Tag: the wife


28

Mar 2012

Awesome Speech Habits of Americans

I’ve been slowly reading through Professor Orlando Kelm‘s book, When we are the foreigners: What Chinese think about working with Americans, and right in the first chapter I was highly amused by this passage:

> Recently, Mr. Jorgensen has been working closely with Xiaoliu Li, the human resources manager for TPC China. Upon entering her office, an aura of competence is immediately apparent. Young, pretty, polished, professional, and easy to engage in conversation, Xiaoliu Li gives the impression that she loves her job. In fact, Mr. Jorgensen usually introduces her to others by saying, “I’d like you to meet our highly competent human resources manager Xiaoliu Li.” Almost sheepishly, she acknowledges the the introduction, always noticing, however, how extraordinary it is to hear “highly competent” when making an introduction. Those types of phrases are, in fact, one of her observations about Americans. “You Americans think everything is great, wonderful, fantastic, amazing, cool, or awesome.” Not only do Americans think everything is awesome; they also say so, using these terms in both casual and formal conversations. That style of speech and feedback seems out of place among Chinese. “Chinese aren’t prone to use those types of words when describing people,” observes Xiaoliu Li, “much less when directly talking to them.” Basically, My. Jorgensen is oblivious to the effect of the way he uses vocabulary. To him, it’s just a matter of having a positive attitude.

My wife has made almost exactly the same observation. She claims that it’s hard to know what Americans really feel about something because everything is “great” or “awesome” or “amazing.” (This is, of course, the opposite of what is often said about the Chinese, who always seem to be “hiding their true feelings,” forever inscrutable to most foreigners.) So to her, it’s not that Americans “think everything is awesome,” it’s that they say everything is awesome, which can, in her mind, only be construed as (at least a mild form of) insincerity. So I guess that’s what we Americans get for being positive and enthusiastic about life: suspicion of insincerity!

Anyway, I’m enjoying this book, because instead of trying to make blanket statements about culture, it takes the case study approach and shares real people’s views on real incidents. (Now if only I had more time to read…)


20

Sep 2009

Weekend in Beijing

Light posting lately… I just got back from a weekend in Beijing. No sightseeing, no business… just hanging out, taking it easy, and seeing a few friends. Got together with Pepe, Brendan, Joel, Syz, Dave Lancashire, Roddy, and David Moser. And also happened to bump into Rob of Black and White Cat.

My wife and I spent most of our time on Bei Luogu Xiang (北锣鼓巷) or Nan Luogu Xiang (南锣鼓巷). We stayed in a nice little 四合院 hotel in the area called 吉庆堂. Thanks to Brendan, we ended up at a bar called Amilal both nights, which was a pleasant 20-minute walk from our hotel.

We had a good time, and my Shanghainese wife is liking Beijing more every time we go.


04

Aug 2009

Making Family Vocab Personal

Learning Chinese family relationship words is a huge headache. It’s way too complicated and tends to come far too early in a typical Chinese course. Really, who wants to memorize the word for “father’s older brother’s wife” before you can even handle a basic conversation?

The reason Chinese family relationship terms are so complicated is because they can take into account (1) relative age, (2) mother’s or father’s side, and (3) blood relative or relative by marriage. In English, on the other hand, if I say someone is my uncle, none of those factors are addressed. The man could be my mother’s or father’s brother, or maybe brother-in-law, and there’s nothing about relative ages at all.

So for these reasons, learning a bunch of different terms to make all these relationships 100% clear feels entirely unnecessary to a lot of students. To be honest, it is unnecessary for them. Unless lots of their conversations in Chinese are going to revolve around family members, it’s just not that important.

I realized this fairly early in my studies. I had learned the family terms well enough to know which were male and which were female, but I didn’t bother with all the other distinctions. And guess what? It didn’t really matter.

There are a few times when it does matter, though. One is when you marry into a Chinese family and you have to know who all these people are. But that’s when a major new factor emerges: you’re no longer memorizing vocabulary, you’re memorizing real people and their titles. It’s the difference between a human face and a bunch of lines and circles on a chart, and your memory appreciates it.

