Wenlin 3.0

I finally got my hands on Wenlin 3.0 for “trial purposes” recently. Brendan at Bokane.org has been singing its praises for some time (he even co-wrote a glowing software review), so I’ve really wanted to try it out for some time now. I’ve used NJStar and 金山词霸 (Jinshan Ciba) before, so those were my references for this kind of software.

I don’t intend to do a lengthy review examining every aspect of the software; I just want to do a quick comparison of the major differences between these three pieces of doftware.

NJStar Chinese Word Processor 4.35


NJStar also has a Asian language viewer, but it’s been rendered pretty much completely unnecessary with internationalization advancements in Windows and other operating systems. The main draw is the word processor.

I’ve always found the dictionary that comes with the NJStar word processor to be virtually useless. NJStar’s saving grace is its radical lookup method. It consists of a chart containing all possible radicals (and even some that aren’t technically official). You click on the radicals within the character that you can identify. Here’s the good part: It doesn’t matter if they’re the character’s main radical or not. With each radical you identify, the list of possible matches at the top grows shorter until you can easily pick out the character. You can also limit matches by total number of strokes.

NJStar Chinese Word Processor’s radical lookup method is the best by far of any software I have seen. Everywhere else it’s lacking, however.

[Note: Available also for Japanese.]

金山词霸 (Jinshan Ciba)

Jinshan Ciba

Jinshan Ciba is clearly meant for Chinese users. For this reason, beginners will find it frustrating. Instructions are all in simplified Chinese, and pinyin isn’t readily available (although you can double click individual characters within the program to look them up and get a pinyin reading).

Jinshan Ciba’s selling point is that it’s not merely a stand-alone dictionary, but can also work in conjunction with other software. If you have Jinshan Ciba running in the background, you can set it to display little popup translations for any words on the screen. It’s great for surfing the web, but works in various kinds of software as well. It does English-Chinese as well as Chinese-English, and if the short popup definition isn’t enough, you can take it to the main dictionary for a more extensive definition.

Jinshan Ciba is best suited to intermediate to advanced learners. It’s also most easily found on the streets of China (for less than $1). But it does have some strong points that no other software I have seen duplicates.

Wenlin 3.0


One of Wenlin’s strong suits is its pinyin support, which makes it best suited to beginning students. I found it annoying how sample sentences for entries are written entirely in pinyin (no characters), but I know this is exactly what beginning students need.

Wenlin’s dictionary is also superb. It provides character entries in multiple fonts, even with etymology. It includes stroke order for each character, as well as other useful features such as “list characters containing this character as a component,” “list words containing this character,” and “list words starting with this character.” Extras such as the “components” (which can be looked up themselves, even if they are not full characters) and Cantonese reading are really cool too. The only detraction is, once again, a slight tendency to favor pinyin over actual characters.

Once text is pasted into Wenlin, it’s great for looking up unknown words. It does what Jinshan Ciba does, only with a much better dictionary and a little more work.

In conclusion, I would go with Wenlin as my main computer dictionary, but would want NJStar if I were going to be looking up a lot of completely unfamiliar characters. Jinshan Ciba is great for casual browsing of Chinese, or if you’re running a Chinese operating system and other Chinese programs for which you may need help reading.

Speaking Chinese: 300 Grammatical Points

Speaking Chinese: 300 Grammatical Points

Edited by Cao Shan (New World Press, 2000)

Review by: John Pasden

Read the rest of this entry »

Women Writing

My sister Amy went back home to the USA today (yesterday) after a 2-week visit. I was left with a fresh slab of that particular kind of emptiness, separated once again from my entire family by that big expanse of water. And yet, a twinge of relief. I once again have some time to myself. Won’t be long before I’m very tired of all this time to myself, I expect.

Amy has agreed to write a guest entry or two to share some of her experiences in China. Should be interesting. She’s not much like me.

On the subject of women writing, check out the 21st Street Diary. Some guy found on anonymous woman’s diary from the 70’s, and he’s putting images of the actual pages online. It seems promising.

