I had a great time interacting with other teachers at ACTFL 2008. Yes, what we do at Praxis Language is quite different from what the teachers in the trenches do, but it’s important to connect with them, to hear about how the classroom is changing, how the students are changing, and maybe even about how we might converge in some areas.
I sat in on some particularly interesting talks on CFL (Chinese as a Foreign Language). Only half a year after I finished my own thesis, I felt I really needed to be reminded of the wide world of academic pursuits… some of the research was quite fascinating. I’m planning to revisit some of the topics here in my blog in the next few weeks.
In the meantime, I’d just like to draw my readers’ attention to a cool product I ran into at ACTFL: Skritter [China-friendly link]. It’s a really well-executed online system for practicing character writing, and it has built-in support for Integrated Chinese. Check it out.
I’m really looking forward to meeting some of the brightest and most passionate language educators that my country has to offer. If you will be in attendance and would like to meet up, by all means, send me an e-mail.
I announced way back in May that I passed my master’s thesis defense, and I promised to write more about it, but you’ve seen very little about it here. Why? Let me explain.
First, once the thesis was over, all I wanted to do was breathe a sigh of relief and forget about the thesis for a while. I was in no big rush to blog about the content of my thesis.
After my thesis was behind me, I became much more caught up in work. I found it hard to find good blocks of time to devote to putting my thesis findings on my website. The procrastination that served me so well in the early days of my thesis work had returned to help me out with the thesis website aftermath.
I had long planned to do it all over the October holiday, but laziness and a few days of flu destroyed that plan. It’s much easier to do quick one-off blog posts than to dig back into my research, so it has remained untouched.
Realizing that it will never happen if I don’t put forth a more determined effort, I have decided to put time aside to work on it instead of blogging. So I won’t be blogging at all until I finally get my thesis experiment results up on my website. I expect to finish it this coming weekend (November 9ish).
What you can expect:
– A new item in my Language section devoted to my thesis
– An overview of the experimental procedure
– An overview of the results
– A blog post or two discussing various aspects of the process
I’m not sure whether I’ll put the actual full thesis up for download. I’m definitely not translating the whole thing, but I might put it up in its original Chinese. The only problem is that a data error was identified after I completed my thesis, so if I do put it up, I’ll want to put up a corrected version. That will take more time. We’ll see.
Nov. 10 Update: Taking longer than I expected. (Forgot I don’t have MS Office 2007 on my computer right now, which I need…)
Nov. 16 Update: I’m running into some MS Office-related problems, but more importantly, I have to prepare for a business trip, so this project is going to have to be put on hold again.
I was searching Youku for interesting Chinese videos about Obama, but all I could find were a few CCTV news clips. If only average Chinese young people liked to video themselves talking about all sorts of topics and put it online, like American kids do on YouTube!
In the process, I ended up doing a search for 黑人 (“black person/people”). Most of the search results were rap or hip hop or dance related, but there was one bizarre one that stood out:
It’s not even Chinese (not related to “Black Man Toothpaste“); it looks like Thai to me. Apparently the Chinese have no monopoly on bizarre/offensive use of black people in toothpaste advertising.
> The Firefox add-on China Channel offers internet users outside of China the ability to surf the web as if they were inside mainland China. Take an unforgetable virtual trip to China and experience the technical expertise of the Chinese Ministry of Information Industry (supported by western companies). It’s open source, free and easy.
Yao Xu has written an article for US-China Today titled Expatriate Blogs: An Online Community. For me, one of the highlights of the article was this photo:
At first I thought it was just a random picture of some backpacking foreigners visiting the Great Wall, but then I recognized that red head of hair and that big curly head of hair. It’s a (rare?) group photo of some of the members of Danwei.org! (Left to right: Eric Mu, Jeremy Goldkorn, Joel Martinsen, Banyue.)
There’s also a Sinosplice-related quote from me in there:
> Pasden poked fun at some of China’s issues in the humor section of his blog, “A Pictorial Guide to Life in China.” On a serious note, Pasden says that he has gradually come to an understanding with the country and its problems.
> “Over time I’ve gotten a bit more sympathetic to the Chinese situation,” he said. “The truth is that taking care of 1.3 billion people and their environment at the same time is a mind-bogglingly difficult task. So while it’s true that China is still pretty dirty compared to the West, I don’t make fun of the problem like I used to. As a semi-permanent resident, it’s my problem too. I breathe this air and drink this water.”
