personal


12

Oct 2006

Fortune Cookies for Shanghai

fortunes

Fortune cookie fortunes

Some Americans, not realizing that fortune cookies were invented in their own country, are dismayed by the lack of fortune cookies in China. It’s a fun little tradition.

I was equally surprised, then, to discover fortune cookies in Shanghai recently. Some company was offering free fortune cookies at Zentral (a yuppie restuarant). The catch, of course, is that there’s advertising on one side of the fortune slips.

On a side note, one thing that really annoys me about fortune cookies is when my fortune is not even a fortune. Take these fortunes for example. “Home is where the heart is” is not a fortune! You get fortunes like these all the time. I don’t want some cute motto, I want a fortune. I want to know what my future holds. The more specific, the better. For example, “you have only three days to live” would be an awesome fortune to get. It doesn’t have to be true; in fact, I rarely make my major life decisions based on fortune cookie fortunes. (Take note, fortune cookie makers.)


09

Oct 2006

Homosexual Discourse for China

My critical discourse analysis class is getting interesting. The professor has assigned small group presentation topics. All five topics are related to homosexuality. Pepe and I have “homosexuality in the West.” Yeah, pretty huge topic. Other topics are pretty narrow, such as “lesbians in China.”

Just as a reminder about what we’re going to be analyzing:

> Discourse analysis challenges us to move from seeing language as abstract to seeing our words as having meaning in a particular historical, social, and political condition. Even more significant, our words (written or oral) are used to convey a broad sense of meanings and the meaning we convey with those words is identified by our immediate social, political, and historical conditions. Our words are never neutral (Fiske, 1994)! This is a powerful insight for home economists and family and consumer scientists (We could have a whole discussion about the meaning that these two labels convey!). We should never again speak, or read/hear others’ words, without being conscious of the underlying meaning of the words. Our words are politicized, even if we are not aware of it, because they carry the power that reflects the interests of those who speak. Opinion leaders, courts, government, editors, even family and consumer scientists, play a crucial role in shaping issues and in setting the boundaries of legitimate discourse (what is talked about and how) (Henry & Tator, 2002). The words of those in power are taken as “self-evident truths” and the words of those not in power are dismissed as irrelevant, inappropriate, or without substance (van Dijk, 2000). [source]

It’s also important to note that discourse includes not only traditional language, but all forms of symbols contained in advertising, media, fashion, etc.

So my idea was to examine what’s going on with the term “metrosexual.” Here are some questions I think are worth exploring:

– Does the “metrosexual” style, by making stereotypical visual clues of homosexuality ambiguous, serve to bring homosexuals closer into society? (Is it a sign of greater tolerance?)
– Are the “sterotypical visual clues” just ridiculous or are they significant?
– How do homosexuals feel about the metrosexual phenomenon? How does it impact the gay community?
– Why is “metrosexual” strictly a male phenomenon? What’s going on there with the gender dynamic?

I’d be interested in hearing my readers’ ideas on this. Helpful links are also welcome. I haven’t really been in the US for most of the metrosexual phenomenon, and I don’t know how widespread it is either.

The presentation will be a mere 10-15 minutes long, so we don’t need to go super in-depth. We also need to provide visuals with a PowerPoint presentation.

I was never particularly interested in homosexual studies, but somehow discussing it in grad school in China makes it way more interesting to me. (By the way, Pepe says “metrosexual” in Chinese is 都市玉男. I’m a little disappointed that the -sexual (-性恋) got nuked in the translation.)

Note: Hateful, ignorant, and useless comments will never see the light of day.


06

Oct 2006

Asian, Brunette, Blonde

Asian, Brunette, Blonde: that’s the order. A friend of mine recently explained this to me.

Most people with any China experience know that when there’s an Asian among a group of foreigners in China, Chinese restaurant/hotel/etc. staff will naturally approach the Asian in the group. This is very understandable; there’s no way of knowing that one of the white people has been in China 10 years but the Asian has lived in Idaho all his life and doesn’t speak a word of Chinese. It’s still a fair enough assumption.

A friend of mine (who is dark-haired) explained to me that she has two friends she hangs out with frequently in China: an Asian and a blonde. When the Asian friend is present, Chinese staff all approach her for any communication needs. No surprise. The funny thing is what happens when the Asian friend is not present. The Chinese staff all naturally go to the brunette rather than the blonde. Never mind that the two girls are “equally white”; apparently subconsciously, darker hair equals higher likelihood of speaking Chinese.

Funny stuff.


