personal


22

Sep 2007

Chinese Skanking

Some wisdom I gained the other night:

> You can teach your Chinese wife to skank to old Less Than Jake tunes, but you can’t make her really enjoy it.

OK, I’ll admit, I don’t enjoy Less Than Jake now nearly as much as I did at the Gainesville shows back in the day. Despite the somewhat disappointing outcome, it was more than worth it to see my wife skanking. (Has anyone ever been to a ska or ska-punk show in China where the whole crowd was skanking?)


18

Sep 2007

Choose Your Stereotype

Fight Fraud!

Image from Authorize.net

I’m probably just being over-sensitive here, but when I saw this image on Authorize.net‘s website, this is what went through my mind: Is this “positive racism” (read: Asians are smart and good with computers, so they can protect you well from fraud) or “negative racism” (read: guys in China are totally trying to defraud you)? I’ve had enough issues trying to use an American card in China and being flagged for fraud (despite repeatedly telling the bank that I live here) that I’m inclined to suspect the latter.

Of course, I’d like to be able to say, “it’s just an Asian guy’s face in a graphic,” but I’m American, and everyone knows Americans are obsessed with race. We just can’t let it go.


16

Sep 2007

A Report on the New HSK

Jonathan of The Art of Living has e-mailed me with a link to his report of the new HSK. Although not yet officially in use, the new Chinese proficiency test is apparently already being tested on groups of students.

Some telling passages from Jonathan’s report:

> I have to say, it was a big improvement. The test was neatly organized into four sections that covered all aspects of
communications: listening, speaking, reading, writing. The old test only covered listening and reading (receptive abilities) and ignored speaking and writing (productive abilities), which encouraged the Korean study bugs to lock themselves in their dorm rooms with tapes and books and totally avoid actually talking to Chinese people.

> They also cut out all the one-liner grammar questions, fill-in-the-blank segments, and dissect-a-sentence sections, and focused exclusively on reading comprehension, which was always the most challenging anyway.

> The listening was pretty much the same, and the writing was just a simple composition assignment, but the speaking component was crazy: we were given 15 minutes to prepare a five minute oral presentation that addressed the specific prompt questions of two different scenarios: in one scenario, we were calling a friend to arrange details for a weekend outing; in the second scenario, we were factory workers lodging a complaint with a boss.

And, perhaps most interesting to me:

> The new H.S.K. couldn’t care less about 成语. The content was fully geared towards operating efficiently in modern Chinese society: the listening content included a customer-service hotline dialogue and a television ad for cell phones. The reading comprehension material included a standard business contract and a report on a recent summit on environmental protection. For our writing assignment, we wrote a letter to the editor of a newspaper to share our views on recent local government policy (how democratic!).

For the whole thing, go read Jonathan’s account.

(more…)


10

Sep 2007

Big Brother Godzilla

Godzilla

Godzilla photo by Nanther

For reasons which will become clear soon, I was researching Godzilla recently. I was curious about the name. Godzilla seems like a great English name, but it’s a Japanese creation, and the Japanese name is ゴジラ (Gojira). So I had to wonder… did the Japanese start with the English name “Godzilla” and transliterate into Japanese, or did they start with “Gojira” and semi-transliterate into the fantastic “Godzilla?” The use of katakana for the monster’s name to me suggests the former.

According to Wikipedia, it’s the latter. The Japanese name is a blend of the Japanese words for “gorilla” (ゴリラ) and “whale” (くじら), referencing Godzilla’s enormous size and power. That “Gojira” transliterated so neatly into “Godzilla,” a name which conjures images of god-like power in lizard form, is largely coincidence. I don’t know how the Japanese feel about the name, but I can’t help but feel that the connotations of the English translation of the name are even better than the Japanese original.

Then there’s the Chinese translation of “Godzilla”: 哥斯拉. All three characters could be considered meaningless transliteration, and only the first one could be considered remotely relevant semantically. means “big brother.”

