West Lake & Beer

Last night Russell, Greg, John B, and I took the two new Aussies to West Lake. West Lake’s Nanxian (南线) area, newly renovated, looks very nice at night. If you’ve been to West Lake before but not recently, you have no idea what you’re missing. The newly renovated section, Xixian (西线), is opening for the National Day vacation throngs, and it’s also supposed to be very nice, in the old school traditional Chinese style. I’ll go check it out after the tourist crowds depart and put some pictures up (something I haven’t done in quite a long time, as Wilson kindly pointed out to me).

After checking out West Lake at night, we headed over to a very cheap bar I know of. The name is 西部小镇; Old West Town is their translation. There’s a cowboy hat on the sign. It’s in a prime location, in a string of little bars right next to West Lake. It’s not a great bar. It’s very loud, and the music is always bad. The bar serves little more than beer, despite the plethora of Western liquors on display. The bartender’s job is basically to pull out more beers and open them. The one saving grace of this bar is its beer special: 3 West Lake beers for 10rmb ($1.25). West Lake Beer is not the greatest beer in the world, but it’s always so cheap that in Hangzhou I find myself drinking it more than any other beer. Apparently it’s owned by Asahi now.

So we did what so many Chinese people do in bars — drink and play a dice game called chui niu (吹牛). It’s this game where everyone has a cup of 5 dice, and you have to estimate how many of a given number there are out there, under everyone’s cups. Ones are wild. Bluffing is key. It’s a fun game, but not quite fun enough to warrant its popularity in China, in my opinion. Anyway, it was good for the new Aussies, Ben and Simonne, because we played it in Chinese and they got their numbers down (kinda). We left a little while after the bar ran out of cold beers.

On the way to West Lake, I was given this flyer:

Restaurant Bar Club
Nothing Comes from Nothing.
Nothing comes from Nothing.

In celebration Z Bar begins a new chapter, in a new city
that mix our minds and drinks our souls.
We stamped the ground and strung the lights to launch this new theme Restaurant-Bar-Club of modern artistry.
Experience the sight, the sound, the taste,
the energy —
We welcome you to experience our
OPEN DOORS

I think English in China is getting better…

Turandot

Ever hear of an opera called Turandot? Perhaps you’ve heard of the film The Turandot Project, which is about the opera. The opera is by Giacomo Puccini, and it’s in Italian, as any proper opera is, but it’s set in ancient China and tells the story of a Chinese princess named Turandot. The name, seemingly French, is not. In French the opera is called Turandeaux, but apparently in English the final t is pronounced. (I read that in a discussion board online, so I can’t really vouch for its reliability.) The name, written in traditional Chinese characters on the Turandot Project website, is 图兰朵 in simplified characters.

I haven’t done a whole lot of looking into it, but as far as I can tell, this “Turandot” character is entirely fictional. The Chinese name seems like a foreign name transcribed into Chinese characters to me, but I don’t really trust my own judgement. Google searches seem to just turn up mostly news about Zhang Yimou’s collaboration with Allan Miller on The Turandot Project movie.

It’s kind of interesting to me that an Italian made an opera set in China. I wonder what the Chinese think of it… but not enough to really bother to find that information online. The Chinese seemed OK with Disney’s Mu Lan, so I guess they’re OK with this too. I noticed, though, that Turandot’s ministers’ names are Ping, Pang and Pong. Hmmm.

The reason this opera came to my attention is because my big sister Amy will possibly sing in this opera. She became a part-time professional opera singer last year, and she has this new gig lined up. She might pass it up, however, to come see me in China instead. That would be cool if we could coordinate it.

serialdeviant

When new people post comments I check out their homepages. Sometimes I’m even smart enough to figure out the real URL when they type it wrong. This entry got my attention (you may have to scroll up a little after clicking on that link). It should sound at least remotely familiar to anyone who has spent much time in China.

So many new blogs… I think it’s time for China Blog List update. That will happen over the National Day (¹úÇì½Ú) holiday, coming up next week.

I also want to report on how my Chinese classes are going, but that can wait too.