Similarly, when I returned to the States with my in-laws this summer, I knew I’d have to be introducing them to various people from my parents’ side of the family. Rather than digging out the old Chinese family relationships chart, I went through the relatives I knew would be there and gave them Chinese names. For example, my Uncle Marty is my mom’s younger brother, so he’s Marty 舅舅, and his wife is Kathy 舅妈. My Uncle Jim is my dad’s older brother, so he’s Jim 伯伯, and his wife is Dot 伯母. Learning the terms by assigning them to real people makes them easier to remember and ensures that they’re actually useful to you.

When you think about it, it’s how kids learn these words in the first place. In fact, they learn to associate the titles with real people long before they even understand the relationships the titles refer to. Later on, they learn the relationships, and then learn to relate the relationships to other people.

To take it even further, here’s an example of a real conversation I had with my wife recently:

> Me: So my mom’s little brother is my…

> Her: Jiujiu (舅舅).

> Me: Right, jiujiu. So I can call him Marty Jiujiu.

> Her: Right.

> Me: So then my dad’s older brother Jim is my…

> Her: Bobo (伯伯).

> Me: OK, Jim Bobo. And then my dad’s older sister?

> Her: Uhhh… I forgot. My dad doesn’t have an older sister.

This isn’t the first time I’ve run into this kind of “vocab lapse” with native speakers. With a whole generation of only children, more and more personal links are missing, and the nomenclature system just doesn’t carry the weight it once did. You can decry the decline of family values and Confucian ideals all you want, but for the average Chinese student it means this: you don’t have to worry too much about Chinese family relationship titles until it becomes personal. And that’s also when the titles become memory manageable.


28

Jul 2009

America through In-laws

It was a great trip to the States. I had been bracing myself for wacky cross-cultural antics, but nothing particularly noteworthy transpired. I didn’t have many surprises of my own, either. Rather, this time I enjoyed seeing my country through my the eyes of my in-laws.

Here are a few little notes:

– My father-in-law cooked himself a waffle at the hotel breakfast buffet and then ate it with salt and pepper, lamenting that there was no hot sauce.
– On the very first day in Tampa, I woke up to my Chinese family all watching TV. Curious what show they had been sucked into, I was amused to discover that it was Jerry Springer. “Why are these people so angry?” they wanted to know.
– When there’s no common language, gestures can be quite misleading. Trying to communicate, “I’m full and it was a great meal, but I need a toothpick” can somehow become, “I have heartburn and I need medication immediately.”
– My in-laws exclaimed at how crisp and sweet fresh American corn is. I was horrified to learn they preferred it mushy and/or chewy.
– American food comes in enormous quantities, and is frequently way too sweet. (My wife demanded to know why American cake always has so much frosting… which she weirdly calls 奶油, a word which more commonly means “cream.”)
– No one would go on the Montu at Busch Gardens with me except for my mother-in-law. That was pretty awesome.
– My father-in-law, who thought he could eat spicy food, has a newfound respect for Mexican chilies, courtesy of a dish called camarones a la diabla, from Del Valle on Fowler Avenue, Tampa (best Mexican food I’ve had outside of Mexico!).
– In the absence of a gas range, an electric wok is pretty all right for home-cooked Chinese food.
– My in-laws were impressed that total strangers kept greeting them everywhere they went. The friendliness of strangers was something they felt they could really get used to.
– No one took much notice of how fat Americans are.


08

Jul 2009

Busy July

I’ve spent the last few weeks reexamining my priorities and trying to free up a bit more time to do the things I enjoy most. Work remains both rewarding and demanding, but progressing in piano and continuing to work on Sinosplice are important to me. So far in July, however, I’ve needed to spend a lot of my free time just trip planning.

I’m preparing to go back to the U.S. this weekend for a two-week visit, and I’m taking with me not only my wife, but also my in-laws. My mother-in-law has never left China. Oh, and we’ll be attending my little sister’s wedding. It’s going to be an interesting little cultural affair.

Also, at already over a year since graduation, I’ve finally started putting my master’s thesis online. Now that all the pain of the actual writing is nearly forgotten, I’m starting to recall more clearly that my topic was, in fact, pretty damned interesting. It deserves a few posts.

First, though, it’s time for a visit to Obama’s America. I’m looking forward to it.


