July has been a super busy month for me, largely because of all the work that’s gone into getting the forthcoming Chinese Grammar Wiki BOOK out in print form, but also because of a host of other projects, both work-related and personal. So while I can’t say that all of that stuff is done (yet), I can share a little bit about what I’ve been busy with.
I probably would have managed a few more posts in July if not for getting hacked yet again, by some stupid malware script that found an old WordPress plugin exploit. Static site generators are looking more and more attractive…
I joined a gym! And not just any gym, but one that specializes in personal trainer services. It’s not cheap, but I signed up both because I need to get in shape and have been wanting to see what a personal trainer can do, but also because this kind of service is so analogous in so many ways to the personalized Chinese training service that AllSet Learning provides. This experience is offering lots of interesting insights, and I’ll be sharing more on this. (Curious if anyone else has made similar connections between body fitness and language training, on a very personal level?)
My daughter is five and a half, and her English reading is coming along, but now she’s also learning pinyin at the same time. How confusing is that? Turns out, not very. The concept “these same letters make different sounds in Chinese” is not super hard for a kid to get, it seems.
Much to my surprise, I also have a few small video projects in the works. The first one will be shared here very soon.
Everybody needs some down time, right? In between episodes of Game of Thrones, I’ve been immensely enjoying Horizon Zero Dawn. What an amazing game.
How much would you pay for a little plastic box of Nintendo nostalgia? In the US, the NES Classic is going for around $200 on Amazon, while the Euro version is selling for around $230, and the Japanese version for $140 (which you better read Japanese for). I’m not sure how guaranteed the device is to be in stock, even at those prices, however.
So I was a little excited to find stacks of these things at a game shop in Shanghai on West Beijing Rd. (北京西路), near Jiaozhou Rd. (胶州路). The price for the Euro version is 900 RMB (about $130 at current exchange rates).
If you’re in Shanghai and want to seek out the shop, stay on the south side of the street east of Jiaozhou Rd, and look for a blue Playstation sign.
I keep reading about how Pokémon Go is so wildly popular everywhere, and I tried to play it in China, but it just doesn’t work. I managed to use a VPN to create an account using my Google login, and I even caught one little creature (I think it was just part of a beginner tutorial), but then the virtual world (in China) was a vast wasteland… nothing to play. Later, I couldn’t get the app to connect to the server over 4G while I was out and about. Still later, the app acted like I didn’t have an account anymore.
I see now that there is already a Chinese Pokémon Go clone. This is one of the things that disturbs me so much about using the internet in China. It’s not just that we’re so often forced to use cloned apps instead of the real deal (although that, too, is annoying). It’s that we’re cut off from the rest of the world’s users, isolated.
Which is, of course, exactly the point. Even for Pokémon Go.
I recently wrote a guest post on Olle Linge’s excellent blog, Hacking Chinese: How to Approach Chinese Grammar. At a later date I’ll probably adapt it to more specifically relate to AllSet Learning’s work on the Chinese Grammar Wiki, but in the meantime, I made this little visual metaphor to add to what I said in that article:
I was actually originally thinking the metaphor would be like the difference between a video game that you have to read the manual or you basically can’t even play it, and the kind of game where you can easily just “jump in” and learn as you play. (Although there used to be a lot of games of the first type, nowadays most console games are actually of the second type, with built-in tutorials.) But the above visual was a lot simpler and to-the-point, and makes sense to gamers and non-gamers alike.
The “Chinese Banquet Baijiu Toast” video game needs to be made. (Indie game developers, this idea is free. Hurry up and go start a Kickstarter campaign!)
I was having dinner last week with former AllSet intern Parry and current AllSet intern Ben, and we started talking about baijiu (白酒) drinking strategies. I told them about my friend Derek who kind of made himself into an authority on baijiu by drinking way more of the foul liquid than most white people ever have. And then we started talking about baijiu toasts at Chinese dinners. I told them about my experience in Baoding last CNY, and how our hosts had brought “baijiu assassins” to bring down my father-in-law, who’s kind of legendary in the bajiu-drinking department. And I told them about some of the different strategies that are used in big banquet situations where the baijiu flows freely.
What are these strategies, you ask? I’m not talking about cheap “drink water instead of baijiu” tricks, I’m talking about respectable above-board strategies for these drinking events. Some basic ones:
1. Ganging Up: Individuals go toast one particular person, one by one, in rapid succession. That way each “attacker” only has one shot of baijiu, but the “victim” has many, with no time to recover.
