personal


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?


30

Dec 2007

Hang Your Chinese Food on Your Cell Phone

Years ago I wrote about tiny Chinese food refrigerator magnets. Chinese food has returned, this time to grace our cell phones. My friend Kris spotted these in China a few weeks ago, and recently gave an update with a better picture:

Chinese Food Phone Accessories

For a detailed run-down of what the food is, check out Kris’s entry on it. He also comments:

> They are basically rubber, but after inspecting a few I’m still not convinced the hongshao rou is not the real deal just encased in a thin transparent plastic.

I ran into a vendor for these things twice in the past week just outside of Shanghai’s Changshu Rd. subway station (exit 3) at about 6pm. He asked for 8 RMB for one. Kris was asked for 10, but was able to bargain down to 5 if he bought more.


29

Dec 2007

Best Beijing Bad Air Quality Metaphor Ever

I haven’t had time to read many blogs these days, but fortunately John B forwarded me this gem from Imagethief, which discusses Beijing’s air quality:

> How bad was the air the last two days? If it was a person it would have been a seedy, broad-shouldered thug, dressed in filthy leathers and reeking of grain alcohol, last-night’s whorehouse and cheap cigarettes, that hauled you into an alley by your collar and beat you senseless with a lead pipe wrapped in duct tape, emptied your wallet, found your grandmother’s address inside, went to her house and beat her senseless with the same pipe, cleared out her jewelry box and sodomized her golden-retriever on the way out the door before setting fire to her cottage, coming back to the alley and kicking you in the ribs one more time for good measure.

> It was that bad. And even that may not quite capture the sheer evil of it.

Read the rest of the entry.


28

Dec 2007

Kung Fu Dunk

I enjoyed Shaolin Soccer, and I like Jay Chou (周杰伦), so I’m really looking forward to more mindless fun from Kung Fu Dunk (大灌篮):

A film by Stephen Chow (周星驰), of course. [Sina page]

UPDATE: The film is not by Stephen Chow at all. It’s by Zhu Yanping (朱延平). Sorry about that. Now it looks like a pretty shameless ripoff. (Thanks to commenter Ken for pointing out that error.)


26

Dec 2007

Karen Mok Makes Puppies Sad

I personally have nothing against Karen Mok, but I present you with Exhibit A:

Karen Mok Makes Puppies Sad

That is one mournful-looking puppy. Case closed!


19

Dec 2007

How Taiwan Became Chinese

So I’m caught up these days with an experiment (I hate humans!), work, and now even Christmas. So I decided to just throw up a link.

I found this interesting-looking online book: How Taiwan Became Chinese.

Has anyone read it? Any good? The title smacks of propaganda, but I’m willing to eat a little propaganda every now and then in the name of good education…


16

Dec 2007

Filthy Delicious

Here’s a picture of a place near work where I occasionally eat:

Filthy Delicious!

I have nicknamed it “Filthy Delicious.” The name says it all.

What’s interesting to me, though, is the name of the cuisine boldly painted in red on the wall: 麻辣汤. This is interesting because once upon a time I was under the impression that this was the correct name, but enough chastisement from Chinese friends converted me to the “real name”: 麻辣烫. And yet there it is, in red and white, on the wall in the picture (in traditional characters, which, as you can see, totally adds class).

Search results for the two terms:

  麻辣汤 () 麻辣烫 ()
Google 199,000 2,590,000
Baidu 127,000 4,940,000

The name 麻辣汤 makes sense, because the final character means “soup,” and the dish itself is a kind of soup. (As I’ve mentioned before, it’s sort of a spicy “poor man’s hot pot.”) The final character in the latter, “correct” one is , which means “burning hot.” This makes a kind of sense, except that the name becomes then a bunch of adjectives without any noun (like “soup”) to anchor it. That noun would usually come last in a Chinese dish name (as in 麻辣汤).

So what’s going on here? I haven’t had time to research it (ah, the advantages of blogging!), but I suspect it’s about tones. The name “málàtàng” likely comes from a dialect where 汤 (soup) is read “tàng” rather than standard Mandarin’s “tāng.” This kind of thing happens all the time in China’s rich linguistic tapestry, and the questions raised go something like the following:

1. Can the character 汤 have the reading “tàng” as well as “tāng”? This is not ideal, especially if there is no precedent in standard Mandarin. This would amount to a “corruption” of the character’s original reading.

2. Can we change the pronunciation of “málàtàng” to “málà tāng” for consistency? This seems ideal except that it would never work. It’s awfully hard to control how people talk, especially after they’ve settled on something.

3. Can we change the character used to represent “tàng”? If it comes from a dialect, it likely doesn’t have a standard written form anyway. If we can find something similar in meaning, a practical compromise is reached.

It seems to me that in my imaginary scenario path #3 above was selected, and character did the dirty work. I call it “dirty” because while it is no longer “a corruption of the character’s original reading,” it is instead a semantic corruption. originally means “burning hot” or “boiling hot,” but now you’re making it mean “soup,” or, if you choose to put it another way, you’re making it a non-semantic syllable in the three-character unit 麻辣烫. I don’t buy that, though, because the characters 麻辣 clearly keep the meaning of “numbingly spicy.”

If I have a point with all this, it’s that you can’t control the evolution of a language. Sure, a writing system need not necessarily do that, but when you encode individual characters with both semantic and phonetic information and then try to keep either from changing, you’re just kidding yourself. This is only a small example, but it’s a pretty widespread phenomenon now that the writing system is being used by the literate masses as a whole rather than a few elite (and the internet is certainly exacerbating the situation). Given enough time, so many characters will have their meanings muddled that the writing system will be reduced to the world’s most cumbersome “phonetic” system.

I’d be really curious to see what the written Chinese language looks like in 2000 years. It’s not going to look at all like it does now.


15

Dec 2007

Plan G

The experiment continues. The human element complicates any experiment, but having to gather my data from human sources and then to also have human help (not me) gathering the data is rather… vexing. Fortunately my experimental design allowed for some flexibility, because I have gone from Plan A to Plan B to Plan C… and I think I’m on something like Plan G now.

I’m not sacrificing quality; it’s still going to be good, but I will be glad when it’s over.


11

Dec 2007

Newsflash: Chinese-English Machine Translation Is Getting Better

“Better,” i.e. less obscene.

Brendan recently wrote a post in which he discusses the possible origins of offensive translations of the word . He strongly suspects bad machine translation is the culprit.

Then just the other day Victor Mair wrote on the same subject on Language Log, in which he basically proved that newer versions of popular translation software 金山词霸 (AKA Kingsoft, AKA iciba) don’t make these same mistakes. The real kicker to the post was the update provided by internet superhero Joel Martinsen, in which the old Kingsoft translations were revealed in all their linguistic horror. Check it out, and make sure to scroll all the way down.