Are you concerned about your water supply in Shanghai? Would you like to know which company handles it? Are you interested in the entire process, represented in a small animated diagram? But most importantly: do you want to get all this on a Flash website with pounding dance music soundtrack?
I haven’t updated for the past few days because over the weekend I was feverishly preparing for my one exam this semester. It was the Modern Chinese (现代汉语) exam. I’ve actually already taken another version of this exam before in order to get into grad school, but my advisor thought it might be beneficial for me to study it again more in-depth in order to make up some credits.
Preparing for this exam was not fun. I have already learned the material once, and it’s all fairly easy to understand, but I had to memorize so much material this time. The focus of the exam was grammar, so it was mainly focused on categorizing. That means memorizing tons of lists: the 14 Chinese parts of speech, the 12 types of phrases, the 10 types of complex sentences, etc. There were many such lists. I found the actual analysis (such as by 层次分析法) to be OK, but the memorization was killing me.
I think the experience of taking an exam with Chinese undergrad students really gave me a good look into what it’s like to be a Chinese college student. It also reminded me that I’m not a college kid anymore, and that my memory is much less accepting than it once was. More than anything, I just don’t have the patience for that kind of learning anymore; we live in a world of limitless resources at our fingertips. Memorization of this kind of thing is for chumps!
I noticed that the one essay question on my exam was the same as one of the ones on the first Modern Chinese exam I took: what are the main distinguishing grammatical features of Modern Chinese? On the one hand, this is a very important question directly relevant to anyone who wants to teach Chinese. But on the other hand, it kind of strikes me as tied to the Chinese pride issue.
The exam wasn’t too bad, but I really hope it’s the last exam of this type that I have to take.
I think it’s great to see foreigners in China using their creativity to put new resources online. (Let’s face it: just writing a blog takes very little work.) Two recent noteworthy efforts:
The Hao Hao Report. If you’ve seen Digg, you’ll recognize the format immediately. Users submit links, and other users vote on them. This one is all about China, and created by Sinosplice commenter Ryan of The Humanaught. Check it out.
The Taiwan Blog Feed. Old-timers will remember that once upon a time there was a thing called the Living in China Aggregator. It enjoyed quite a bit of popularity in its day (before Living in China was engulfed in the fires of its own greed). Hopefully this aggregator will have a better fate. Maybe it is better to limit the focus to a smaller region such as Taiwan. It’s run by Mark of Tushuo.com (the guy that made the cool Chinese Number Tool). Check it out.
On the cusp of 2000, I made my first trip to New York City with my friend Alex. We wanted to be in the most exciting place when the ball dropped in Times Square. Some people gave us dire warnings of terrorist threats or Y2K mayhem, but we weren’t worried about that. There was something alluring about the year 2000, and we were two twenty-one-year-olds that would not be stuck in Tampa for it.
For part of our adventure in New York City, we stayed with my friend Dave, a crazy budding director I had befriended in Japan. Dave was a guy that was always excited about something, that loved the 80s, that was fascinated by new toys, and that infected you with his enthusiasm as he leapt from topic to unimaginable topic. He was just the kind of person Alex and I wanted to hang out with in New York.
Grand Central Terminal
Our actual New Year’s Eve was a wild ride, but one of the most memorable incidents for me happened well before December 31st, in Grand Central Terminal. Dave led Alex and me into the station during rush hour. The main lobby was magnificent, and it was swarming with commuters. It was at this point that Dave told us about his game.
“This is how you play,” he told us. “Just run, and don’t stop. Keep changing directions so that you don’t hit anyone. It’s a blast!”
“Wait, what?” I started. But Dave had already shot off straight into the crowd. Alex and I quickly followed suit.
We had no time to even notice the reactions of the people around us. There were so many, all melting into a blurry wall, and it was all we could do to avoid collisions as we dodged, weaved, reversed direction, and sidestepped ourselves into exhaustion. Finally we all ended up against a wall, panting and laughing. The masses continued their milling beside us.
This is the kind of thing kids do. Adults reason that it’s silly, that someone could get hurt, that it’s a waste of time. But presented with the idea in the right way, a kid will just try it. And damn, what a thrill.
