HSK: the final stretch

I will take the HSK (Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi — Chinese Proficiency Examination) this coming Sunday, December 21st. Taking the HSK was part of my plan all along to study Chinese full-time this semester. Thus, in addition to my 20 hours of Chinese classes per week, I’ve also been taking 4 hours of optional HSK prep courses (well, usually).

Throughout this semester I’ve been faced with a question of study method: should I take my classes the “Chinese way” or the “American way?” The “Chinese way” means going to lots of classes but doing comparatively little outside work. Most “learning” is accomplished in the classroom. The “American way” means the student exerts much more effort on his own time than in the classroom, effectively making the student largely responsible for his own learning instead of the teacher.

For obvious reasons, I prefer the “American way.” I would have liked to have studied my butt off at home and totally conquered each and every lesson in my textbooks. But that didn’t turn out to be too practical. With my own English classes to teach and an active social life, 20 classes kept me pretty busy, and I even (guiltily) skipped a fair amount of them. So I had to grudgingly accept the “Chinese way.”

The result was that I didn’t pick up as much additional vocabulary as I would have liked. Now that I’m really hitting the HSK prep books, I’m discovering that vocabulary is precisely what I should have been hitting hard all along. Listening comprehension, reading comprehension, character fill-in-the-blank — in each case my problems result from a deficient vocabulary, not in grammar, speed, or character recall. I need to read more Chinese, more often. I’m shooting for level 8 — the highest score in the intermediate range — on my first sitting of the HSK, so I can’t have too many mistakes.

One of my few comforts is that other students tell me that the “red book” (中国汉语水平考试应试指南,北京语言文化大学出版社) we use is more difficult than the actual HSK.

There are some strange topics chosen for the reading comprehension passages: Evolutionary reasons for the scarcity of black flowers in nature, Health risks associated with contact lenses, Astronomists’ current theories on ‘killer stars,’ an Overview of the history of Hong Kong’s subway system, Pig breeding issues around the world, etc.*

I actually prefer the more scientific ones. You can infer most of the really difficult words, and you can employ a lot of common sense. What’s the main reason that killer stars swallow up other stars? Even if you can’t read everything in the text, you know it’s gonna be gravity if you have any background at all in astronomy.

What’s the point of this post? If there is any, it’s basically just to tell those of you who intend to take the HSK that you need to be hitting vocabulary hard. The Chinese designed this test. They are the original examination masters, and there’s nothing they love more than making poor youngsters squander their vigor on rote memorization of vocabulary. If you want to take the HSK, you have to comply with these sadists’ designs.

  • The HSK lumps Beginner and Intermediate levels together all on one test. That means if you’re a beginner who can only hope for a very modest score, you’re still going to be subjected to texts filled with the likes of the topics listed above. The idea is that you’ll get the easiest questions right, and your score will reflect your ability. Still seems like a cop-out to me.

Irrelevant sidenote: Richard’s “Interview with a 1989 demonstrator in China” on Living in China is an absolute must-read. It’s very readable for those of you that know what happened in 1989, but don’t necessarily know a lot about it.

Sinosplice Network Weblog Awards

The conclusion of Phil’s Asia Weblog Awards is still a ways off, and I hear even more Asia weblog awards are in the making. I figure it’s time for the Sinosplice Network to steal the award spotlight. Yes, all 23,529 votes have been secretly counted, and unlike Flyingchair’s version, no PHP programming was even needed! Also, you’ll note that unlike Flyingchair’s version, on Sinosplice every category begins with the same word: “most.” Every one. That is our promise to you. So, without further delay, here are the results!

Most Good Overall: 11-way Tie! (Awww… how sweet!)

Outstanding job guys… You guys deserve every single vote you got. Thank you everyone else for voting.

Integrated Chinese (Levels 1, 2)

Integrated Chinese (Level 1)

by Tao-chung Yao and Yuehua Liu (Cheng & Tsui Company, 1997)

Review by: Prince Roy

Read the rest of this entry »

Model Competition

I rarely watch Chinese TV (because it’s dumb and boring), but I watched it last night. I was rewarded for my bravery.

Last night I happened to catch part of CCTV 2’s Televised Model Competition (模特电视大赛). Like I said, I rarely watch Chinese TV, but if I do happen to go for a flip through the channels, if there’s anything that’s going to catch my attention, it’s a whole bunch of hot women. So this competition did the trick. I’m not sure, because I tuned in late, but apparently it has all kinds of different rounds, including formal fashion catwalks, swimsuit modeling (damn, I missed that one!), and answering various “deep” questions. Most of the model hopefuls were 18-21 years old, and close to 180cm tall (around 5’10”).

