Craptacular Notes

The last performance that the ZUT foreign students will be involved in ended yesterday afternoon. One of the hostesses, Weika (I only know her by her Chinese name, 维卡) from Kyrzygstan, didn’t show. All her lines came right before mine, so they decided to just give them all to me. So not only did I have double the lines, but I no longer knew any of my cues. I did a pretty good job memorizing all my new lines quickly, but when we got onstage some of the other students started screwing up their lines and fudging them, which caused me to do the same. Overall, it came off OK, but the first performance was much more polished. Anyway, we all refused to do another performance, so that’s all behind us now.

After seeing them for the second time, I also remember which numbers were most impressive. One was a Mongolian dance. Really cool. The girl was amazingly limber, and did the whole dance with a stack of bowls on her head, which never fell. Then there was this group of three guys which did a dance number to a Michael Jackson medley. Now, I know that sounds lame, but they were really good! They had moves in perfect sync with every single grunt and squeal that Michael Jackson made. Good stuff. The last one was a dance which was supposedly inspired by a true love story set during the Communist Revolution. The Chinese name is 红色恋人 (“Red Lovers”). I’ll have to look more into that story. Anyway, their dance was really cool because the guy kept picking the girl up and flipping her around and stuff, and at one point the girl even held the guy up in the air! Nice.

Here’s an excerpt from an online chat session I had with a friend who teaches at another campus of ZUT (and didn’t realize I am a student at the same school on a different campus). It kinda relates to the whole craptacular thing:

She says: any fun plans for the weekend?

潘吉 says: yeah, like HOMEWORK and being in the 50th ANNIVERSARY CRAPTACULAR at my other school

She says: our school has a 50th anniversary too! i was not involved in the craptacular but i was a judge at the equally crappy english song competition last night

She says: two guesses for the two most popular songs that were sung?

潘吉 says: there are too many

潘吉 says: big, big world?

潘吉 says: yesterday once more?

She says: YES. and YES.

She says: damn. you are good.

潘吉 says: really? those are the two??

She says: yep!

潘吉 says: wow. Good thing I’ve been here over 3 years or I might not have gotten that!

Anyone living in China is all too familiar with the fact that the same 10 English songs are played over and over in China. Another one that I really hate is Hotel California. I didn’t like it before I came to China, and now I despise it from the depths of my being.

[Note: I’m still looking for a job in Shanghai. All leads are greatly appreciated.]


Matt of the Nanjingren blog (one of the newest additions to the Sinosplice Network) came to Hangzhou this weekend with some of his classmates. Unfortunately I was only able to spend one meal with him because my schedule is rather full this weekend. It’s fuller than usual because I’ve been coerced into participating in Zhejiang University of Technology’s 50th Anniversary Craptacular.

Craptacular Hosts

I don’t pretend to invent the word “craptacular,” but I’ve noticed it’s already in common usage among foreigners in China for one simple reason: China loves the Craptacular. What do I mean by craptacular? Basically, it’s an onstage event containing a rather long lineup of acts, most of which fall into one of several categories. The defining features of the craptacular are:

Craptacular Song
  • Hosts. They always come in gleaming male-female pairs, overflowing with bubbly super-standard Mandarin and armed with smiles that make your eyes ache.
  • Songs. Solos, duos, or en masse. China loves live singing, be it in the classroom or onstage.
  • Dances. Minority dances, folk dances, solos, duos, it’s all here. Whoopee.
  • Comedy. Short skits and crosstalk (相声), a kind of Chinese two-person stand-up comedy. Comedy has a comparatively small role, song and dance hogging the spotlight.
  • Glitz. Everyone wears bright flashy costumes, the lighting is top-notch, and accompanying stage decorations are a big priority. Whenever possible, craptaculars are recorded on video.

Almost without exception, it’s mind-numbingly awful stuff from the foreigner’s perspective, even if he understands it.