04

Oct 2006

Letting the Kids Fly

toddler on bike

The other day as I was walking through my apartment complex I noticed what appeared to be a child of 3 or 4 and his grandmother. The child was on one of those little toddler vehicles, pushing himself along with gusto. As the child got farther and farther away from his grandmother, I heard her start to make some noises as she hurried to catch up.

I knew what was coming on. The kid was about to get a volley of “be carefuls” and “stay near mes” and “that’s dangerouses.” This is what it’s like to grow up an only child in China.

But I was wrong.

As the child pushed happily along, the grandmother called after, “you’re flying, you’re flying!” The kid was delighted.

It felt great to be wrong.


01

Oct 2006

Arming the Brats

My friend Heather sent me a link to a NY Times article called In China, Children of the Rich Learn Class, Minus the Struggle. The article talks about the great lengths to which China’s new rich are going in order to ensure their children the cultural education befitting of China’s new elite.

This passage about FasTracKids struck me:

> The private program’s after-school sessions are held in brightly decorated classrooms, where fewer than a dozen children, typically 4 or 5 years old, are taught by as many as three teachers. The program emphasizes scientific learning, problem solving and, most attractively for many parents, assertiveness.

Yes, that’s right, assertiveness. So now that these people have gotten so adept at raising spoiled brats, the next step is to raise assertive spoiled brats.

Yikes.


27

Sep 2006

Busy + Pecha Kucha

Busy week. We’re preparing for the October holiday at work, which means getting an extra week’s worth of work done ahead of time. Plus, I found out those essays I wrote got decent grades, and I’m eligible for a scholarship. I will be pretty stoked if this goes through. I have to hand in the complete application by the end of this week.

This also happens to be the week I got asked to do a presentation for Pecha Kucha Night. I was surprised that I was even asked. I’m not an architect or designer or artist or whatever. But I decided to go ahead and do it. My topic is How the Internet Hijacked My Life in China. If you’re a friend of mine, you might just find yourself in the presentation.

pecha kucha


19

Sep 2006

Chineseblast

Chineseblast

Chineseblast screenshot

While surfing Chinese-forums.com, I discovered a promising new website for learners of Mandarin Chinese: Chineseblast (“collaborative learning engine for Chinese”). The site revolves around users’ “projects” (which usually means translation projects). The community contributes to projects both in adding and editing the translations themselves, as well as in adding comments and questions.

It very much reminds me of manga/anime fans’ community efforts at translating Japanese, but in the case of Chineseblast, the content translated isn’t so concentrated on one theme. Furthermore, different forms of media are covered by the projects:

1. Text Lessons – often similar to textbook offerings, but with audio (example: Joining the Revolution)
2. Video – often hosted on YouTube (example: Taiwanese soap opera)
3. Podcast – native Chinese shows (example: Princess Remy)

I like the variety — variety of content, of media, of language. You get audio and video, you get Mandarin and Cantonese, you get Taiwanese Mandarin and mainland Mandarin, you get traditional and simplified characters. I also like the way the video pages are designed, allowing you to scroll through the script as you watch a video. The small, gray literal translations above the more natural translations are also a nice touch.

It seems that most of the content is aimed at intermediate-level users. If that’s you, check it out.


18

Sep 2006

the lively art of writing and the elements of style

My friend Josh recently returned to Shanghai after finishing his masters and is looking for work. He sent me the following text message:

> Josh: do you have the lively art of writing and the elements of style?

My first impulse was that he was passing on some kind of Chinglishy inquiry he had gotten. The conversation continued something like this:

> me: [confidently playing along] i sure do!

> Josh: Can I borrow them?

> me: [having my doubts about Josh’s sense of humor] well, i might need them.

> Josh: ok, i’m going to try to find them on fuzhou lu.

> me: [thoroughly confused] huh??

As you may know, The Lively Art of Writing and The Elements of Style are two (quite well-known) books. In the context of the text message, which lacked proper punctuation and the like, I was totally thrown off.

Text messages: sly saboteurs of communication.


17

Sep 2006

Time-Lapse Chinese Dinner

When I think “time-lapse photography” I don’t think “Chinese food,” but it really was a good idea. The meal really gets going about halfway through.


15

Sep 2006

Open Salaries: Not for China

I recently discussed the article Why Secret Salaries Are a Baaaaaad Idea with my Chinese friend Mike. It’s an interesting read. The main points the article makes for why open salaries are a good idea:

1. Salaries will become more fair. The system gets a chance to adjust itself.
2. It will be easier to retain the best employees because they’re more likely to feel they’re getting a fair salary.
3. The pressure is on the people with the high salaries to earn their keep. Everybody has to pull their weight – the higher the salary, the larger the weight.