Exorcising, Exploding, Welcoming

OK, I guess that’s not a nice way to refer to the departure of two good friends. But it’s what came to mind when I took this picture, which I have entitled exorcising the demon (sorry Carl):

exorcising the demon

Amy is still here visiting, and we’re doing lots of sightseeing still (as well as plenty of lounging). Carl and Greg’s most recent Shanghai visit, however, is already over just two days after it began. They seem to have had a good time (due largely to the neighborhood Taco Popo). My new sleeper sofa, mattress pad, and sheet set equip my guest room pretty well to accommodate guests.

Quick plug: Da Yu (Chinese name) Japanese restaurant in the Isetan building on West Nanjing Road is awesome. At 150 rmb per person it’s not cheap, but it’s all you can eat and all you can drink. Plus you order off the menu — there’s no crappy buffet bar. We left there at closing, very full and more than a little happy. (Thanks to Wilson for that recommendation!)

While they were here we also experienced the storm after the calm after the storm. I refer to the ridiculous firecracker/firework extravaganza that went on last night. The noise was deafening, and we had quite a show out my apartment window for about an hour. All kinds of fireworks explosions came from all directions, right in the middle of the city, between tall buildings. At one point a nearby building caught on fire, sending up big clouds of smoke. It was put out fairly quickly. (The next morning we went to check it out, but there was no evidence. I did notice a sign on the building which had caught fire: DANGER: GAS.)

[Related link: don’t miss this footage of the unbelievable pyrotechnic show around ZUCC on Chinese New Year’s Eve.]

Turns out that the display here last night was due to some kind of tradition of welcoming the god of wealth into one’s home for a prosperous new year. Hmmm. I suppose I should study up on this whole “Chinese culture” thing a little more.

Anyway, I’m glad Carl and Greg came up to the big city for the visit. To my other friends: come on over for a visit!


Amusing Chinese Products #1

Here are some funny but real products I have found (and subsequently purchased) in the PRC. Click on the image for a fuller image, sometimes including additional angles.

1. Dr. Bang Liquid Soap

Click for expanded image
He’s Dr. Bang. That says it all, and leads us to…

2. “Sailor” Condoms

Click for expanded image
Look at how thrilled this guy is. “I’m gonna get laid!” He’s beaming. Some sailor.

3. The Douche Water Cup

Click for expanded image
I think this cup is for drinking water. Maybe.

4. “Crazy Toilet” Candy

Click for expanded image
This is a candy plunger which you use to dip into the syrup in the toilet bowl. Make sure to look at the instructions on the back in the full image.

5. Chinese Duracell Batteries rip off Energizer

Click for the Hong Kong Duracell Site
Anyone who’s been in China long has probably seen this pathetic Energizer bunny ripoff. He’s plastered all over Hangzhou. Click on the pic for the Hong Kong site, which is just chock full of the little pink bastard.

Fix that Baopi!

Ad for foreskin surgery in Shanghai (click me!)Baopi is a Chinese word that means “foreskin.” You see the Chinese characters in the picture here. I am most familiar with the Chinese word in the context of foreigners’ propensity to mix it up with the word pibao (same characters), which means wallet or purse (literally, “leather bag”).

I was pretty surprised, then, to see these words jumping out at me from an ad on the Shanghai subway. Make sure to click on the picture to see the entire ad.

I’m not sure what baojing is. According to the characters, its literal translation would be “skin stalk.” If you want more information, you can go to this Chinese site, which provides nice graphical clarification. [WARNING: if you don’t want to look at male genitalia, don’t click on that link!]

Some other related terms are:

  • 包皮切除 (bao1 pi2 qie4 chu2) – circumcision
  • 包皮过长 (bao1 pi2 guo4 chang2) – redundant prepuce (literally, “foreskin too long”)
  • 包皮垢 (bao1 pi2 gou4) – smegma

Anyway, I found all that amusing to see on a subway. The ad advocates immediate surgery. The nurse is a nice touch, eh?

