Magnus of MandMX.com has been busy lately. You may be familiar with his Shanghainese podcast or his bilingual comics (he even did one about Sinosplice once). Anyway, now he’s come out with a book of his English/Chinese comics. It’s called Electric Voices and Stinky Tofu (a reference to the Chinese words 电话 and 臭豆腐).
Magnus was kind enough to give me an advance copy of this book to share my thoughts. I like that the book is bilingual, and that it’s focused entirely on the “foreigner in China experience.” This makes it unique. We foreigners in China all have our photos, our little private whining sessions, our blogs about life in China… but this book takes a lot of those recurring themes and distills them into one convenient collection.
The book isn’t all about being funny… some of it is too true to be funny. And I daresay that most people that have never been to China won’t understand a lot of it. In some ways it’s almost like a reference book of inside jokes. I like that.
Although the site is currently moving so you can’t see it, Shanghai Street Stories is an amazing blog featuring photographs of everyday life in Shanghai, each accompanied by a short story. [Update: you can see the blog here.]
Until the new site is up, you can’t easily see the photos online, but if you’re in Shanghai, you can see them in person at the author’s exhibit tomorrow. Details:
> Demolish, Construct, Repeat: Building the Shanghai Dream
> Southern Barbarian in Pudong celebrates the street photography of Sue Anne Tay, a Shanghai-based photographer, focused on the city’s disappearing neighborhoods. Her show contrasts the migrant workers who are building the new Shanghai with the locals whose lives are changing forever, as the city changes. The exhibit will run for a month.
> Launch party: Sept 11, Sat. 3pm to 6pm. SB will have a complimentary wonderful spread of Yunan snacks, beer and wine. Do note that SB has a formidable beer selection!
> Venue: Southern Barbarian (Lujiazui) 南蛮子
B1/F, DBS Building, 1318 Lujiazui Huan Lu, near Dongyuan Lu
Directions by metro: Take Exit 1 of Lujiazui Metro, cross the road and walk past the Shanghai Ocean Aquarium toward the DBS Building.
CEO Hank Horkoff over at ChinesePod has been drinking a lot of tea lately. He calls what he’s doing the Taobao Tea Trail. He’s bought a lot of Chinese tea on Taobao, and he’s sampling it all, learning as he goes. He explains:
> Armed with the Chinese-language 茶叶地图 [“tea leaf map”] and 百度百科 [“Baidu Encyclopedia”] I am sampling my way through the spectrum of Chinese teas – more than 85 in all, one a week. I am using Taobao to order the tea leaves and then posting a bit of information, photos and a link to the Taobao merchant here on this blog.
He’s got lots of quality photos, and even Google maps showing what parts of China the different teas come from. If you’re interested in tea, his project is definitely worth a look. (And if you come to the ChinesePod office, you might just be able to sample them yourself!)
It appears to be my 10 year Chinaversary. Thanks to all of you that have congratulated me. It feels very weird, because:
1. Everyone knows exactly how long I’ve been in China because of a nerdy little PHP script I put on my blog a while ago (and refuse to take down)
2. I’ve been in China 10 years (China!)
3. I’ve been in China almost a third of my whole life
4. I’ve been in China longer than some of the Chinese kids I see on the street (and their Chinese language skills will soon be overtaking mine, if they haven’t already)
The script actually rounds up when it calculates how long I’ve been in China. (OK, here’s where it gets super nerdy: mouse over the number on the site to get a more precise calculation.) I originally estimated my arrival in China to be August 20th, 2000, but I just dug through some of my dusty digital archives, and I found some old journal entries. I kept an electronic journal in text files before I ever started a blog. (Ah, those are quite amusing.) Anyway, it appears that my arrival was actually closer to August 8th (how auspicious!), although the first entry is dated August 12th, 2000.