Several elements of the competition caught my attention. First, I’ll talk about the models’ hotness, since it is of primary importance. Some of them really weren’t very special. Quite a few had the “anorexic model look” that seems to fly in the New York and Paris fashion industries. Many of them had very pretty faces but stick-like bodies. I don’t really go for that type. Perhaps a few models had already been eliminated in previous rounds before I tuned in, but the one that caught my attention was #46: Jiang E (姜娥). (If you look at the picture of her on the page linked to, you might not think she’s very pretty. I don’t think it’s a very good picture, but that girl has got a body, trust me! The other girls couldn’t compare.) The show said she was from Harbin, but her online info says she’s from Dalian. [Now Derrick, don’t get too smug. I never said Dalian girls weren’t pretty.] I did notice that girls from the Shanghai/Zhejiang area were seriously underrepresented, and many of the girls I’ve seen in Shanghai could easily compete with the contestants I saw on TV.

One thing that was cool was just that day in Chinese class we had been talking about the “triumph of the superior over the inferior” (优胜劣败), “Darwin’s theories of natural selection and evolution” (达尔文的自然淘汰理论,进化理论), “the law of the jungle” (丛林法则 or 弱肉强食). So when taotai (淘汰), a word meaning “selection” in the “elimination” sense — which I might not ordinarily get right away — came up in the competition, I was all over that baby.

It was interesting hearing the girls answer various questions. One of the contestants was allowed to ask one of the judges, a famous model, any question she liked. She asked what she should do to improve her chances of succeeding as a professional model. The professional model’s answer was that she should improve her Mandarin and her English! I was shocked. I don’t know if it was just B.S. or if the model really believed it, but she said that language was extremely important in the industry for communicating with designers, photographers, etc.

Another contestant was asked how she would relax if she worked hard for an entire year and then finally got any vacation of her choice. She said the first thing she would do was go to the hospital for a checkup. When the host asked for clarification, she said she’d get her eyes checked, because vision is very important. Ah, the wisdom of models.

Another thing that startled me once it hit me was that the Chinese model judge pictured below, Jiang Peilin (姜培琳), from certain angles really looked like that girl Katie Holmes that got famous on Dawson’s Creek. It was weird. I noticed in Jiang Peilin’s pictures online she doesn’t look like Katie as much; she tries to hide her dimples and her smile.

katie-jpl

After the competition finished, I flipped through the channels a bit. A scene of a cute little black girl speaking fluent Mandarin flashed out at me. I flipped back. To my disappointment, she was dubbed. To my utter horror, it turned out to be the Teletubbies dubbed in Chinese. Disgusting.

Then I stopped on a drama. I was tuning in late, so I had to guess at what I missed, but the plot seemed to center around a woman who had contracted AIDS. She got it from her boyfriend, who apparently committed suicide (because he cheated on his girlfriend and unwittingly gave her AIDS, maybe?). The characters who knew the girl had AIDS were treating her with nothing but compassion. (The Chinese propaganda machine is going strong on this AIDS thing now that it has finally gotten its act together on the issue.) I had to stop watching after about 10 minutes, though, because another female character who was supposed to be cute was unbearably annoying.

And off went the TV.

Launched

Not long ago I announced the first party organized by a group of young people in Hangzhou determined to make some positive changes in Hangzhou’s dance music scene. Well, it turns out the first party was quite a success! The bar was pretty packed. There were lots of foreigners, but lots of Chinese as well (and even a good number of cute girls). Ever since the first party, people have been showing up at the bar where it was held asking when the next event would be. So let me tell you when the next event is gonna be. This Saturday, December 13th, 9pm – 2am at the Sacred Chrees Pub (I wish that were a typo, but it’s not), same as last time, near the corner of Yan’an Road and West Lake Boulevard. It’s the bar with the big dragon head and suit of armor out front. Kinda hard to miss.

I’m wondering how many people were at the last party as a result of the promotion here on Sinosplice. I saw Patrick of Ape Rifle and his crew, and I met one other guy that told me he learned about it here, but other than that, I’m not sure. Let me know in the comments if you were there.

Chinese Fonts

I just put up a new section for Chinese fonts. Feel free to download away. I’ve been using Chinese Windows for over two years, so if you have any questions about installing them on a machine running English Windows, I’m sorry, but I can’t help you. I’m curious, though. Do they work fine in English Windows if you have Chinese IME installed?

I also took the opportunity to play around with CSS a little on the new fonts page, so it has a totally different look.

Favicons

Personally, I think “favicon” is a really stupid name, but that’s what Microsoft came up with. A favicon is a tiny little icon (.ICO file) which goes on your bookmark (favorites) list in your browser when you bookmark a website. I’m sure you’ve seen them. Yahoo has one. Google has one. Most major sites have one. This site even has one. If a site doesn’t have one, IE users will just see .

Several people have asked me how I made mine, so I thought I’d give a little description of the process. There’s actually plenty of documentation on the web about it, but if you don’t know the name “favicon,” it can be kind of hard to find.