03

May 2009

Visa Fest!

My blog posts about visas probably generate more e-mails from random strangers than anything else. This suggests to me that a lot of people are out there scouring the internet for more info on the subject, so I’ll share a bit more. In the past two weeks, I have been involved, to some extent, with 5 Chinese visa applications: three to the USA, one to Japan, and one to Thailand.

USA

It’s been a while since my wife and I had to go through the visa ordeal. Now we’re married, and we want to take her parents with us this summer so they can see Florida as well. We were a bit worried that it would seem like the whole family was trying to immigrate to the US, but all three of them got their visas.

Some relevant details:

– My father-in-law has been to the USA once before in 1992; my mother-in-law has never left China
– My in-laws own property in Shanghai and have savings
– My wife was in the USA last in 2005

Japan

I haven’t been to Japan in close to five years, and my wife and I have been meaning to make a trip for a while. We finally settled on this May, but realized we had a visa problem: the typical Chinese tourist to Japan must go with a tour group and stay with the group the whole time. I refused to do that, and my wife didn’t want to either. We wanted to hang out in the Kyoto/Nara/Osaka area and take it easy, rather than the typical tour’s “10 cities in 5 days” approach. If we didn’t want to go on a tour, though, we would have to get my wife’s visa “sponsored.”

The process is kind of complicated, so I won’t go into it to much here [Chinese link, Japanese link], but the bottom line is that your Japanese friend needs to supply a lot of paperwork, including:

1. Proof of a relationship with the Chinese visa applicant
2. Acceptance of responsibility if the Chinese visitor remains in Japan illegally
3. Lots of personal information, including tax information

In the end, our visa application failed because our visa sponsor filled out the form with all the tax information but didn’t include full information for their income history. After several mail exchanges between China and Japan (faxes are no good for this procedure), we were already cutting it close time-wise with our application, and we didn’t have enough time to fix the last problem.

Really, though, we didn’t want to fix the last problem! My former homestay family was so nice about sponsoring my wife and filling out all the paperwork — even including their tax information — and I really did not want to ask for even more personal financial information. It just doesn’t seem right. I’m close to my former Japanese homestay family, and they attended our wedding in Shanghai, but asking for someone’s tax and income information is just not cool. What a shitty passive-aggressive way for the Japanese government to discourage Chinese tourism.

Fortunately, the situation is changing as early as this fall, as Japan changes its regulations to let in individual Chinese tourists that are rich enough.

Thailand

Thailand is one of the easiest countries for the Chinese to get a visa for. Even with the recent unrest, while tours have paused temporarily, individuals can still get visas easily.

So forget Japan… we’re going to Thailand!


23

Feb 2009

Cross-Cultural Marital Communication: Sacrifice, Identity, Choice

Commenter 維特利 recently made this observation:

From reading different blogs I see that there are two kind of situations in mixed families in China:

  1. American husbands speak Chinese with their Chinese wives and therefore wives aren’t fluent in English.
  2. Chinese wives speak English with their American husbands and therefore American husbands aren’t fluent in Chinese.

It looks like that real bilingual families are not easy to find:-)

The comment rings true, and it’s something I always suspected was partly due to language-learning motivation of one of the parties. In my case, I preferred not to date Chinese girls that wanted to speak to me in English because I was in China to practice Chinese, and at least this way I could be sure I wasn’t being used. (I wasn’t just using, of course… I did fall in love.) Still, this explanation isn’t terribly compelling. Not every cross-cultural relationship is sparked by a burning desire to learn a language.

A study by Ingrid Piller called Language choice in bilingual, cross-cultural interpersonal communication examined the languages used by German- and English-speaking cross-cultural couples and made some interesting observations.