So to celebrate my 10th year anniversary, I’ll post a few snippets from my very first observations of “the real China,” posted by a clueless American 22-year-old who could just barely speak a little Chinese…
> Andrew met me at the airport in Shanghai. His driver picked me up. Andrew’s house is REALLY nice… He said it’s like $5000/month, but his dad’s company pays for it all. It’s sort of a gated community outside of Shanghai. They have Chinese security guards at almost every corner of is neighborhood, and a free bus that goes to and from town on the hour. So, basically I spent my time in Shanghai hanging out with Andrew and his friends. We ate REALLY SPICY Sichuan food one night (I really felt it the next morning), had quite a bit to drink, and socialized with some Chinese girls in a bar. It was nice to get an introduction of China from Andrew. I also got a nice little electronic dictionary. It was meant for a Chinese person, but it’s still quite useful.
> The ticket to Hangzhou was only 29RMB (less than $3!) for a 2 hour ride, and some nice middle-aged lady talked to me the whole time despite my broken Chinese. She knew very little English, but that didn’t stop her from talking to me.
> Hangzhou is a nice enough city, but I’d definitely call it a city, not a town. It’s bigger than I expected — bigger than Tampa. The Chinese insist on calling it medium-sized, I guess because it doesn’t fit into the silly elite “big” category which includes only huge cities like Beijing and Shanghai. Anyway, it doesn’t have a subway system — only buses and taxis — but it’s big.
> The Chinese are less curious about me than I expected. After being such a spectacle in Japan, I receive relatively little notice here, even though I’ve seen only a few foreigners here in all my jaunts through the city so far. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing — I guess it just means I have to be more active in my interactions. That’s OK with me, I guess… I hope they don’t prove to be completely UNinterested in me, though, because that could be problematical for me and my hopes here.
> [Editor’s note: in a later entry I write: First, let me correct what I said earlier about Chinese people not being curious. I was wrong. They’re very curious. For some reason, though, they seem less curious when I’m with a Chinese person than when I’m alone. These days I’m getting plenty of “hello!”‘s and stares. So I guess all is well in Asia after all. hehe]
> Besides its size, I do feel a little misinformed about Hangzhou in a few other ways. It’s supposed to be such a beautiful city… I wouldn’t call it an UGLY city (although it does have its ugly points), but the beauty of it just doesn’t strike me so much. The famed West Lake is nice, but again, not dazzling. The famous Hangzhou women (the most beautiful in all of China) haven’t exactly wowed me either, although there are some pretty women here. Maybe they hide their finest. So what it comes down to, I guess, is that I think I’m just in a pretty ordinary Chinese city instead of some rare jewel of a city that I had been led to expect.
> There’s been a fair amount of frustration so far… Small frustration at unfulfilled expectations, but greater ones of the linguistic variety. Frustration because when people talk to me in Chinese, I understand some, but don’t get what they mean. Frustration because when I don’t understand them, they talk to me in English. Frustration because they talk to me in English without even trying Chinese. Frustration because if they would just speak a little slower, I really might get it. Frustration because my vocabulary is really so small. Frustration because all that stuff I learned at UF and then forgot was really, really useful stuff! Frustration because my pronunciation — even for things I’m sure of — is bad.
> But these are the frustrations of a student who JUST arrived in China. I know I have to give myself more time.
By “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” I mean now that I have had the opportunity to go, I will never again go in this lifetime. Once is definitely enough. Still, I’m surprised that very few foreigners have ever heard of ChinaJoy, because it’s so huge here in Shanghai. Not until I went myself did I realize how huge it really is.
I’m pretty sure the line to buy tickets to ChinaJoy was the longest line I’ve ever been in, spanning the length of the enormous new Shanghai International Conference Center in Pudong, near Longyang Road Subway Station. Fortunately, it was also the fastest moving. The line to buy tickets was so long you had to take quite a walk to even find the end of it, and the organizers felt the need to hire a guy that holds a sign marking the end of the line. No joke.
ChinaJoy filled four enormous conference halls, most of which were jam-packed with people. I can’t remember a time I’ve been at an event in Shanghai with so many people, but so few foreigners. Of the thousands of people I must have seen, I saw less than 10 foreigners in my two-hour visit. And let me tell you, it was an exhausting two hours, milling through dense crowds in a just-barely-air-conditioned building.