2. Table Takedown: Similar to “ganging up,” but you send one person from your table to toast an entire table (everyone at that table must do a shot). When that person from your table returns, you send another person from your table to toast the whole table again. Repeat ad nauseam (and I do mean nauseam!).
3. Empty Table: If things get hot and heavy and there are enough tables at the banquet, it might be wise for everyone at the table to fan out and do multiple table takedowns (or ganging up) at the same time. That way there’s no one left at your table to get taken down! This is also a good time to go to the bathroom, but beware: if you seem to just be running from your drinking duties, you’re just asking to get ganged up on.
Now rarely is there really this much strategizing going on, I think (although there certainly was that dark night in Baoding!). But it makes me think that this could make a cool strategy game. It all reminds me of an RTS (real-time strategy) game like Starcraft.
Could some indie game developer make the Starcraft of Chinese Baijiu Toasts? That would be cool… As long as I don’t really have to drink any baijiu to play!
Over the past year or so the expression 你妹 (literally, “your little sister”) is pretty popular. You might guess that it’s kind of dirty, based on other common vulgar phrases involving mothers or grandmothers, and you’d be kind of right. It’s clearly not a polite phrase, but it seems to be more often used in a flippant way among friends rather than a vulgar way to start fights.
One of the means by which the phrase 你妹 is getting more exposure is through the crazy popular new game “找你妹” (literally, “Look for Your Little Sister,” although that’s not how the name is really understood). I first noticed this game a couple weeks ago while riding public transportation. I’m seeing it played on iPhones and iPads everywhere around Shanghai. It’s especially interesting to me because it looks so lame, despite being so popular. You basically scroll through a bunch of little drawings of objects, and click on the ones you’re told to find. Whee.
It looks like this:
There’s even a video on YouTube about how a kid played 找你妹 all night and went blind. (Well, I guess there are allegedly more embarrassing ways to go blind…) You can see footage of the game in action in parts of the clip:
As for the recent upsurge in usage of the phrase 你妹, it’s kind of interesting, and Baidu offers an explanation (in Chinese, of course). I’m not going to try to explain it because I’m not personally super familiar with all the nuances of its usage yet, but this is exactly the type of situation where having a group of young Chinese teachers on staff comes in super handy, so I’m going to have to get into this topic in the AllSet Learning office. (Anyone interested in it or have a link to an explanation as good or better than Baidu’s? The other explanations I could find were a bit lacking.)
The PS3 game Journey has recently been released to rave reviews. Here’s a little taste of what people are saying from the Escapist:
> It’s not something you can commit to words, really, it’s something you have to feel. Should you choose to play the game – and I really hope you do – your trek through the ruins will be a very personal experience, the impact of which only you will truly understand. It won’t change your life, but it just might change your thoughts about what videogames can accomplish.
The review above is fairly typical. The word “magical” tends to come up a lot in other reviews. Clearly, the game is extremely well designed, and people are duly impressed. But at the heart of the design is a fascinating mashup of Chinese, Islamic, and even Tibetan design elements. I was a bit disappointed that I’ve so far been unable to find any in-depth coverage of the design inspiration for this game. My original impression was something like: aliens + mosques + 8-bit + Chinese characters + Lhasa.
It’s probably the alien glyphs that impressed me the most. They have an 8-bit style, and the (sort of Moroccan?) desert setting guides your mind to the idea of Arabic calligraphy, but the style of the characters themselves tends more toward over-grown Hebrew letters. Each glyph has a clear four-part internal structure to it, though, which feels like a nod to the structure of Chinese characters. Later on in the game, you end up in a temple level, where the glyphs are covering the walls in a neat grid, and it definitely felt like some of the places I’ve been in China.
The game Journey is a rather obvious metaphor for life, but the mix of religious themes is striking too. Mosque elements are blatant in the beginning, and snowy mountain monasteries at the end, but the single culture woven throughout the game is consistent, and there are ongoing themes of meditation and murals of spiritual significance. No “religion” is ever mentioned (in fact, the glyphs and beautiful music are the only “language” that appear in the game), but the intensely personal nature of the quest and the white-clad enlightened ones returning to help the new pilgrims (a game mechanic built into the game’s trophies) feels very Buddhist.
The makers of Journey wanted to do something different with Journey by innovating around the emotional response a game could evoke. In this way, games can appeal to wider audiences, and perhaps even come closer to “art.” But Journey is a worthwhile experience for anyone interested in Middle Eastern or East Asian culture, especially from a design perspective. The writing system alone is worth admiring. If you have access to a PS3, check this game out.
