The Rare Chinese Font

You know “the Chinese font“? The one that just screams Oriental, because it looks like it’s made out of bamboo pieces (?), mystically arranged by a wispy-bearded kung fu master?

In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, let me remind you:

The Pagoda

Chop Suey

Long Wong's

Well, the above font is one that, in my experience, you’ll be hard-pressed to find in mainland China, especially in Chinese. (Anyone out there have a different experience?) Most typed Chinese here is in one of about 4 fonts, and “Oriental” isn’t one of them. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, I suppose; the Chinese just have no reason to parody themselves.

There’s a place on the way to the AllSet office in Shanghai that actually uses the “Oriental” font, though, in Chinese. This is a rare find. Here it is:

The Rare "Chinese" Font

That’s a dry cleaner’s window. The “Oriental font” is in the middle. It says, 八折价, which means “80% of the original price.”

Mystical indeed.

Word Tracer Apps for Sinosplice Readers

iPad Apps for Writing

A while back when I wrote my Learning to Write Chinese Characters on the iPad post, I reviewed an iPad app called Word Tracer. Word Tracer is going strong, and now comes in both iPad and iPhone flavors. In addition, the developer has added some additional functionality to the app in a recent update, allowing for Chinese writing practice that isn’t strictly “tracing.”

Anyway, to thank me for the review, the developer has offered me a number of free copies of the app (iPad or iPhone) to distribute to Sinosplice readers. If you’re interested in getting a free copy of this app, simply leave a comment here (with your real email) or send me an email explaining why you think that the iPad (or iPhone) makes the most sense to you as a way to practice writing Chinese. I’ll award the best ones in the first 48 hours with a free copy of Word Tracer. (Be serious in your replies; I’m very interested in learning something from this!)

Update: Thanks to all of you who commented and emailed me! The response was really pretty good, and I regret that there are too many of you for everyone to get a free copy of the app. I do appreciate the responses, though, and those selected will receive an email shortly. I’m closing comments on this blog post now.

The Three De Song

Learners of Chinese confront the “de triple threat” of Chinese structural particles pretty early on. You see, there are three different characters to write what sounds exactly the same to the ear. The three characters are 的, 得, and 地, each pronounced “de” (neutral tone) when serving as a structural particle.

If you’re just trying to improve your listening and speaking, you don’t really need to worry about this issue. If you’re working on your writing, however, you’re going to want to get it straight. I found the following (simplified) approach helpful:

  1. …的 + Noun
  2. Verb + 得…
  3. …地 + Verb

OK, yes, it leaves out a lot of special cases, and the aforementioned “Verb” in “Verb + 得” can also be an adjective. But they’re nice rules of thumb if you’re looking for something a bit simpler.

But here’s the interesting thing: because the issue of the three de’s is one concerning writing and not speaking, Chinese native speakers themselves have to learn these rules, and can sometimes get tripped up. Some people who don’t need to write for a living might even just “opt out” of the whole issue and use 的 exclusively.

But because Chinese children have to learn to use the proper “de” in school, there is actually a children’s song about the three de’s! [source]

《的地得》 儿歌




I find the explanation of 得 a bit suspect. It “comes before adjectives”? Kinda misleading (but then again, so is “after verbs”).

I tried to find an online video of this song, and instead found a very similar but different song also about the three de’s:

The amusing thing about this video is that in at least one place, the subtitles get the “de” wrong. (Can you find it?)

Continent Names and Region Names in Chinese

Although not actually very complicated, the names of continents and world regions can trip up a student of Chinese. It’s not the continent names that are hard, it’s that knowing the continent names can lead one to incorrect inferences about the names of various world regions. An AllSet Learning client (this is for you, Stavros!) recently reminded me of this fact. I struggled with this myself not so long ago. Because no one ever took the time to lay it out for me, it took me forever to piece it together on my own.

Basically, the way it works in Chinese is like this:

  1. If it’s a continent, it ends with the suffix –. (You can think of as representing the meaning “the continent of….”)
  2. If it’s not a whole continent you’re talking about, drop the .