So what is the draw? It’s supposed to be a “digital entertainment expo,” video games being the main draw, but the practice of companies hiring models to represent their products has become a huge part of the appeal. So you can still see lots of video games (I saw live tournaments of DotA and Starcraft (1) displayed on huge screens), and play certain ones at some of the booths, but there’s also a ton of photographing of cosplay models going on everywhere. Oh, and let’s not forget the silly dances on stage.
ChinaJoy is still going on this weekend. If you’re interested in the gaming part, I definitely don’t recommend it. Even if you’re mainly interested in the models, I still don’t recommend it. (Shanghaiist has photos, as does Flickr.)
Finally, I leave you with a few more random photos:
Super Mario Galaxy clone?
A Japanese school decided to try the “model marketing” thing at ChinaJoy…
Last night I met up with Randy Alexander of Sinoglot, Yuwen, and Echoes of Manchu for dinner and imported beers. We had a great chat, with topics ranging from English and Chinese linguistics, to sci-fi and (evil genius) Joel Martinsen, to the Sinoglot crew and how they tricked Randy into learning Manchu.
We started talking about some of our favorite linguistics articles, on Language Log or elsewhere, and I brought up the one about the half-life of irregular verbs in English. I wanted to send Randy a link, but I was dismayed to discover that the original article by Harvard University mathematician Erez Lieberman is now behind a pay wall. All you can find are articles linking to what was once a freely accessible article.
But I dug some more (we’re still quite a few years away from regularizing to “digged,” I’m guessing), and I eventually found what looks like a freely available copy of the original article, Quantifying the evolutionary dynamics of language, courtesy of our friends at NIH. Unfortunately, what’s still missing is the great chart the original paper included, which ordered irregular verbs by frequency and gave time estimates (in years) for the regularization of each. (There is an unordered list in text file format linked to in the article, though.)
What does this have to do with Chinese? I’d love to see similar studies for modern Mandarin. Sure, there are no conjugations for Chinese verbs, so it wouldn’t be about the regularization of irregular verbs. But it could be about variable pronunciations of certain words (like 角色, or 说服), or selection of characters (is it 做 or 作?). A good chunk of Chinese academia is still obsessed with standardization and what is “correct,” so you don’t see many objective studies, but that attitude won’t last forever. Chinese corpus linguistics is relatively young, but it’s making great strides, and I really look forward to seeing this kind of research in the future.
I enjoyed Kaiser Kuo’s recent Sinica podcast on Popup Chinese featuring Jeremy Goldkorn of Danwei.org and Will Moss of Imagethief. They started off with the provocative statement that “the English language China blog is dead,” and went into some analysis of how things are different now than they were. Their analysis seemed pretty spot-on to me.
This is an issue I’ve been thinking about for a long time: how the “China blogosphere” has changed, how I still fit in, and how it’s still enjoyable or worthwhile. I think when I first arrived in China and was doing various English teaching jobs while I furiously studied Chinese in my free time, aside from intangibles like Chinese learning and friendships, my blog and website was the most important, lasting thing I created. It’s what led to a job at ChinesePod in 2006, the point at which I officially embarked upon what would become my career. Blogging, for me, had to take a backseat, and it has to this day. The “top ideas” on my mind were less and less often blog topics as work usurped my focus.
I’ve revisited this same topic as I’ve considered whether or not to put more time or effort into the China Blog List. There are just so many blogs out there now that organizing them really does seem too big a task for one tiny directory. It’s a task that needs to be crowd-sourced or done through social media somehow, if it even needs to be done at all. That site still has potential (and good Google rank for “China blog” and “China blogs”), but the concept needs to be rethunk. In the meantime, it’s just no longer relevant.
I was pleased to hear those guys mention my blog in their podcast as one of the ones that’s been around the longest, but as the list of blogs went on and on, I had to think, how do these guys have the time to read so many blogs? Like Will Moss said in the podcast, I’ve found that the decreasing signal-to-noise ratio has just led to less overall blog reading.