Ah yes… I’m kinder and more sensitive now (but my lungs are dirtier).
Teaching children English is important in countries all over the world. China is no different. Here are some scans from a little book designed to help teach Chinese children the alphabet:
And once they’re done with that, why not teach them the international phonetic alphabet (IPA) as well?
A little story from much-loved ChinesePod user AuntySue:
> In hospital I ran into a few Cantonese speaking patients and visitors, who in some cases spoke no English. With the luxury of ample time, I was able to say things I don’t really know how to say, by finding inventive ways to use the few words I did remember. For example, instead of asking if she’d mind opening my water bottle top because my hands were too weak and the cap is tight etc etc, I simply asked “please, can you?” and held the bottle at the top. Worked like a charm. But I’d spent half an hour agonising over the words before accepting that a simpler method was not “cheating” but rather “communicating”.
> When learning a language I too often make it hard for myself by fixating on the words I don’t know rather than finding more uses for the words I do know. Lesson learned. I got my water, the “it’s a talking dog!” look, and a new friend.
Dr. Orlando Kelm, a man of impressive linguistic ability, recently made some related observations:
> My general impression is that people would enjoy foreign languages more if they didn’t have the added pressure of feeling like they are supposed to be equivalent to native speakers. You will notice that our educational system promotes this viewpoint too. We generally teach foreign languages as if learners are somehow going to be total experts some day. (Why else would we spend weeks teaching third semester college students about all of the adjective clauses that trigger the subjunctive in Spanish?) My general impression, however, is that the majority of our learners do not need to speak like undercover spies. They would be just as happy having a great time talking about sushi with Japanese friends in Japanese.
I often wonder how good I want my Chinese to be. I have lots of room to expand my vocabulary and improve my ability to express myself, but there are two big questions: (1) do I really need to? and (2) do I really want to?
I’ve gotta say, an unrelenting drive for perfection isn’t exactly the most persuasive linguistic motivation, and the longer I live, the more practical I become. The truth is, I’m not a terribly talkative person, and I’m already pretty comfortable in Chinese. I don’t want to be a Chinese spy (ha!), and I really don’t want to memorize the damn chengyu dictionary. I’d rather get my Spanish and Japanese back to levels where I’m more comfortable and able to enjoy the experience of speaking.
Yes, I think I’ll do that.
Steven J wrote me with this question:
> I have been in china for two years and always used paperback dictionaries or the one on my computer. However, now that i will start studying it seems more handy to have one of these pocket size electronic dictionaries. However it seems that all of these machines have a pinyin function for INPUT only. When looking up a word in english, it only gives you characters. This is quite a pain in the ass for someone like me who can speak some Chinese, but is almost illiterate. Do you have any advice on where to find one of these gadgets that would suit my needs better or can you redirect me to a good place to find information on this topic?
I went through this exact same dilemma when I first arrived in China. I had my handy Oxford Concise English-Chinese Chinese-English Dictionary
which I took everywhere. I noticed the Chinese students all had these little handheld electronic dictionaries, and I wanted one to help me with Chinese. But they really don’t help you a whole lot when you have no way to look up the pinyin for the characters that appear.
I had a Canon Wordtank to help me get through my Japanese studies, and it was great. Designed for the student of Japanese, it provided a “jump” feature which made it easy enough to look up the readings of any word even if the readings weren’t directly displayed everywhere. It got me through my last two years of formal Japanese study, which involved a lot of reading and translation.
But for Chinese? I’ve seen some really cool dictionaries that essentially do what the Wordtank does, but for English, Mandarin, Cantonese, and Japanese. With audio. They’re not cheap, though.
I never found a reasonably priced handheld Chinese electronic dictionary that did what I want. I ended up jotting down words and looking them up at home on Wenlin or online.
The heyday of these little handheld dictionaries is coming to an end. I know several people that use their Nokia cell phones for all their English-Chinese dictionary needs. New dictionary apps for the iPhone abound, and the iPhone already has great handwriting recognition support for Chinese built in. Google’s Android is sure to have no shortage of dictionary apps; maybe even official Google Translate dictionary functions.
