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:
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.
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.
“Better,” i.e. less obscene.
Brendan recently wrote a post in which he discusses the possible origins of offensive translations of the word 干. 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.
I don’t know how I stay ignorant of some things for so long. Take the term “halfpat,” for instance. I just learned it the other day. I might be one of the last foreigners in China to learn it.
halfpat: also known as a “local hire expat.”
> Attracted to China by either a sense of curiosity, or a strong belief in China’s potential, the halfpat (including overseas-born ethnic Chinese) is generally a recent graduate or young professional who have moved to China without a predetermined career path.
I got this definition from the white papers and reports page of a website called All Roads Lead to China.
I find this term interesting because it applies to me, but I’m not sure if it’s actually useful or just some annoying buzzword. I can’t really imagine myself using it in normal conversation.
Since I’m spending a fair amount of time on it these days, I figured it’s about time I plugged a blog I’m doing for ChinesePod: The ChinesePod Integrated Chinese Blog.
The idea is to take a textbook that a ton of universities are already using and connect it to other online resources and free materials in digital form. Through this blog, college students motivated to really learn Chinese can easily complement and beef up their IC studies.
Obviously, ChinesePod has something to gain by doing this, but I think the general idea is a good one. The exchange works both ways: the blog could lead to web surfers buying the book, and also to textbook users getting into online resources. More of this kind of online-offline educational exchange (whether it involves either IC or ChinesePod) would be beneficial for everyone.
Anyway, check it out. Especially if you’re using Integrated Chinese.
Related: Sinosplice Chinese Study Book Reviews
Jonathan of The Art of Living has e-mailed me with a link to his report of the new HSK. Although not yet officially in use, the new Chinese proficiency test is apparently already being tested on groups of students.
Some telling passages from Jonathan’s report:
> I have to say, it was a big improvement. The test was neatly organized into four sections that covered all aspects of
communications: listening, speaking, reading, writing. The old test only covered listening and reading (receptive abilities) and ignored speaking and writing (productive abilities), which encouraged the Korean study bugs to lock themselves in their dorm rooms with tapes and books and totally avoid actually talking to Chinese people.
> They also cut out all the one-liner grammar questions, fill-in-the-blank segments, and dissect-a-sentence sections, and focused exclusively on reading comprehension, which was always the most challenging anyway.
> The listening was pretty much the same, and the writing was just a simple composition assignment, but the speaking component was crazy: we were given 15 minutes to prepare a five minute oral presentation that addressed the specific prompt questions of two different scenarios: in one scenario, we were calling a friend to arrange details for a weekend outing; in the second scenario, we were factory workers lodging a complaint with a boss.
And, perhaps most interesting to me:
> The new H.S.K. couldn’t care less about 成语. The content was fully geared towards operating efficiently in modern Chinese society: the listening content included a customer-service hotline dialogue and a television ad for cell phones. The reading comprehension material included a standard business contract and a report on a recent summit on environmental protection. For our writing assignment, we wrote a letter to the editor of a newspaper to share our views on recent local government policy (how democratic!).
For the whole thing, go read Jonathan’s account.
Just got back from Beijing. I have more thoughts on that city, for those that can stand them, but I’ll be posting them in a few days. In the meantime, you can read Brendan’s account of my little meetup with him.
If you were one of the low-paid employees of a Chinese barber shop, would you go along with having to learn a dance routine and do it in public right in front of the shop? That’s apparently what I witnessed from my taxi yesterday:
Speaking of barber shops, Ben Ross has been working in a Chinese barber shop. No, it’s not some kind of weird role created just for a foreigner; he’s doing exactly the same work that any young Chinese guy would. The project has taken over his life and his blog. The posts thus far are:
– My new job…in a Barbershop!
– First day at the Barbershop
– Day 2: Exhausted
– I may work in a barbershop, but I’m not a barber.
– Johnny Be Good
– The Huan Ying Guang Lin Meeting
– The Year of the (Guinea) Pig
– Snakes in a Barbershop
– I get highlighted!
– Where are all the women?
– Miscellaneous Updates
– Employee BBQ!!!
– White people with big shelves
– Facts and Figures: Hours per year
– Corruption in the Barber Shop
I know it’s a little abnormal to post so many links to one blog all in one post, but I think what Ben is doing is worthy of all the attention it gets. To me, this kind of thing is the epitome of interesting blogging on China.
I actually thought of doing the same thing before, but I never had the time to go through with it. A friend of mine (let’s call him “J-L”) actually did the same thing once. J-L had a hard time convincing a Chinese restaurant to hire him (the manager couldn’t understand why he would want to do such a lowly job), but he finally got a position in the kitchen cutting vegetables all day… until they fired him for being too slow. So Ben’s blog series is the first time I’ve seen it done and documented so well. I have a lot of respect for Ben for sticking to it for so long (and not getting fired).
When I thought about doing something similar, I initially considered somewhere like KFC or McDonalds (OK, I’m a sucker for irony), but I guess it would be hard to work at one of those places without getting special treatment or promoted to a special position. A barber shop is somewhere I’d definitely not want to work.
