personal


04

Nov 2006

Business and Buddies in Beijing

Last Tuesday and Wednesday I was in Beijing on ChinesePod business. I can’t really talk about that, but hopefully our reasons for being there will all be public by the end of the month. This trip was significant for other reasons, though — I got to (briefly) experience Beijing as a non-tourist for once, and to finally meet some guys I’ve been communicated with over the internet for years (that’s hard to believe) without ever meeting.

The last time I was in Beijing was 2001. I visited twice that summer, once with my friend Ari as part of a big long trip, and the other time with my little sister. It had been 5 years since I saw it last, and with all the preparations for the Olympics, I was looking forward to seeing all the changes. I didn’t get to see any, though. My last visit to Beijing had been as a tourist, and this time I didn’t go to any of those same places. Geographically, the visits didn’t overlap a single bit. Even points of arrival and departure were different; this was my first time flying to and from Beijing. So without any physical overlap, I couldn’t really compare from a chronological perspective at all.

My impressions of Beijing were very good this time, though. The weather was great, and the areas of Beijing I spent time in were all pleasant. I think what impressed me most, though, was the laid back feel of the city. I know that Shanghai is extremely fast-paced and business-oriented, but perhaps I had thought Beijing was too, at least to a greater degree. To me, Beijing felt more comparable to Hangzhou in that respect. In Hangzhou, people go to West Lake to just sit around and play cards all day long. That kind of thing just doesn’t happen in Shanghai.

I met up with Roddy (Chinese Forums, Signese) first, and a little later Joel (Danwei) joined us at a cafe/bar on Houhai. Brendan (Bokane.org) organized a get-together at a bar called Sandglass (a very predictable selection, according to Roddy). There I met David (AdsoTrans) and Jeremy (Danwei, Danwei TV).

It’s always interesting to meet in person the people you only know through online communication. There were some differences between my expectations of these guys and what I actually experienced.

Roddy Flagg (Chinese Forums, Signese)

Roddy-1

I have chatted with Roddy a lot over the years, and we’ve helped each other out with online projects more than once. I was already familiar with his sense of humor. Although I didn’t know exactly what he looked like before I met him, there weren’t any surprises there.

Joel Martinsen (Danwei)

Joel

Joel has been an extremely helpful commenter on Sinosplice over the years, and has helped me out with various translation issues. As any reader of Danwei knows, the man is an impressive translation powerhouse, and he’s an all around good guy as well. (He even bought me an ice cream.) No real surprises here.

Brendan O’Kane (Bokane.org)

Brendan-1

I had actually met Brendan once before in Shanghai, but that time was brief and alcohol tinged. This time I got a better feel for the guy, and I think he’s pretty much exactly like his online persona with one big exception: he’s more cheerful in person.

David Lancashire (AdsoTrans)

David

What does one expect of a computational linguist who developed a free, impressive online machine translation system? A quiet, geeky guy, that’s what. I had chatted with David over IM multiple times, but I guess I didn’t get a good feel for his personality. In person he was funny and outgoing and didn’t look at all like what I expected. Also, he’s Canadian!

Jeremy Goldkorn (Danwei, Danwei TV)

Jeremy

I have a lot of respect for Jeremy, but somehow I got the impression of a rather formal, business-like person. Was I unfairly stereotyping budding media moguls? Anyway, Jeremy turned out to be a really funny, gregarious guy. It was really good of him to stop by after just getting back from a blogger conference in Hangzhou. I imagine he is quite bloggered out now.

Hopefully I’ll be making trips to Beijing more often in the future. Shanghai is the place for me for the foreseeable future, but Beijing is definitely a place I’d like to spend more time.


31

Oct 2006

The 'Please speak Mandarin' T-shirt

please speak mandarin

please speak Mandarin

Some of you may have noticed that when I put up my new Tone Pair Drills I added a new Products section to this website along with it. I’ll introduce one of the items here from various fascinating sociopolitical angles.

The shirt says 请讲普通话 which means “please speak Mandarin” (rather than some other local dialect). The inspiration for this shirt can be seen at countless bus stops all over Shanghai: completely ineffectual “请讲普通话” propaganda. The Shanghainese continue blissfully barking at each other in their dialect regardless.

Simply by wearing this one shirt, you can:

– subtly poke fun of the PRC’s language policies
– inform Chinese people around you that you want to talk to them in Chinese
– inform Chinese people around you that you don’t want to engage them in whatever crazy dialect they speak (especially useful in Shanghai)

But I also created this shirt for another special reason. My roommate Lenny plans to move to Taiwan in December. He has made it clear on several occasions that he won’t put up for the degenerate dialect of Mandarin the Taiwanese call 国语, and he has made it his personal mission to reform the speaking habits of the whole island.

While I’m sure he will have no problem at all with that task (maybe he can even get Prince Roy to help, although Mark and Poagao may be thorns in his side), I thought he could use this shirt to aid his righteous crusade in some small way. The shirt is great for Taiwan because:

– The Taiwanese never say 普通话 (Mandarin), as that’s a politicized PRC word; they say 国语 (also Mandarin).
– Three out of five of the characters on the shirt are simplified. Simplified characters are, of course, an aesthetic affront to the Taiwanese which offends every fiber of their being.

Obviously there are many reasons why you need to order this shirt now. (Oh yeah, also: I ordered some merchandise before deciding to go with CafePress, and I can confirm that the quality of their stuff doesn’t suck anymore.) For more Sinosplice merchandise, check out the Sinosplice Store (more stuff to come soon).