Craptacular Skit

The most famous craptacular in China is the nationally televised Chinese New Year Party (春节联欢晚会). Pretty much every Chinese person I talk to agrees that it gets worse every year, ever reaching new depths of raw bore-power. Yet most Chinese households tune in faithfully every year. (This is one reason I’m not a big fan of Chinese New Year, but I won’t go into that now….) There are minor craptaculars going on all the time for various reasons (or no reason), and you can see them on TV in China all the time. If you have a masochistic streak (or if you just get unlucky as I did in ZhouShan) you can even go see them live. Sometimes universities — tools of the state patriotic entities that they are — put on their own craptaculars. Thus we have come back around to the topic of ZUT’s craptacular.

The students in the advanced Chinese class at ZUT that couldn’t come up with an air-tight excuse were forced to get involved in the foreign students’ event in the 50th Anniversary Craptacular. So, yeah, that means me. We have to put on nice clothes and get up on stage in front of a huge audience and speak Chinese into microphones. Some of us even have to try to be funny in Chinese doing skits onstage. Fortunately that’s not me. I’m just a host.

So I was not happy about this because it involves a big time commitment. Memorizing lines, rehearsing, and performing not once, but three times! So this weekend I’m pretty busy performing onstage for ZUT.

All that negative “craptacular” talk and whining aside, there were some good points about being in the performance:

Craptacular Crosstalk
  • I got to meet some of the other performers, some of whom are pretty cool people.
  • Some of the performances really are very good. In particular, I liked two of the songs and the crosstalk performance. Although the crosstalk comedy kind of wore on after a while, it was really easy to understand and quite entertaining.
  • There were so many hot girls involved. Now that’s entertainment!


This decision has been a long time in the making, but I’ve finally committed to it. Come January, I will leave my beloved ZUCC and continue my life in Shanghai. I am still looking for a job.

This is a call to all my friends and readers! In China, the best jobs are always found through connections, so if anyone can help me out, I’d be eternally grateful.

My qualifications are basically over 5 years of teaching experience, understanding of linguistics, and high level Chinese language ability. I also have experience working within a Chinese bureaucracy, as I have worked as foreign teacher liaison (and partly as recruiter) for the past year. There’s more in my resume, which is online. I really hope to find something where I can use at least some Chinese on the job.

Thanks to the information on Wang Jianshuo’s site, I had an interview with Microsoft Global Technical Engineering Center on Tuesday, which went well. Unfortunately, they would need me to start in mid-December, and the ZUCC semester runs until January. So I couldn’t take that.

I’ll probably talk about the reasons for the move, etc., later, but for now I just wanted to get it out there. I need a job! Please e-mail me.


You can tell by listening in on our conversations that we ZUCC teachers are fully dedicated to our ongoing intellectual development.


“The word ‘bomb-ass’ definitely came after ‘the bomb.'” “No, I was using ‘bomb-ass’ way before ‘the bomb’ was ever used.” “What?! You’re crazy! ‘The bomb’ obviously came first!” “No way, dude. ‘Bomb-ass’ came first.”


“But what do you do when the gypsies use the baby throwing trick?” “You just catch the baby and sell it later.” “But then they’ve got your wallet!” “But you can sell the baby.” “But who’s going to want a gypsy baby?” “You can always sell a baby.”

The above conversations are real. Names are withheld to protect the poor fools who produced these inane dialogue snippets.

Alaric is at it again

Alaric Radosh has made a big splash in the tiny world of blogging in Chinese as a foreign language. His Chinese language blog has earned him a lot of respect from Chinese people and foreigners alike. I haven’t really mentioned it here before because it’s in Chinese, and most of my readers don’t read much Chinese.

Alaric has recently started a Chinese Language Blog and Study Journal in English, which he calls a “a companion to my Chinese language blog, journal of thoughts and goals, portal of community with other online students of Chinese-as-a-second language.” The guy’s writing really good stuff. Gold. I found his latest entry on Becoming an Avid Reader in Chinese particularly relevant to my current situation in my Chinese studies. If you’re studying Chinese, read what Alaric has to say. You will benefit.