This afternoon I had the pleasure of sitting in on a talk at Glamour Bar hosted by history professor Jeffery Wasserstrom of China Beat as he discussed various issues with the New Yorker’s China correspondent Evan Osnos. The topic was writing and blogging, and they kicked off the discussion by mentioning Sinica’s take on the issue. Both writers had begun blogging relatively recently, so Evan referred to them as “post-modern, or, perhaps, ‘post-mortem’ bloggers.” Both Wasserstrom and Osnos were optimistic about the role of blogging. Evan was particularly happy about the recent proliferation of translation bridge blogs like China Geeks.
One of the more interesting questions thrown out by the crowd was basically, “yeah, you both write well about China, but how much do you guys (or anyone) really understand China?” Both men were humble in acknowledging the limits of their knowledge, but I liked Dr. Wasserstrom’s response that despite the smallness of what we can know, the view from outside offers a different perspective which contributes in an important way toward the full picture. This closely parallels the view I take on language learning: the native speaker perspective should be combined with the learner perspective to reach a fuller picture of the language more relevant to the learner.
> A China-focused blog that includes Mandarin speaking tips and apolitical, largely irreverent (and in some cases irrelevant) observations about Shanghai and the rest of the country, among other tidbits.
“Irreverent and irrelevant.” Heh, I can live with that. I have to say, though, that this blog is only occasionally relevant to Shanghai.
But relevance is always an issue on my mind. The new business is getting quite busy, and while I have less free time than ever, it’s a rich source of new observations and blogging material about Shanghai and learning Chinese. I won’t keep those bottled up. The search for relevance is not fruitless.
So the pinyin tooltip WordPress plugin I mentioned before is slowly but surely coming along. We’re alpha testing now, and discovering weird discrepancies between versions of WordPress. Hopefully those won’t be too hard to fix.
One of the options supported by the plugin is choice of tooltip background. Sinosplice currently uses plain white, but the script it’s based on uses a nice blue color. Here are some of the options I’ve put together (note: tooltip boxes and text are not actual sizes or proportions):
If you’re interested in using this tooltip, is there any default color you’d definitely want? If so, please let me know. As things stand now, I think I’ll go with the first four below (dropping the black one).
OK, I admit it. This Chinese TV show called 非诚勿扰 (English name: If You Are the One) has ensnared me. It’s just silly dating game television, but I find it interesting for a bunch of reasons. Here is the basic premise of the show, explained by Hello Nanjing:
> The basic concept of the show is that 24 girls will stand in a line, each atop a podium with a light hanging over their head. Facing them is one boy, who will at first secretly choose one of the girls to be his date. Then, he reveals some basic information about himself, after which each of the girls will decide whether he is ‘date-worthy’ or not.
> If a girl doesn’t like him, she will turn the light above her head off. If all 24 lights go off, the boy loses. If some lights remain on after the boy’s introduction, the boy may choose two or three of the girls for ‘future communication’. He also has the option in this case to choose a girl who turned her light off.
> Finally, with three girls left, the boy will ask another round of questions, after which he will make his final choice. If the girl accepts, they may walk towards each other, join hands, and head off into the sunset for a future date and possible romance.
The name of the show, 非诚勿扰 (as well as the English name), is the same as a rather boring movie by Feng Xiaogang (the article quoted above mistakenly included a shot of the cast of that movie). It’s taken from a line used in personal ads, which literally means, “if you’re not sincere, don’t disturb me” but would be translated more along the lines of “serious inquiries only please” in English language personals.
OK, so what’s so good about this show? It’s hard to say, but here are my guesses:
– It’s interesting to see which guys get shot down immediately by the 24 female candidates, and which can make it to the very end. (I evidently still have a lot to learn about the psyche of Chinese women.)
– The background music, which is always the same and used in every show, is hilariously cheesy, and yet so appropriate.
– The concept is so simple that it’s easy to follow the show, but there is enough interesting language used that I feel like I still learn useful words and phrases.
