Jul 2007

Wear Your Ambivalence

…or your indifference, or your befuddlement, or your joy of pushing people’s buttons. Wear one of these shirts:

Sinoamerica: the t-shirt

The simple design in the t-shirts above is based on one I did in 2002 and called “Sinoamerica.” I like it largely because its meaning is so ambiguous. It’s unity, it’s harmony, it’s neutrality, it’s loss of identity. The colors stay blithely out of nationalism’s grasp.

For a long time I’ve liked the idea of designing t-shirts. Last year I did a tiny experiment in the form of a “Please speak Mandarin” t-shirt. I wanted to know if anyone would buy a t-shirt I put up. I figured if anyone went for something that simple, then it might be worth putting a little more effort into it. Well, some people did buy that design, and now that the weather is warm again, this is my second baby step in the t-shirt direction.

Anyway, I appreciate the support. I’ll be putting out a new t-shirt every Sunday this summer. Here are the links to buy this design: purple, green, brown, gray, the Sinosplice Store. Thanks!


Jul 2007

Do these DVDs look pirated to you?


Actually, the movies above were not pirated. They were purchased in Carrefour, a reputable grocery store, for about 20 RMB each. My point is… how can you tell?

A lawyer friend of mine recently visited China. He wouldn’t buy any pirated DVDs because he had heard horror stories of a friend of a friend trying to bring back fifty DVDs and getting busted by U.S. Customs, and fined something like $1,000 per DVD. Scary.

But if I bought fifty of these legit DVDs at Carrefour and tried to take them back home, how would customs know they’re not fake? You can buy pirated DVD-9 DVDs that look just like these. The way I see it, you’d have to show your Carrefour receipt. Your faded, blurry scrap of paper written all in Chinese. Would that really work?

And if it did work, does that mean that all you need to get your DVDs through customs is a receipt? Those would not be hard to produce. Something doesn’t fit.

Does anyone really get busted for bringing pirated DVDs back into the States? If so, can one also get through with legitimate Chinese DVDs? I really wonder this.


Jul 2007

Condoms and Sexual Vocabulary in Chinese

ChinesePod just did a lesson on condoms. It was an amusing dialogue. (You can listen to just the dialogue on the online player by clicking on “DIAL” and then the play button.)

Then in the comments someone posted a link to the largest collection of sexual vocabulary and slang in Chinese (and English and Swedish) that I’ve ever seen. Impressive. It’s called 牛X语言, and yes, you might find it obscene, so click at your own risk.


Jul 2007

The Most Cliché China Photo

Check out this picture:

So Cliché

These were the thoughts running through my head leading up to the shot:

> Wow, look at the size of that load. I should take a picture. Hey, this is totally one of the most cliché China photos ever: the “big load on a tricycle” photo. And this load isn’t even that big. In all my time in China, I’ve never taken that picture, though. I’m gonna take it.

So the above is one of the great China photography clichés. We’ve all seen these things. Many of them are about contrasts, such as the high-power businessman talking on his cell phone next to the peasant carrying produce. Or the old home getting torn down with the huge skyscraper in the background.

I’m curious, though… what is the most cliché China photo to you? Link to the photo in your comments!


Jul 2007

The Go! Team Rocked Shanghai

the Go! Team

photo by Shanghaiist

This was the only show I’ve really ever looked forward to since I’ve come to China, and it didn’t let me down. If you know The Go! Team‘s music, you expect energy. The band definitely delivered last night. If you were thinking of going, but didn’t go… bad move!

Their live show highlights the vocals a bit more than their recordings do, but it was a good decision; Ninja was quite entertaining to watch.

They also played material from their upcoming album release, and what I heard sounded promising: familiar Go! sound, new Go! tunes.


Jun 2007

Trojan Condoms Ads on Shanghai's Subways

On Thursday I noticed three kinds of Trojan condom ads in the subway car I was riding*, and I’d never seen Trojan ads on the subway before. Trojan is getting into the market a bit late; the dominant foreign company is Durex.