26

Oct 2006

Thank you, Andy Lau

Thank you, Andy Lau (刘德华), for one of the funniest Chinese music videos I have ever seen. Greg and I witnessed this amazing recording of a live concert while lunching at the “Kowloon Ice House” in Zhongshan Park’s “Cloud Nine” (龙之梦) mall. A search on YouTube turned up nothing, but thankfully the Tudou.com results had a clip of the exact video we watched:

For those of you too lazy or too foolish to watch that clip, let me recap the hilarity contained therein:

1. Andy Lau is wearing a white cowboy hat and a wifebeater-blouse.
2. The song is a Cantonese version of “I Hate Myself for Loving You” called 我恨我痴心 (literally, “I Hate My Infatuation”).

Well, that’s all, really. It’s funny.

Oh, and just in case you need it, there’s also a karaoke version of 我恨我痴心 set to random boy/girl scenes that have absolutely nothing to do with the song.


20

Oct 2006

China, More Tissues (please)

handing out tissues

handing out tissues in Japan

When I went to Japan in 1997 to study for a year, it was my first time out of the United States. I knew Japan would be different, but I had very few expectations. I went out there with a year’s worth of Japanese, eyes wide open, and a brain ready to soak it all up. Of the many, many cultural peculiarities I noticed in Japan, one of the most convenient was the tissue pack advertising.

It’s a simple method. Someone goes to a crowded metropolitan area with a box of small packs of tissues. On the tissue packs’ plastic wrappers is advertising. People are quite often willing to accept free tissues, and happily carry the advertising with them wherever they go. Everyone wins.

When I first arrived in China, I discovered how important tissues are here. You use them as napkins, you use them as paper towels, you use them as toilet paper. You really shouldn’t go anywhere without a small personal tissue supply. I found myself really wishing that the Chinese would adopt the tissue pack advertising method.

Here in Shanghai the primary method of street advertising is handing out business card-sized ads in and around the subway stations. I imagine it doesn’t work well at all. The workers handing out the cards are extremely annoying, and no one wants the cards. Subway sanitation workers are always sweeping them up. It seems like the tissue pack advertising method would be perfect for China.

I have actually seen the method used here in Shanghai at least twice. I got a free pack of ad-swaddled tissues outside of the South Huangpi Road (黄陂南路) subway station just last week, and I saw it once before, a long time ago. This really needs to catch on.

Related:

Tissue Issues (Sinosplice)
examples of Japanese tissue packs (Flickr)


18

Oct 2006

Some t-shirts I've seen lately

These were all spotted on t-shirts on the streets of Shanghai:

– Labial
– Herpes Club
– Naturally Two-Two
– Tomorrow is Peace. Tomorrow is Yesterday.

I have no explanation for the first two, although to be fair, “labial” is a legitimate linguistics term, and “herpes clubs” actually do exist (although I can’t imagine there being t-shirts for it). The second one is obviously a knock-off of the Taiwanese clothing company “Naturally JOJO.” The last one is confusing because there are no grammar or spelling mistakes, and it almost makes me want to believe that something clever is going on, but in the end it really just doesn’t make any sense at all.


16

Oct 2006

IPTV for Shanghai

IPTV advertisement

IPTV advertisement

I’ve been seeing and hearing a lot about IPTV lately. The image at left is the ad I now see every month in my phone bill from China Telecom. So what is IPTV? According to Wikipedia:

> IPTV (Internet Protocol Television) describes a system where a digital television service is delivered using the Internet Protocol over a network infrastructure, which may include delivery by a broadband connection. For residential users, IPTV is often provided in conjunction with Video on Demand and may be bundled with Internet services such as Web access and VoIP.

I’m going to be moving into a new apartment soon, and IPTV is an option I’ve been considering. I’m not sure how wide the offerings are, if it compares with satellite TV (which can be a slight hassle because it’s technically “illegal”), and how easy it would be to use in conjunction with satellite TV.

Oh, and then there’s also the whole “why pay for something you can get for free online already?” issue. Well, it’s not that simple. The internet here is slow. YouTube is slow. Bittorrent downloads take a long time. The IPTV connection should be fast; real “video on demand.” For the time being, it may very well be worthwhile.

I’ve done some internet research, but I think what will help inform me the most is to make a trip to the China Telecom building (I need to go there to pay an overdue phone bill anyway) and see what they can tell (and hopefully show) me.

Here are some more links:

Shanghai set for IPTV rollout (China Daily)
SMG Prepares For Shanghai IPTV Services (Pacific Epoch)
What is IPTV? (GDBTV)
An introduction to IPTV (Ars Technica)
IPTV vs. Internet Television: Key Differences (Master New Media)
What is IPTV? (iMedia interview)


14

Oct 2006

Comparing Populations: Chinese Provinces and Other Countries

I recently came across a webpage which compares the populations of Chinese provinces with that of other countries’ entire populations. It’s fun to mentally connect these provinces with the countries below, using population as the basis:

Chinese Province Country
Shandong Mexico
Guangdong Germany
Hunan Iran
Anhui Italy
Hubei France
Liaoning Spain
Shanxi Canada
Inner Mongolia Australia
Tianjin Sweden
Ningxia Finland

Note that the figures used come from the 1990’s. For the actual numbers, visit the source page supplied by the IIASA (a unique non-governmental, non-profit, global change research institute).


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!



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