States these days?


Related: China Risk


09

Feb 2008

Laowai Test Worthy

Somehow I made it onto someone’s Facebook “Laowai Test.” This is especially surprising because there were only 6 questions, and at least two of them were about Dashan. Anyway, I was highly amused by the question about me:

Laowai Test

The whole “John has lived in China for x years” line at the top right corner of my website started about 2.4 years ago (sorry, couldn’t resist) shortly after I redesigned this blog layout. I was switching over to WP for the blog and PHP for the whole site in order to do cool time-saving stuff with includes, and I realized this opened up some other possibilities. The first thing that came to mind was the “John has lived in China for x years” calculation. I threw it up there for the hell of it, and for no special reason it has never come down.

Since then, I have gotten some funny comments about it. Some people evidently think I am sitting around with a calculator, rushing to update my blog code every time the decimal changes. OK, so I may have a nerdy tendency or two, but I don’t do that, people. It’s a PHP script.

Even the people that realize it’s a script take note of it, though. I guess it’s the counting years in decimals. No one really does that, and it’s just odd enough that people take note.

I’m actually planning on updating my site layout soon. It’s been long enough. No major changes (wider layout, mostly), and I’m keeping the “John has lived in China for x years” line for sure. It’s just in the Sinosplice DNA now.

Thanks to Brad for pointing out the Facebook Laowai Test, and for being the one that coded the little “John has lived in China for x years” PHP script for me!


07

Feb 2008

Getting to the Bottom with Music

Some people will tell you that repetition is the key to memorizing the words of a foreign language, but the words I remember the best are the ones that had a story associated with them. I remember the first time I heard Madonna’s name in Chinese, and I never forgot it, worthless as it may be. I still haven’t forgotten the word for bug light. I’m going to share one more of those little stories in this entry.

Flashback time!

> I had been in China for about two months. I had just started rooming with a Chinese guy, and the week before had discovered that the little restaurant right outside my apartment stayed open until 3am. Going out for a late plate of fried noodles was a real joy. I was still in that “I can’t believe I’m in China!” daze.

> I was perhaps only witnessing it for the first time that night, but I later decided that the most charming of Chinese habits had to be public singing. You know that cliché “dance like no one is watching” advice you get on how to “live life to the fullest?” Well, quite a lot of Chinese have a “sing like no one is listening” philosophy. Well, to be more accurate, it’s really just that no one cares if you can’t sing. Whatever the reason, it’s not uncommon to hear guys on the street burst into song as if they’re part of a musical. I find it quite uplifting, coming from my “if you can’t sing, don’t” mindset.

> As I sat waiting for my noodles, one of the restaurant staff was cleaning a pot outside, and singing as he did. I had never heard the song before, and didn’t know enough Chinese to understand what he was singing, except for one or two lines of the chorus:

> 你爱不爱我?你到底爱不爱我?(Do you love me or not? Do you love me or not?!)

> He was really putting his heart into it, and something clicked for me.

“你爱不爱我” was extremely simple Chinese that I had learned in the first few weeks of Chinese class. “Do you love me (or not)? But what the song drove home for me so nicely was the word 到底, which, up to that point, I only had a very loose grasp of. If you break it down to the character level, 到底 literally means “to the bottom.” And that’s what the word does, it tries to get to the bottom of the matter. It tells the listener to cut the crap and tell it to you straight. Depending on the tone of voice, 你到底爱不爱我? might be asking sincerely, “[I need to know, so just tell me:] do you love me or not?” If the asker is a little angrier, it might be, “do you love me or not, dammit?!”

Funny how some random singing busboy in Hangzhou, China is the teacher I’ll never forget for the word 到底.

Later, I heard the song on the radio and it really reinforced. Here it is, from YouTube:

Recently I shared the “Chinese learning power” of this song with Ken and Jenny, and we even worked it into a ChinesePod episode called Whatever. You’ll hear a clip of the song in the podcast.

The song is called 爱不爱我 and it’s by a band called 零点. I don’t know much about the band, but I do know that they’re old, they shot videos in the cold, and they’re now very (uncool). My wife really doesn’t appreciate it when I play that song. I guess it would be like her playing Def Leopard. No wait, that still kind of rocks. Billy Ocean? Maybe. You get the point.

Anyway, 到底.


05

Feb 2008

Extremely Harmonious Video

This video via Micah, via Shanghai Eye.

Urge to make cynical smartass remarks… nearly overpowering… URRGGgg…

All right, I’m OK now. But seriously, that video is just begging to be made fun of.

On a positive note, it’s a nice collection of everyday Chinese scenes (set though they may be in a parallel harmonious universe).


04

Feb 2008

Super Bowl in China

It’s Monday, and it’s the day of the Super Bowl in China. Thanks to our good friend time difference, we watch the Super Bowl at around 7am on Monday morning here in China. (What time could be better, right?)

In case you missed the ChinesePod episode on the Super Bowl, “Super Bowl” in Chinese is 超级碗. Literally, it means (brace yourself for this)… “super bowl.”