Hangzhou Got Shorted

My sister Amy arrived last Thursday night, which just so happened to coincide with the arrival of rain and considerably colder weather in the Shanghai area. We haven’t done much so far in Shanghai, although we did get to meet Michael of Chairman Meow and Living in China fame and his friends. Very cool group of people. Then we went to Hangzhou.

I gotta say, any decent city in China requires at least a week of touristing. I foolishly only gave us 3 days in Hangzhou, and I regret it. We saw West Lake, Nanshan Road’s bars, Ling Yin Temple, the Silk Market, In Time Department Store, “West Lake Heaven and Earth” (西湖天地), ZUCC, and snow. On Sunday the weather was horrible (even if it did snow), so we shopped all day. Ugh. Then yesterday we went to the silk market and we spent 3 hours there. I wanted to die. I was translator and haggler. I really got some good prices, but I don’t particularly enjoy that.

Amy enjoyed meeting all my ZUCC co-workers and other Hangzhou friends. They’re all really cool people. I should have some pictures of her visit up soon. Got some good ones.

Last night we made the difficult decision not to go to Beijing. It’s the wrong time of year for it (too cold, and it’s the Chinese New Year holiday now), and we just wouldn’t have enough time there. Plus, Amy wouldn’t get to see much of Shanghai even if we went to Beijing for only 3 or 4 days. You can’t see three amazing cities in two weeks.

So tonight is Chinese New Year’s Eve. We’ll be spending it with my girlfriend’s family. Happy Chinese New Year everybody!

John and Amy at Reggae Bar, Hangzhou

Shanghai Gloom?

Jocelyn at Speaking of China recently painted a rather dismal picture of life in Shanghai:

I think of those 10 or so months I’d spent in Shanghai. Somehow staying in that “booming metropolis” had swiftly beaten much of the spontaneity out of my life. There’s something inextricably stifling about Shanghai. The people hardly smile at you. The shopkeepers at times seem reluctant to utter “Welcome” as you walk in the door. Most entertainment options offer little for those interested in something non-conventional. Oh, there is a multitude of cultural activities around the city, from traditional opera to music and theatre. But there are few “scenes” in the city that bring together a group of people with similar interests. I believe I grew tired of the little available and the difficulty of making friends there. I chose to become a “hermit” of sorts, finding pleasure instead in the small subtleties of everyday life. It satisfied me nevertheless.

(She wrote this in the context of a comparison of Shanghai to Taipei. Check it out, it’s good reading.)

Reading something like that, I can’t help but feel a little bit anxious about my new life here in Shanghai. But then I think, HA! I’m going to kick Shanghai’s sorry big ass. I am going to have a damn good time here, I’m going to continue to improve my Chinese, and I’m going to make more Chinese friends here than I ever had in Hanghzou. And they’re going to be cool.

One of my secrets for accomplishing this will be in learning Shanghai dialect. Comprehension at the very least. I made friends on the bus yesterday with a Shanghainese guy. I was reading my book on the Shanghainese dialect, and he started talking to me about it. It’s really complex. The subject of me teaching him English for free never even came up. Anyway, I got his number. BOOM, new friend! It was almost as easy as getting a Chinese girl’s number. (hehe)

Then later that day my girlfriend’s mom gave me a lesson in Shanghainese. My Chinese name in Shanghainese sounds like “Poogie.” Haha! Awesome.

And my sister Amy arrives later today (wow, I need to go to sleep!). It’s gonna be a great 2 weeks!

Someone Listened?!

A while back, when SARS was the topic dominating the China blog neighborhood, I wrote about a letter I sent to the media. It sure seemed that nothing came of it. I have just discovered that it did produce at least one small mention in the media.

Why Shanghai?

A lot of people have asked me why I decided to move to Shanghai. A few years ago I would have laughed at the idea of myself making a home here. But, things have a funny way of working out…. Some of you might be wondering the converse, though — why not Shanghai?

When I first came to China, I chose Hangzhou (over Shanghai) for a number of reasons.