So let’s sum that not-very-objective analysis up in a nice visual aid:

Godzilla Translations


08

Sep 2007

Cross-cultural Honesty Catalysis

I recently read an interesting and provocative article about a movement called radical honesty. The founder posits that everyone would be better off–that we’d be taking the steps to true communication–if we would all just say exactly what is on our minds. It’s not meant to be hurtful; you don’t insult people and walk away. After you speak your mind you stick around for the fallout, because radical honesty tends to beget radical honesty, and once you strip away the white lies and false smiles, revealing true emotions, you have a basis for a genuine human connection.

I’m not saying I’m a convert, but the ideas are worth thinking about. And it makes for a very entertaining article.

It also got me thinking about whether this could ever conceivably be tried in China, and about some people in my life who might be considered unknowing practitioners. It seems to me that the ones who come closest are certain English-speaking Chinese women, in their dealings with foreigners.

The standard explanation is that due to cultural differences, even if you speak another culture’s language, you can come across as very forward or overly blunt in the context of another culture. This could happen to a Chinese person trying to emulate the brashness of characters she sees in Hollywood movies. But then, maybe she’s trying to carve out a piece of radical honesty in her own life, and the microcosm of foreign culture seems the best place to do it. Maybe she wants to be blunt and direct, because ordinarily she never can be.

It makes me think back to my early days in Japan and China, struggling to make conversation. I could be remarkably direct back then, because I didn’t know how to say a lot, or I simply couldn’t think of much to say and I wanted to keep the conversation started. And it’s true… radical honesty begets radical honesty. Interesting things are said. I think that’s one reason some people like talking to foreigners that don’t speak the local language well… they’re refreshingly blunt in their views.

I am even reminded of a friend who was told by a taxi driver that he was going to commit suicide. Why would he tell a foreigner?

Society will never have that degree of honesty, but I do believe people are looking for it outside their own cultures.


OK, this post is a little over the top… but I think that’s exactly what you should expect of something inspired by radical honesty.

Related Link: Radical Honest homepage


04

Sep 2007

Who can memorize the Chinese family tree?

A recent ChinesePod podcast got me wondering: how many foreigners really learn all the forms of address for family members? I’m not ashamed to admit that I never did. Not only do you have separate words for whether they’re on your mom’s side or your dad’s side, related by blood or by marriage, older or younger than your parent, but there are also issues of formal vs. informal and regional variation. I think most of us give up on learning any of this vocabulary unless it’s immediately applicable (i.e. you’re going to be calling someone by their title while you’re staying with them). It’s the kind of thing that you forget right away even if you go to the trouble of memorizing it.

Does anyone actually learn this stuff?


03

Sep 2007

Tickets to Turkey?

My wife and I would like to go to Turkey soon. However, over the past few weeks I’ve been discovering that it’s kind of difficult for Chinese people to go to Turkey. Difficult… but not impossible.

Now that we’re sure we can both actually get in, we just need to buy plane tickets, but we want to go during–you guessed it–the October National Day holiday. Somehow we kind of forgot that there are a freaking bazillion* people in this country, and a good number of them also plan to leave the country during the same time period. Demand drives plane ticket prices up. Good old capitalism.

Anyway, if anyone has some suggestions for travel agencies or other good ways to get to Turkey from Shanghai, please let me know, either by e-mail or comment. Thanks!

* Rough estimate


31

Aug 2007

Shanghai VS Dubai

Some may view Shanghai as glamorous, but it’s got its share of expat whiners. So how does it compare with Dubai, one of the richest, most exotic expat destinations?

According to this analysis, it’s got a lot of the same issues.

I’ll leave the item-by-item comparisons to you, but Shanghai still seems pretty good to me.


28

Aug 2007

Putin knows… t-shirts

The latest t-shirt design, inspired by an Economist cover (pictured below):

Putin knows

Putin” in Chinese is 普京. 知道 means “to know.” If you think it doesn’t make sense, you’re thinking too much. It’s just a t-shirt.

The black t-shirt looks better, but the white t-shirt is a lot cheaper. Blame CafePress.

I’ve been busy writing papers lately, so I haven’t been working on t-shirts much, but there are others in the Sinosplice Shop, of course. Thanks for your support!