In the following excerpt from the study, Deborah speaks English and her husband speaks German:

Deborah: […] well, my husband and I decided to speak English together, and I guess mainly that has to do with the fact, that, when I first arrived here in Germany two years ago his English was considerably better then my German, and in order for us to communicate, even on a basic level, it was- it was necessary for us to speak English. And I think we’ve just kept that up, because it became a habit, and also I think it’s sort of a, … a way for him to offer some sort of sacrifice to ME. because I had to give up, all my things, my culture, my language, my family, and my friends, to move to Germany. and he had everything here around him. And I guess the only thing he COULD offer me was his language. […] it- it’s STRANGE for us when we speak German with each other. because we met in the States, he was teaching German at the university where I had studied. and I had already graduated but he was giving me private lessons. and that’s how we became friends, and we just spoke English together THEN. and we have always spoken English together, and it just seems strange that- that once I came here, that we should then speak German. […]

It’s interesting that Deborah sees her husband speaking English as a sacrifice, because I think both my wife and I see our communication in Chinese rather than English as an opportunity sacrifice for her which was necessary not just because I was enthusiastic about learning Chinese, but also because it’s more important for me to be fluent in Chinese in China than it is for her to be fluent in English in China.

The excerpt above was followed by this analysis (bold mine):

Deborah finds it strange to use the majority language with her husband because that is not what they did when they first met. The fact that couples find it difficult to change from the language of their first meeting to another one can probably be explained with the close relationship between language and identity. In a number of studies in the 1960s, Ervin(-Tripp) (1964; 1968) found that language choice is much more than only the choice to the medium. Rather, content is affected, too. In a number of experiments, that have unfortunately not been replicated since, she demonstrated that in Thematic Apperception Tests (TAT) the content of picture descriptions changed with the language (English or French) a person used. When she asked English-Japanese bilingual women to do a sentence completion test, she got the same dramatic results: the sentence completion changed from one language to the other. Her most famous example is probably that of a woman completing the stimulus “When my wishes conflict with my family…” with “It is a time of great unhappiness” in Japanese, and with “I do what I want” in English (Ervin-Tripp 1968: 203). Likewise, Koven (1998) shows in her study of the narratives of French-Portuguese bilinguals that the self is performed differently in these languages. She argues that these differing performances point to contrasting experiences and positional identities in the two linguistic communities. So, there is evidence that bilinguals say different things in different languages, which makes it quite obvious why intercultural couples stick to the language of their first meeting: they might lose the sense of knowing each other, the sense of connectedness and the rapport derived from knowing what the other will say in advance if they switched.

Very interesting (and a little scary).

Yet I’d still like my wife to know the English-speaking me better, and I would hope that someday not too distant the Chinese-speaking me can converse with a bit more sophistication. Meanwhile, the English-speaking her is shy, but shows a lot of promise.

People change. Identities evolve. Maybe it’s not the norm, but I imagine marital language relationships can develop too.


05

Feb 2009

Where Futurama and Queen Meet

Despite the fantastical title, this is a blog post about translating into Chinese. Bear with me here.

Although she recognizes its importance, my wife has never been very enthusiastic about studying English, so over the years I’ve tried various ways of encouraging her to study. One of the earliest ideas I had was the TV show Friends. Tons of young Chinese people love it as study material, and ever since my teaching years in Hangzhou, I’ve always felt it’s great for that. (I’m not one of those Friends-bashers.) My wife, however, hated it. She thought it was dumb.

Futurama

Eventually, we found the English TV show that she liked. To my surprise, it was Futurama. Now don’t get me wrong… I love the Simpsons, and I love Futurama, but I really didn’t expect my wife to like it. But she really, really did. (She continues to surprise me on a regular basis.)

So we found the English language TV show she wanted to watch, but she still wanted Chinese subtitles. And so the great “Hunt for Futurama-with-Chinese-Subtitles” began.

This turned out to be way more difficult than I imagined. We asked a lot of shops for a long time, and in the end we only ever found Season 1 with subtitles. In the process, however, I became familiar with Futurama’s Chinese names.

Yes, that’s names, because it has a few. It seems like the most popular one is 飞出个未来. Taken literally, it doesn’t make much sense… something like “fly out a future.” I guess it sort of jives with Futurama’s opening sequence, but what the name is actually doing is approximating the sound of the English word “future” with the Chinese word 飞出. Kinda clever, if crafty transliteration is your bag, but certainly no masterpiece of translation.

The translation I like better is the one I first learned: 未来狂想曲. The first part, 未来, means “future.” OK, fine. But here’s where the interesting part comes. The next three characters are supposed to somehow represent “-rama” in Chinese. Considering that I’m not even sure how to explain what that means in English, I really feel that “-rama” is not easy to translate into Chinese, especially considering that this time the transliteration copout was not used.

