personal


09

Feb 2009

Buying a Wii in China

A while back I blogged about buying a PS2 in China, and there was a lot of interest. There’s not much to say about PS3, because it is so far uncracked/unpirated, so everyone who plays PS3 here imports everything. Games are 2-300 RMB each. XBox 360 has similar status re: pirating to Wii in China, but I have almost no experience with it, so will limit my observations to the Wii and its games.

Nintendo does not officially sell the Wii in the People’s Republic of China, so buyers must purchase an imported system. While previously Japanese Wii systems were the most common, now Korean imports are becoming more common. I imagine it is possible buy the Wii imported from the United States and other countries as well.

These are the prices I was quoted at my local video game shop:

– Basic Wii system (one controller) imported from Korea: 1580 RMB
– Installation of WiiGator “backup launcher” (which allows you to play “backup copy” AKA pirated games): free
– Extra Wii controller set (Wii remote + “nunchuk”): 450 RMB
– Wii Fit imported from Japan (with Wii Fit game/software): 800 RMB
– 10 games (not imported, obviously) – free

Wii!

All games work fine as long as you load them through the WiiGator Gamma Backup Launcher 0.3. The system also comes preloaded with Homebrew and Softchip (an alternate backup launcher). The shopkeeper told me only to use the WiiGator Gamma Backup Launcher, but I did actually try out the Softchip launcher, and it worked for most games. The (Korean) Mii section, however, does not work at all. I’ve heard that it can easily be enabled; the shopkeeper I talked to said it’s a waste of precious memory. I didn’t buy any memory upgrades, and so far I’m doing fine without it.

Just like PS2 and XBox 360 games, Wii discs sell in Shanghai for 5 RMB each.

It is expected that “backup launchers” and other alternate Wii firmware will continue to make strides. Currently, for example, online access is impossible, and attempts to use it will likely lock down the offending Wii system. In the event that alternate firmware does release better versions, it’s understood that shopkeepers will upgrade the firmware of their customers’ systems free of charge.

I can’t actually help you buy a Wii; this information is for reference only. If you’re interested, please also see Buying a Wii in Taiwan, a sister blog post by my friend Mark, who lives in Taiwan.


02

Feb 2009

John DeFrancis

I’ve been feeling guilty for a month for not saying something about John DeFrancis’s passing. I have have no words more eloquent or meaningful than these three, however:

– Victor Mair (on Language Log)
– David Moser (on The China Beat)
– Brendan O’Kane (on his site)

Not surprisingly, I especially liked (and identified with) Brendan’s. If you don’t know DeFrancis and you’re at all interested in Chinese, by all means, check out the man’s work.

I’m also a little embarrassed to admit that it wasn’t until recent word of DeFrancis’s death that I realized when it was that I first read The China Language: Fact and Fantasy. While I was studying in Japan in 1997, I checked it out from the Kansai Gaidai library. It was perhaps that book, more than anything, that kindled the spark of interest I had in Chinese, impelling me to formally study it after I went back to the U.S., and ultimately to travel to China after graduation.

Thank you, John DeFrancis.


29

Jan 2009

Video Games for Lunch

Happy 牛 Year and all that. I took a bit of a break from blogging this month, and I’ve got a bit of a backlog of things to write about… many just tiny observations like this one.

Last week my wife and I went to DeAll Korean restaurant in Hongqiao for the lunch buffet. The restuarant is typically full of Koreans at lunchtime.

We were amused by the “interaction” at this table of kids:

Korean Kids at Lunch

(Hey, what else are you going to do at lunch?)


19

Jan 2009

Looking Both Ways

I was reading the book Nudge recently, and this passage struck me as odd:

> Visitors to London who come from the United States or Europe have a problem being safe pedestrians. They have spent their entire lives expecting cars to come at them from the left, and their Automatic System knows to look that way. But in the United Kingdom automobiles drive on the left-hand side of the road, and so the danger often comes from the right. Many pedestrian accidents occur as a result. The city of London tries to help with good design. On many corners, especially in neighborhoods frequented by tourists, the pavement has signs that say, “Look right!” (91)


I learned to drive in high school as a 15-year-old through a driver’s ed class. The only really vivid memory I have of that class occurred in a road test. The instructor was in the passenger seat, and he had his own brake. I was stopped at a red light.

When the light turned green, I confidently stepped on the gas. The instructor immediately broke hard, giving me quite a jolt. I glanced up to see that, yes, the light was green. I turned to the instructor, expecting an explanation for his mistake. But no, he was livid.

