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.
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:
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.
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!“
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!
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!
– 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.
– 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?)
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:
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.
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.
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.
> 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?
Liangfen (凉粉) is a kind of Chinese food which Wenlin translates as “bean jelly.” This is a pretty good translation; liangfen is made from beans and is about the consistency of jelly (although often a bit stiffer). In restaurants, liangfen can be served up like noodles and often looks something like this:
Doing a search for these liangfen images, I was reminded of a very different liangfen which became extremely popular last year:
(That would be 张靓颖 of “Super Voice Girls” fame. Her nickname is 凉粉. She also has a Chinese blog. [Correction: the fans of 张靓颖 are called liangfen, not 张靓颖 herself.])
Tonight I paid a visit to my advisor to discuss the coming semester’s classes and my master’s thesis. His wife brought out a big platter of watermelon slices. He insisted on making me a cup of iced coffee (which was quite good). His son gave me a Glico green tea-flavored snack to munch on. And then the special surprise came: 广东凉粉 (Guangdong liangfen). According to them it’s a traditional Guangdong summer snack, served chilled. You can’t find it in Shanghai, they said. It looked like this:
My only question before digging in was, “does it have animal blood in it?” (I would have eaten some anyway, but I just wanted to know.) They said no.
How did it taste? Well… it was basically “Chinese medicine flavored Jello-o.” Yum yum. Fortunately the flavor wasn’t too strong.
I watched the much “celebrated” Snakes on a Plane with John B and our wives last night. I picked up the DVD on the way over to his place. The DVD guy outside of the 好得 (AKA “All Days”) convenience store had it. Here’s what the cover looks like:
A very evil-looking Jackson on the pirated Snakes on a Plane DVD
Thanks to Matt at No-Sword I knew what to expect in terms of the movie’s Chinese title, but I certainly didn’t expect the French title, or this camcorder edition’s laughtrack (yes, a French laughtrack). Really, though, when you’re expecting ridiculous, I guess it only adds to the experience.
The main and secondary titles on this cover confirm two of the mainland Chinese titles that Matt dug up:
– 空中蛇灾 — “Midair snake disaster”
– 航班蛇患 — “Snake woes on a flight”
The Shanghai Metro (subway) commuters are infamous for their “enthusiasm.” The subway philosophy of 先下后上 (let people off first, then board) is blasted repeatedly during rush hour by station attendants each and every day, but it always falls on deaf ears as the hoarde surges to board the subway cars the split second the doors open, forcing the passengers who wish to disembark to shove and claw their ways through the subway doorway battlefield. It really is insane, and it shocks most newcomers to Shanghai.
I once said to a Chinese friend that the rush hour commuters are “like animals.” That comparison didn’t sit too well. Although at rush hour they may be doing their best imitations of subhuman creatures, the commuters are, in fact, human beings deserving of respect (if only because they are human beings). Somehow Shanghai’s particular societal circumstances–including cultural factors and a massive population–contributes to this inexplicably barbaric commuter behavior.
I’ve been riding the subway a lot lately on my way to ChinesePod, and I am forced to ride both Line 2 and Line 1 (the Evil Line) every day during morning rush hour (oh, the horror!). I have quite a few thoughts I plan to share about these commuters with whom I rub elbows (among other things) on a regular basis.
But somehow the term “commuter” doesn’t seem entirely appropriate. Social conditions have transformed them into something beyond what the mere term “commuter” implies; their behavior has already mutated into something else. They are… Shanghai’s commutants*.
I haven’t mentioned my “girlfriend” in a long time. This is not only because I don’t like to talk about certain aspects of my private life here; it’s also because I’m not sure what to call her anymore. This is all due to the peculiar features of getting married in China.
You see, we are already legally married, but we have not yet had a “proper wedding.” To her and her family, that means a proper Chinese wedding banquet. To me and my family, that means a proper wedding in a Catholic church. All that will happen next year.
Furthermore, we are not living together. She still lives with her parents as before, and I live with my roommate Lenny. Our lives after becoming legally married remain almost exactly as they were when we were just “engaged.”
(So why did we get legally married so early? It’s largely to simplify the breaucratic headaches that arise from my nationality and her employer, and to save me from having to make another trip back to the States right before the wedding next year.)
I can call her my 老婆 in Chinese and this isn’t strange at all… Many Chinese couples here call each other 老婆 and 老公 long before they’re married (which really kind of annoys me for some reason). But calling her my wife–in English–feels wrong to me, because my whole life my idea of my “wife” has been the woman I spend the rest of my life with after we go through that sacred ceremony in church. And we haven’t done that yet.