The second part, 狂想曲, if broken down into three characters, literally means something like “crazy imagination tune.” It’s a real word that means “rhapsody” (in the musical sense). According to wikipedia:

> A rhapsody in music is a one-movement work that is episodic yet integrated, free-flowing in structure, featuring a range of highly contrasted moods, colour and tonality. An air of spontaneous inspiration and a sense of improvisation make it freer in form than a set of variations.

I think that description matches “-rama” and the feel of Futurama quite well, actually.

Still, if you’re a non-musician like myself, when you hear the word “rhapsody,” there’s a good chance you make this association:

Sure enough, “Bohemian Rhapsody” is 波西米亚狂想曲 in Chinese. I even found a website that translates all the lyrics of the song into Chinese. Just go to this 波西米亚狂想曲 page and watch the text to the right of the video as it plays. The translation isn’t 100% accurate (the translator also wimped out on “Scaramouche”), but it’s pretty decent. And more than a little awesome.

Bohemian Rhapsody in Chinese

Sadly, the 未来狂想曲 translation of Futurama is seldom used, and has even been co-opted by a TV show called The Future is Wild. Ah, well. Easy come, easy go… doesn’t really matter to me.


29

Jan 2009

Video Games for Lunch

Happy 牛 Year and all that. I took a bit of a break from blogging this month, and I’ve got a bit of a backlog of things to write about… many just tiny observations like this one.

Last week my wife and I went to DeAll Korean restaurant in Hongqiao for the lunch buffet. The restuarant is typically full of Koreans at lunchtime.

We were amused by the “interaction” at this table of kids:

Korean Kids at Lunch

(Hey, what else are you going to do at lunch?)


01

Oct 2008

Shuirong C100

水溶C100

水溶C100

In the last few weeks a new drink has appeared on the convenience store shelves of Shanghai. It’s called 水溶C100, but you probably know it as “lemonade.”

The name 水溶C100 comes from the idea of 水溶性维生素 (water-soluble vitamins). In this case, obviously, it’s vitamin C, and the drink boasts 100% of the recommended daily dose of vitamin C (the equivalent of 5.5 lemons, the bottle tells us) in each bottle… but only 12% juice.

I like the drink well enough. Seems to be another success for bottled water company Nongfu Spring, the same company that pleased me 5 years ago with it’s “Farmer’s Orchard” juice. But this new product has been given a fairly horrible name. My wife, who’s been drinking the stuff for a few weeks (like me) still has no idea what it’s called if she’s not looking right at the bottle. It’s just “that lemon drink” (什么100?). And what should we call it in English? C100? I don’t even know. And not only does it have an unmemorable name, but there’s that awkward word in big print “lemon,” just hanging out on the label, though apparently not part of the name. Thanks. Lemon. (But only 12%!)

CC Lemon

The drink is quite strong (sour/sweet), but I find it mixes nicely with tonic water, creating a classy concoction remarkably similar to Japan’s own CC Lemon (now there’s an Asian lemonade with a catchy name!). I bet this stuff mixes great with vodka as well.


03

Sep 2008

Failed Humor Begets Violence?

I read this article on Discovery.com last week: Telling Bad Jokes Invokes Hostility, Violence. It prompted me to reflect upon my struggles with humor in foreign languages, and in English too.

Random observations:

– The more familiar I am with the people I am with, the funnier I am. Thus, in my nuclear family I am a comedic superstar, while at work or when meeting people for the first time, not so much. Other friends fall somewhere in the middle.
– I never got very fluent in Spanish (and I’m definitely not at my high point now), but I never felt it was very hard to make jokes in Spanish. In general, the humor translated well across the cultural gap.
– It was verrry difficult to be funny in Japanese. Granted, I only lived in Japan for a year, so I wasn’t super fluent, but I repeatedly made efforts to be funny in conversations with friends, and I crashed and burned a lot. My homestay brothers mocked my failed attempts rather mercilessly. (Their cries of “さぶっ!” still haunt me.)
– It was kind of hard to make jokes in Chinese, but I never felt as much pressure to be witty as I did in Japanese. Furthermore, failed humor tends to result in confusion or non-comprehension rather than mockery.
– Even when I make a bad joke in Chinese, rarely does anyone call me on it. The exception, of course, is my wife (one of the funniest people I know), who dutifully reminds me that in Chinese, I am not very funny.