If you’ve made it this far without a handheld electronic dictionary, then you should just hold on a little longer. The days of single-function handheld electronic devices are numbered. I, for one, wish this new generation of handheld devices would move in for the kill a little faster.
By now, many of my readers are well acquainted with a relatively new blog called chinaSMACK. It’s kind of like “EastSouthWestNorth Lite,” in that it takes Chinese media and translates it to English for a foreign audience, but stays away from the heavy political topics.
Here’s an excerpt from the chinaSMACK manifesto:
> I decided to make this website and share a “slice of Chinese life” with English-speaking foreigners. I will collect and repost all of the hot, popular, interesting, outrageous, and shocking things that I see on the Chinese-language internet so foreigners can understand, experience, and enjoy also. Maybe there will be some cultural differences and maybe not every foreigners will understand what Chinese think is funny, sad, angry, or ridiculous but I will try to translate and explain the “cultural context.”
> No politics! I will not talk about politics. I do not want to. It is too serious and not fun. Other people can do that if they are bored.
> I just want to show a piece of the real China, real Chinese life, and real Chinese people. I want to show our beautiful side, our fun side, our sexy side, and even our ugly side. No one is perfect, everyone makes mistakes, does bad things, and hurt other people sometimes. Chinese people can be serious and Chinese people can be silly too. We love and we hate. We have dreams and we have fears just like everyone else. We have sex and we fight too. Even if we are from different countries and different cultures, everyone laughs and everyone cries. I hope my website will help foreigners realize that Chinese people are very similar to them and not so different.
If you’re unfamiliar with chinaSMACK and the above sounds good to you, take a look.
你中文说得很好！ You speak Chinese very well.
This is a compliment paid nearly every person with the guts to try out his spoken Mandarin skills in China. All you gotta do is try.
But the simple sentence above contains a grammar pattern which students of Mandarin Chinese take quite some time getting the hang of. Translating word for word, a beginner student will take this English sentence:
> You speak Chinese very well.
…and render it as this sentence:
Unfortunately, in Mandarin Chinese this sentence is ungrammatical. This pattern, fine in English, is all broken in Chinese:
> ×Noun + Verb + Object + [Modifier of Verb]
There are two solutions to this brokenness in Chinese:
#1 Repeat the Verb
That object between the verb and its modifier breaks a sacred connection. You can’t do it. But while you can’t break the connection, you can simply duplicate the verb:
> Noun + (Verb + Object) + (Verb + [Modifier of Verb])
Voila! Connection preserved. You just have to get used to duplicating the verb, which, to a speaker of English, seems mighty unnecessary.
#2 Move the Object
As mentioned above, you can’t break the sacred verb-modifier connection. So why not move the object? This totally works, and it’s usually moved to right after the subject:
> Noun + Object + (Verb + [Modifier of Verb])
This is just really awkward for a beginner student. Why do you have to put the object before the verb? It seems really weird. Well, you don’t have to. You can also duplicate the verb. But that feels awkward too.
This pattern is so common, however, that it cannot be ignored. The more input the student gets, the more he sees that (a) Chinese people just don’t say it the way I really, really want to say it, and (b) Chinese people use these other two sentence patterns instead. It seems to me that given the choice between the two awkwardnesses, this is how the linguistic drama tends to unfold over time:
1. Broken sentences following the forbidden pattern
2. Experimentation with the verb duplication workaround
3. Attempts to use the verb duplication workaround exclusively
4. Reluctant acceptance of the object-movement workaround
5. Relative verb-object-modifier harmony
These are just my own observations, but apparently the verb duplication seems easier, while the object moving is actually more common in the casual Chinese of native speakers (although both are common).
How about you? Are you in the midst of this syntactic anguish? Do you remember being there once?
I wrote a while back about how to download music through Baidu’s MP3 search. Since then, Baidu has taken some heat, and downloads from overseas are no longer allowed (but it still works fine in China).
In the past couple months, Baidu has been accused of a lot more than just indexing copyrighted music that’s already online. The alleged sins include:
– Bullying other sites to take down any negative publicity about Baidu (the implicit threat: taking a big fall in Baidu’s rankings if you don’t comply)
– Using superior technology to secretly host the MP3 files it indexes and hide the evidence
– Moving files from server to server to “comply” with take-down demands while the MP3s stay comfortably downloadable from Baidu’s index
Yikes. “Don’t be evil” is looking pretty good right about now. Read more about this here (contains links to other sources).