Laowai Chinese recently hit on a topic I’ve been meaning to write about for a while: What Foreigners Like to Eat in China. It’s true that foreigners in China find many menu items to be a hassle (read: almost any fish), while others are just not usually pleasing to our palates (read: chicken feet). In his post Albert makes a very good list, although mine would be slightly different.
First, I’d list the essentials (excluding rice) for foreigners in China. These are the best dishes for someone who has just arrived, but they also tend to remain in the favorite lists of foreigners that have been here a while.
Essential Chinese Food
1. 宫保鸡丁 – Kung pow chicken. This has got to be the favorite. I still love it.
2. 饺子 – Dumplings. They come in boilded and fried varieties, but they’re all good.
3. 扬州炒饭 Yangzhou fried rice. It’s better than just plain fried rice, because it has ham (oops, I mean “ham”), shrimp, peas, etc. in it.
4. 鱼香肉丝 – Fishilicious Pork Strips. [OK, that’s not the official translation, but that’s the one I’ve been using since my Hangzhou days.] There’s no fish in it; it’s strips of pork and other good stuff in a sweetish, spicyish sauce. Foreigners usually love it with rice.
5. 羊肉串 – Lamb kebabs. This needs no explanation.
6. 番茄炒蛋 – Stir-fried eggs and tomato.
There are obviously a lot of other that could be listed (see Albert’s list), but those would be my essential six. I still enjoy all of them, despite favoring them heavily for over six years.
So basically, if a foreigner showed up in China alone, and was allowed to choose what food he wanted to eat without any outside influence, there’s a good chance he’d end up eating these six and liking them the best.
I feel like there should be ten, though. Ten is a much nicer number. I wish I had time to make a list of the “perfect ten,” but I have a plane to catch to Chongqing.
There was a great entry at Jottings from the Granite Studio this week which combines Pulp Fiction lines with the very frustrating experience of trying to find a decent apartment in Beijing. Here’s a quick sample.
> Bring out the Gimp.
> The landlord was sweet as pie. She was wonderful. Her boyfriend was charming, all smiles, a real modern guy with “Starbucks” latte in hand. And then in walked “Auntie.” She was a dumpy, troll-like figure with a sour, peasant visage that betrayed no sense of warmth or mirth. It was quite a miracle when I saw her face actually begin to brighten into a grin when she met me… if only I knew.
Check out the whole entry: Pulp Fiction and Apartment hunting in Beijing. It’s great to see creative stuff like this, especially when it’s this funny.
A while back I noticed a cool food blog called LikeaLocal.cn when it went up on the China Blog List. I checked it out again recently, and it seems to have really taken off. It’s a great source for: (1) cheap food locations (in Shanghai), (2) cheap food order recommendations, (3) the Chinese needed to put in those orders (street food vendors don’t tend to be fluent in English).
I especially enjoyed an entry misleadingly titled Strawberries. I call it misleading because the bulk of the entry is about how the street vendors will try to cheat you and how you can get out of being cheated.
Here’s a great sample:
> Now you know how the scales work, but he will still cheat you! On the weight used to balance the stick in the photo it is written 250grams. Its actual weight is 225grams. The scale in the picture, and on most sticks I presume, is inaccurate (but always inaccurate in the seller’s favour). (BTW I bought my stick for 10rmb a pudong strawberry seller). The best way to prevent yourself being cheated on the weight is to make sure you have a 500ml water or fruit drink bottle (unopened) with you. Buy that in any convenience store. As you know, 500ml weighs 500grams. Now you can test his stick, scale, and weight by weighing your drink bottle. Cool huh?
Here’s a picture of that stick:
Get on over to Likealocal.cn. Good stuff.
It’s not new, but it was too good to go unlinked to:
> BARTHOLOMEW FRANKS AND THE SPECIAL FEW—A STORY OF FAME AND CELEBRITY IN THE NEW CHINA
> BY PABLO
> CHENGDU, CHINA—Bartholomew Franks knew he was a Seriously Important Person the first time he was recognized on the street by a complete stranger.
> “I was just walking around, thinking about velcro, when suddenly this complete stranger walked up to me, all smiling, and said ‘hallo.’ ” The man was a local seller of steamed buns who, Mr. Franks explains, recognized him by the fact that he wasn’t Chinese, and had a big nose. “‘Chang bizi’ that’s what he kept on saying to me, laughing. ‘Chang bizi.’ I thought it was pretty cool, so I gave him five kuai and a flourish of my hair, which is long, and flaxen”
> [read whole story]
From Long Legged Fly.