What are you doing?” he demanded.

“I’m going straight. The light’s green!” I replied.

“Did you look to see if there were any cars coming from the left or right?”

“No, but the light was green,” I insisted weakly.

You didn’t even look, and that can get you killed. I don’t care if the light is green. You still have to look.”


The key part of the Nudge passage was this: “who come from the United States or Europe.” Drivers from those countries have very rigid expectations for pedestrian behavior. Likewise, traffic patterns are so regular and predictable that pedestrians only really need to look one way when they cross the street, no matter what they supposedly learned in driver’s ed.

It’s easy to call traffic in countries like China or Mexico chaotic and uncivilized, and there’s clearly some progress to be made, but isn’t it better for pedestrians to be putting a bit more effort into protecting their lives? Isn’t it better for drivers to be a bit more alert for unpredictable pedestrian behavior?

At the very least, I’m pretty sure after living in China, I don’t have to worry too much about crossing the street in London.


05

Jan 2009

Spelunkying

While I’d like to kick off the new year with an interesting post about language, I’ve been enjoying myself too much recently to put one together. I’ve become addicted to a cool independent game called Spelunky.

Spelunky: Level 1

Spelunky has cool retro pixel graphics. It’s kind of like Super Mario Brothers (physics) + Zelda (items) + Indiana Jones (theme). What really makes it unique, though, is its random level generation. The game most famous for this is the old 1980 classic Rogue, but Spelunky does it in a more sophisticated, fun way.

Spelunky: Level 5

You play randomly generated level after randomly generated level, knowing you will never play them again. And you die many, many times. Randomly generated levels strewn with enemies and traps are often very unfair, yet the design is sufficiently balanced and full of surprises that you keep coming back for more… again and again and again.

Spelunky: Level 9

Well done, Derek Yu. It’s innovative games like this that make me glad I still have a PC and not just a Mac.


Another noteworthy diversion I’ve spent some time on lately is MS Paint Adventures, a webcomic recommended by Ryan North of Dinosaur Comics. I say “webcomic” because, well… it’s kind of weird. It’s a webcomic pretending to be a Choose Your Own Adventure, posing as a late 80’s Sierra adventure game (think King’s Quest or Space Quest), with elements of RPG and other adventure game genres.

MS Paint Adventures

This one’s not for everyone, as you can probably guess by the above image. If you got all the references in my description above, though, you just might like it a lot.


Have a great 2009… and don’t forget to play!


21

Dec 2008

Dog VS Cat, plus Thoughts

Recently discovered this hilarious video on Youku. Be sure to watch it to the end.

The video appears to be from Taiwan.

This got me thinking… “funny animal videos” (along with “cute baby videos”) belong to a small set of video types which has universal appeal. If you watch funny animal videos on Youku, you’ll notice that most of them come from outside China, and were simply “ported to” (copied and uploaded to) Youku. Obviously, it could go the other way as well, but for now, that’s less common. Why aren’t more “funny animals videos” from China?

Well there are a number of reasons… Household pets are not as common in China yet, and video equipment may not be quite as prevalent (although it must be getting close!). As these two increase, you can reasonably expect the filming of pets to increase, and with that the number of funny animal videos coming from China.

So I wonder… how long do we have before the majority of these videos come from China?


16

Nov 2008

ACTFL, here I come!

This year Ken Carroll and I will be representing Praxis Language at the ACTFL 2008 Convention in Orlando, Florida.

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.


03

Nov 2008

Remember that thesis thing?

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.


29

Oct 2008

Black Toothpaste Video

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.


27

Oct 2008

The Great Firewall of China: Coming to a Browser Near You

China Channel Firefox Add-on

Now anyone can have the frustration of the Great Firewall of China in the comfort of his own home, thanks to the China Channel Firefox Add-on:

> 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.

Via TechCrunch.


27

Oct 2008

Danwei and Sinosplice on US-China Today

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:

The Danwei Crew

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).


19

Oct 2008

The Death of Handheld Electronic Dictionaries?

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.


15

Oct 2008

chinaSMACK

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.


12

Oct 2008

Baidu's Bad Behavior

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).


08

Oct 2008

The Toilet Paper Excuse

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.


06

Oct 2008

DVD Waste

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.

Packaging

Bag o' Crappy DVDs

Pirated DVDs

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.

Disposability

Bag o' Crappy DVDs

Bag o’ crappy DVDs

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.


04

Oct 2008

Hand-written Menus

Micah posts some scans of an attractive hand-written menu for 老克勒.


[link to full size]
[link to full size]

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).



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