What fine journalism.
Perhaps I should add a warning to my comments section… Warning: anything you write here may appear in China Daily.
What fine journalism.
Perhaps I should add a warning to my comments section… Warning: anything you write here may appear in China Daily.
I recently read a very interesting article called Do the Right Thing which discusses moral standards in different cultures. From the article:
> Consider the following dilemma: Mike is supposed to be the best man at a friend’s wedding in Maine this afternoon. He is carrying the wedding rings with him in New Hampshire, where he has been staying on business. One bus a day goes directly to the coast. Mike is on his way to the bus station with 15 minutes to spare when he realizes that his wallet has been stolen, and with it his bus tickets, his credit cards, and all his forms of ID.
> At the bus station Mike tries to persuade the officials, and then a couple of fellow travelers, to lend him the money to buy a new ticket, but no one will do it. He’s a stranger, and it’s a significant sum. With five minutes to go before the bus’s departure, he is sitting on a bench trying desperately to think of a plan. Just then, a well-dressed man gets up for a walk, leaving his jacket, with a bus ticket to Maine in the pocket, lying unattended on the bench. In a flash, Mike realizes that the only way he will make it to the wedding on time is if he takes that ticket. The man is clearly well off and could easily buy himself another one.
> Should Mike take the ticket?
The article stated that Americans are likely to say that no, Mike should not take the ticket, but that in many cultures Mike’s social obligation outweighs the prohibition against stealing.
Since Chinese culture attaches great importance to relationships, I would expect Chinese people to agree that Mike should take the ticket and get to the wedding. But will they really?
I’m leaving the conclusion up to you, my readers. Pose the story above to a Chinese person or two, ask them the question, and then in the comment of this posts, report back on what they say. I’ll add the results to the end of this post.
UPDATE: The responses seem quite divided. I gather that most of the commenters have a multi-cultural viewpoint (for example, Chinese abroad, or Westerners in Shanghai), so it’s hard to say what the “typical” answer would be. Conclusion: blog posts may not be the best medium for anthropological research into cross-cultural moral codes. Shocking!
I noticed this poster today:
The Chinese text: 既要发现危险！更要注意潜在危险！
Translated, it says something like, “We must perceive danger! More importantly, we must watch out for POTENTIAL danger!”
And where was this poster hanging? No, not in the Arctic Circle. It was on the wall inside Chinese cafeteria Reboo.
This was not the most welcome sight in the world, considering I was just digging into my first real meal in over three days, following a weekend of food poisoning hijinks. “Potential danger” indeed.
Word on the street is that the unedited version of Lust, Caution has already circulated pretty widely. My wife picked up a good copy a while back. I’m planning to watch it soon, partly to see what the fuss is about, and partly because of the ridiculous claim that I keep hearing from the Chinese: “foreigners can’t understand it.” (I actually probably won’t understand it–this isn’t the kind of film I’m into–but it’s still a ridiculous claim.)
Anyway, this is all just an excuse to make a post featuring “Reel Geezers,” the “dynamic octogenarian duo.” Their reviews are hilarious. Watch!
I just discovered The punishments of China: illustrated by twenty-two engravings (note that there are two pages there). It’s part of the New York Public Library’s collection.
This instantly made me think of a Qin Shihuang (秦始皇, first emperor of China) museum of torture I once visited in Xi’an. It was full of displays with life-size mannequins being hacked, sawed, sliced, crushed, and torn to pieces. There was even plenty of fake blood. It was pretty bizarre. (Has anyone else been there? I can’t find it on the web, although one Italian site refers to a “Xiányáng Bówùguan” which could be it…)
It’s not uncommon for one advertiser to buy up tons of ads in one subway station, but usually when they do that, they have two or maybe three different ads. Coca-Cola went crazy at Jing’an Temple. I think maybe they’re trying to hint at some kind of relationship between Coke, famous Chinese athletes, and some sort of sporting event, perhaps in 2008? These ads are very subtle.
All are from the Jing’an Temple Metro Station:
This post comes a bit late, I realize, but if you’re in China (or elsewhere) and still suffering from holiday season eggnog withdrawal, it just might help you pull through.