So that means, for example, that “Western Europe” is not ×西欧洲, because it wouldn’t make sense to say “the continent of Western Europe.” Drop the , and you get 西欧, the correct way to say “Western Europe.” It’s as easy as that. (I say “easy,” but I know I said ×西欧洲 quite a few times before anyone ever told me, “we never say that; just say 西欧.”)

These examples below should help drive the point home:

  • 亚洲 – Asia
    • 东亚 – East Asia
    • 东南亚 – Southeast Asia
    • 中东 – the Middle East
  • 欧洲 – Europe
    • 北欧 – Northern Europe
    • 西欧 – Western Europe
    • 东欧 – Eastern Europe
  • 非洲 – Africa
    • 北非 – Northern Africa
    • 南非 – South Africa (the country)
    • 西非 – West Africa
    • 东非 – East Africa
  • 澳洲 – Australia
  • 南极洲 – Antarctica (literally, “South Pole Continent”)
  • 北美洲 – North America
  • 南美洲 – South America

A couple final complications…

  1. You don’t often divide either Antarctica or Australia into regions in Chinese
  2. You can also say 美洲, which means something like “the Americas”
  3. Because 北美洲 and 南美洲 already have cardinal directions built into their names, it’s awkward to try to use the short form (like ×东北美 or something).

So the world region names are actually pretty simple, no ke…

What can save this country?

In the wake of China’s recent bullet train disaster, I came across this poll on 开心网 (

What can save this country?


拿什么来拯救我们的国家? (最多可选5项)
  • 自由
  • 关爱
  • 文化
  • 勤勉
  • 责任
  • 法制
  • 经济
  • 信仰
  • 信任
  • 教育
  • 改革
  • 武器
  • 科技
  • 公平
  • 秩序
  • 第七感
  • 正义
  • 资源环境
  • 生命
  • 没希望 不想救了


What can save our country? (choose no more than 5)
  • freedom
  • love
  • culture
  • diligence
  • responsibility
  • law
  • economics
  • faith
  • education
  • reform
  • weapons
  • technology
  • fairness
  • order
  • the 7th sense
  • justice
  • natural resources
  • life
  • there’s no hope; don’t want to save it

In case you missed it in the original image, 73% of respondents (over 5000 in total), most of whom are young people, chose the final answer.

It’s not an easy time to be Chinese.

Thoughts on an American Job Applicant on Chinese TV

非你莫属 Screenshot

I’ve mentioned before that I occasionally indulge in the Chinese dating show 非诚勿扰. There’s another one of these reality TV-type Chinese shows that I watch from time to time called 非你莫属 (English name: “Only You”). On this show, each entrant is a job applicant given a chance to explain the type of job he’s looking for and interview with a panel of 12 bosses right there on camera. If all goes well, the bosses make offers to the applicant, and details of salary are discussed right on the show. Finally, the applicant is given a chance to accept the final offers or decline them and leave the stage.

This show is appealing for a number of reasons. There is quite a range of applicants, from young kids with no experience, to senior citizens, to the destitute and desperate, to the physically abnormal. Quite a few of the applicants just plain don’t have much to offer. The “bosses,” who are on the show to promote their own companies, can also say some interesting things. Perhaps one of the most compelling aspects to me is seeing what kind of job offers are made on the show, and what salaries the applicants will accept.

After watching this show for a while, I was surprised to see recently that there was a young American applicant. Unlike 非诚勿扰 (the dating show), which has had quite a few foreigners on the show, I’d never seen it on this show. The applicant was a 25-year-old white American male named Nathan (Chinese name: 尚德). Having lived in Beijing for a while, Nathan spoke pretty solid Chinese, and had no major issues communicating on the show. But the bosses’ reactions to Nathan were not quite what I expected.

非你莫属 Screenshot

Before I go on, some links are in order:

2011 Update for Sinosplice

The Sinosplice blog has recently undergone a few minor upgrades, including:

  1. Vastly improved search. (It was terrible before. I myself used to use Google to find content on my own site.)
  2. Social sharing icons. (I tried to avoid this for quite a while, but it’s a trend that won’t be ignored! My reward for waiting was being able to include G+ easily.)
  3. Automated related post info. (I’ve been meaning to do this for a long time. Scroll down on a post or page to see related posts, NYTimes-style.)
  4. iPhone optimization for cell phone viewing.
  5. Tiny style tweaks.