Micah has an interesting post on some of the factors that come into play when translating a foreign movie title into Chinese for mainland viewers. In the entry he talks about the titles of the following movies:
– The Host (Korean)
– Pirates of the Caribbean
– Night at the Museum
– The Devil Wears Prada
– Casino Royale
Micah tells us that the Chinese name of the creature in The Host is 魊. Hoping to see what a 魊 supposedly looks like, I searched for an image of it on Baidu. Although page 2 of those search results seems to suggest that the creature looks like Maggie Cheung, I didn’t really get my answer. However, I did end up discovering a site I didn’t know about: CnMDB.com. Yet another Chinese site shamelessly ripping off a successful foreign website. (Yawn.)
Note that the IMDb page has no ads (in this selection), way more movie pictures, and uses a romanized version of the Korean name.
My friend Jamie Doom is planning his return to China. But he’s not exactly sure which part he wants to live in:
Hangzhou and Shanghai are also interesting options. Many of my best friends living in China live in those two places. I have already lived in Hangzhou. Shanghai is a big convenient city. Neither town would make me get out of my comfort zone that much.
So I have been thinking of going somewhere new. But where? I want a town that is no more than three million people and no less than 100,000 people. I want a place that has some natural beauty nearby. I like the outdoors and living somewhere beautiful does lift my spirits on those invariable days of loneliness and confusion. I need some help. I need some advice. If you are a China expat or a Chinese and you live in a cool place. Tell me about it. Could your town use another laowai?
Jamie’s population requirements rule out the usual recommendation of Beijing (pop. 7,440,000) or even Tianjin (pop. 5,090,000), but not some of the other popular but slightly smaller choices such as Nanjing (pop. 2,820,000), Chengdu (pop. 2,340,000), Dalian (pop. 2,181,600), Qingdao (pop. 1,860,000), Kunming (pop. 1,540,000), and Xiamen (pop. 697,000).
If you have any helpful suggestions, head on over to to Jamie’s entry: A Dart and a Map of China.
There’s a hilarious entry on a blog called Long Legged Fly about playing soccer in China. An excerpt:
> But the best part of this whole experience is that you cannot play soccer on this field without getting hurt. The ground is too hard. The ground is too slippery. The ground has too many divets and weird ditch like things that zigzag across it. Plus, the Chinese players are very grab-happy and kick-your-shins-happy. So essentially what the Chinese have done is invent something that yet again the world can imitate–an open-air factory that produces injuries. Playing here I have injured my groin, my wrist, my left ankle, my right ankle, a number of my toes, my shins, my face, as well as other parts of my body that I didn’t even know existed until I got them injured, such as my bozon and my kleptok.
Check out the whole thing.
I recently got an e-mail from Albert Wolfe, the guy behind Laowai Chinese. In the blog Albert shares his experiences learning the Chinese language. He has lots of great observations that I recommend any beginner take a look at.
What especially caught my attention was a recent post on tones. This is because Albert has employed some of the same tone mnemonics that I myself devised and relied on once upon a time.
> Once you learn how to say each tone, then associate some emotion with each one. For example, here’s my own personification and characteristics for each tone:
> 1. 1st tone = transcendent, helpful, simplicity.
I love words that have the first tone because of their simplicity and how easy they are to sing out and pronounce correctly.
> 2. 2nd tone = insecure, unsure, questioning.
I sympathize with words that have the second tone because I’ve been unsure and insecure myself. I don’t blame them for sounding like questions.
> 3. 3rd tone = mischievous, mean-spirited, illusive, like a bird you’re trying to watch but he dives into the water and pops up where you aren’t looking.
I hate words with the third tone. They take more work and more time to pronounce. They change depending on the words near them. They seem to exist only to make my life more difficult.
> 4. 4th tone = angry, demanding, impatient.
I also like words that have the fourth tone because I can shout them out. These words give me a chance to vent. Usually, as a default, if I don’t know the tone of a word, I’ve found I’ll say it as a fourth tone involuntarily.
Meg at Violet Eclipse says:
> China is so safe, a girl could walk alone at night without worrying she’d be attacked or robbed. China is so dangerous, she might fall into a gaping hole in the middle of the sidewalk, left but the constant construction.
> Chinese people are the hardest-working people I’ve ever seen. People like Juice Aunt and her husband are outside with their cart, all day, every day, no matter what the weather is. But Chinese people are the laziest people I’ve ever seen. I’ve gone into restaurants and seen the staff asleep on the dining tables.
Read the whole entry.
There are so many ads for cosmetic surgery in Shanghai taxis these days. Ken reports this grim discovery:
> Now, it can be annoying when you’re sitting in a taxi and you cannot turn off the TV screen 18 inches from your face, but I can live with it. However, what I saw in the taxi today today was perhaps a new low. There was a print ad, mounted on the back of the head rest in front of me, advertising a plastic surgery clinic that obviously churns out operations. Part of the ad was a reflective plastic thing (it looked like tin foil) in the shape of a mirror that invited you to look into it and consider if you didn’t need to do something about your looks. (I answered in the affirmative.)
> So there you are stuck in traffic, on a Monday morning for an hour and all you see is your own, crumpled, ugly mug looking back at you with, a doctor holding a scalpel smiling at you. (I wept profusely.) I almost told the taxi driver to head over to the clinic and get it done before lunch.