The way I feel about China is much the same way. This country is like one big Grand Central Terminal. Society is milling about as it always does, but here there are a lot of people doing the chaos run. Some are natives, some are foreigners. Some of them just like the thrill, but many are out for big profits. There is no question that on this scale, the game is very dangerous. Innocent people get knocked down and bowled over. Others run themselves headfirst into walls. And yet, China’s powers of seduction remain unshaken. There’s something about this place that keeps me in a near-perpetual state of excitement. I know there are risks and sacrifices I must face for living in China long-term, and maybe I can’t do it forever, but damn, what a thrill!
I regularly ride the subway to get to ChinesePod headquarters, and on each ride I am subjected to the advertising played on those flat LCD monitors. One of the ads I see a lot is for Jacob’s Creek, an Australian wine. I noted that the Chinese name is 杰卡斯.
杰卡斯 is obviously a partial transliteration. 杰 is chosen for its sound and favorable meaning of “outstanding,” and 卡 and 斯, both chosen for their sounds, are commonly used in transliterations of foreign words.
After seeing this Chinese name enough times, the thought occurred to me: the English name which most closely matches the Chinese transliteration 杰卡斯 is not Jacob’s Creek, but Jackass.
I have been asked to help spread word about some Chinese blog awards. I have to admit I don’t pay much attention to these myself, but I do think they’re a good thing. And in one case, you can actually win real money! (Well, real monopoly money, anyway.)
Best China Blogs is the China blog awards event giving away close to 10,000 RMB (over US$1000!). “The Admiral” of China Moon is organizing it. (Some of you might know him as a regular commenter on TalkTalkChina.)
I noticed on Danwei that there’s another Asia Blog Awards going. AsiaPundit is a great blog (I wish I had time to read it more often), so I’m sure it’ll do a good job.
> Danwei probably does not count as a blog any more: there are too many contributors, and we are trying very hard indeed to sell out, by accepting advertising. If you are interested in this type of award, please vote for another website.
First let me say that I love Danwei, and it’s a truly excellent site. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better group of dedicated people putting out original, quality content for an independent website (ESWN is only one person, and arguably superhuman). But I don’t think that saying “we’re not a blog anymore” works.
The reasons Jeremy gave as to why Danwei is not a blog don’t stand up to even mild scrutiny: many blogs are group blogs, and many blogs sell advertising. (No, I don’t mean just Google Ads; there are plenty of blogs that sell real advertising.) So what’s the deal?
Well, I think it’s clear that Danwei very much wants to be seen as a news source. Danwei TV has taken a big step in that direction. The Danwei team obviously works very hard and puts out excellent researched content. Blogs are often seen as childish or faddish, and Danwei perhaps aims to rise above the label because it quite clearly offers content superior to 99% of the blogs out there. If any blog ever deserved to transcend the blog label, it is certainly Danwei.org.
But can you cease being a blog simply because you don’t want to be seen as one anymore? I’m not sure what it would take for me to see Danwei.org as something other than an excellent blog with some non-blog features, but for me, at least, it’s not there yet.
The other day in the subway I couldn’t help but overhear this mother-daughter “dialogue” as I was going up the stairs.
> Mother: 男人要胖。女人要瘦。 (Men need to be fat. Women need to be thin.)
> Daughter: …
> Mother: 你胖得已经像男人了。 (You’re so fat you’re already looking like a man.)
> Daughter: …
I couldn’t help taking a look at the daughter. She wasn’t skinny, but she wasn’t either obese or manly. She was probably not much above average weight. She also didn’t seem very bothered by her mom’s comments.
Last night while on an evening stroll around Zhongshan Park I was surprised to discover that the pirated book man (he pushes his goods around in a big cart) had a copy of the Chinese version of Freakonomics.
The book was good quality, except for the occasional misalligned printing which plagues pirated books. The cover certainly looks fine, although I was disappointed to see the trademark apple/orange image (see the book’s own website if you’re unfamiliar with the book) replaced by the lame wolf/sheep image. Why would they do that?
The other thing is the name. The translator chose to represent Freakonomics, a blend of the words “freak” and “economics” as 魔鬼经济学, which literally means “devil economics.” OK, so the name Freakonomics is hard to translate, but “devil economics?” Yet another translation challenge unmet. Maybe 惊济学?