In Shanghai, we foreigners generally depend on Carrefour (a French supermarket chain) and City Shop (formerly City Supermarket) for our hoity-toity imported food expat needs. But for some reason, neither ever carries eggnog.
This year, when I complained to JP about the lack of eggnog, he suggested I make my own. I considered the idea, but the whole “raw egg” and “China” aspects scared me off. Then he sent me a recipe for eggnog. I had extra time on Christmas Eve, and I ended up making my own eggnog for a little Christmas party. It tasted OK, and no one got sick. Sounds like success to me!
Of course, I had to modify the eggnog. Here I’m going to post my “eggnog hack.” Originally the eggnog called for:
> 4 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar, plus 1 tablespoon
1 pint whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
3 ounces bourbon
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
4 egg whites
Of these ingredients, I skipped the cream and substituted rum for bourbon. I was able to get nutmeg at Carrefour, albeit un-freshly grated (it’s called 肉豆蔻). I found this part of the recipe amusing:
> To reduce this risk, we recommend you use only fresh, properly-refrigerated, clean, grade A or AA eggs with intact shells, and avoid contact between the yolks or whites and the shell.
Avoid contact with the shell? The eggs come in the shell! OK, I see… the outside of the shell. To be extra safe I even washed my eggs just in case there was some accidental contact.
Now onto the preparation side. Here in China, I don’t own a mixer or a whisk. (OK, come to think of it, I’ve never owned a mixer or a whisk.) That seems problematic when you get to the part of the recipe that tells you to do this:
> Place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat to soft peaks. With the mixer still running gradually add the 1 tablespoon of sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. Whisk the egg whites into the mixture. Chill and serve.
I didn’t know what “soft peaks” were, and I didn’t have a mixer, so I just beat the eggs for a while with a fork. It still turned into eggnog in the end.
Somehow we managed to cheat salmonella this time. Anyone got any home-made eggnog horror stories to scare me out of doing this again?
Years ago I wrote about tiny Chinese food refrigerator magnets. Chinese food has returned, this time to grace our cell phones. My friend Kris spotted these in China a few weeks ago, and recently gave an update with a better picture:
For a detailed run-down of what the food is, check out Kris’s entry on it. He also comments:
> They are basically rubber, but after inspecting a few I’m still not convinced the hongshao rou is not the real deal just encased in a thin transparent plastic.
I ran into a vendor for these things twice in the past week just outside of Shanghai’s Changshu Rd. subway station (exit 3) at about 6pm. He asked for 8 RMB for one. Kris was asked for 10, but was able to bargain down to 5 if he bought more.
> How bad was the air the last two days? If it was a person it would have been a seedy, broad-shouldered thug, dressed in filthy leathers and reeking of grain alcohol, last-night’s whorehouse and cheap cigarettes, that hauled you into an alley by your collar and beat you senseless with a lead pipe wrapped in duct tape, emptied your wallet, found your grandmother’s address inside, went to her house and beat her senseless with the same pipe, cleared out her jewelry box and sodomized her golden-retriever on the way out the door before setting fire to her cottage, coming back to the alley and kicking you in the ribs one more time for good measure.
> It was that bad. And even that may not quite capture the sheer evil of it.
Read the rest of the entry.
I enjoyed Shaolin Soccer, and I like Jay Chou (周杰伦), so I’m really looking forward to more mindless fun from Kung Fu Dunk (大灌篮):
A film by Stephen Chow (周星驰), of course. [Sina page]
UPDATE: The film is not by Stephen Chow at all. It’s by Zhu Yanping (朱延平). Sorry about that. Now it looks like a pretty shameless ripoff. (Thanks to commenter Ken for pointing out that error.)
I personally have nothing against Karen Mok, but I present you with Exhibit A:
That is one mournful-looking puppy. Case closed!
So I’m caught up these days with an experiment (I hate humans!), work, and now even Christmas. So I decided to just throw up a link.
I found this interesting-looking online book: How Taiwan Became Chinese.
