Muzimei Correction

I made an erroneous assumption regarding “Muzimei” in my recent post about having a cold. Rainbow called me on it. I checked up on it (sort of). Today in my class of 27 college kids (aged 19-20), only 3 had ever even heard of Muzimei. Three! So my “all Chinese people know about her” comment was way off. If the majority of these web-surfing college kids don’t know who she is, then my exaggeration was out of line. Oops, my bad.

Maybe that 27 person sample was somehow ridiculously unrepresentative of Chinese youth, but I really don’t care that much to look into it. Up until today, every Chinese person I mentioned Muzimei to knew who she was (including my Chinese class teacher).

Regardless, China bloggers are going to town over Muzimei. Danwei is grabbing all the stories in Chinese media, the Gweilo is rejecting her, and Brainysmurf is covering it all.

Integrated Chinese (Level 1)

Integrated Chinese (Level 1)

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

Review by: John Pasden

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Integrated Chinese (Level 2)

Integrated Chinese (Level 2)

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

Review by: John Pasden

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Wang's Observations

I have a Chinese teacher whose last name is Wang. All her students call her “Wang Laoshi” (laoshi means “teacher”), according to Chinese custom. She teaches my HSK prep class. Since the class only meets once a week for two hours, I see less of her than most of my other teachers, but I feel like I know her much better than the others. For one thing, I’ve known her longer. She tutored me for about half a year during my first year in China. For another, she seems much more straightforward about her feelings than a lot of Chinese people I meet.

Last week she shared with the HSK class a problem she’s been having with another class. She says her current intermediate level Chinese class is simply not willing to talk. At all. When she asks the class if someone can make a sentence using the new word, the whole class just stares down at their books, not daring to make eye contact. She waits patiently and encourages them, to no avail. If she asks a single person, she gets the same response. Trying to get just one sentence out of them is like pulling teeth. Even when she simply asks the class if they understand, she can’t get an answer. The only time the students show definite signs of life is when she writes on the chalkboard. They all magically spring into action, jotting everything down neatly in their notebooks. They seem to prefer it when she simply talks and writes, but that’s really boring for her, and not the most effective teaching method, either.
Wang Laoshi said that in the past she lost her temper and berated the students for their overly passive attitudes, which seemed to help the situation for a while. This semester, however, almost all her students are girls, and she doesn’t want to upset them.

So what’s with this class? Well, for one thing, they’re almost all Korean. Wang Laoshi asked the Korean students in the HSK prep class why they thought her intermediate level students were so incorrigibly passive. The Korean students reponded that it was because of their culture — the traditional Confucian style of education.

Wang Laoshi didn’t buy that. She said that Chinese students weren’t like that. That really made me smile, because I don’t think Wang Laoshi knows how passive Chinese students can be in an English class taught by a foreigner. Still, though, the way she described her students made them more inactive than any Chinese students I’ve ever taught.

Wang Laoshi’s observations on international students of Chinese were thus:

  1. Students from Western countries are much more active in the classroom. Wang Laoshi prefers there to be at least a few students from Europe or the Americas to liven up the atmosphere.
  2. Students from Western countries want to spend classtime mastering a few grammar patterns so that they can feel confident about their usage.
  3. Asian students want to cover as many grammar patterns as possible in class, and review them on their own.

Another thing I think Wang Laoshi doesn’t realize is that a lot of Chinese teachers don’t encourage class participation so much. I think some of the other Chinese teachers wouldn’t be so bothered by the lifelessness of her students. It just disappoints me that an excellent teacher like Wang Laoshi is wasted on such undeserving grammar sponges.





Stupid Cold

I was thinking of writing about Muzimei, since I’ve been reading her for a few weeks and all Chinese people know about her, but I guess it’s too late. Jeremy at Danwei covered it a while ago, and so did Andrea more recently over at Living in China.

“Muzimei” is a Chinese girl who got really famous on the internet by writing all about her sex life, including the identities of her partners. It’s kind of funny to me that someone can get so famous in China just by writing about sex. That trick is kind of played out in the West already.

But I’m not writing about Muzimei. I’m whining about my cold. It’s Day Two. Today I slumbered blissfully through my morning Chinese classes to get more rest, sucked in over 6 liters of water, and pounded vitamins too. Take that. Stupid cold.


All the details of the new China Blog List nearing completion, I spent a few moments the other day reading some of the newer blogs. One of the ones I really liked was Doom in China. His entry entitled “Five Reasons Why I’m the Greatest English Tutor in All of China (and Maybe the World)” was hilarious. I enjoyed his “Big Holes, Monkey Voices, and Chicken Toes” hiking story as well. He summed it up very nicely at the end:

Mr. Quan looked at me and said, “I don’t want to go back to my apartment. I don’t want to go back to work tomorrow. I don’t want this weekend to be over.” I nodded. I told him there were times in my life in the past when I felt the same thing — the dull ache of daily routine piling up on you. I told him, that is why I was happy to be in China.