Nanjingren

Here’s a little gem in a newly discovered blog I found through Matt:

But, then, on the street, while listening to a child with her father, I realized something peculiar about learning a foreign language (especially Chinese). You strain to overhear two stranger’s conversation, you delight in what a child says to his/her parents, and each time you understand you’re excited. The most mundane conversations — “No, I’m not hungry,” “Where do we get off,” “Mama, I don’t want to leave” — become sources of delight. In your mother-tongue this all becomes background clutter, but to the struggling beginner it’s pure gold. Reaffirmation that today you’re better off than yesterday.

It’s so true. I remember those days quite clearly. It’s still true for me sometimes; there’s just something charming about a little kid speaking a foreign language natively….

Chinese Pronunciation

I noticed recently that there’s a lot of bad information out there on the web about the pronunciation of Mandarin Chinese. So I created this new section on Sinosplice to address the issue. It’s quite long, and I think it’s quite thorough and accurate. This is for the people that are having trouble mastering the harder consonant sounds of Mandarin like q, x, and j.

Please let me know what you think or if you find it helpful.

YARRR!

To all ye landlubbers out there, ye best be takin’ note that today be international Talk Like a Pirate Day! Aye, me and me mateys’ll be celebratin’ with buckets o’ grog like the seadogs we be, to be true!

[Obligatory China-related link] [Paddlin’ Pirate nostalgia]

Chinese Food Quirks

Most of my friends back in the U.S. have long since ceased to write me with questions about China, other than “are you still there?! When are you coming home??” Recently, though, my friend Dan wrote me this question:

so here’s a question for you: you know how in the US 95% of the chinese food restaurants you eat at taste EXACTLY the same? i know u can find a few places that taste different, but for the most part it’s like they all use the same recipes for everything. also, the menus (both printed and up front) are almost always the same too. so my question is: is there like some business start up plan or special school in China where everyone goes to learn american style chinese cooking? and is american style really way different than authentic chinese style? cause if it is then the american ‘chinese’ food places must have learned the american style of cooking somewhere…. as you can see, a very pressing question.

Dan brings up an interesting question, but one which I’m unable to answer. Does anyone know the answer to why Chinese restaurants tend to be so uniform in the U.S.? I suppose maybe it’s quite different in California or New York….

As for the differences between authentic Chinese food and American Chinese food, I’ll make a small list here (commenters feel free to add to it).

The food in China:

  • is smothered in MSG
  • often contains lots of bones, bone fragments, and shells which must be spit out or otherwise removed
  • doesn’t normally encompass “beef with broccoli” (and I sure wish it did!)
  • includes dishes like chicken feet, pig brains, live shrimp, dog meat, and snails
  • usually contains no raw vegetables
  • doesn’t usually include any dessert but fruit (fortune cookies, being a Chinese American invention, are of course absent and almost completely unknown)
  • varies greatly from region to region, city to city, and restaurant to restaurant

SMS Surrealism

A little while ago I got this SMS from a Scottish friend who’s also living in China. This was her response, verbatim, when I asked her how she’s been lately:

pretty good apart from boy friends mother very ill hospital a major freak out there was a live chicken in here a few days ago

Ahhh, China….

White Boy Antics

I have thus far neglected to mention that while I was in Japan, two more twenty-something teachers arrived at ZUCC. They are John and Greg. John has his own site as well, which is morphing into something of a China blog itself. (Side note: there are now 3 Johns among the 16 foreign teachers here, one of whom also has a son named John.) Anyway, they’re great additions to the team of teachers here; the new crew is shaping up to be really good.

John     Greg

The new ZUCC Foreign English Teacher page in now online.

Speaking of new China blogs (yes, an update to the list is coming!), Carl would have a conniption if I didn’t finally mention his new site, which he daily spurns as being “the stupidest blog ever.” It’s about China, though, and it’s not nearly as bad as he claims.

In other news, three of us had a mooncake-eating contest in honor of Mid-Autumn Moon Festival the other day. I’ll leave the details for later. I plan to devote a whole page to it (kinda like the Junk Food Review) if I can ever get the photos from Carl. In the meantime, you can get a taste from the Chinese blog if you read Chinese.

I’ll end this haphazard entry with an amusing incident that happened the other night.

[Scene: a small Chinese bar]

Me: You should talk to her. Practice your Chinese.

Greg: But I don’t have anything to say.

Me: Well just say something — you need to practice!

Greg: Actually, I learned a great Chinese sentence today.

Me: What is it?

Greg: [I like cake.]

Me: OK, great, tell her that!

Greg: What? Why should I tell her that?

Me: Just do it! It’ll be cool.