It’s the end of the semester. You might expect me to be busy with schoolwork, but I’m really not especially busy because all three of my graduate-level courses are based on essays which don’t need to be turned in until the beginning of next semester. So I have all summer to work on those. The one undergrad class I’m taking to make up credit, Modern Chinese (现代汉语), does have an exam. So that’s probably the only traditional exam I’ll have to take at ECNU.
Despite the lack of exams, I find myself very busy. I’m busy with ChinesePod as well as with a variety of other things. Most of all, my mind has been extremely busy lately, mulling over all kinds of developments. Maybe at a later date I’ll write about some of those things, but for now the time spent on personal reflection is usurping the time I might spend on quality blog writing.
I must say, though, that Joel Martinsen at Danwei.org has been writing some really great stuff lately. It’s great to have him combing the Chinese web for us. His latest gem is the translation of a story he calls Disability Certificate (scroll down to the story, at least, if you’re not interested in the analysis). Whether or not the story is true, I think it really captures some truths about China.
I found this 8-page Carrefour ad in my mailbox the other day, and I thought I’d scan it and share it. For those of you not in the know, Carrefour is a French supermarket chain that is super popular here in the PRC. It just recently opened at its new Zhongshan Park location in Shanghai. Anyway, I would think that this these pages might be very interesting for anyone interested in China, Chinese, or Shanghai.
– Page 3: find out once and for all what the price of eggs in China is.
– Page 4: the chicken’s not fresh unless the head is still attached.
– Page 5: the electric bug swatter is one of the coolest things you can buy in China, period.
– Page 8: maps and bus schedules! (Micah is loving this page even if no one else is.)
I have added a few of my own comments on the individual pages on Flickr. Note that on the individual pages for each scan on Flickr you can click on the “all sizes” button to see a much larger version of each image. You may just want to go to the Flickr Shanghai Carrefour Ad set page.
The pizza I most often eat in Shanghai is Hello Pizza‘s. It’s not the best, but at only 10 rmb for a 9″ pepperoni or Hawaiian pizza, it can’t be beat. Thrifty pizza scarfer that I am, I’ve been a big fan of Hello Pizza ever since I moved to Shanghai.
a $15 Hello Pizza feast
So the other night I ordered pizza for dinner. Imagine my horror, then, at being told that the pepperoni pizzas are now back to 15 rmb (!) and the Hawaiian pizzas are now 18 rmb (!!!). Noooo… (The price changes haven’t made it to the online menu yet, apparently.) I guess those ridiculously cheap prices were really just too good to last. Even with the recent price hike, the pizzas are not even remotely expensive. The only decent pizza place I know of that can compete is the New York Pizza place in Jing’an Temple Plaza.
Actually, this price hike might be a good thing for me. I used to like to have pizza and salad from Hello Pizza for lunch, but since the minimum order for delivery is 30 rmb, I would get two pizzas. One pizza with a salad is enough of a lunch for me, but I would almost always end up completely devouring both pizzas. I think maybe I have some of those genes responsible for the tendency to eat a whole goddamn bag of chips.
Then last night I went with some friends to check out the new Tanghui (堂会). I used to really enjoy the old bar, but I hadn’t been to the new one yet. (That didn’t stop me from talking about it with Brad and Aric for GigShanghai though.)
I think the new Tanghui is really cool, but it’s a totally different bar. I felt like it shouldn’t even be called Tanghui. The intimate dive I once knew is gone, and now there’s this fancy new four-floor bar. One thing that I was happy to see unchanged was the Tiger on tap for 30 rmb* a mug. I’m sure I’ll be back to Tanghui in the future, but I think I’ll continue meeting most of my live music needs at Shuffle.
* Hey, that’s the cost of two pepperoni pizzas at Hello Pizza, even at the new prices.
You know what the cool thing about buying DVDs in China is? I mean besides them only costing US$1. You may get stuck with bad copies if you buy from unscrupulous vendors (or if you’re too impatient), and not every mindless comedy makes it to the streets of China, but I am continuously amazed at the obscure stuff that does make it here. Any China expat can tell you stories of finding some really random old movie from his childhood on DVD in the unlikeliest corners of China.