In China, the wedding banquet has tremendous social significance for both families, but no legal standing. I know a Chinese couple who waited for years for the wedding banquet because they wanted to be legally married but couldn’t yet afford a nice reception. I also heard of a couple that had the wedding banquet but then split up and were never legally married in the first place. In the US, saying “I do” in a ceremony in front of a priest and other witnesses is a part of the legal process (in addition to the marriage registration).
So basically the feeling I get is that we’re taking that minute or so when the man and woman each say “I do” and the priest pronounces them husband and wife, and stretching it out to about a year. It’s a little strange, but I don’t think it’s all bad. Marriage is, after all, a big adjustment.
My friend Shelley used to live in Dongying, Shandong Province. He is now traveling in the States. Here is an excerpt of an e-mail I recently got from him:
> I arrived in LA this morning after 3 nights on a train and couple hours stopover in Chicago. I learned a few things about the differences between US and Chinese train travel. I should first mention that this trip closely mirrors a trip I took just last year in China. It also involved 3 nights on a train with a short stopover after the first night. However, my US train took me entirely across the country, from Washington D.C. to L.A. My Chinese train took me from Kashgar (far northwest) to Xi’an, which would be more like Seattle to Chicago in the US. But I think this had more to do with the speed of the train. Anyway…
> From my half-dozen Amtrak trips between Sacramento and San Jose, I knew that 1) there would be very few people on the train, and 2) there are electrical outlets and tables by most seats. From the info I had gathered from Amtrak’s website, I knew 3) private cabins would cost a bit more than a flight (around $350) but would allow me to travel in great comfort.
> Yeah, well, I was wrong about all that stuff. I must have been looking at the seat prices because my seat from D.C. to L.A. cost me $299. Private cabins cost $1,000 and were booked up “until September” according to one conductor. The train was also overbooked, and I witnessed the familiar sight of people scrambling to get on the train before everyone else. See, I had a ticket for a seat, but not a specific one. Some people got put in the lounge car until seats cleared up in the coach cabins. And finally, you guessed it, no tables or electrical outlets. There were 3, only 3, outlets in the lounge car within an unused snack counter area. I managed to get up early enough one morning to stake a claim on one and charge up my cell phone and iPod. And believe me, I protected my outlet from other power-starved travelers like a lion over its kill fends off circling hyenas.
> Now, a seat on a Chinese train for 3 nights would be an amazing feat of stamina and bladder control. I’ve never done that. The longest I went for was a 26-hour stint which I emerged from as if I had just climbed Everest. A seat on a US train for 3 nights is about a hundred times more comfortable because it’s 1) a bucket seat and not a bench, 2) much better climate controlled, 3) bathrooms are clean and well-stocked with necessities, and 4) the lounge car provides another place to hang out with wall-to-ceiling windows and TVs showing movies in the evening.
> That said, however, I wouldn’t recommend the train to anyone who wasn’t ready to spend a boatload of cash to make it more comfortable. While the seats were spacious, they didn’t fully recline and I never found a comfortable sleeping position. I mostly passed out from exhaustion. Several times I pondered the pros and cons of sleeping in the aisle, but the cons always won out.
> Also, the train is not merely kept well air-conditioned, it’s kept refrigerated. I actually love to crank the AC up, but I was absolutely freezing during the first night. I noticed that everyone else on the train took out thick blankets and heavy sweaters. They had obviously done this before. I shivered all the way to Chicago. During that stopover I bought a hooded sweatshirt, which wasn’t easy to find but I knew my health depended on it. And folks, I’m really not exaggerating. It was amazingly cold. Amtrak might be experimenting with cryogenics. Well ok, now I’m exaggerating a little.
> The food available wasn’t all that bad but keep in mind that my standards for western food are very low. It was definitely overpriced microwaveable stuff. But they really had a great variety of it. Still, this is no advantage over a Chinese train. If I were on a Chinese train the food would come to me on snack carts roaming the cars every half hour or so.
> In conclusion, I would have to say that Chinese trains are better. Really. Because for the same price as my US train seat, I could have bought a super nice cabin (soft-sleeper) on a Chinese train and traveled in great comfort … with an electrical outlet!
> I kept wondering why so many people were on the train at all. “Um, excuse me, doesn’t anyone here realize we could’ve flown for cheaper?” Apparently not.