What interested me was the content of the ads. One of them was a long horizontal ad which read 不只是神话…… (“it’s not just a myth”). Another was a rectangular ad which briefly recounted in both Chinese and English the Trojan War story, focusing on Helen’s role as the motivation for the war. The last was on the subway door, and it was a 9-by-9 grid of the Trojan condom logo in various colors. None of the ads contained anything about condoms or safe sex, with the exception of the inclusion of the Trojan China website: (which only clues you in if you know English).

[I don’t think I misremembered it, but that URL gives me “Bad Request (Invalid Hostname),” and none of my searches (Google, Baidu) turned up a Trojan condoms Chinese website. “Trojan Condoms” is 特洛伊安全套 or 特洛伊避孕套, depending on which word for “condom” you like. Most of my searches did turn up this video on Chinese YouTube clones, which is pretty funny, but NSFW and not for kids.]

I know the Trojan subway ads could be a marketing tactic, but it doesn’t seem at all compelling. I doubt the typical Chinese commuter knows what Trojan makes, or will connect any of the ads with condoms, and they’re not interesting enough to get people asking what they’re for. So… What’s the point? I really wonder if Trojan knows what it’s doing in China.

Trojan condoms went on the Chinese Market in May of this year.

* Sorry, I wasn’t able to snap pictures even though I had my cell phone cam with me, because the car was just too jam-packed.


Jun 2007

Flickr Blocked Hardcore

Recently Flickr images were being blocked, but not the site. I posted a link to a workaround.

Now the whole site is full-on blocked.

From Jonathan:

> I’m told that this is a layer 7 (application layer) block, which is apparently serious.

Layer 7? I don’t know what that means, but this is quite inconvenient.

[more news]

Update: As of 11:36am, Flickr seems to be back, unblocked.


Jun 2007

ChinesePod Movie Madness

ChinesePod has recently been developing its “Extra” content. That refers to content that is not in a daily podcast lesson. One of the Extra features is one called Movie Madness, conceived by Dave Lancashire. The concept is this:

– You’re given an audio clip in Chinese.
– The clip comes from the Chinese dubbing of a well-known Hollywood movie.
– Based on the Chinese audio, guess what the movie is.

Here are the first five that we’ve recorded (each podcast is about 5 minutes long, even though the movie clips are much shorter):

Movie Madness

Movie Madness #1
Movie Madness #2
Movie Madness #3
Movie Madness #4
Movie Madness #5

This is actually harder than it sounds (maybe even slightly… oh, I don’t know… maddening??). The challenges are:

– It can be hard to find movies that are dubbed (especially movies that aren’t cartoons or that aren’t really old).
– The Chinese dubbing can fly by at incredible speeds, greatly reducing the chances of recognition even for really familiar scenes.
– Some really well-known movies don’t have any memorable lines.
– You pretty much have to take what you can get from your own Chinese DVD collection and what’s available in the shops around town.

More than just whining, I’m actually asking for help. If you’ve got audio movie clips from well-known movies dubbed in Chinese, send them in! (They’re pretty easy to record if your computer has a DVD-ROM drive and audio recording software like the free Audacity.)


Jun 2007

Reasons to Love Beijing?

The whole Shanghai vs. Beijing debate is somewhat tired, I know, so I’m not interested in rehashing it. I’m not going to bash or gush over either city. Rather, I’ve had sort of a change of heart about Beijing, and I’d like to tell why. To be honest, the more time I spend in Beijing, the more I like it. But I doubt I’d ever voluntarily relocate to Beijing.

Still, if I found myself in any of the following scenarios, I’d definitely choose Beijing:

– If I were a student of Chinese enamored with the Beijing accent or couldn’t stand hearing other dialects (there are many such students, I know)
– If I were a student of Chinese that insisted on only the very best in Chinese pedagogy that the mainland can offer
– If I were a student of Chinese enamored with xiangsheng
– If I were really interested in Chinese politics
– If I were really into the Olympics (this one has a shelf life of only a little over a year, though)
– If I were an artist or musician of any kind
– If I were really into Beijing’s hutong and siheyuan culture
– If I had a love of baijiu, that vile white rice wine
– If I liked big cities but couldn’t stand the pressure of living in a very fast-paced city
– If I were rabidly anti-corporate (I’ve noticed that international chains like McDonalds, KFC, Starbucks, and Pizza Hut are much more widespread in Shanghai than in Beijing)

The only one that comes close to describing me is the last one. I’m not real happy that the restaurants which surround my apartment near Zhongshan Park are nearly all chains; it’s hard to find a good, privately-owned restaurant around here. I noticed about Beijing this last visit that there are so many little cafes and bars still. (One of the things Dave misses about Beijing most, it seems.) The only bar in Shanghai I’ve ever really felt comfortable in is the old Tanghui, and it’s long gone. None of the others have that vibe, and most aim for a bigger, “higher class” crowd.