  1. Climate. Hangzhou is not too cold in the winter, and the winter doesn’t drag on too much. [Shanghai’s climate is virtually identical to Hangzhou’s.]
  2. Environment. Hangzhou is surrounded by green hills and wooded areas, and, of course, it also has the famous West Lake. [Shanghai has parks, but it is still the big bity. Concrete jungle.]
  3. Size. Although its population is close to 7 million, Hangzhou is a “mid-sized” city in China. In addition, the actual area the city covers is not really that large. Living there, you really feel that it’s not a big city. [Shanghai’s population, on the other hand, has topped 20 million. It is huge in all senses of the word.]
  4. Language. Hangzhou has its own local dialect which is virtually incomprehensible to those merely versed in Mandarin, but the dialect is not as widely used as you might think. Since Hangzhou is the capital of Zhejiang province and also very much a “college town,” Mandarin is very widespread (if not always standard). This makes it a better place to study Chinese. [In comparison, Shanghai dialect is much more widely used in Shanghai, and knowledge of it is much more integral to success there. Also, there are many, many Chinese people that speak good English in Shanghai, which doesn’t help if you’re trying hard to learn Chinese.]
  5. Girls. Believe it or not, Hangzhou’s reputation for beautiful women was not a factor in my choice of Hangzhou. Furthermore, after being in China a while, I think it’s all a load of crap. Many places in China are famous for this reason (Hangzhou, Suzhou, Sichuan, Dalian, etc.). It’s just a variation on the “the grass is always greener” phenomenon. One thing Hangzhou does have going for it in this category is that it’s a college town, so there are tons of college-aged girls. [Shanghai women know how to dress well and wear makeup. They are hot, hot, HOT. It seems like the hottest ones are often either working girls or out for money, though.]
  6. Pollution. Pollution is a huge issue for foreigners in China, so I wanted to pick one of the cleaner Chinese cities. Relatively speaking, Hangzhou fits the bill (there are some nightmarish cities out there), but it’s by no means pristine. [Shanghai does not at all seem more polluted. I guess it’s because factories are largely located in the countryside (like right behind ZUCC).]

For the reasons above, as well as the fact that I never felt like a “city person,” I chose Hangzhou over Shanghai. It was an excellent choice. My number one goal here in China is attainment of a high degree of fluency in Mandarin, and Hangzhou has been a great place to pursue that dream. As my language proficiency pushes into the “advanced stage,” though, I have had to re-evaluate the situation.

As a university English teacher in China, I can’t justifiy the use of Chinese in the classroom, so my job (with the exception of the minor “foreign teacher liaison position”) was conducted entirely in English.

I’ve never been good at befriending my students, and I always found the language issue problematic. They want to practice English, I want to practice Chinese.

As my Chinese got better and better, I just felt that if my aim was mastery of Chinese, the most logical way to further my goal was to find a job where I could use Chinese on the job, all the time.

Thus Shanghai. Hangzhou has very little call for foreigners that speak Chinese. The fact that jobs in Shanghai pay way better is a small added bonus, but far from a driving factor for me.

Often in jest, expats in China sometimes refer to foreigners living in Shanghai as having “sold out.” I’m sure many do come here for the pay. You can earn a Western salary here (if you’re lucky). And I remember when I first came to Hangzhou and met other expats who had been here longer, I learned about the phenomenon of foreigners abandoning Hangzhou in favor of Shanghai after they’d been in China a while. And I remember thinking to myself, “Not me! Hangzhou is the city for me.” Whatever “the real China” may be, Shanghai is most definitely not it. So I can’t help but ask myself, “have I sold out?”

The answer is, of course, NO. But I have to make sure I keep focused on my goals. I wouldn’t be the first disillusioned Westerner to embrace the mystic, ascetic East for whatever reason, in all its third world charm, merely to get caught up in this new red capitalism. I wanted out of the rat race, not merely into a new “race.”

So I guess that about sums it up. Yes, my girlfriend also lives in Shanghai. And yes, that was also a factor (and a catalyst). But of course it wasn’t that simple. And I will definitely miss living in Hangzhou.

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