Based on my experiences, it seems like familiarity raises the stakes in humor. When you tell a joke to someone you’re close to, you either score big, or you lose big. And losing big can mean violence (according to the study)?

But I’m guessing that’s pretty cultural. I’m not at all surprised that it’s hard to be funny in France. This is a great quote from the article:

> “I may have been Nancy funny, but I was not French-speaking-Nancy funny,” she said.

I’m curious if any readers have had “violent” reactions to bad jokes in Asia.


Related: When Humor Runs Aground, Dumb Joke [on ChinesePod]


24

Aug 2008

Good Job, Good Boy

ChinesePod and Shanghaiist just kicked off a collaborative podcast called Chinese Soundbites. The first one is about China’s star track athlete Liu Xiang (刘翔). On the show Jenny and Amber talk about current events in China, and give a few relevant Chinese vocabulary words.

One of the phrases in the first episode is 好样的. It’s kind of hard to translate because literally it means something like “good appearance” or “good form.” But it’s used a lot like “good job” is in English (which, conversely, cannot be directly translated as 好工作 into Chinese!).

In the podcast Jenny uses 好样的 to voice her support for Liu Xiang. It’s kind of funny, because lately my strongest association with the phrase is my wife’s use of it. We’re house-training our puppy, and every time he successfully does his business outside, my wife praises him with a “好样的!” (“good boy!“).


10

Aug 2008

Animals as Language Partners

I talk to my dog in Chinese. It makes sense, really. He’s a Chinese dog.

He’s not a Chinese breed, but he’s born and raised in China. He may be white, but I’m not racist enough to make that mean English is his language too.

Jokes aside, it’s still not that simple. I’ve been paying attention to my dog’s other interactions, and it seems that my wife, normally not big on the “English practice” thing, talks to him an awful lot in English. (I mainly talk to him in English only when I’m mad at him for peeing on the floor… again.)

Yesterday Brad came over and talked to him in Chinese too. I’m not sure if he was just following my lead or what… I didn’t ask Brad about it, but I wouldn’t expect him to have consciously chosen the language he used to talk to a dog.

In some ways pets make the best language partners. They never criticize, never mishear or misunderstand… they just listen. The speaker is under no pressure to perform, and yet has the attention of a transfixed audience.

I’m quite sure I would not talk to my dog in Chinese if I were back in the States, though. My dog is experiencing the effect of his master living in a second language environment.

Obviously, a pet can never be a true language partner; there’s very little real communication and no negotiation of meaning going on. Still, it’s a nice intermediary step between talking to oneself and actually speaking with a human partner.

It does make me wonder, though: have there been studies on human-animal interaction in a second language acquisition context?

Newton: Depressed??


19

May 2008

Candlelight Vigil

I went to the candlelight vigil in People’s Square with my wife tonight. It gave me some mixed feelings.

I was happy to reverently hold a candle in memory of the many victims of the earthquake. On the other hand, I really didn’t see the need to wave a Chinese flag when people thrust it in my hands.

When people were chanting, “四川加油!” (Sichuan, hang in there!), I felt good. When they chanted “中国万岁!” (Long live China!) it felt a bit less relevant.

The different types of candle displays reflected the different attitudes of the people in attendance:

People's Square Candlelight Vigil People's Square Candlelight Vigil

I’m glad I went, and it gave me a few things to think about. In any case, “unity through nationalism in the face of adversity” certainly isn’t a Chinese invention.


06

Apr 2008

A Trip to Anji

My wife’s family got their tomb-sweeping done early (apparently that’s allowed), so we used the three-day weekend for a trip to Anji (安吉), Zhejiang Province’s bamboo wonderland.

Anji Tourism Map
Anji Tourist Map [click here for another version]

It has been a while since I went on a trip like this on China, so I was reminded of an important fact: When you go as an uninformed tourist, you get the full tourist experience. We didn’t do a whole lot of research before going. My wife found a pretty nice place to stay online, and the “mountains + bamboo” scenery was great, but we ended up visiting various locations as just two more cogs in the tourism machine. If we ever go back, we’ll remember to do it a bit differently. The following are some of my observations for those of you that are interested in Anji.

