Translating, Lantern Festival

When I was having a hard time with my job search a few months back, I briefly considered working as a translator. I even wrote to one company and got the application packet back, which required several qualifying translations. I figured it might be a little boring, but at least I’d be learning more Chinese all day long at work, right?

Fortunately I came to my senses. However good (and perhaps necessary) it is for my language development, I hate translation. Almost always. That satori was bestowed upon me in college Japanese classes by some old chaps named Natsume Soseki, Shiga Naoya, and Honda Katsuichi (Murakami Haruki being the major exception). Ugh.

But this whole translation thing has returned. When my new employers found out that my Chinese is actually pretty decent and includes reading and writing ability, they found a special job for me. You see, the company makes educational series to teach children English. Each book in each series is accompanied by an extensive teacher guide with tips on how to teach vocabulary, how to get more senses involved in the learning process, what games to use, what “homewhork” to give, etc. Obviously, since virtually all kindergarten and primary school teachers in China are Chinese, the teacher guide is 95% Chinese. However, some schools have foreigners helping teach their English classes. The problem is that the regular Chinese teachers barely know enough English to teach the material in the books, much less to explain to the foreigners how to help teach it or what games to use. The solution? Provide English versions of those teacher guides. That’s where I come in.

OK, so I am learning some vocabulary translating this stuff. The books were written for teachers, not kids. But this is a lot of material to translate! I think it’s going to take a long, long time. I welcome interruptions.

The first major interruption is next Monday. I help the Chinese teachers teach a special class on the Lantern Festival. The Chinese Lantern Festival (元宵节 – yuan xiao jie) marks the fifteenth and final day of the Spring Festival (AKA Chinese New Year). It’s traditionally celebrated by hanging a bunch of lanterns and eating some sweet rice-dough dumplings called 汤圆 (tang yuan).

The Lantern Festival was actually today. I had my tang yuan. has a brief article on it. It also has a fairly easy to read article in Chinese which explains the festival in depth. [It seems like there’s nothing but griping about the Chinese news media — and most of the complaints are certainly legit — but I think deserves some credit. It has some good stuff, despite its expected bias. The Chinese lesson on Hangzhou made me smile, and some of these autumn pictures in Huizhou are truly amazing.]

So anyway, the long vacation is officially over, so now it’s back to slaving away. Hmmm, I wonder if I should expect 5-year-olds to be able to learn the word “lantern” in just 20 minutes…

Double Whammy

There’s a new blog in the list called Stodgy White Guy. The URL is Hmmm, why do those look so familiar…?

The interesting thing is that his archives put his blog’s origin way back in August, 1997. That’s about 5 years older than most China blogs I know. Way before blogging became technologically convenient, much less a trend.

汉语听力 Series

Hanyu Tingli

by 李铭起 (BCLU Press, 1999-2000)

Review by: Roddy

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First Day of Work

Today I finally started my new job in Shanghai, after over a month of vacation. I’m pretty sure that until today I haven’t gotten up at a time of day that could be considered “early” since I’ve moved here. As a result, I saw a new side of Shanghai on my walk to work.

I hit the street at 8am. The city was bustling. What struck me first was the sheer quantity of hot, hot women on Nanjing Xi Road on their way to work. Yes, it’s conclusive: women with actual jobs are way sexier than those women of leisure you see around town at hours that could only be kept by someone without a respectable job. So it looks like I now get classy eye candy on my daily walk to work.

I realized also on my way to work that I can walk through Jing An Park as a shortcut. What a great shortcut! I saw lots of old people doing morning exercises. I saw old people doing dance routines to music. I saw old people doing tai chi. I saw old people practicing with swords. I saw more hot women. But mostly I just saw lots of old people. I like how active a role the Chinese elderly seem to take in trying to keep themselves fit. They don’t look any healthier or more flexible, but they do seem to live pretty long.

I arrived at work at 8:20am, ten minutes early. Just enough time for breakfast at the restaurant next door. I paid 5rmb for 5 jian jiao (fried dumplings). That’s 5 times what I used to pay outside the gate of ZUCC. They were good, though.

Then I started work. A lot of people have asked me what, exactly, my new job is, and I haven’t been extremely forthcoming with the information. I wasn’t trying to be coy; the truth of the matter was I didn’t know the exact details myself. I still don’t. But I like what I know so far.

The company is called Melody (双美 in Chinese). It’s a Taiwanese company which creates and markets English educational materials (textbooks, tapes, CDs, VCDs, etc.) for young children. My job is a sort of trainer/consultant. I help them with the development of the materials, providing a native speaker perspective. I also train Melody’s teachers, and will go on business trips to cities all over China to hold training seminars for the teachers of other schools which buy Melody’s products.

Today, since my immediate supervisor has still not returned from vacation, I was left pretty much to just start familiarizing myself with Melody’s texts and VCDs. Holy crap. They make good stuff, but when you’re watching English language song videos for 6-year-olds all morning long, it’s pretty brain-numbing.

My co-workers all seem pretty cool. They’re nearly all female. They talk to me almost exclusively in Chinese. So it’s a good working environment.

One thing I’m not used to is the “culture shock” of talking to the Taiwanese. They say things like, “I’m originally from Taiwan, but I’ve been living in China for years.” Excuse me?? From Taiwan, moved to China. That talk seems totally cool, though. All the mainlanders are used to it and think nothing of it.

So I put in a full day of work today, and now I have to do that again for the next four days. Wow, this is way different from teaching at ZUCC. This is actually approaching the real world.

Wenlin 3.0

I finally got my hands on Wenlin 3.0 for “trial purposes” recently. Brendan at 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

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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?

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