Somehow this feels wrong and fake and anticlimactic and too easy to me. It feels something like this:

super bowl

But anyway. that’s what it is. Chāojí Wǎn.

Most Chinese spend Super Bowl Monday Morning completely unaware of the great American advertising sporting event that is the Super Bowl. Some expats in Shanghai spend it at the sports bars, eating a fancy breakfast and getting drunk before 10am.

It can be difficult to get up around 6am for the sake of one’s home culture, but this year I have once again opted to make that sacrifice.


01

Feb 2008

Prince Roy's Adventures in Shanghai

Taiwan-based blogger Prince Roy visited Shanghai recently. It’s weird, because I’ve “known” the guy for about five years through the internet, but we only just met face to face.

On his blog he writes about his impressions of Shanghai in one post, and his encounters with John B, Micah, ChinesePod, and me in another post. Prince Roy talks about food a lot, so I’m happy that he wasn’t disappointed with the Hunanese restaurant I took him to.

He took some nice shots of the food:

Yum. Yes, it’s nice to be able to eat food this good any time you want, and to pay next to nothing for it.


31

Jan 2008

Micahbook

I’ve been reading my friends’ blogs through Google Reader for a while now, so I don’t often actually go to their sites. I just visited Micah’s site today for the first time in a long time, and I was impressed. This site design is genius! And it really perfectly suits Micah’s eclectic-aggregated blogging style.

Well done, Micah. Well done.


28

Jan 2008

Viewing China through PicLens

I’m a Firefox user, and one of the greatest things about it is its extensibility. PicLens, a full-screen 3D image viewer that works especially well with Flickr, has got to be one of the best extensions I have ever seen (even if it is almost too iPhone). I never blogged about a Firefox addon before because there wasn’t really a reason to. Now I never want to go back to boring HTML views on Flickr.

You have to see it in motion to really appreciate the addon, but check out these screenshots of PicLens views of some of my favorite (Greater) China-based photographers:

Poagao

Poagao's Photos as seen through PicLens

Raemin

Raemin's Photos as seen through PicLens

Life in Nanning

Life in Nanning's Photos as seen through PicLens

Shanghai Sky

ShanghaiSky's Photos as seen through PicLens

Mask of China

Mask of China's Photos as seen through PicLens

One great thing about the addon is that it’s much easier to skim quickly through a photographer’s collection and get a sense of the overall style. Give it a try.


27

Jan 2008

Killer (Not French Naked Ladies)

This song “Killer” (杀手) by Lin Junjie (林俊杰) is all right, and video is kind of interesting and weird, but there’s a part of the chorus that totally seems like a ripoff of that “there’s a place in France where the naked ladies dance…” song I heard in second grade. Anyone feel me on this one?

P.S. YouTube has been really slow lately…


26

Jan 2008

Snow in Shanghai

It snowed in Shanghai today, lightly as snow goes, but pretty heavily for Shanghai. A quick look at the Flickrverse reveals:

Snow

Snow

Snow in the Neighborhood

Snow

Snow

Note: Most of these are not my photos. Click through to see who took them.


19

Jan 2008

A Moral Dilemma

I recently read a very interesting article called Do the Right Thing which discusses moral standards in different cultures. From the article:

> Consider the following dilemma: Mike is supposed to be the best man at a friend’s wedding in Maine this afternoon. He is carrying the wedding rings with him in New Hampshire, where he has been staying on business. One bus a day goes directly to the coast. Mike is on his way to the bus station with 15 minutes to spare when he realizes that his wallet has been stolen, and with it his bus tickets, his credit cards, and all his forms of ID.

> At the bus station Mike tries to persuade the officials, and then a couple of fellow travelers, to lend him the money to buy a new ticket, but no one will do it. He’s a stranger, and it’s a significant sum. With five minutes to go before the bus’s departure, he is sitting on a bench trying desperately to think of a plan. Just then, a well-dressed man gets up for a walk, leaving his jacket, with a bus ticket to Maine in the pocket, lying unattended on the bench. In a flash, Mike realizes that the only way he will make it to the wedding on time is if he takes that ticket. The man is clearly well off and could easily buy himself another one.

> Should Mike take the ticket?

The article stated that Americans are likely to say that no, Mike should not take the ticket, but that in many cultures Mike’s social obligation outweighs the prohibition against stealing.

Since Chinese culture attaches great importance to relationships, I would expect Chinese people to agree that Mike should take the ticket and get to the wedding. But will they really?

I’m leaving the conclusion up to you, my readers. Pose the story above to a Chinese person or two, ask them the question, and then in the comment of this posts, report back on what they say. I’ll add the results to the end of this post.

Get asking!

UPDATE: The responses seem quite divided. I gather that most of the commenters have a multi-cultural viewpoint (for example, Chinese abroad, or Westerners in Shanghai), so it’s hard to say what the “typical” answer would be. Conclusion: blog posts may not be the best medium for anthropological research into cross-cultural moral codes. Shocking!


16

Jan 2008

Potential Danger Lurks!

I noticed this poster today:

Potential Danger

The Chinese text: 既要发现危险!更要注意潜在危险!