Another thing that does make a difference to me is the fast pace of Shanghai. I don’t like it. It gets under my skin and in my bloodstream. I can feel it happening, but I can’t seem to prevent it. Hanghzou was totally relaxing, and Beijing is a lot closer to Hangzhou in that respect. And yet, in that easy, relaxed atmosphere I feel like I could float along forever and never do anything with my life. One of the main reasons I choose Shanghai is closely related to the fast pace, I think: Shanghai is a better place to get into business. And because I’m in China for the long haul, I’m very interested in where work prospects are best.

I’m not the kind of person that makes a huge deal about where I live. I feel that I could be happy in most environments, if I’m there to do something I want to do. The bottom line is that I choose Shanghai because my wife is here and my work is here. I’m happy here. But every time I go to Beijing I see more reasons to love it, and I think that in another life I could easily see myself in the Beijing camp*.

*Worth mentioning: I’ve never been in Beijing in the winter or during a dust storm.


Jun 2007

Thesis Proposal in China

Today I had to officially submit my masters thesis proposal to a panel of professors at East China Normal University. In Chinese, the verb for going through this process is 开题. When you propose your thesis topic, you have to give each professor on the panel a copy of your proposal, or 开题报告. Then you summarize what you’d like to do in your thesis, and ask the professors any questions, if you’d like. The professors ask you questions about the scope of your thesis, controlling certain variables, theoretical basis, how your thesis will differ from existing research, etc. If all goes well, they will give you a few recommendations, approve the topic, then sign some paperwork and it’s all over. (I wish I could compare the process to an American version, but I’ve only ever been a graduate student in China, so I can’t.)

My thesis proposal was approved. I still have to revise the scope of my experiment somewhat, but I’m going to be studying some of the problems that North Americans have with the tones of Mandarin Chinese as upper elementary level exchange students in China.

In preliminary research on my topic, the most relevant and interesting paper I came across was a research paper by Dr. Qinghai Chen, who is currently a professor at the University of Michigan. Dr. Chen’s doctoral dissertation was done at Brigham Young University in 2000, entitled “Analysis of Mandarin Tonal Errors in Connected Speech by English-Speaking American Adult Learners: A Study at and Above the Word Level.”

The part of the abstract that intrigues me most:

> Findings at and above the word level jointly led to a summary of tonal error patterns, a discussion of relevant learner factors, an acquisition order of tonal contrasts, a set of criteria for better tones, and pertinent pedagogical suggestions.

So far I have been unable to get a full copy of the dissertation. I have contacted Dr. Chen and am awaiting his reply, but I’m afraid he might be on vacation or something. If anyone has an electronic copy of this paper, I would greatly appreciate the help!

Update: I got several e-mails offering help in acquiring Dr. Chen’s doctoral dissertation, including one with a PDF copy of exactly what I’m looking for (and within 12 hours of publishing this post). You readers are awesome! Thank you.


Jun 2007

Back from Beijing

Just got back from Beijing. I have more thoughts on that city, for those that can stand them, but I’ll be posting them in a few days. In the meantime, you can read Brendan’s account of my little meetup with him.


Jun 2007

4-Man VIP Seating

Now that I’m a “Shanghai snob,” I had to laugh at Hangzhou’s East Train Station waiting room VIP seating:

VIP section


Jun 2007

West Lake No. 1

I love stylized Chinese characters.


It says 西湖一號 (West Lake No. 1). This is a good example of mainland Chinese designers using traditional Chinese characters for artistic effect ( rather than ).

Taken next to West Lake in Hangzhou.