Too much DNA

I didn’t have my usual Intensive Reading Chinese class today. Yesterday in class someone from the administration came and passed out special letters of invitation to the “First China Zhejiang Academic Festival” (首届中国浙江学术节). We were told if we went our taxi fares would be reimbursed, and we’d get a free lunch. We all decided to go.

Last week I was walking near West Lake with Russell and we passed a huge lavish meeting hall-type building. We weren’t sure exactly what it was. It turned out to be the Provincial People’s Congress Hall (浙江省人民大会堂), and that’s where the “Academic Festival” was. Today I showed up 10 minutes late and was greeted on the steps of the building and given a ticket and a special pass to wear around my neck (it said “特邀代表证”). Then I was ushered to my seat along with a classmate who happened to show up at the same time.

A word about the Congress Hall. It is massive. Lavish. Lush. Evidently no ordinary four walls and a roof will do when it comes to determining the will of the people. It’s like that place was built just to make painfully apparent the point that the government is squandering the people’s money on displays of opulence. (That said, it was cool to be there for an official function once and to have a “specially invited representative” pass.)

I was seated on the ground floor of the “show room,” but there were balconies on the second and third level which could be accessed by escalator. There were massive video screens on either side of the stage, showing a zoomed-in view of the “important” people seated on stage. This was their day to shine, to blab on and on about boring crap. You know they’re bullshitting when you hear them mention the “Three Represents” over and over.

The “award ceremony” was kinda amusing. This troop of girls in red qipao was parading around with plaques, handing them to the appropriate recipients. At one point sashes were handed out to outstanding scientists, but there weren’t enough to go around, and one guy didn’t get one, on stage, in front of everyone. Some Chinese guy behind me was calling out loudly and repeatledy, “HA! They’re short one!” Tactful.

Next the main speaker launched into an intensely boring and long-winded talk on DNA. I really don’t get it. Why was he talking about DNA? The talk was too basic for anyone in the field of biology, but a little too in-depth for anyone not. The guy was going on and on about Watson, Crick, Franklin, and Pauling, and all the details of the discovery of DNA’s double helical structure. It would have been interesting to hear a 5-minute talk on the subject, as I was familiar with it (my major freshman year of college was microbiology — I once wanted to go into geneetic engineering) and it was kinda interesting to hear it in Chinese, but this guy went on for an hour and a half with his neverending PowerPoint presentation! People were nodding off left and right. I did my best to keep my own drowsiness from getting too obvious, but I think I failed.

The talk did provide lots of vocabulary. I got to hear words like “double helix” and “cytoplasm” and “chromosome” in Chinese. Word of the day: 蛋白质 – protein. As you might expect, the word came up again and again, and I just think it’s a funny word. “Protein” in Chinese, translated literally into English, is “egg white essence.” That’s kinda funny in itself, but I can’t help also associating it with 蛋黄南瓜, a Chinese dish made with pumpkin and egg yolk (“egg yolk” translated literally from Chinese is “egg yellow”).

What redeemed the entire ordeal was the meal afterward. It was in a nice restaurant, and it was really good. Crab, shrimp, mussels, chicken, duck, tofu, asparagus, lotus, dates, nuts, and other stuff I can’t remember — all really good. Also, the waitresses had this habit of refilling my wine glass pretty fast, so I was well on my way to very happy by noon! I had to teach class at 1:30. I was very cheerful in class.

Dumb Pronunciation

That pronunciation guide I made turned out to be a big pain for me. It has gone through multiple revisions, but I think it’s pretty done now. The latest revisions included adding “pinyin clarifiers” in red which may very well only make it all more confusing. Oh well. I also changed the tone of my “condemnation” of pinyin to satisfy the pinyin fanatics out there who can’t bear to see the word “inconsistent” associated with pinyin (OK, that’s a joke — calm down).

I hope it’s more accurate, more balanced now. The “Background” section was never even supposed to be the important part, so those of you who haven’t done so already long ago can forget about it now. The people who were paying the most attention to it probably don’t need it anyway. The following is an e-mail I got from a learner who found my pages via Google.