Early April was a good time to go because it wasn’t too hot and the crowds were tolerable, but the mountain waterfalls are a little less full, and the bamboo a little less green this time of year. It’s a trade-off.

Bamboo Forest

The place with the most attractive name, 中国大竹海 (Great Bamboo Sea of China), was something of a rip-off. I think my wife’s observation was pretty astute: “they’re just trying to make a tourist buck off of their bamboo production land.” True enough. They also rely heavily on being the bamboo forest location in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. (See image below)

中国大竹海

The text on the billboard which greets you when you arrive reads:

> 《卧虎藏龙》、《像雾像雨又像风》等影视作品拍摄地
周润发、章子怡来了,
周迅、陈坤来了,
周星驰、刘德凯也来了,
嘿,明星们都来了,我们还等什么?

A rough translation:

> Filming location of cinematic works such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Love Story in Shanghai
Chow Young-fat, Zhang Ziyi came,
Zhou Xun, Chen Kun came,
Stephen Chow, Liu Dekai came,
Hey, the stars all came — what are we waiting for?

We didn’t go too deep in, because we didn’t like what we saw in our first hour there: truckloads of cut bamboo on their way out (which tourists had to dodge), fairly thin bamboo forest, bamboo in the forest marked for cutting in big black characters, and tourists frenziedly trying to find and dig up new bamboo shoots (which they’re told they can have if they find). Other random additions included a mini roller coaster and an alpine zipline.

We tried the roller coaster (40 RMB per person), and it was pretty fun. What was interesting is that it had a hand brake. Fortunately my wife let me man the brake, because I was determined to use it as little as possible (whereas must of the Chinese tourists seemed to be applying it right away on the initial descent). It did raise the troubling question, though: is this hand brake here for tourists’ peace of mind, or can this track really not handle us going around the corners at full speed? There was a net along the sides of the track in some places, but not others (including a few tight turns), and the end of the ride requires the riders to brake themselves.

Break now! Roller coaster car

竹博园, something of a bamboo-themed botanical garden, was also pretty lame. You get to see lots of different types of bamboo, but it wasn’t looking very beautiful. There was also a fair amount of random park-like stuff, including the inflatable bubbles on the pond, and even a stage for performances, which radiated loud annoying techno-pop (not the best thing for the atmosphere).

We stayed in the 九龙峡 (literally, “Nine Dragon Gorge”) scenic area, where we saw 白茶谷 (literally, “White Tea Valley”) and 藏龙百瀑 (literally, “Hidden Dragon Hundred Falls”), which were both pretty decent, scenery-wise. The area at the top of 白茶谷 was still under construction, so we couldn’t go all the way to the top. We only went as far as a Buddhist temple about 3/4 of the way up. We had some 白茶 (“white tea”) on the mountain, and it was tasty.

Don't pick the tea!

We didn’t go all the way to the top of 藏龙百瀑 either, because we were both a bit tired from our first mountain climbing experience that day, it was getting dark (no lights), and everyone said the best spectacle was the waterfall halfway up.

Anji in general is still rapidly developing for tourism. I talked to a worker on the way up 藏龙百瀑 who told me the mountain paths (cement/stone stairways in the mountainside) were all only 7-8 years old. (That is, probably not so coincidentally, right when Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon came out.)

Overall, a pleasant visit, but be prepared for the stuff that comes with a newly developing tourism industry, and learn from my mistake: do your homework first! We only saw a few parts of a large beautiful region. There is still lots to see.


23

Mar 2008

Easter Events

Xujiahui Cathedral

Xujiahui Cathedral

Today was Easter, a good good day to complete the rough draft of my thesis. It came out to about 27,000 characters (40 pages). I still have a bit to add and polish, but the majority of the workload is now off my shoulders. What a relief.

Today Easter mass at Xujiahui Cathedral was packed. My wife and I couldn’t help chuckling at the little Chinese kid behind us, continually pestering his dad with questions:

> What does “hallelujah” mean? Does it mean “I’m awake now?”