– The host, 孟非, and his “psychological analyst,” 乐嘉 make for an entertaining, bald-headed duo. They don’t feel like typical moron TV show hosts.
乐嘉 (Le Jia)
– 乐嘉 in particular is entertaining. He invented a personality analysis system based on colors which my wife had to use for her job (and I’ve been hearing about for years). At first you think, “who is this smiley, smug little bald man?” but then you really start to like him. And he totally casts a spell over all the female contestants, many of whom thank him specifically, all teary-eyed, when they finally leave the show. This guy is interesting!
– Although the show is filmed in Nanjing, participants come from all over China, which means you get to hear a wide variety of accents.
Yesterday in the bookstore I noticed these two books, titled 丘吉尔 (Churchill) and 希特勒 (Hitler):
Now am I crazy, or do these two historical figures both look really evil, perhaps Churchill even more so than Hitler??
Apparently this was just a bad choice of photo (and color) in the cover design, though; if you click through to either Churchill’s or Hitler’s Amazon.cn pages, you see lots of other books in the series. Only Mussolini looks as evil as these two.
According to the introduction on Amazon, the book about Churchill is not an explanation of how he was actually Britain’s greatest supervillain. That’s a relief.
I just got a tip from an AllSet Learning client that there will be some special screenings of the films of Joris Ivens at the Expo’s Dutch pavilion this weekend (July 9~10). So maybe after checking out the new Shanghai Apple Store we can go get a dose of real culture. (Wow, that sure sounded snobby. I own a Mac!)
Here is the description:
> During the weekend of 9 and 10 July at the World Expo in Shanhai, Joris Ivens will be honored in a true “Joris Ivens weekend.” On Friday evening and Saturday afternoon and evening 13 films by Joris Ivens are screened. The films are grouped around six themes: Introduction / Stories in China / Against Facism / Avant-garde / China / Poetry and Cinema. Mrs Loridan-Ivens and the European Foundation Joris Ivens will be present to introduce the films. The theatre space at the Dutch Culture Centre will also host a small exhibition of photographs of Joris Ivens and Mrs Marceline Loridan-Ivens.
> One of the films is The 400 Million (in 1938), showing Mr. Zhou-Enlai and Mr. Zu De [ed. Zhu De?] with music of The March of the Volunteers (which later became the National Anthem of the People’s Republic of China). Don’t miss the unique opportunity of viewing the Chinese culture and the turbulent 20th century through the camera of Ivens.
Once upon a time I blogged about a short-lived beverage experiment known as Spicy Sprite, and before that, Mint Sprite. Recently someone called to my attention the new Green Tea Sprite. Being the long-time Sprite connoisseur that I am, I had to try it.
It tasted like Sprite, but only… (wait for it) …with green tea in it.
It wasn’t altogether bad, I guess. Not nearly as bad as Mint Sprite, anyway.
The Chinese name is 冰+茶味雪碧. I’m not sure exactly what that “+” in there is trying to prove.
It’s been a while since I got my copy of Tales of Old Peking. I’ve taken my time going through it. It’s a patient a book, its contents largely magazine-style, most articles only indirectly related to each other. A book like this doesn’t demand your attention or keep you frantically turning those pages until the end. But it’s still a fascinating collection of accounts of old Beijing, through the eyes of foreigners. Below are a few of the quotes I enjoyed the most:
On the City
> I visited Peking about thirty years ago. On my return I found it unchanged, except that it was thirty times dirtier, the smells thirty times more insufferable, and the roads thirty times worse for the wear. —Admiral Lord Charles Beresford, The Breakup of China, 1899
> … But in spite of so much that disgusts and offends one in this wreck of an imperial city, who can deny the charm of Peking, that unique and most fascinating city of the East! –Lady Susan Townley in My Chinese Note Book, 1904
> …if you have once lived in Peking, if you have ever stayed here long enough to fall under the charm and interest of this splendid barbaric capital, if you have once seen the temples and glorious monuments of Chili, all other parts of China seem dull and second rate… when you have seen the best there is, everything else is anticlimax. –Ellen N. LaMotte, Peking Dust, 1919
I may be a member of the Shanghai faction, but I’m not totally immune to the charms of Beijing either.