Mike is an accounts manager for a Chinese company in Shanghai, and he has business experience in several companies. Unsurprisingly, he was convinced such an idea could never work in China. The main ideas we discussed:

– The open salary system is based on an overall assumption that the boss is devoted to the idea of a fair workplace. In Mike’s words, “no Chinese boss wants to be fair.” The average Chinese boss exploits unfairness to the benefit of the company. The example he gave is that for the exact same job, a Shanghainese employee might be paid 5,000 RMB per month, whereas an employee from Gansu would only get 1,000. That’s just the way it is.
– Many Chinese companies keep two sets of books in order to pay less taxes. If the company were to make public the fake books, it’s a meaningless action. But you obviously can’t make the real books public.
– Mike’s conclusion: “It’s a nice idea in theory, but it would never work in reality. It’s like Communism!


13

Sep 2006

Oyo! Shanghai's Subway Video Shopping Guide

Oyoo.com screenshot

Oyoo.com screenshot

哦哟! is a Chinese expression that means something like, “whoa!” But 哦哟!视频 (www.oyoo.com) is a video guide to the shops along Shanghai’s subway lines. Ads for the new website are currently plastered all over the Shanghai subway system.

It’s an interesting concept. You take a bunch of short videos, set them to poppy music, and put them on the site in YouTube fashion. But the videos taken are all of shops along Shanghai’s subway line. They’re organized by subway stop as well as by category: 好吃 (food), 好玩 (entertainment), 好看 (clothing and accessories), 好家 (home decoration/furnishing), 好学 (education), 好朋友 (partners?).

I must say, the videos offered are all pretty dull (with the possible exception of the “Transformer Heaven” shop video); they’re all basically just poorly shot commercials. I also don’t see a lot of evidence of activity. I’m not sure that 时代报 (Metro Express) has what it takes to make this site work, but it’s good to see the Chinese experimenting. Other encouraging signs: the site is relatively free of the cluttered design that plagues Chinese websites, and the page looks fine in Firefox!


12

Sep 2006

Jonathan Yuen: Flash Design with Chinese Style

Jonathan Yuen

Jonathan Yuen . com

Jonathan Yuen has a really cool Flash design site. Check it out; it is totally unannoying, and pleasantly imaginative. It also uses Chinese. Unfortunately, the Chinese characters are small and hard to read, and Flash’s normal zoom option is turned off. So here’s my transcription of the Chinese from the site:

> 思源
寻找的终点最终依然是起点

> 创意
能感动人心的才是至高境界

> 童心
用中庸的心态来审观一切

> 邂逅
尽管是僵然也应顺其自然

Sorry, no time for a translation now. Try copying and pasting into AdsoTrans. Maybe I’ll get a chance to put up a translation later. Also, I’m a little unsure of two unfamiliar words (which were a little hard to make out): 审观 and 僵然. Anyone who wants to jump in and translate in the comments, knock yourself out!


11

Sep 2006

Papers, New Classes, and Friends

Recent events:

– Saturday, Sept. 2, I stayed home and wrote a 4,000 character paper for a class.
– Sunday, Sept. 3, I stayed home and wrote a 4,000 character paper for another class.
– Monday and Tuesday nights, Sept. 4-5, I worked on a 3,000 character paper for still another class.
– Wednesday night, Sept. 6, Pepe helped me clean up my papers. Alf showed up.
– Thursday, Sept. 7, I turned in my three papers and attended my two new classes for the semester: Semantics and Pragmatics and Critical Discourse Analysis.
– Friday, Sept. 8, I went to meet Greg at the airport with Alf and John B.
– Saturday, Sept. 9, I went to meet my friend Nobuhiko at the airport.

Thoughts:

– Procrastination is bad. I know this. Sort of.
– Not much beats seeing good friends again. Especially over hot pot and beer.
– A new semester is here already, and I still have a list of linguistic topics I meant to blog about over the summer. (Does anyone enjoy the linguisticky posts?)


07

Sep 2006

Sidney Rittenberg

Sidney Rittenberg

Hank pointed me to an interesting interview with Sidney Rittenberg yesterday. There are various people which call themselves “sinologists” in the world, but I’d have to say that Sidney Rittenberg is one of the most hardcore I know of. You might thing the guy was a little nutty for joining the CPC as an American Marxist back in the 1940’s, but reading the interview he seems quite clear-headed and balanced in his views. (Maybe the clarity came during all the thinking he did in 16 years of solitary confinement in China?)