Just recently I found The Ewok Adventure (1984) on DVD bundled with Ewoks: the Battle for Endor (1985). I grew up in the 80s, so ewoks were an important part of my childhood. I picked up the two-disc set. I was disappointed to discover that the contents of the DVDs did not match the DVD covers; it was the short-lived ewok animated series I had actually bought. Laaaame. (I may have a soft spot for certain 80s nostalgia, but I do have my limits.)
Bad 80s made-for-TV movies aside, all the exposure to less mainstream films is great. Some DVD shops seem to specialize in obscure movies. I’m not sure if the selection is intentional or if they somehow get stuck with the “dregs” of the DVD shipment. I see quite a few French films, but stuff from all over as well.
Two movies I watched over the weekend:
Les Revenants, AKA They Came Back (France, 2004). I was intrigued because this was a zombie movie with very different zombies. French zombies. And they didn’t attack people or eat brains–they just came back… only they were a little odd. This had serious psychological consequences on the loved ones to whom they returned. Pretty interesting movie, but it dragged a bit in the second half and didn’t have a very satisfying ending. Also, I kept waiting for a zombie to flip out and chomp on someone’s living flesh, and it never happened. At least this movie had good English subtitles, so it was only weird French cinematic metaphors for life and death and acceptance (or whatever) that were confusing me, and not language as well.
Tsotsi (South Africa, 2005). I picked this one up because I really know very little about South Africa (ignorance is bad), and I kind of wanted to hear the African hip hop mentioned on the back. I also had the foolish hope that the movie would be in English, so I didn’t check for English subtitles. Instead I was treated to 94 minutes of Afrikaans, with no English subtitles. Actually there was very little dialogue in the movie, though, so the Chinese subtitles gave me more than enough to follow the story. I definitely enjoyed this one.
For the two years of classes I must take for my masters program at ECNU, I have the same 11 classmates for almost every class. All of them are Chinese, and only one of them is male. My one male classmate distinguishes himself by far more than his gender, however, so I’d like to introduce him here. I’ll call him Pepe.
Like most of my classmates, Pepe is not from Shanghai. After finishing his undergraduate studies, he came directly to Shanghai to study applied linguistics. Faced with a difficult job market, more and more Chinese college grads are electing to go to graduate school before joining the rat race. In that respect he is not very special.
I first observed something about Pepe in our initial semester, when I had only one specialized linguistics class. I noticed that in a room full of students furiously scribbling the teacher’s every word–and I doing my darnedest to keep up–Pepe never wrote more than a few lines of notes down. And yet no one was more engaged than he, no one impressed the professor more with insightful comments than he, and no one got away with more good-natured irreverent remarks than he. There were times when the professor would make a statement in all seriousness, and Pepe would laugh at it out loud, all alone, earning him a dirty look from the professor. He obviously understood a lot that the other students didn’t.
I would later learn that one of Pepe’s favorite pastimes was combing through Hong Kong and Taiwanese news. He loves the idea of a government under the scrutiny of a Chinese free press. He’s a realist, so he dares not dream of the impossible, but he devours the outsiders’ analysis of the CCP’s power struggles, past and present. What interests Pepe most of all, however, is Taiwanese politics. It’s like politics in bizarro China, and it fascinates him.
I have also learned about Pepe’s struggles within the academic machine. He wants to do real scientific research, to make a creative contribution to the field of linguistics. But his advisor repeatedly swats down his aspirations because “that’s not the kind of thesis that gets approved in this department” or because of the limitations of his advisor’s expertise.
Pepe is the sort of student I always hoped for more of when I taught English to Chinese students, and he’s the sort of student China would benefit greatly from if it could only recognize the importance. I’m fortunate to have at least one classmate who thinks critically and shares my grievances with the system, discontent with the role of academic atomaton (although to be sure, this burden weighs far heavier on him than on me).
You will hear more about Pepe from me in the future.
And now for something completely vapid: Chinese girl pop stars!
I was bored, surfing around on Baidu, as I sometimes do, and I stumbled across this Baidu ranking of female pop stars. The ranking is assigned by searches, and each star is linked to photos, discussions, and “星闻” (a pun on 星 and 新闻, meaning “star news”). It even keeps track of changes in the rankings.