Greg: I’m not going to tell her that!

Me: Why not?

Greg: It’s stupid.

Me: But just do it anyway. Something good will come of it.

Greg: I’m not gonna do it.

Me: I’m telling you, something good will come of it.

Greg: Forget it.

Me (to her): [He says that he likes cake.]

Her (to Greg): [Really? My family makes cakes! I can give you some cake, no charge!]

Greg: [I like cake.]

No, I didn’t know the girl or that her family makes cakes. But that kind of thing seems to happen in China all the time.

Double Bummer

Bummer #1

Recently the CD-RW drive on my computer quit reading CDs of any kind. That was annoying, because it’s my only CD-reading drive and I rely on it to play music CDs. Since my computer is still under its one-year warranty, I took the whole thing in, thinking I might also add a regular CD-ROM drive and possibly a hard drive. (I’m not much of a hardware guy.)

I went on a Sunday. I was really hoping they could fix it really fast and give me back my computer, because being somewhat of an internet junkie, I hate being without my computer. There was no one on duty. They let me leave my computer there, telling me I could pick it up the next day. Oh well, mei banfa

The next morning I got a call telling me to come in and they could have my computer ready for me immediately. When I showed up it was a completely different story. They told me they had to ship off the CD-RW drive elsewhere to be repaired (a 2-week process), but they could install my new CD-ROM drive. They did. But the brand-new CD-ROM drive wouldn’t read.

They concluded that it was a system problem, not a hardware problem. That would explain why neither CD drive would read, even though the CD-ROM drive was brand new. The CD-RW drive must actually be fine, and wouldn’t have to be sent off to be repaired after all. But they would have to reinstall Windows. I try to keep only Windows system files on my C: drive for this very reason. When they asked me if I had any important documents on C:, I confidently told them no. They could go ahead and wipe C: and reinstall Windows XP.

It wasn’t until much later that I remembered that one of my very important files — “outlook.pst” — was kept on C:. And it contained every e-mail and e-mail address I had.

So there you have it, folks. If you sent me e-mail before two days ago, it’s gone. I lost it all. It’s very likely I don’t have your e-mail address anymore, either, so e-mail me. This includes friends and “China Blog Listing” requests. Sorry.

In a way it’s kind of relieving, as I had waaaay too many old e-mails backed up. I’m going to try really hard to be better about replying promptly to e-mails and keeping my inbox lean, but that may be a challenge since this semester promises to be super-busy starting next Monday.

Unfortunately, the story doesn’t end there. When I went in the next day to pick up my computer, they told me it was all better, both CD drives were installed, and I could try it out if I’d like to. I said I would. I put in an MP3 CD to test the CD-RW’s reading ability. It wouldn’t read. It was exactly like before. I tried out the same CD on the new CD-ROM drive. It worked fine.

The computer guys all acted flabberghasted because “it had just been working.” Yeah, whatever. I have to wait 2 weeks for my CD-RW drive to be repaired. Fortunately my computer is now back home and I at least have a working regular CD-ROM drive so I can listen to music.

Competence. It can be a tall order in China.

Bummer #2

Last Sunday I had a meeting with a director of a TV show. He needed a foreigner to play a part. I had a busy day Sunday. I needed to take my computer in to be repaired, so I had to lug my computer to the meeting.

The director looked me over and had me stand up, talked to me a bit, and decided I would be fine for the part of French police chief. Chinese police chief, that is. But French. In China. Speaking Chinese. Yes, strange, I know. But it sounded like fun, and my coming week was pretty wide open for filming.

Well, the director isn’t ready to start filming until this coming Sunday, Sept. 14th. He wants to film for three days, straight through Tuesday. Well, it just so happens that I have a jam-packed teach/study schedule, starting Monday.

I really wanted to do it, but I just don’t have the time. Not only is the pay not great (only about 800rmb/day), but being in a stupid TV drama is just not a priority. Studying and teaching definitely is. The TV people were trying to get me to postpone/skip 2 days (14 hours’ worth) of English and Chinese classes so I could do the filming. Nope, I don’t think so.

A “famous” HK actress, Mo ShaoCong (莫少聪) is gonna be in the series, too. (Has anyone ever heard of her?) Here I thought I’d have the chance to attempt to compete with one of Wayne‘s cool China experiences, but alas, it was not meant to be….

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