I still don’t want to be a sinologist, but Sidney Rittenberg is definitely a figure worth learning more about. I’d love to have a chat with him. Here are some more links:

Sidney Rittenberg Wikipedia entry
Remarks at the Asia Society Hong Kong Center 12th Annual Dinner (includes Q&A session)
Future in Review: short bio
– Sidney Rittenberg’s book: The Man Who Stayed Behind


05

Sep 2006

Kindness and Courtesy in Shanghai

I thought this kind of thing could only be seen in movies and comic books. A very old lady slowly shuffled to the edge of the street. As the light changed she glanced fearfully to both sides, looking very uncertain at the start of her journey across the street. A middle-aged woman–clearly a stranger–appeared at the elderly lady’s side and exchanged a word or two in greeting. The old woman then gratefully held onto her savior’s arm as she was very patiently led to the safety of the opposite curb.


The other day I was working when I got a call on my cell phone from an unfamiliar number. I picked up my cell phone, but before I could answer it, the call stopped. Figuring it was a wrong number, I went back to work without giving it a second thought.

Then I received a text message. The message read (in Chinese):

> I dialed the wrong number just now. Sorry about that!


Some mornings on the subway when I’m packed in tight with the commutants, it’s all I can do to just stay stone-faced and hang onto my sanity. Other mornings, I notice things. Instead of pushing, I see people actually talking. They say things like, “Are you getting off at the next stop?” and “Excuse me, I need to get off at the next stop.” What’s more, the other person politely steps aside!


Today on the way home from work, after the subway doors opened and expelled us, we surged up the stairs as a group. On the way up the stairs, in two separate incidents, two men just barely bumped into me. Both promptly apologized.


Kindness and courtesy in Shanghai: there have been multiple sightings. There will be more. Keep your eyes open.


02

Sep 2006

One Finger Zen IT

I found this Japanese Hitachi ad in a local Japanese magazine. I really like seeing Chinese characters played with in creative ways. This is just one example.

One Finger Zen IT

The characters in the ad are 一指禅, which I have written about before.


01

Sep 2006

Language Podcast Roundup

Hank from ChinesePod has written a Language Podcast Survey, presenting the biggest players in the world of language learning by podcast. ChinesePod is #1 in terms of total number of podcasts (300+), but JapanesePod101 is not far behind. There are also four other podcasts for learning Chinese in his list, as well as one for Tibetan!

If you’re interested in language learning, be sure to check it out.


29

Aug 2006

The Hunt for Chinabounder

A while back I mentioned a blog called Sex in Shanghai in which a Western guy tells about all his exploits with Chinese women here in Shanghai. (That blog is still #1 on the “hottest blogs” list on the CBL, but it now seems to be inaccessible.) Since then, the Chinese have found out about the blog, and they are (understandably) pissed.

DNA World reports:

> From time to time, Chinabounder uses his own experiences as a springboard to make sweeping generalisations on, among other things, the sexual frustrations in Chinese marriages, the failings of Chinese men, and the overly tradition-bound upbringing of Chinese girls which makes them rebellious and sexually adventurous. Chinese netizens have routinely been posting venomous messages on his blog in response to his pop-social commentaries — and his occasional outpourings on the Cultural Revolution and Mao Zedong’s womanising ways.

> But last week, a professor of psychology at the prestigious Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences gave new direction to this hyperventilating when he called for an Internet manhunt “to find this foreign trash until we kick him out of China.” In a posting on his own blog, Prof. Zhang Jiehai said that Chinabounder, “an immoral foreigner”, had routinely used “obscene and filthy language to record how he used his status as a teacher to dally with Chinese women… At the same time, he did everything that he could to insult the Chinese government and men.”

> Giving sparse details about Chinabounder’s identity (he’s probably a 34-year-old Briton) Zhang called on “Chinese netizens and compatriots” to join this “Internet hunt for the immoral foreigner”. That message has found echo in numerous Chinese websites and blogs, which have resonated with calls for lynching Chinabounder.

Yikes! Real life consequences for licentious behavior in Shanghai? What is this world coming to?

Thanks to Megan for the tip.

Update 1: ESWN covered this story yesterday in greater detail. (Thanks to Phil, for bringing this to my attention. Phil also shared his thoughts on it, from a new media perspective.)

Update 2: Chinabounder has an imitator (sort of) that calls herself the “ChinaBoundress,” an “ABC Chick in Shanghai.”

Update 3: Sex and Shanghai a hoax? (Danwei.org)



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