Further down the page, in “Chinese Cultural Intricacies” he tells about CCTV’s plans for a miniseries in which he will play the role of an evil foreigner:

The television mini-series is about a country filled with greedy white foreigners (maybe Iceland?) attacking a small helpless Island filled with Chinese people (maybe San Francisco?) for its rich oil deposits. I don’t know where they came up with this script (maybe CNN?), but I think this will be a winner.

Jamie Doom only plans to be in China until next summer.

New China Blog List

China Blog List

New CBL logo

It’s something I’ve been meaning to implement for many months, and now it’s finally almost complete. The problem was obvious: as the number of China blogs increased dramatically over the past year, the China Blog List was getting way too long, and there was no order to it other than a loose geographical grouping. My solution: make the list sortable by several fields. I tried to accomplish that on my own with my extremely limited programming skills, but failed. One of the new teachers here, also named John, was willing to do the PHP coding for me, though, so it’s finally done! I didn’t even have to pay him, but I will say that there was an exchange of delicious cheese flown in from Paris.

The new list has a slightly different look, a new URL (, and a new logo. Anyone who has studied Chinese characters for any length of time should recognize the special arrangement of the “CBL” for “China Blog List” that I came up with. Furthermore, the list is sortable by Name and by Location. Double clicking the filter reverses direction of the listing. It can also be filtered by region. John did an awesome job.

It’s actually still undergoing some fine-tuning. The Chatboard has been removed because it was making the page load really slowly. Instead, there will be a form to submit new blogs. Adding new blogs has been greatly simplified for me, so the new ones will be added much more quickly from now on.

Anyway, the new China Blog List is online. The old one will stay up a little while longer, as the new one is still being worked on, but soon the new one will be complete and the old URL will simply redirect to the new version. The old list will no longer be updated. There are already new additions and corrections on the new list. Happy surfing.

Just "Box"

I understand that northern China has already received a fair bit of snowfall, but it wasn’t until this past weekend that winter finally announced its presence in Hangzhou. Not that it’s really cold now, but it’s beginning.
One of the telltale signs that winter is here is that “iceboxes” become just “boxes.” In restaurants and some grocery stores the Chinese unplug their refrigerators in the winter and simply use them as storage! It makes sense, I guess, but it still seems strange when you come from a country that dutifully wastes that refrigerator electricity all winter long. (Oh yeah, I forgot — we also have the strange custom of keeping buildings warm inside in the winter.)
Of course, drinks often aren’t kept cold even during the summer here. Newcomers from the West — if nothing else — quickly learn the Chinese word “bing de” for when they order drinks. Cold. You know you’ve been in China too long when you forget to ask for a cold beer but then drink the warm one anyway. Or even worse — when you don’t really care anymore whether it’s cold or not.

Who's Ed?

A while ago I got an e-mail from a friend teaching not far from Hangzhou, in Shaoxing. Some of the veteran China blog readers might remember her from (R.I.P.). Hers was one of the original 10 or so blogs listed when I first started the China Blog List. Anyway, here’s an excerpt from what she wrote me:

as for me, i learned two new characters this week. ping and yin. meaning taste and print. only because i like ping. i see it all over and think “3 boxes, now that’s a good character. easy on the eyes. memorable. wonderful.” so i asked the kids and they provided answers. not without taking the piss first of course. and yin is because i always think in certain styles of font, it looks like “ED” which is my dad’s name. and i see that one everywhere too. when i told my kids the reason, it sent one girl into hysterics for the next 15 minutes. is it so hard to believe it looks like “ED”? it does!

I rather agree with her. It does look like “ED.”
A note about “ping” though. Many southern Chinese dialects don’t contain the “-ng” final, so when southerners speak Mandarin they often mispronounce that final. Some southerners know they have the southern accent and don’t care; others actively pursue a more standard accent. Some of them pull it off with flying colors, but others never quite do. In fact, some southerners not only pronounce the “-ng” final as “-n” sometimes, but they hypercorrect as well. They pronounce “-n” as “-ng,” trying to sound more “standard,” when “-n” was the correct sound in the first place. I think this was the case with “ping” above. It should be “pin.”

Despite the nonstandard elements of southern Mandarin (also, s/sh, c/ch, z/zh go undistinguished, all passing as s, c, z, respectively), I still think the south is a good place to learn Mandarin for the conscientious learner. It can be a little annoying to not be able to trust native speakers about the pinyin spellings of characters, but soon you learn that when a southern person says “zi” it could very well be “zhi” in standard Mandarin. Thus, learning Mandarin here — and comprehending Mandarin here — requires a greater deal of mental flexibility. I think it’s worth the extra effort, too. I can understand southern Mandarin easily, and that makes deciphering the full-on dialects easier. The best part is that when I go to Beijing, people sound like their speech came straight out of the audio tapes that accompany Chinese textbooks. It’s so crystal clear and easy to understand. It feels like the training weights strapped to my legs have finally been removed. The less standard elements of Beijing dialect take a little getting used to, but I feel it’s not very difficult.

Despite the relative ease in comprehension of northern Mandarin, though, there’s something comforting about being back south, surrounded by “substandard” speech. It feels realer somehow. To me, anyway, it feels more like home.

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