By “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” I mean now that I have had the opportunity to go, I will never again go in this lifetime. Once is definitely enough. Still, I’m surprised that very few foreigners have ever heard of ChinaJoy, because it’s so huge here in Shanghai. Not until I went myself did I realize how huge it really is.
I’m pretty sure the line to buy tickets to ChinaJoy was the longest line I’ve ever been in, spanning the length of the enormous new Shanghai International Conference Center in Pudong, near Longyang Road Subway Station. Fortunately, it was also the fastest moving. The line to buy tickets was so long you had to take quite a walk to even find the end of it, and the organizers felt the need to hire a guy that holds a sign marking the end of the line. No joke.
ChinaJoy filled four enormous conference halls, most of which were jam-packed with people. I can’t remember a time I’ve been at an event in Shanghai with so many people, but so few foreigners. Of the thousands of people I must have seen, I saw less than 10 foreigners in my two-hour visit. And let me tell you, it was an exhausting two hours, milling through dense crowds in a just-barely-air-conditioned building.
So what is the draw? It’s supposed to be a “digital entertainment expo,” video games being the main draw, but the practice of companies hiring models to represent their products has become a huge part of the appeal. So you can still see lots of video games (I saw live tournaments of DotA and Starcraft (1) displayed on huge screens), and play certain ones at some of the booths, but there’s also a ton of photographing of cosplay models going on everywhere. Oh, and let’s not forget the silly dances on stage.
ChinaJoy is still going on this weekend. If you’re interested in the gaming part, I definitely don’t recommend it. Even if you’re mainly interested in the models, I still don’t recommend it. (Shanghaiist has photos, as does Flickr.)
Finally, I leave you with a few more random photos:
Super Mario Galaxy clone?
A Japanese school decided to try the “model marketing” thing at ChinaJoy…
A while back I blogged about buying a PS2 in China, and there was a lot of interest. There’s not much to say about PS3, because it is so far uncracked/unpirated, so everyone who plays PS3 here imports everything. Games are 2-300 RMB each. XBox 360 has similar status re: pirating to Wii in China, but I have almost no experience with it, so will limit my observations to the Wii and its games.
Nintendo does not officially sell the Wii in the People’s Republic of China, so buyers must purchase an imported system. While previously Japanese Wii systems were the most common, now Korean imports are becoming more common. I imagine it is possible buy the Wii imported from the United States and other countries as well.
These are the prices I was quoted at my local video game shop:
– Basic Wii system (one controller) imported from Korea: 1580 RMB
– Installation of WiiGator “backup launcher” (which allows you to play “backup copy” AKA pirated games): free
– Extra Wii controller set (Wii remote + “nunchuk”): 450 RMB
– Wii Fit imported from Japan (with Wii Fit game/software): 800 RMB
– 10 games (not imported, obviously) – free
All games work fine as long as you load them through the WiiGator Gamma Backup Launcher 0.3. The system also comes preloaded with Homebrew and Softchip (an alternate backup launcher). The shopkeeper told me only to use the WiiGator Gamma Backup Launcher, but I did actually try out the Softchip launcher, and it worked for most games. The (Korean) Mii section, however, does not work at all. I’ve heard that it can easily be enabled; the shopkeeper I talked to said it’s a waste of precious memory. I didn’t buy any memory upgrades, and so far I’m doing fine without it.
Just like PS2 and XBox 360 games, Wii discs sell in Shanghai for 5 RMB each.
It is expected that “backup launchers” and other alternate Wii firmware will continue to make strides. Currently, for example, online access is impossible, and attempts to use it will likely lock down the offending Wii system. In the event that alternate firmware does release better versions, it’s understood that shopkeepers will upgrade the firmware of their customers’ systems free of charge.
I can’t actually help you buy a Wii; this information is for reference only. If you’re interested, please also see Buying a Wii in Taiwan, a sister blog post by my friend Mark, who lives in Taiwan.
While I’d like to kick off the new year with an interesting post about language, I’ve been enjoying myself too much recently to put one together. I’ve become addicted to a cool independent game called Spelunky.
Spelunky has cool retro pixel graphics. It’s kind of like Super Mario Brothers (physics) + Zelda (items) + Indiana Jones (theme). What really makes it unique, though, is its random level generation. The game most famous for this is the old 1980 classic Rogue, but Spelunky does it in a more sophisticated, fun way.
You play randomly generated level after randomly generated level, knowing you will never play them again. And you die many, many times. Randomly generated levels strewn with enemies and traps are often very unfair, yet the design is sufficiently balanced and full of surprises that you keep coming back for more… again and again and again.