Has anyone read it? Any good? The title smacks of propaganda, but I’m willing to eat a little propaganda every now and then in the name of good education…
Here’s a picture of a place near work where I occasionally eat:
I have nicknamed it “Filthy Delicious.” The name says it all.
What’s interesting to me, though, is the name of the cuisine boldly painted in red on the wall: 麻辣汤. This is interesting because once upon a time I was under the impression that this was the correct name, but enough chastisement from Chinese friends converted me to the “real name”: 麻辣烫. And yet there it is, in red and white, on the wall in the picture (in traditional characters, which, as you can see, totally adds class).
Search results for the two terms:
|麻辣汤 (✘)||麻辣烫 (✔)|
The name 麻辣汤 makes sense, because the final character 汤 means “soup,” and the dish itself is a kind of soup. (As I’ve mentioned before, it’s sort of a spicy “poor man’s hot pot.”) The final character in the latter, “correct” one is 烫, which means “burning hot.” This makes a kind of sense, except that the name becomes then a bunch of adjectives without any noun (like “soup”) to anchor it. That noun would usually come last in a Chinese dish name (as in 麻辣汤).
So what’s going on here? I haven’t had time to research it (ah, the advantages of blogging!), but I suspect it’s about tones. The name “málàtàng” likely comes from a dialect where 汤 (soup) is read “tàng” rather than standard Mandarin’s “tāng.” This kind of thing happens all the time in China’s rich linguistic tapestry, and the questions raised go something like the following:
1. Can the character 汤 have the reading “tàng” as well as “tāng”? This is not ideal, especially if there is no precedent in standard Mandarin. This would amount to a “corruption” of the character’s original reading.
2. Can we change the pronunciation of “málàtàng” to “málà tāng” for consistency? This seems ideal except that it would never work. It’s awfully hard to control how people talk, especially after they’ve settled on something.
3. Can we change the character used to represent “tàng”? If it comes from a dialect, it likely doesn’t have a standard written form anyway. If we can find something similar in meaning, a practical compromise is reached.
It seems to me that in my imaginary scenario path #3 above was selected, and character 烫 did the dirty work. I call it “dirty” because while it is no longer “a corruption of the character’s original reading,” it is instead a semantic corruption. 烫 originally means “burning hot” or “boiling hot,” but now you’re making it mean “soup,” or, if you choose to put it another way, you’re making it a non-semantic syllable in the three-character unit 麻辣烫. I don’t buy that, though, because the characters 麻辣 clearly keep the meaning of “numbingly spicy.”
If I have a point with all this, it’s that you can’t control the evolution of a language. Sure, a writing system need not necessarily do that, but when you encode individual characters with both semantic and phonetic information and then try to keep either from changing, you’re just kidding yourself. This is only a small example, but it’s a pretty widespread phenomenon now that the writing system is being used by the literate masses as a whole rather than a few elite (and the internet is certainly exacerbating the situation). Given enough time, so many characters will have their meanings muddled that the writing system will be reduced to the world’s most cumbersome “phonetic” system.
I’d be really curious to see what the written Chinese language looks like in 2000 years. It’s not going to look at all like it does now.
The experiment continues. The human element complicates any experiment, but having to gather my data from human sources and then to also have human help (not me) gathering the data is rather… vexing. Fortunately my experimental design allowed for some flexibility, because I have gone from Plan A to Plan B to Plan C… and I think I’m on something like Plan G now.
I’m not sacrificing quality; it’s still going to be good, but I will be glad when it’s over.
“Better,” i.e. less obscene.
Brendan recently wrote a post in which he discusses the possible origins of offensive translations of the word 干. He strongly suspects bad machine translation is the culprit.
Then just the other day Victor Mair wrote on the same subject on Language Log, in which he basically proved that newer versions of popular translation software 金山词霸 (AKA Kingsoft, AKA iciba) don’t make these same mistakes. The real kicker to the post was the update provided by internet superhero Joel Martinsen, in which the old Kingsoft translations were revealed in all their linguistic horror. Check it out, and make sure to scroll all the way down.