> Why did they put out the carpet? It’s not raining today. [In Shanghai you frequently see mats or even broken-down cardboard boxes by the entrances of buildings on rainy days to help collect the water off of people’s feet. In this case, it was a red carpet leading to the altar.]

> What happened to the bishop’s hat? Did someone cut it open? It looks like someone cut it open.

> What’s a prophet? [先知]

Happy Easter!


24

Feb 2008

Cordyceps and Traditional Chinese Medicine

I was watching a BBC documentary on jungles with my wife yesterday, and we learned about a fascinating parasitic fungus called Cordyceps. Here’s the clip we saw:

Just in case you’re too lazy or unable to watch the amazing YouTube video, the fungus spreads through the insect and compels it to go somewhere high up to attach itself and die. Then the fungus sprouts from the corpse and spreads its spores upon the insect populations below. Badass! (Watch the clip.)

After doing a little research, I discovered that the genus Cordyceps includes one kind called Cordyceps sinensis (AKA caterpillar fungus), which is actually used in traditional Chinese medicine!

Here’s what one source says:

> In 1993 Chinese women distance runners won six of nine medals at the World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany in the 1,500, 3,000 and 10,000 meter races. They were suspected of steroid use and were tested. The results were negative.

> According to their coach, Ma Junren, they had been running 25 miles a day and had been using cordyceps mushrooms.

And another:

> Cordyceps Sinensis, a plant of the ergot family, is a traditional and precious dried Chinese medicinal herb belonging to the fungus category. It was highly recommended by ancient medical practitioners as the most effective cure for all illness. Owing to the herb’s high efficacy and potency in curing various diseases, it is well-known as an important nourishing tonic. However, as the sourcing and gathering of the herb is rare and difficult, so its supply often falls short of demand.

This one even mentions Shanghai:

> In a huge herb market about 850 miles west of Shanghai, I point to a pile of what look like dried worms, with a puzzled expression on my face. “Tochukaso,” says the herb dealer. I nod, recognizing the Chinese word for Cordyceps sinensis, one of the most prized agents in Traditional Chinese Medicine. In the wild, cordyceps is a parasitic fungus which grows on caterpillars on the high Tibetan plateau. But cordyceps is now also cultivated on wood and grains. Heralded in Chinese herbal texts for over 700 years, cordyceps is now trumpeted by science as well.

I’m quite a skeptic when it comes to TCM, and trying to pass off Japanese as Chinese doesn’t make the above source any more credible. However, the Chinese name for Cordyceps sinensis is actually really interesting. From the wikipedia entry:

> In Tibetan it is known as Yartsa Gunbu [Wylie: dbyar rtswa dgun ‘bu], source of Nepali: यार्सागुम्बा, Yarshagumba, Yarchagumba. It is also known as “keera jhar” in India. Its name in Chinese “dong chong xia cao” (冬虫夏草) means “winter worm, summer grass” (meaning “worm in the winter, (turns to) plant in the summer”). The Chinese name is a literal translation of the original Tibetan name, which was first recorded in the 15th Century by the Tibetan doctor Zurkhar Namnyi Dorje….

Here are some pictures via Flickr of 冬虫夏草 as it may look in a TCM store (click through the second one for more info):

I was just very amused to find this crazy fungus reminiscent of Giger’s Alien, only to learn that the Chinese have been using it as medicine for hundreds of years. Yeah, I guess it fits…


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.


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!


04

Dec 2007

Suckers for Math

One thing I’ve noticed is that a lot of Chinese citizens (especially the college-age-ish) have great pride in their math skills. They have heard time and again that their math skills are superior to most other nations’ students’, and they believe it. This can be sort of fun to mess with.

I recently stumbled across the World’s Hardest Easy Geometry Problem. After working on it for about half an hour and realizing that it really was pretty tough, I decided to see if I could entice my wife to try it.

Now, my wife is intelligent, but she’s no math person. She earned her degree in law (and not the mathy kind). To be honest, I can’t remember her ever showing much interest in math or geometry. But I decided to tempt her with the problem.

She ended up spending the rest of the evening working on it. Ah, pride is a fun thing.

(Anyone got any other deceptively difficult math bait?)



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