I immediately noted two things about the list. First, I knew a whole lot fewer of the stars than I expected to. I mean, I don’t exactly immerse myself in Chinese pop culture, but I thought I would know most of the top ten. I found that I only knew four of them by name. Second, the list is quite different from the recent list of China’s 50 Most Beautiful People. This is to be expected; the lists had different standards, after all. Or, one actually had standards, I should say. But it’s interesting to compare anyway.
First, though, for purely educational purposes, I present you with Baidu’s top ten:
刘亦菲. I had seen this girl everywhere in advertising around Shanghai, and had no idea who she was. Apparently this 20-year-old is pretty popular these days (#1 on Baidu, anyway). She has a movie called 五月之恋 (“Love of May”) which you can watch in its entirety on YouTube (Chinese only).
蔡依林 is a Taiwanese pop star I’ve written about before. She’s managed to stay popular for quite a while. There are karaoke-style videos of hers on YouTube as well, such as the video for Love, Love, Love. (I hope you have a strong stomach if you’re thinking of clicking on that link.) She was so much cooler when she was dating Jay Chou (周杰伦).
李宇春. Anyone living in China should know this face. She won the “Supergirl” singing contest last year. I’m not going to say anything bad about her ever again because her fans are crazy. They will crush me. You can find her on YouTube as well.
汤加丽. I don’t know anything about this woman and I’m too lazy to search. She’s only #4, after all. Judging by her photos on Baidu, though, I’m guessing she’s popular because she does nudes. (Sorry, guys, she’s not on YouTube.)
S.H.E. #5 is a trick, because it’s actually three girls. (No one ever said Baidu was smart.) This is a girl band you’re likely to know if you’ve lived in China any length of time. They’re well known for that Superstar song, and currently annoying everyone on the Shanghai subway as their cutesy girl antics are played on the video screens ad nauseum. Surprise, surprise… there are tons of their videos on YouTube.
张娜拉. I have no idea who this girl is, but I did just enough research to discover that she’s Korean, her “real name” is Jang Nara, and she’s on YouTube.
林志玲, who goes by the crazy moniker of Lin Chih Ling in Taiwan, seems to be unable to wear a bikini and stand up, causing her to just roll around on the ground in a giddy delirium. Those so inclined can do more research on this intriguing woman on YouTube.
张含韵. I once posted a video of hers on ChinesePod without even knowing her name for sure. Now I know her name, but still find myself distinctly apathetic about the details of this young woman’s life. She is #8. Run along to YouTube, lads. If her video for “ai ya ya” is any indication, she wants to cute you to death.
林心如. This Taiwanese actress has been popular for a while, it seems. I know she’s been trying to steal my roommate’s heart back away from Zhang Ziyi for some time, anyway. You can find her on TubeYou, or whatever that site was called.
张韶涵 is our #10. Knowing absolutely nothing about this girl, I can still tell you two things: (1) she is annoying, and (2) she is on YouTube.
OK, that’s Baidu’s top 10. The full list has 50. Some major differences between it and the women of the “50 most beautiful people list”:
1. Zhang Ziyi, #4 on “Most Beautiful” is #36 on Baidu’s list. OK, so Chinese guys like her a lot less than American guys, but they don’t hate her (unless maybe their girlfriends are around).
2. Zhang Manyu (Maggie Cheung), #1 on the “Most Beautiful” list, is #46 on Baidu’s list. (I’m guessing that’s because she’s old.)
3. Neither Li Bingbing nor Zhou Xun, placing #17 and #23 on “Most Beautiful,” respectively, place on Baidu. I found that kind of strange, because I thought they’re both somewhat popular still. (Too last year?)
4. Liu Yifei, #1 on Baidu’s list, placed 13 on the “Most Beautiful” list.
5. Lin Zhiling, Baidu’s #7, is #26 on the “Most Beautiful” list.
6. Shu Qi is #15 on the “Most Beautiful” list and #21 on Baidu’s list.
7. Wang Fei (Faye Wong) is #18 on both lists.
8. Zhang Baizhi (Cecilia Cheung), always popular, placed #13 on Baidu and #25 on the other.
I could go on and find some more overlap, but there’s not much point. A handful of stars aside, the lists are significantly different. It’s almost as if the young male crowd thronging to China’s internet cafes and using Baidu prefers young, pretty girls, regardless of talent!