Well done, Derek Yu. It’s innovative games like this that make me glad I still have a PC and not just a Mac.
Two nice pop culture references there, but interested in Chinese onomatopoeia as I am, I can’t help but fixate on the Street Fighter sound effect label: 欧由根. This especially amuses me because I remember when I was playing Street Fighter II in high school, my friends and I could never quite agree on what the heck Ryu was saying. We always thought it was something like “Har-yookin,” but apparently at least some of the Chinese hear it as “oh-yoogun.”
For those of you who have no idea of what I’m talking about, or only a very fuzzy recollection, this video, taken directly from the Street Fighter II video game, has plenty of sound bites for you:
Anyway, curious, I Baidu’d the phrase and, on a page about 我们丫丫吧, found some interesting stuff. I couldn’t help trying to decipher these:
– 欧由根: the classic shoryuken in the illustration above (see 0:11, 0:12, and countless other places in the video)
– 啊卢给: Hmmm, either it’s a hadouken (0:08), or it’s someone else’s move. (Anyone…?)
– 加加不绿根: the hurricane kick (0:54)?
If you’re Chinese and you used to play Street Fighter II, I’d love to hear what you used to hear the characters saying.
It’s pretty well-known that Chinese college boys love computer games. When I taught in Hangzhou, I saw firsthand how those guys would spend every free minute in internet cafes playing CounterStrike or whatever the latest network game was. The reason for the obsession was hard for me to grasp.
Then I saw two eye-catching entries on Bingfeng’s Teahouse which offered a possible explanation:
Bingfeng’s large collection of “Chinese Internet Girl” photos (click on both photos above for more) — evidence of the proliferation of digital cameras, webcams, and internet usage in China — offers a compelling possible explanation for Chinese boys’ infatuation with the internet.
The thing is, I still think the vast majority of them just really like those damn games.
So yes, I was curious how it went. Did I read Micah’s whole account? Yes. Do I wish I had gone? No. (I had to beat Shadow of the Colossus over the weekend! Man, that is a truly awesome, ground-breaking game.)
I think we can expect another account of the Bloggercon from a different angle out of Chinawhite very soon.
This is a pretty crazy week for me; I may take a short break from blogging. After that, I’ll be tackling some subjects/projects on Sinosplice that I’ve been postponing for a while…
So there’s this show called 超级女声 which the Chinese abbreviate to 超女 and most people call “Supergirl” in English. (Danwei.org, on the other hand, calls it Super Voice Girls.) The show is a lot like American idol. This season it has been immensely popular all over mainland China. Viewers can vote for their favorites by text messaging with their cell phones. This past Friday was the final installment. A huge proportion of China’s TV-watching masses were tuned in.
Inspired by Micah’s entries, I thought it might be a good thing to watch. It couldn’t hurt my cultural understanding of China to watch something that so many Chinese folk were going gaga over. So I suggested to my girlfriend that we watch it. To my surprise, she hadn’t seen a single episode, but she agreed to watch it with me. We decided to watch it at her place with her parents, since they were into it.
Friday morning she asked that I also bring over the PS2. She said we could play video games first, then watch Supergirl. I agreed to that. So I came over with the PS2 around 5pm and we were soon very engaged in a cool Japanese fantasy game called Ico, taking turns playing it.
Soon it was dinner time. We ate, and then went back to the game.
When 8:30 rolled around, my girlfriend didn’t want to quit playing the video game to watch Supergirl. I didn’t really, either, since we were close to beating Ico and I didn’t want to miss the end. Supergirl ran something like 2 1/2 hours, so we decided to play for a while longer. As her parents started watching in the other room, the sounds of cliche, over-played songs started coming out of the other room.
More time passed, and the show was almost over. I didn’t want to miss the grand finale, at least, plus we had gotten stuck on this one part of Ico. So I asked my girlfriend if she was going to watch Supergirl or not. Her response:
> No, I’m really not interested. What’s so special about that show? There have been a million other shows like it, and they’re all the same. *I* can sing as well as some of those girls! Sorry, I’ll pass.
So I caught the tail end, and she didn’t watch any of it. To my surprise, the cute one got the least votes, and I thought she sang the best. The worst singer won. And it wasn’t very interesting watching.
My girlfriend made a good point: there really wasn’t anything unique or revolutionary about the show. It was actually in its second season, and received little attention its first season. Why was it so popular? I wanted to watch it to find out what all the hype was all about, but I think I should have just followed my girlfriend’s lead. She’s pretty smart.
So then we beat Ico. Cool game.