On Foreigners in China
> As I am here and watch, I do not wonder that the Chinese hate the foreigner. The foreigner is frequently severe and exacting in this Empire which is not his own. He often treats the Chinese as though they were dogs and had no rights whatever – no wonder that they growl and sometimes bite. —Sarah Pike Conger, Feb. 1, 1899
> He has been in Peking nearly four months now, in a comfortable Chinese house studying Chinese history, smoking opium in spite of the prohibition, and frequenting only the Chinese with whom he appears thoroughly at home. He is really very original.–D. de Martel & L. de Hover, Silhouettes of Peking, 1926
The more things change, the more they stay the same?
Anyway, now that Sinosplice has been redesigned, it feels like it’s time to do the tooltips right: as a WordPress plugin. That way WordPress upgrades will be (mostly?) unaffected, and I can easily share the tool with other bloggers. I’m working with a developer now to create the plugin, free and opensource.
Basically what it will do is:
– Add the CSS you need, giving you a few options
– Add a quicktag to the HTML text editor to facilitate addition of tooltip code
The good part is that the effect is general enough that it doesn’t have to be pinyin-specific, meaning it could work for regular English blogs, blogs about Japanese, etc. I know there are a few WP tooltip plugins out there, but none of them offer quite what I want, as a blogger frequently writing about Chinese for learners.
I’ll be presenting the idea at Shanghai Barcamp tomorrow; maybe I’ll get some good ideas there. Good ideas are always welcome in the comments, too, of course!
I’ve been especially busy with AllSet Learning lately. Lots of exciting developments there; pretty soon I’ll be starting up a news blog for that site. If you’re in Shanghai and interested, it’s a good time to get in touch.
Next Saturday I’ll be attending Shanghai Barcamp. I meant to do it these past two years, but never quite got around to it. Third time’s a charm, I guess? ChinesePod CEO Hank will be there, as well as Xindanwei CEO Liu Yan. I expect to see some other familiar faces, such as Micah and Kellen. Should be a thought-provoking, geeky day.
I noticed one of the sponsors of Barcamp this time is ShanghaiSolved. I’ve heard this idea before, and this implementation looks pretty good. Basically, some people ask questions about Shanghai, and other people answer them. Kinda like Ask Metafilter, or Yahoo Answers, or Aardvark, but just for Shanghai. I’m curious to see if this will take off. It’s got some questions up, about “must-see places” and rock climbing and VPNs, but there’s not a ton of activity yet. (Maybe it’s the picture of Haibao in the header that’s driving people away?)
The idea of being able to send or receive cell phone text messages on a computer is not a new one, but this Chinese software called “Fetion” (飞信 in Chinese, literally, “flying letter”) is new to me. In a recent AllSet Learning teacher training session, we were discussing various types of technology for learning, including ChinesePod, Anki, and Skritter, when 飞信 came up (weird English name: “Fetion”).
For now, Fetion is PC only, although it also has mobile versions. Its “smartphone” version is aimed at Windows Mobile users, not Android or iPhone users. This all makes a lot of sense if Fetion is targeting a younger Chinese demographic rather than professionals.
Fetion mixes social networking properties with communications management properties. One of the benefits it boasts is the ability to store all of your text messages offline on your computer (which Google Voice is currently doing in the US, but in the cloud). Here are the features listed on the Fetion website’s 特性 page:
– A multi-platform system means you’re always reachable
– Free text messaging
– Super-cheap rates for group voice chat
– Anti-harassment security functionality
– 24/7 customer service
I’ve got to say, this doesn’t seem especially impressive; this technology has been around for a while. It seems that Fetion has caught on with a sizable userbase, however. I’m curious how far it will go.
Have you used Fetion? What are your experiences with it? Is it useful? Do any of your Chinese friends use 飞信?