Jun 2007

100% Married

As of yesterday, I am 100% married. I had been “half married” for a year. Honestly, I think it was great to do it this way. We had plenty of time to get used to the idea of being married. I’m usually for jumping into the deep end rather than slowly wading into the shallow end, but in this case I liked it.

My whole family is still here in Shanghai for another week, so expect light posting.


Jun 2007

More Trash Means More Jobs

After eating all Chinese food for about a week, my family was delighted to stop into Starbucks in Hangzhou. (Funny how a familiar corporate logo can engender feelings of fondness.) We had the following conversation:

> Me: You don’t need to gather up the trash. They’ll clear the table when we leave.

> Mom: But the trash can is just right there.

> Me: Still, you don’t need to do it. It’s their job. You don’t want to take away their job, do you?

> Mom: I’m just going to throw it away.

> Me: If everyone did that, people would be out of jobs. To ensure these people’s jobs, I think we should give them more work by throwing all our trash on he ground.

(Yeah, my mom learned to ignore my comments long ago.)


Jun 2007


My web hosting provider, DreamHost, got hacked recently. In an e-mail to me, they wrote:

> We have detected what appears to be the exploit of a number of accounts belonging to DreamHost customers, and it appears that your account was one of those affected.

> We’re still working to determine how this occurred, but it appears that a 3rd party found a way to obtain the password information associated with approximately 3,500 separate FTP accounts and has used that information to append data to the index files of customer sites using automated scripts (primarily for search engine optimization purposes).

> Our records indicate that only roughly 20% of the accounts accessed – less than 0.15% of the total accounts that we host – actually had any changes made to them. Most accounts were untouched.

So yes, I was affected. So was Brendan at Apparently what the hackers did on my websites was replace every index.php file with their own copy, which just linked to all kinds of ad sites, and apparently even contained some viruses (probably only an issue for IE users). Anyway, the whole thing is very annoying, but easy enough to undo. (Luckily I do have backups of those files.)

The blog and main page are back to normal, and other pages should be returning to normal in the next few days.

P.S. Has anyone else noticed that a lot of Flickr’s image servers are all of a sudden being blocked in China? Not all Flickr images are blocked, but many are now. For instance, I can no longer see the Chinese doughnut image from my last entry.


Jun 2007

Chinese Doughnuts

One food that foreigners miss while in China is doughnuts. Sure, Shanghai has its “Mister Donut” shop, but those small, hard doughnuts never impressed me. Then there are those that call Chinese youtiao (fried bread-like sticks) a “Chinese doughnut,” but I find that very suggestion laughable. A proper doughnut is a whole different animal. I was therefore pleasantly surprised to stumble across these yesterday near West Lake in Hangzhou:

Chinese Doughnuts

Fresh, soft, and dusted in powdered sugar. No glaze, and they were a bit heavy (not exactly Krispy Kreme), but they had the familiar taste of the authentic doughnut. The best part: only 1 RMB each.

I hope these make it to Shanghai! Has anyone else out there had true doughnut experiences in China? (I’m much more interested in this kind, pioneered by locals and sold cheaply, than in some kind of ridiculous luxury import scheme.)


Jun 2007

Visiting Shanghai

My whole family is currently visiting me in Shanghai. I’ve got a list of great restaurants to take them to, and a few other fun places as well. We’ll also go to Beijing. I was just wondering if anyone out there can recommend things in Shanghai that appeals to 60ish parent-types?

Specific recommendations as well as links to relevant blog entries or whatever are all welcome. Thanks in advance!

Update: I’ve gotten some helpful suggestions, and I appreciate that. I’m taking them to Hangzhou very soon. This means that (1) I won’t be posting anything else for a few days, and (2) there’s more time to keep those suggestions coming! (Hangzhou is so much easier to be a tourist in than Shanghai… I feel like Shanghai is mostly just eating and shopping.)


May 2007

The Classiest Street Food

Wandering around Shanghai the other day, I stumbled upon this street food:

Oysters on the Halfshell

Yes, those are raw oysters. I’m hoping the thing behind them is for cooking them, but I didn’t find out exactly how they were supposed to be eaten.

Here they are being prepared:

Preparing Oysters

I think it’s safe to say that my personal quest for “surest way to get food poisoning ever” has finally come to an end.

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