Thanks to everyone that wrote to me when I asked for subjects. I ended up having to get students from ECNU after all. I spent the weekend finishing up the preliminary work, and this week the experiment begins in earnest. Whoo-hoo!
I was disappointed that actual experiments seem to be discouraged by the faculty at my school. (Come on! This is supposed to be science! How can you discourage experiments??) Well, I’m starting to realize how much extra work it is. And, for someone that is already working full time and doesn’t have a lot of time to do everything on his own, that amounts to more expense. When all this is over and the “veil of secrecy” is pulled back, I’ll share some of the figures.
From the site:
> Audio recordings from formal training. In these recordings, Master Dong Yang talks about different aspects of Dao and Daoist cultivation through the refining and growing of the internal elixir and how to prevent physical damage in the process.
Hmmm, I think some things were not meant for podcast format.
What do you think?
One thing I’ve noticed is that a lot of Chinese citizens (especially the college-age-ish) have great pride in their math skills. They have heard time and again that their math skills are superior to most other nations’ students’, and they believe it. This can be sort of fun to mess with.
I recently stumbled across the World’s Hardest Easy Geometry Problem. After working on it for about half an hour and realizing that it really was pretty tough, I decided to see if I could entice my wife to try it.
Now, my wife is intelligent, but she’s no math person. She earned her degree in law (and not the mathy kind). To be honest, I can’t remember her ever showing much interest in math or geometry. But I decided to tempt her with the problem.
She ended up spending the rest of the evening working on it. Ah, pride is a fun thing.
(Anyone got any other deceptively difficult math bait?)
On my way to work each morning, I ride Line 2 to People’s Square, where I transfer to Line 1. Considering the volume of people going through People’s Square during rush hour, it’s a bit insane. What makes it much worse, though, is when there are large groups of people going the wrong way through the one-way transfer channels. They make the whole transfer process much slower and more miserable, and no one is very good-tempered about it.
Honestly, if there’s anything that’s going to embitter me about living in Shanghai long-term, it’s that damn commute.
Fortunately, police officers started enforcing the one-way status of these transfer passageways a few weeks ago. This has made everything much more pleasant, and, well, orderly. Still, Shanghai police are not known for being “badass.” They’re much better known for patiently taking a barrage of verbal abuse from the very people to whom they would be giving a savage beatdown in other parts of the world.
So the other day as I was transferring to Line 1, I saw this sullen looking young guy blow right by a cop, going the wrong way. The cop placed a gentle hand on the guy’s shoulder to tell him not to go that way, but the guy swiftly shrugged it off, not even giving the police officer a glance.
At this point I was really transfixed. Would the cops just let the guy go, or would they actually do something?
That’s when another cop busted in from the side and grabbed hold of the front of the guy’s coat, yelling something at him. The young man foolishly started struggling angrily, at which point two other cops got involved and subdued the guy. Rather than just forcing the guy to go the wrong way, cop #2 roughly led the guy away, clearly planning to give him some more trouble.
It’s funny to admit it, but this incident really made my day: Shanghai cops, actively doing their job, for the benefit of the people. What a concept!
A while back I wrote about studying Spanish again. Well, I have a little secret about that to reveal. My teacher is none other than the vivacious Liliana of SpanishPod, and she’s a lot of fun!
SpanishPod is Praxis Language’s new website for learning Spanish. A while back they had one called SpanishSense that I wasn’t really involved in. Long story short, that one was a “learning experience.” Now I’m involved, and I’m happy to say that this time we are getting it right. We owe it mostly to the amazing new hosts: J.P. and Liliana.
J.P. is an awesome linguist (aren’t they all?) from Seattle who has done his time in the trenches (teaching Spanish in high school). He’s a fun guy with great fresh ideas about learning, and he’s even kind enough to help me with my thesis.
This SpanishPod promo was unpaid (unfortunately), but I’m doing it this time because SpanishPod is really good. Maybe it will one day be as cool as ChinesePod, with ninjas and Godzilla and alien abductions and everything. Check it out.