My friend Sean has a hilarious post up about cultural differences compounded by generation gaps in China. This particular drama revolves around toilet paper. Here’s an excerpt:
> By the time the night was finishing up and the massage was over, it was quite late, around 10:30pm. The parents live in a slightly remote part of Shanghai, only accessible by bus or taxi, and they always refuse to take a taxi because its too expensive (even if I offer to pay). I told JJ to tell them to just stay the night at our house, that made the most sense and it was totally fine by me (and of course by JJ). We do have an extra room and I did buy this couch bed for this very reason. So it only made sense for them to stay, especially since it was holiday and JJ was not working.
> Here comes the kicker. They were at first totally against it. Why, you might ask? Well it was not for the normal reasons you might imagine, such as ‘we don’t want to intrude’, ‘we have plans tomorrow morning’, we simply want to get home’, ‘we don’t like the couch bed’. None of these things mattered to them. Instead, the issue at hand was literally:
> We don’t know if we want to stay because the toilet paper I buy is too soft for them and they really don’t like using it.
Read the rest of the post for Sean’s reaction.
The type of “toilet paper” the parents prefer is called 草纸 (literally, “grass paper”), although it’s sometimes just referred to as 手纸 (which, amusingly, are the same two characters used to write the word for “letter” in Japanese).
I used to use 草纸 as paper towels back in the day. I tried to find a decent picture of it online, but this was the best I could do.
Cheap DVDs are one of the well-known perks of living in China. For roughly $1 per disc, you can buy almost any movie or recent TV series. There’s a huge market for this form of entertainment, and it creates two significant forms of waste material.
Some of the Chinese DVD vendors are using enough packaging these days to make even the Japanese blush. A recent DVD purchase of mine revealed the following layers of packaging:
1. Cellophane wrap
2. Cardboard display sleeve
3. Plastic box
4. Paper envelope
5. DVD sleeve case
6. Flimsy plastic sleeve
…and inside that was the actual DVD. The Chinese vendors are getting more elaborate with their packaging than the real (unpirated) DVD sellers. Why? Almost all of it goes straight into the garbage, and while some of the packaging may look good on the shelf, I can’t see the need for 6 layers of it.
These pirated DVDs are essentially as disposable as a magazine. After one view, you might be ready to get rid of it, but if you want to keep it, you can.
I remember when I first came to China I thought that every DVD I was buying was going into “my collection.” Well, you don’t have to be here long to realize that your collection will very quickly grow beyond manageable size if you keep everything you buy. And clearly not every DVD you buy is worth keeping, even if the picture quality is excellent.
So now after I watch a DVD, if it’s not deemed worthy of keeping (and most aren’t), it goes directly into the “bag of crappy DVDs.” I usually just end up giving that bag to my ayi. Not sure what she does with them.
How about you? What do you do with your unwanted DVDs? It’s a strange problem to have, but when I look at the amount of DVDs that are bought and sold on the streets of China, I’m reminded that it must add up to an awful lot of DVD waste.
Micah posts some scans of an attractive hand-written menu for 老克勒.
Note: the names of the dishes (and most of the prices) are in orange.
As I mentioned in my Black Back post, I think learning to read hand-written Chinese is an important skill that’s not emphasized in textbook/classroom courses. Here’s a chance to work on that skill while also learning dish names (another common difficulty for the recently arrived).
> I also no longer think that Shanghainese are snobby. Somewhat, and some of them are, but not hugely more than anywhere else. The Shanghainese are proud, and they are defensive. That a scruffy, disparate batch of immigrants and refugees could have fused such a coherent urban culture in the face of foreign colonialism and domestic disdain is amazing. As is the fact that their identity is positive and optimistic rather than a dark bunker mentality, given the endless attacks upon “Shanghaineseness”.
And regarding spoken Shanghainese:
> I remember early weeks in Shanghai overhearing a conversation in Sangheiwu [Shanghainese] between two colleagues. Afterwards, I asked what they were arguing about. “Arguing? We were saying what a nice day it is today!”