Please let me know if anything doesn’t sem to be working right for you. You may need to clear your cache and/or reload the page a few times.

Thanks to Ryan from Dao by Design for once again doing a great job and being so easy to work with.

United Verses

My friend Tom (mentioned once before here) has put together a really cool event which he’s calling “United Verses” (译站 in Chinese). The concept is basically a bilingual poetry reading event. Each Chinese poet will read his poems in Chinese, and then an English-speaking partner poet will read English translations of them. That English-speaking poet will later read his own poems, and his partner poet will read the Chinese translations.

United Verses (译站)

This is a really cool cross-cultural activity, and I applaud Tom for putting it together. It took a lot of work to coordinate translators behind the scenes, because the poets themselves aren’t usually the translators. Additional translators are needed, both native Chinese speakers and native English speakers.

I participated as a translator myself (as did one of my AllSet Learning clients), and I found it a really interesting and rewarding experience. Not only do you get to discuss the meaning behind the poem with the original poet, but then you also get to discuss your translation into English with an English-speaking poet. This isn’t just basic off-the-cuff translation, and the resulting translations are quite solid.

Unfortunately I won’t be able to be at the event myself, because I’ll be out of town. I leave you with a photo of “my poet,” 叶青, a very interesting Shanghainese man, pictured here in his study.

Ye Qing (叶青), poet

Finally, the event details in plain text:

United Verses (译站)

July 23rd, Saturday 7pm (event starts around 8pm, but seats are limited)

at Anar: 129 Xingfu Lu, near Fahuazhen Lu (幸福路129号,近法华镇路)

I miss Best Buy

The other day I went to Chinese electronics retail giant Suning (苏宁) to pick up a new USB drive. I’ve never been impressed by either Suning or Gome (国美), but my most recent visit made me wonder if with Best Buy’s recent closing, they’ve just kicked back and completely stopped trying altogether.

I was looking at Sandisk’s USB drives, eyeing the 8 GB one, and then I noticed an equally compact 16 GB version. I asked the price, which wasn’t listed. The exact same model 16 GB drive was quite a bit more than twice the price of the 8 GB model. Hoping against hope, I asked if this wasn’t a little strange (check here for an example of normal pricing on Amazon), and that if she might have gotten the price wrong. I forget what the salesperson said, exactly, but the message was clear: “I think you’re confusing me with someone who gives a damn.”

Take a number

Anyway, I decided to go with the 8 GB version, but I forgot that I wasn’t at Best Buy anymore. I couldn’t take my selection to checkout, I had to take a special number to the far side of the store to make my payment in a carefully hidden location. But the amusing thing was that my order number was not printed out, or even handwritten on a standard form. No, it was scrawled on a random scrap of paper. Classy.


Anyway, I found the cashier in a desolate corner of the store and made my payment. (Apparently the number wasn’t made up, at least.) I located the original salesperson, wondering where my purchase was. She had cast it aside on a random shelf under some earphones. She retrieved it for me. I asked for a bag. Sorry, no bags.

So, walking towards the exit with my unbagged purchase, I wondered how I looked any different from a shoplifter just making off with an item plucked from the shelves. Many Chinese stores that use the “cashier all the way across the store and nowhere near the exit” system have a guard at the exit who checks for a receipt. At Suning, there were no guards, no employees in sight. Just a big wide swath of apathy pointing the way out.

Yeah, I must admit that I miss Best Buy. I still think “service” is a good idea.

Z-ZH Wordplay

I’m wondering if this ad would be as likely to be used in northern China:


The text of the ad is:


The pinyin for the ad is:

Zhāozū! Zhǎo zhǔ!

If you ignore both tones and the z/zh distinction (which a lot of southerners–especially elder southerners–do frequently), you get this:

Zao zu! Zao zu!

The meaning of the ad is something like, “For rent! Seeking the right person!” (“,” often meaning “host” or “owner” is a bit tricky to translate, because normally someone in a position to rent is not a “主,” but in this case that’s who it refers to: the appropriate party to do the renting.)

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