Translated, it says something like, “We must perceive danger! More importantly, we must watch out for POTENTIAL danger!”

And where was this poster hanging? No, not in the Arctic Circle. It was on the wall inside Chinese cafeteria Reboo.

This was not the most welcome sight in the world, considering I was just digging into my first real meal in over three days, following a weekend of food poisoning hijinks. “Potential danger” indeed.


10

Jan 2008

Reel Geezers on Lust, Caution

Word on the street is that the unedited version of Lust, Caution has already circulated pretty widely. My wife picked up a good copy a while back. I’m planning to watch it soon, partly to see what the fuss is about, and partly because of the ridiculous claim that I keep hearing from the Chinese: “foreigners can’t understand it.” (I actually probably won’t understand it–this isn’t the kind of film I’m into–but it’s still a ridiculous claim.)

Anyway, this is all just an excuse to make a post featuring “Reel Geezers,” the “dynamic octogenarian duo.” Their reviews are hilarious. Watch!


09

Jan 2008

Chinese Torture in Pictures

I just discovered The punishments of China: illustrated by twenty-two engravings (note that there are two pages there). It’s part of the New York Public Library’s collection.

The rack. Digital ID: 1565316. New York Public Library

Hamstringing a malefactor. Digital ID: 1565324. New York Public Library

This instantly made me think of a Qin Shihuang (秦始皇, first emperor of China) museum of torture I once visited in Xi’an. It was full of displays with life-size mannequins being hacked, sawed, sliced, crushed, and torn to pieces. There was even plenty of fake blood. It was pretty bizarre. (Has anyone else been there? I can’t find it on the web, although one Italian site refers to a “Xiányáng Bówùguan” which could be it…)


06

Jan 2008

Jing'an Temple Is All Coked Out

It’s not uncommon for one advertiser to buy up tons of ads in one subway station, but usually when they do that, they have two or maybe three different ads. Coca-Cola went crazy at Jing’an Temple. I think maybe they’re trying to hint at some kind of relationship between Coke, famous Chinese athletes, and some sort of sporting event, perhaps in 2008? These ads are very subtle.

All are from the Jing’an Temple Metro Station:

Coca-Cola Beijing 2008 Olympics Ad Coca-Cola Beijing 2008 Olympics Ad Coca-Cola Beijing 2008 Olympics Ad Coca-Cola Beijing 2008 Olympics Ad Coca-Cola Beijing 2008 Olympics Ad Coca-Cola Beijing 2008 Olympics Ad Coca-Cola Beijing 2008 Olympics Ad Coca-Cola Beijing 2008 Olympics Ad Coca-Cola Beijing 2008 Olympics Ad Coca-Cola Beijing 2008 Olympics Ad Coca-Cola Beijing 2008 Olympics Ad Coca-Cola Beijing 2008 Olympics Ad Coca-Cola Beijing 2008 Olympics Ad Coca-Cola Beijing 2008 Olympics Ad Coca-Cola Beijing 2008 Olympics Ad


03

Jan 2008

Eggnog in China: You're on Your Own

This post comes a bit late, I realize, but if you’re in China (or elsewhere) and still suffering from holiday season eggnog withdrawal, it just might help you pull through.

In Shanghai, we foreigners generally depend on Carrefour (a French supermarket chain) and City Shop (formerly City Supermarket) for our hoity-toity imported food expat needs. But for some reason, neither ever carries eggnog.

This year, when I complained to JP about the lack of eggnog, he suggested I make my own. I considered the idea, but the whole “raw egg” and “China” aspects scared me off. Then he sent me a recipe for eggnog. I had extra time on Christmas Eve, and I ended up making my own eggnog for a little Christmas party. It tasted OK, and no one got sick. Sounds like success to me!

Of course, I had to modify the eggnog. Here I’m going to post my “eggnog hack.” Originally the eggnog called for:

> 4 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar, plus 1 tablespoon
1 pint whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
3 ounces bourbon
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
4 egg whites

Of these ingredients, I skipped the cream and substituted rum for bourbon. I was able to get nutmeg at Carrefour, albeit un-freshly grated (it’s called 肉豆蔻). I found this part of the recipe amusing:

> To reduce this risk, we recommend you use only fresh, properly-refrigerated, clean, grade A or AA eggs with intact shells, and avoid contact between the yolks or whites and the shell.

Avoid contact with the shell? The eggs come in the shell! OK, I see… the outside of the shell. To be extra safe I even washed my eggs just in case there was some accidental contact.

Now onto the preparation side. Here in China, I don’t own a mixer or a whisk. (OK, come to think of it, I’ve never owned a mixer or a whisk.) That seems problematic when you get to the part of the recipe that tells you to do this:

> Place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat to soft peaks. With the mixer still running gradually add the 1 tablespoon of sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. Whisk the egg whites into the mixture. Chill and serve.

I didn’t know what “soft peaks” were, and I didn’t have a mixer, so I just beat the eggs for a while with a fork. It still turned into eggnog in the end.

Somehow we managed to cheat salmonella this time. Anyone got any home-made eggnog horror stories to scare me out of doing this again?