Lisa also links to the Sinosplice Shanghainese Soundboard and asks for more resources. I’ve covered the textbooks before, but if you’re interested in video lessons intended for Mandarin-speaking Chinese, you can find those online as well:
In the last few weeks a new drink has appeared on the convenience store shelves of Shanghai. It’s called 水溶C100, but you probably know it as “lemonade.”
The name 水溶C100 comes from the idea of 水溶性维生素 (water-soluble vitamins). In this case, obviously, it’s vitamin C, and the drink boasts 100% of the recommended daily dose of vitamin C (the equivalent of 5.5 lemons, the bottle tells us) in each bottle… but only 12% juice.
I like the drink well enough. Seems to be another success for bottled water company Nongfu Spring, the same company that pleased me 5 years ago with it’s “Farmer’s Orchard” juice. But this new product has been given a fairly horrible name. My wife, who’s been drinking the stuff for a few weeks (like me) still has no idea what it’s called if she’s not looking right at the bottle. It’s just “that lemon drink” (什么100?). And what should we call it in English? C100? I don’t even know. And not only does it have an unmemorable name, but there’s that awkward word in big print “lemon,” just hanging out on the label, though apparently not part of the name. Thanks. Lemon. (But only 12%!)
The drink is quite strong (sour/sweet), but I find it mixes nicely with tonic water, creating a classy concoction remarkably similar to Japan’s own CC Lemon (now there’s an Asian lemonade with a catchy name!). I bet this stuff mixes great with vodka as well.
It’s that time of year again: vacation absurdity time. Most people in China have to work this coming Saturday and Sunday in order to “make up for” the seven vacation days in a row to come.
Last week was only a four-day workweek (preceded by a three-day weekend), and now this week it’s a seven-day workweek. It’s like jetlag for workweeks; we’re going to need those seven days off to get over the messed-up schedule.
There’s talk of scrapping the October week-long holiday (and its accompanying seven-day workweek), just like the May holiday week disappeared this year. I’m really hoping it happens.
> I’m heading down to Shanghai for National Day [October 1st]. I have rather bizarrely never actually been to Shanghai before, so I was wondering what places you’d recommend I visit and what places you’d recommend I avoid during my time there. I have about 3.5 days to wander around the city.
> Also wondering what district you recommend getting a hotel or hostel in.
> Three and a half days is enough to see all the major attractions and then some. However, a disclaimer: sometimes I get too gung ho about the city, so if John’s recommendations clash with mine then trust him over me.
> For a hotel or hostel I’d recommend staying close to People’s Square, which is a good launching pad for visits to just about anywhere in the city because it’s the location of the subway Lines 1/2/8 interchange. I have two places in mind, depending on your budget. If you’re going cheap, stay at the Shanghai Mingtown Etour Youth Hostel. It’s just west of People’s Square, next to the quaint little pet market where I buy chinchilla food and the Shanghai Art Museum. It’s also a short hike away from Suzhou Creek, a good place for photography. If you’re willing to pay RMB 200-300 for a standard 标准间 hotel room, the 上海市工人文化宫东方宾馆 (Shanghai Worker’s Cultural Palace Far East Hotel?) is right on People’s Square, 2 minutes from the subway, in a historic building that’s now being used as a civic center but has a hotel on the upper floors. I tried to book it for my parents when they came for our wedding two years ago, but they were renovating at the time so now it must be even nicer now. Either place, call in advance and confirm rates/availability, of course.
> Whoa, that was way too long. I’ll keep the “tourist attractions” in list form:
> – Yu Gardens area (for the food and the antiques)
> – Taikang Road (trendy fixed-up old neighborhood)
> – People’s Square + Nanjing East Road + Bund (don’t mind the scammers, just chat them up and then brush them off)
> – Shanghai Museum (on People’s Square)
> – Lujiazui area (Aquarium, World Financial Center, Super Brand Mall)
> – Jing’an Temple
> – Yuyintang (this is a good live music venue, if you’re into that)
> – Science & Technology Museum
> – Wander around the French Concession area
> – Wander around the Old City (north from Dongjiadu)
> – Yu Gardens themselves
> – Shanghai City Planning Museum
> – Longhua Temple
> – Anything else in Pudong besides Lujiazui and Sci-Tech Museum
> Heh, I always panic a little when people ask me about things to do in Shanghai. While I do like the city, I don’t feel like there’s really that much for visitors to DO when compared with a city like Beijing. This city is about business, shopping, dining, and nightlife!