What would you expect a store called “Three Guns” (三枪) to sell? If you guessed clothing, you guessed right! Just in case there’s any confusion as to what the name of the shop refers to (could it be some kind of literary reference or something?), the logo clears that up.
Still unsatisfied, I went inside and talked to one of the employees. “Why would a clothing store call itself ‘Three Guns?'” I asked. The employee kindly told me that the brand had a long history dating all the way back to before the Communist Revolution, and that the original founder had liked guns. So he named his clothing store “Three Guns.” The end.
We English speakers have at our disposal an astounding variety of racial slurs. I don’t need to give a list here; we all know it to be true. I think one of the most interesting slurs is “round-eye” because it seems to be invented by the very group of people to whom it refers.
It may be obvious to many Asians, but as a white American, I didn’t notice anything strange about the way the term is used until after living in China for some time. The truth is, I’ve never heard any Chinese (or Japanese) refer to whites or any non-Asians as “round-eyes,” in Chinese or any other language. At times non-Asians in China might get called hairy, simian, uncivilized, or even evil, but never round-eyed.
Asian eyes: not slanted
The reason for this is simple. While non-Asians often see Asian eyes as “slanted,” Asians do not see themselves that way. If you ask a Chinese person about the difference between Chinese and white people’s eyes, for instance, they will tell you that white people’s eyes are often blue, but Chinese eyes are “black.” In addition, white people’s eyes are usually much deeper set, and all seem to have the “double eyelids” that the Chinese find attractive. What they don’t say is that “their eyes are rounder than ours.”
I think it’s pretty obvious where this racial slur came from. The logic went something like this:
> Asians have slanted eyes, but we don’t. Asians’ most readily identifiable feature, to us, is their slanted eyes. So our most readily identifiable feature to them must be our non-slanted, or round, eyes. We can’t understand what they call us in their languages, but it’s gotta be round-eye!
The fact is that the Asians themselves just don’t see it that way. I’ll admit that I’m basing most of what I’m saying on my own personal experience in China, and to a lesser extent my experience in Japan. It’s possible that some groups of Asians use this term, maybe as a reaction to being called “slanty-eyed” by racists. However, I suspect that it is a wholly non-Asian invention, and that the most likely Asian groups to use it would be ones living as minorities in the West.
GigShanghai is a new website created to share the Shanghai music scene with the world. Created by Brad of ShanghaiStreets and Aric of ChinesePod, it provides regular audio content via podcast to give you an actual earful of what Shanghai live music venues have to offer. You can also stream the podcasts directly from the site.
I know both Brad and Aric personally, so I can tell you that this teamup has a lot of promise. Maybe they’ll even mention this website someday, when someone asks about when the Shanghai music scene started gathering steam for its eventual eclipse of Beijing’s. Check it out.
When the China Blog List got a redesign and its own domain, I added a list to the front page called “10 Best Blogs.” This name was somewhat misleading, because it was based on clicks to those blogs through the China Blog List. Later the name was changed to “10 Hottest Blogs,” which is much more accurate.
It soon became clear that the blog in the #1 “hottest blog” position was hard to dislodge. The #1 “hottest blog” gets the most clicks because it’s #1, which keeps it at #1. John B and I tried some ideas to make it fairer, and they have worked pretty well. Since then, several blogs have come and gone from the #1 position. I have noticed that the most influential factor as to what puts a blog in the #1 position is clearly the name.
The blog that started at #1 was the Shanghai Streets photo blog. It was there for a while while we tweaked the ranking algorithm. Pretty soon after a new blog called My Chinese Life rose quickly to the top. Apparently people liked the name. When John changed the name of his site, however, he quickly fell from #1 and was replaced by Chinese Chic. Ah, we all love alliteration.
Chinese Chic was #1 for a long time, but has finally been displaced. The new victor? Sex and Shanghai, the tales of a sex-hungry foreign guy. It rose to the top of the “hottest” list a mere two days after being added to the CBL. I have a feeling this one is going to be hard to dislodge.
The moral here? If you’re looking for traffic for your blog (from the CBL, at least), the name matters a lot.