26

Aug 2007

Proxy Tricks and Flickr

The Great FireWall of China (GFW) is quite a nuisance, but I haven’t been thinking about it much lately. That’s because all Flickr pictures display fine for me when I have the Access Flickr! Firefox plugin installed, and Wikipedia, Blogspot, and others display fine for me since I started using an automatic proxy trick for Firefox which I first discovered on Lost Laowai. The combination of these two tricks satisfies most of my regular browsing needs. They most likely won’t work forever, but they work for now.

This attitude is a little self-centered, though. A lot of visitors may not have these tricks at their disposal, and if they’re in China, they can’t see the Flickr-hosted images I use regularly on my blog.

I contacted Yee of Ya I Yee, the blog which tipped off Lost Laowai about the proxy trick. Yee seems to be quite the knowledgeable guy, and he pointed me to:

– a WordPress plugin which makes substitutions in Flickr image URLs, rendering them visible in the PRC (I am now using this plugin on this blog)
– a site which discusses the Flickr block in some detail (in Chinese), including a manual workaround
– a site which shows how the Access Flickr! Firefox plugin works

Enjoy them while they last.


25

Aug 2007

¿Dónde están mis pantalones?

Funny English on t-shirts is the norm in Shanghai, but I rarely see anything in Spanish (especially comprehensible Spanish). So I had to share this one, which gave me a chuckle:

Amusing shirt

Translation: “Where are my pants?”

I didn’t intentionally leave the girl’s lower half out of the photo, but yes, she actually was wearing pants.


19

Aug 2007

Alice in Karmic Chains

Term papers are keeping me from my regular blogging and t-shirt design amusement, but I had to share this little note I stumbled upon while researching Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland for one of my papers:

> Publishing highlights

> 1865: Alice has its first American printing. As was the case with most American books of this period, this was pirated from the British edition without any payment.

What goes around comes around, huh? Even if it takes 130 years…


17

Aug 2007

The Filthy Foreigner Flaw

You may have heard foreigners complaining about sanitation in China once or twice. It happens. What those foreigners don’t know is that behind their backs, the Chinese are also talking about westerners’ dirty habits. Dirty bedroom habits.

Now, before I lead your imagination even further into the gutter, let me elucidate: it’s about showering and sleeping.

photo by Heidi McKay on Flickr

I believe it was in college sometime that I started showering in the morning. I considered myself a hero of hygiene for going to the effort of showering daily, and I did it in the morning to help wake myself up. I started each day clean and bright-eyed. Nothing wrong with that, right? Wrong.

Shortly before we were married, my wife laid down the law. She told me that I walk around all day, working up a good smelly white boy sweat, and it was not cool for me to get into the bed every night without cleansing myself first. The Chinese shower nightly, and that was the way it had to be.

Naturally, I had to object. My system was flawless. True, I may get sweaty during the day, but I’m clean again to face the world every morning. So maybe my sheets get a little grungy… so what? I emerge from my cocoon of filth and go right into the shower every day, no harm done.

Well, obviously, that didn’t fly. My bachelor ways were fine as long as I was single, but in our new married life I was going to be sharing a bed with her every night, and my “cocoon of filth for two” plan was not an option.

You have to choose your battles. I don’t always give in to my wife, and I have the scars to prove it. Honestly, though, the Chinese way makes more sense. Your sheets do stay cleaner longer when you shower before bed every night.

However, if you still think that showering in the morning makes more sense, well… I guess you’re just a filthy foreigner.


15

Aug 2007

Avast! Fails, Google Pack Wins

I’ve been battling viruses/trojans on my computer the past few days. I think I was using an outdated copy of Norton. The worst thing is that I think I got infected when I borrowed a software CD from a friend. There’s something especially sinister about a CD with a virus burned onto it.

I while back I used AVG. I like to use free software when I can. But then it failed me and I got infected with something or other, so I abandoned it.

Most recently I tried avast!. At first I was impressed by the quality of the free software, and I’ve got nothing but respect for the pirate connection. Avast! cleaned up my system a bit, but there was a trojan or two it could detect but couldn’t eliminate. So then it was just constantly warning me, running boot scans, and failing every time.

I put up with it for a while. It wasn’t crippling my system as far as I could tell. It seems like a lot of users in China just don’t worry about “benign” virus infections. But eventually I just had to exterminate the infestation completely.

