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…

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

I think English in China is getting better…


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.


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.


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.

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