> Still, it’s not fair to say Shanghai has nothing to offer, and I think Micah did a pretty good job of listing the attractions. I’ll just add a few comments to Micah’s list.
> I’m sure Micah’s suggestions are great, but don’t forget the traveler’s favorite: The Captain’s Hostel. It’s probably been booked solid for weeks, but you might still want to check it out.
> – I’ve never been a fan of Yu Gardens; feels like it’s just for tourists from abroad. So while I would expect my parents to enjoy it, I wouldn’t expect you to.
> – Jing’an Temple is cool-looking, being right in the middle of the city, but don’t bother going in. The park across the street is quite nice, though, and both New York Pizza and Burger King are right there if you’re interested.
> – I went to the Science and Technology Museum with my wife last year, and we were both disappointed. We found it too child-oriented, run-down, and outdated.
> – You might consider the Xujiahui Computer Market (there are actually two separate markets right in 美罗城, plus a BestBuy nearby),
and I hear there’s a photography market near the Shanghai Train Station that has lots of cool stuff for photo buffs [Editor’s note: Brad tells us that photography market is now closed].
> – Micah left off Xintiandi, a major tourist highlight. Yeah, it’s all fake and expensive, but I think it’s an important side of Shanghai. To me, Taikang Lu doesn’t feel much less fake… at least Xintiandi is honest about what it is. (Sorry, Micah!)
> – Check out the Liuli Glass Art museum on Madang Lu (right next to Xintiandi). Really amazing stuff by a Taiwanese artist, with a Buddhist theme. Make sure to go in early afternoon; it turns into a bar at night, and the exhibits go away.
> To me, you’re missing one of Shanghai’s major highlights if you’re not here to EAT. Shanghai cuisine might be a bit sweet, but there are plenty of excellent restaurants, and tons of variety (both domestic and international). With a little planning, you could be eating one mind-blowing meal after another, if that’s something you’re interested in.
> In re: to John, I totally agree that there’s just not that much to *do*. Go out to eat a lot, have a massage, get some clothes tailored, climb the Pearl Tower… that’s the extent of what 90% of Shanghai tourists do because Shanghai is about quality of modern life, not so much about history or cultural production.
> No comment on Xintiandi. I’m “against it” in theory, but I haven’t been there in ages and I’m not really familiar with the area. I believe John used to work near there, so he would know better than me.
> Finally, John, I was trying to think of a Shanghainese place to recommend because it’d be a shame not to eat the local cuisine no matter how people from outside of Shanghai bad-mouth it. But I was coming up a blank — the best places I’ve eaten are hole-in-the-wall, out of the way, or too expensive to recommend with a clean conscience. Can you name a place off hand?
> You mention the Pearl Tower, but you didn’t put it in your “DO” list. I’ve actually never done it myself. Is that another one that should be on the “DO” list?
> Not really sure about a good Shanghainese place… There’s so much fusion going on that I don’t really worry about where the food is supposed to be from too much.
> The Pearl Tower is the no-brainer, average-Joe view of Pudong. The Jinmao Tower’s 88th floor observation deck is the more sophisticated option. That one lounge on top of the Jinmao Tower where you pay the bar’s cover charge to enjoy the view *and* a classy drink is the savvy-traveler’s choice. But the only view that made it onto my DO list is the new World Financial Tower, because it’s NEW and higher than all the others (though I hear it’s a bit pricey).
> If I was playing tourist, maybe I’d go to Din Tai Fung. Even though it’s Taiwanese it wins all the contests for Shanghai 小笼包, and I betcha they have more Shanghai dishes than just that. Dianping has them at RMB 100 per. Jodi and I got invited to a birthday party at 福1039 on Yuyuan Rd by a Shanghainese friend, very 本帮 [local Shanghai] and set in a semi-fixed-up colonial era home, but a little out of the way and RMB 200 per on Dianping.
> And yeah, seconding smartshanghai and dianping.
Readers: Any other recommendations for good, reasonably priced Shanghainese food, or must-see parts of Shanghai?