First, a .ICO file is not just an ordinary image file in a tiny size. It’s a special format, and the only one that can be used for the purpose of creating a favicon for your website. Second, the favicon must be 16×16 pixels big and be in 16 color mode. All the instructions you need can be found on this site, as well as links to the one small program you’ll need. There are many ways to make an .ICO file, but I think the IrfanView image viewer (also linked to on the above page) is the easiest way to go about it, and I’ve done it several different ways before.

So, in a nutshell, this is the process:

  1. Go to this site, read it all, and download and install IrfanView.

  2. Choose or create the image file you want to be your favicon. The more exacting favicon creators will probably want to start big in Photoshop, then shrink the file down to 16×16 pixel size. Make the appropriate modifications if you don’t like how it looks tiny, then save it as a .BMP file. (I do not recommend creating the icon file from scratch pixel be pixel. You will get very choppy-looking results.)

  3. Open the image file in IrfanView, and then save it as a .ICO file. Remember, it must be 16×16 pixels, and only 16 colors.

  4. Upload the favicon.ICO file into your website’s root directory.* That should do it!**

* If you don’t have your own .COM, you can still have a favicon for your site. Refer to the page above for detailed instructions.

** If you had a different favicon before, or have already bookmarked your site before, you will have to follow the steps explained on the page referenced above in order to see the favicon. Unfortunately, your readers will as well. New readers will see the favicon as soon as they bookmark your page.

It’s actually simpler than it sounds, but you see very few favicons on personal sites. I’m thinking bloggers just don’t realize how simple it is, but if they did, we’d see a lot more favicons out there. I’m hoping, anyway.

[Further reference on favicons.]

浩室音乐

你知道“浩室”(House)音乐是什么吗?好像在杭州这种音乐越来越流行,但是人人并不一定知道是什么。我也不是很了解这种音乐,不过我知道一些。

浩室是一种舞曲音乐(这里有更丰富的解释),比杭州大多数的蹦迪音乐轻松一些。杭州蹦迪喜欢放的是pop trance,在国外已经很土的一种舞曲音乐。

杭州早就有一家酒吧叫“浩室就把”,但里面放的音乐不是浩室音乐。今年南山路上开了一个“绝对浩室”迪吧。我只去过一次,但我觉得放的音乐很不错,挺有个性。的确是正宗浩室。下面“Launch”party也是浩室。很好跳的。

如果你没听过浩室音乐的话,我建议你听听。不过其实光听也不够。应该在蹦迪或者酒吧里享受着气氛听。而且真的要欣赏这种音乐的话,得跳舞。

更多LINKS: 你知道舞曲音乐有多少种类吗? 另一个舞曲音乐类型解释

Ichi

I just watched the movie Ichi the Killer tonight with some of my ZUCC co-workers. Carl and Alf have been itching to get me to watch that movie ever since Carl borrowed my DVD collection while I was in Japan this past August. I told them I hadn’t seen Ichi the Killer, and they misremembered my mention of the movie as a recommendation. Anyway, they watched it and were psychologically scarred, so they wanted to return the favor.

The movie was very disturbing. Ultra violent, and just plain sick, sick, sick. I really don’t see the point in making a movie like that. The director, Miike Takashi (三池崇史), is evidently pretty famous for the movie Audition. I haven’t seen it, but I don’t plan to.

Perhaps the only semi-worthwhile part of my movie-watching experience was a reflection I had about Japanese and Chinese relations. Anyone who has studied the rape of Nanking (Nanjing) knows that some sick, sick atrocities were committed on Chinese civilians. All kinds of people have tried to explain the actions of the Japanese soldiers — their dehumanizing of their enemy and their blind obedience to their superiors.

When Chinese people say they hate the Japanese, I try to suggest to them that what happened during the war was committed by people in a different time, who were products of their particular circumstances. I don’t mean to excuse what those people did, but the youth of today’s Japan didn’t do those things. But the Chinese often hold onto a “you don’t understand the Japanese. They’re clever. They’re twisted. You just don’t understand” mentality.

Movies like Ichi the Killer lend credence to those kinds of opinions. At least the “twisted” part. Miike was born in post-war Japan.

I’d like to see more GTO, Spirited Away, and Kikujiro. I’m going to stay away from Miike’s films. That’s all I’ve got to say about that.

(Oh yeah — also, Carl and Alf are mean.)

Asia Weblog Awards

What could be geekier than blogging? Blogging about blogging, perhaps. (Yes, I’m guilty.) But if you want to get even geekier? Starting an award system for blogs, with votes and promotion, and all that stuff. OK, it’s geeky but it’s kinda nice. And Phil put a fair amount of work into it, so let’s give it some attention.

I speak, of course, of the Asia Weblog Awards over at Flyingchair.net. You can nominate blogs and vote for blogs, and all that good stuff. It’s a pretty slick system that Phil put together. I think I’m in the running, as are a few others in the Sinosplice Network.

Anyway, give it a look.

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