The next day my girlfriend invited 9 friends, male and female (all Chinese), over to my place for a little party. I asked them how many of them watched the final episode of Supergirl. They all did.
I think my girlfriend is the only Chinese person I know that didn’t watch a single episode. She wanted to play PS2 instead. She’s pretty damn cool.
That’s right, the PS2’s manufactured in China cost more, and according to the owner the quality isn’t as good. I asked the owner why. The conversation went something like this:
> Me: Why are the ones made in China more expensive? Shouldn’t they be cheaper?
> Owner: Sony is Japanese! The Japanese always do this! They make good stuff and sell it to the USA, then they sell all the crappy electronics in China, for higher prices than the good stuff sells for in the USA! Why do you think we hate the Japanese?
> Me: Ummm, I thought that had something to do with historical events…
> Owner: No, this is why!
A very “Shanghai moment,” that.
The imported controllers are more expensive than locally manufactured ones, though. The owner highly recommends them, as the locally manufactured ones break/wear out too easily.
In that shop, pirated PS2 games go for 5 RMB each! I remember when I was a teenager I had to mow quite a few lawns to earn the money I needed to buy the NES cartridges I was dying to have. Nowadays, kids in Shanghai can get the newest video games for pocket change. The cost of the system itself is a bit prohibitive, though.
While I was in the shop, there was a high school boy in there seeking out the owner with all the anxiety of a parent going to visit a sick child in the hospital. It seems his mom got so fed up with his excessive game playing that she picked up his PS2 and smashed it against the ground. The owner said he could actually fix it! Meanwhile, the kid, in desperate need of his video game fix, was returning to the shop every few hours to inquire about the status of his precious PS2.
One of the games the owner was recommending was God of War. Now, I pretty much outgrew video games in college (except for the occasional game of StarCraft or original Alien Hominid), but this game had the magic to draw me completely back in. At least for a little while. There’s just one word for this game: stunning. (Also shockingly violent — not for the kiddies!) Greek mythology has never been so fun (even if it is a bit off).
If you know me, you surely know about my staunch anti-piracy stance. All this rampant piracy in China should not be supported.
But yeah, I’ve been playing quite a bit of PS2 lately.
I am finally back in Shanghai today. It has been a very full past two weeks.
I like the Seoul airport. It has good food, and a nice internet cafe (or “Internet Plaza,” as they call it) for US$3 per hour. I used that one on the way to the USA, but this time on the way back my girlfriend and I found the transit lounge (it’s up one floor), which offers free internet access. Nice computers, too.
I also experienced Korea’s most beloved of televised competitions: the Starcraft competition. Pretty crazy. I remember when I first arrived in China in 2000 Starcraft was still pretty popular, but I don’t see it on many screens in the wangba these days (although, admittedly, I don’t find myself in Chinese wangba much anymore). China has moved onto other games, like WoW (speaking of which, check this ad out). Korea is not nearly as fickle as China; it has remained steadfast in its obsession despite the fact that Starcraft is already 7 years old.
I have always liked Starcraft, and I still play a round from time to time. I think it’s my favorite computer game ever. But I still don’t think I would cry on national television if I lost a Starcraft competition. I guess I just don’t understand Korea.
“CS” is the abbreviation Chinese teenagers use for Counter Strike (rather than the Chinese name 反恐精英), the world’s most popular FPS network computer game. When I taught college English at ZUCC in Hangzhou, there were quite a few boys in my classes that were crazy about the game and devoted almost all their free time to playing it in internet cafes. They even got Wilson (who was teaching there then) to play them.
Tian has a funny post (with pictures!) about the Chinese military using CS as training. Check it out.
What have I been doing for the past 2 weeks (besides trying to get my site back online)? It seems like a lot of nothing, but the list goes something like this:
Plowing through my Chinese intro to linguistics text. (Surprisingly, I’m learning a lot of really useful non-linguistics-specific vocabulary.)
Reading short stories by H. P. Lovecraft. (And, frequently being disappointed by the endings.)
Killing time going through the archives of Nuklear Power. (OK, I know it’s lame; I can’t explain it! But FF1 was my favorite game of all time, so that must be part of it.)
Expanding my music collection. (Huddle Formation by The Go! Team is awesome happy music.)
Visiting the hospital again. (More on that adventure later.)
Deciding not to go to India for my October vacation because the plane tickets are just not cheap. (Still not sure what I’ll do.)
Yes, I’ve dicovered that when my internet usage goes down I end up reading more and getting more sleep. Good thing I solved my hosting problem. No telling what I might be capable of if I were well-rested, well-read, and well-thought out all the time!