I have recently begun learning Mandarin. I knew there was a difference in pronunciation between j & zh, x & sh, q & ch, but I was very frustrated in my attempts to find a clear explanation of the difference. You’re website is like cool water in a desert! Marvelous!

Thank you very much for putting so much effort into setting the record straight! Now, at last, I can get my pronunciation close enough that my tutor can help me fine tune it.

Great job John! God bless you!


That’s exactly what I made the pronunciation pages for. They’re working. I am content. Thank you everyone. I exit now to sleep, and to later arise and report another day on my Chinese studies which have been consuming so much of my time of late…

Independence is so overrated

In an age when young Americans are trying so hard to be independent it’s just so refreshing to see a sector of Chinese society charging full tilt in the opposite direction.

“My son has never been away from our family. He doesn’t talk much, is poor in managing his daily life and doesn’t even know how to wash his socks. I’m afraid that he will put aside his studies and indulge in playing computer games all day long.” Ms. Song, a lady from Nanjing, quit her job immediately upon hearing of her son’s acceptance to a college in Shanghai and rented an apartment near this school. According to Ms. Song, she has been with her son and supervising his studies since his elementary school years. “I didn’t watch him closely for a while during his second year of junior high school because of my busy schedule and during this time my son would often sneak out to play computer games, therefore causing his grades to drop.” Since then, she would rather sacrifice a steady job than to leave her son alone in his studies.

Read the whole article. It’s pretty hilarious.


As “foreign teacher liaison” at ZUCC, it’s my job to help recruit new teachers (speaking of which, spaces are filling up fast for next semester; there may already be none left), welcome new teachers, and do a bunch of other miscellaneous stuff. This semester I voluntarily added to my list of responsibilities the task of finding and assigning Mandarin tutors for the newcomers. Some of the tutors I found were my previous students.

The tutor I found for Greg is an excellent former student of mine who also has a presence in the China blogging scene. I was still teaching her when she volunteered to participate in my ZUCC Blog project using the moniker “Rainbow.” I’m no longer her spoken English teacher, but since last semester she has come to dominate the posting (and not in a bad way) for the ZUCC Blog and has even formed her own blog.
Recently she has posted some Tips on Mandarin on her own blog which I find especially interesting. Her inspiration is her own new teaching experiences, but she touches on the mistakes of the beginner as well as the advanced student. I hope to see more of this.

Speaking of tips on Mandarin, I need to do the final edit of the Pronunciation of Mandarin Chinese section on Sinosplice. I’ve solicited enough reasonable opinions and talked to enough qualified native speakers to be able to make the necessary final adjustments. On the dialogue I had going with Prince Roy in e-mail over whether pinyin is consistent or not, I’m going to have to maintain that it is not, since to me, “consistent” does not mean “consistent if you know all the exceptions.” English is pretty consistent if you study phonics, but I don’t think anyone wants to make the claim that English spelling is “consistent.” Anyway, that update is coming in the next few days.

Let the Fun Begin!

Some of you may recall my entry on this subject a while back, but the week-long vacations that are given in China once a semester are somewhat of a sham and a big pain. We’re glad the vacation is now finally here for real.

The October holiday officially begins tomorrow, and we foreign teachers at ZUCC embrace it whole-heartedly. We’ve got the free time, the right mindset, and the full liquor cabinets. We’re all ready to let loose (see Carl’s entry for details).

I just got back from helping Alf haul is big heavy new computer home. It took us hours to get back because there were no taxis due to the coming holiday. There’s little more frustrating than really needing a taxi and not being able to get one. We had to make a long walk to a bus stop, lugging the big boxes, and take the bus home.

OK, before I start mixing some drinks and heading over to Carl’s, I also want to mention that of all the twenty-something ZUCC foreign teachers here, Alf, Carl, John B, Russell, and I all have blogs, and Greg is going to set his up over the break. Wayne is in the nether region between the twenty-something teacher group and the middle-aged teacher group, and he says he’s going to set one up too. This crowd is all about blogging, apparently. The ZUCC teacher page now has links to all the teachers’ blogs.
OK, the party calls…

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