Finally what worked was the combination of Norton Security and Spyware Doctor that come with Google Pack. Norton Security only found 1 item that needed attention, but then Spyware Doctor fixed over 200 issues (including those pesky trojans). Best of all, it’s free!


12

Aug 2007

Digging a Hole to China: Fun with Antipodes

Watching the Simpsons Movie over the weekend, I was reminded of something I frequently heard as a child: “if you dig a hole straight down through the Earth, you’ll end up in China.” It’s not true, of course… you’d end up in China only if your tunnel totally missed the center of the Earth.

I asked some Chinese friends about this. Were they ever told that if they dug a hole straight down through the Earth they’d end up somewhere? To my disappointment, they said no.

Still, there has been plenty of interest in antipodes (the exact opposite point, running straight through the earth’s center, of any point on the globe). Here’s a wikipedia map showing what regions overlap:

Antipodes Map

So you can see that China mostly just overlaps with Argentina, and most countries don’t overlap with any land at all. According to another website, China gets these exciting antipodes match-ups:

1. Beijing – Bahia Blanca, Argentina
2. Shanghai – Buenos Aires, Argentina
3. Wuhan – Cordoba, Argentina
4. Xi’an – Santiago, Chile
5. Taipei – Asuncion, Paraguay

If you want to explore your own antipodes, there’s a cool “dual Google Map” Antipodes Map that let’s you do just that graphically, as well as a (more boring) online antipodal calculator for figuring out actual longitude and latitude.

Key takeaway: China is a cool place to visit, but you better do your homework before you go to the trouble of digging a hole all the way through the center of the Earth.


08

Aug 2007

nciku

There’s a new Chinese online dictionary called nciku. Oh, wait, excuse me… it’s “more than a dictionary.” The service may have a pretty bad English name, but the site itself looks well designed.

Anyway, I’m very impressed with the handwriting recognition. The interface is a very slick blend of Flash and javascript that puts other online handwriting recognition attempts to shame.

It’s great because it can recognize fluid handwriting where the strokes run together. Yes, you may have seen that kind of software before, but keep in mind that this is a free online dictionary.

Below are some examples of horrible handwriting being correctly recognized.

nciku-1

(Each character to the right displays its pinyin when you mouse over it.)

One of the really cool things about the handwriting recognition is that it keeps going in realtime as long as you write, and it always guesses. I’ve used programs that reach their recognition limit and just say, “nope, can’t do it.” Well, not this one. It gets an A+ for effort.

This, of course, leads to some fun experimentation. Here are a few of mine:

nciku-2

Thanks to David for introducing me to this website.


07

Aug 2007

Meals Measured in Chopsticks

Here in China we often have our food delivered. There’s rarely a charge for it (well, as long as you’re ordering Chinese food, anyway). When your food comes, it normally arrives with napkins and chopsticks. This is all well and good and normal.

photo by Daddy’s Girl

But how do they know how many pairs of chopsticks to include with each delivery? Well, they don’t. Based on the amount of food ordered, they make a guess as to how many people are probably eating and include that many pairs of chopsticks. If it’s obviously food for only one person, you get one pair. The more you order, the more chopsticks you get.

Therein lies the challenge.

I guess it began with my first double-chopstick order. “Huh,” I thought. “I guess they imagined it was two people eating this food.” Then I proceeded to consume the whole lot, all by my lonesome. It’s no big deal, though… What I ate was probably the right amount if it were two girls. So I didn’t think anything of my double-chopstick orders.

…that is, until my first triple-chopstick order. I was about to devour a nice load of grub all by myself, and although no one would be there to witness the spectacle, at least my impressive gluttony was acknowledged by those two extra pairs of chopsticks.

I still remember my first quadruple-chopstick order. It was a big old mess of Xinjiang food. Those four pairs of chopsticks were an ill omen. I’m ashamed to admit that I did not “break the quadruple” on my first try. (It doesn’t count unless you finish all the food in one sitting.) That wasn’t meant to be until about a year later.

My metabolism finally slowed down a few years back. My waistline can actually grow now, so I don’t take “the chopstick challenge” much. But I always notice “how many chopsticks” my meals are, and think back to my several glorious “quadruple-chopstick meals” of days gone by.

How big of an eater are you? Just count the pairs of chopsticks.



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