personal


16

Jul 2006

Dongbei Bluntness

I have mentioned before that my ayi Xiao Wang is from Dongbei (东北, China’s northeast). I like her a lot, and perhaps one of the reasons is her impressive capacity for bluntness.

A while ago I was setting up an electric fan for her so she wouldn’t be so hot when she’s cooking in the kitchen. At first I thought it was broken, because when I pressed any of the buttons from speed 1 to 3, nothing happened. It was definitely plugged in securely in a good socket. What I forgot about was that some of these fans have a “oscillation” dial that controls degree of oscillation, but it can also be set to “off.” This means that there are two places the fan can be set to off, and if either are set to off, the fan stays off.

A little while after I incorrectly concluded the fan was broken, Xiao Wang realized the problem and got the fan working. I asked her what the problem had been. She responded, “You were so stupid! It was turned off on the direction dial.” Ah, thanks Xiao Wang. Always the charmer.

Then when Mark visited recently, she gave him a little taste of her bluntness as well:

> Your Chinese isn’t that good…. I don’t completely understand what you’re trying to say. Can people understand you in Taiwan? [source]

I can attest to the fact that Mark’s Chinese is not bad at all. Likely the main problem was Xiao Wang is not used to a variety of accents (especially foreign ones).

There was one other incident that made me feel really bad. Xiao Wang bought a bag of fresh peaches for us. She bought them on a Thursday and left them on the kitchen counter. She doesn’t come for most of the weekend, and I happened to be super busy that weekend, so I totally forgot about them. When she showed up the next Sunday she discovered most of them had spoiled. She made a big fuss about how I had needlessly let good peaches go to waste, and she had bought them as a gift for us with her own money (this I didn’t realize) for 10 RMB. She made it very clear that she was upset. I apologized profusely and ate some peaches right away from the parts that hadn’t spoiled.

Xiao Wang is a good lady, but she’s blunt to the core. Gotta love her.


15

Jul 2006

Sexy Beijing Does English Names

I’ve mentioned Danwei TV on my blog before, but I think it’s about time I devoted a post to its praise. I liked some of the earlier episodes, but with the arrival of the extremely entertaining Sexy Beijing hosted by 苏菲, the Danwei team has really raised the bar. The show’s parodying of Sex and the City–from the name to the appearance of the host to the “typing on the computer” bedroom scenes–is not so subtle, and it works beautifully. This is what good alternative media looks like, people.

In the latest episode Sexy Beijing tackles a topic that many China bloggers have covered before: Chinese people’s crazy English names. (Read my Name Nazi post for my stance on this.) The way this episode is done really breathes new life into the issue.

Don’t miss the debut episode of Sexy Beijing called Looking for Double Happiness.


14

Jul 2006

Lanzhou, Lanzhou, Lanzhou

I’m going to steal from Talk Talk China‘s comments section again. This time it’s a comment from Kimmor in a hilarious (but apparently earnest) description of the Chinese city of Lanzhou. I found this interesting because I was just talking with a Chinese co-worker from Gansu about Lanzhou (and yes, its noodles) the other day.

> Lanzhou, Lanzhou, Lanzhou. Was there for two weeks. When I returned to Guangzhou I deposited the suitcase (contents included) that I had taken with me into the dumpster before I even put the key into my apartment door. I remember thinking the day I arrived, “Wow, people here really like brown clothes.” Two days later I had joined the ranks of those sporting the brown from head to toe look. Imagine the duststorm we had this April in BJ. Now imagine it every day. Now imagine it an even more flourescent shade of yellow. Welcome to Lanzhou. Nothing redeeming about this city at all. No need to bring up the obvious, “What about the famous Lanzhou beef noodles???” They are great, ANYWHERE but Lanzhou. To eat beef noodles in Lanzhou involves opening your mouth. Opening your mouth in Lanzhou involves inhaling even more ochre-tinted-sulfuric kryptonite dust. Believe me, the Lanzhou beef noodles in your town are much better, even if your town is Wuhan. Wuhan is just like the Pittsburgh (US) of China. Lanzhou is like the…well, like the inside of your hepa-filter vacuum cleaner of China. I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing extended stays in many of China’s “second tier” cities. I do really like China and always manage to find interesting things to see, do, buy or eat wherever I go, but Lanzhou gets the big N-O.

I might have to visit Lanzhou now just to verify this account…


Related: a similarly enthusaistic account of Zhuhai


13

Jul 2006

ChinesePod Likes Coffee

ChinesePod seriously likes coffee. Since ChinesePod HQ is just down the street from Shanghai’s pseudo-historic, gloriously capitalist Xintiandi, the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf there has been chosen for ChinesePod’s first ever “Mandarin Clinic” (I asked, and sorry, no, there are no nurses involved). It’s this Saturday (July 15) from 1pm to 4pm. I’ll be there helping out if you want to come heckle me.


11

Jul 2006

Good People at Bad Times

It’s something that’s pretty self-evident, but foreigners living in China easily forget: sometimes when you catch good people at bad times, they come across as quite rude. The sad truth is that when this happens to a foreigner in China, it’s all too easy for the foreigner to mentally toss it into the “Chinese people have no manners” file as further evidence. Chalking up each incident as proof of a generalization applied to the whole population requires less mental effort–and most of all, less tolerance–than remembering that Chinese people have bad days too.

I give you an example. The other day I bought a few items at the local convenience store. It was around dinner time and the store was pretty busy, so there were people in line ahead of me, and by the time it was my turn to pay there were people in line behind me. The middle-aged lady at the register was not one of the three familiar faces I knew, so I figured she was a new hire.

My total came to 30.9 RMB. I gave the lady a 100 RMB bill and the 0.9 in exact change. She made a very irritated face and said to me, “don’t you have smaller change?” (A side note here: not having small change is one of the greatest consumer crimes one can commit in China, and will frequently invoke the ire of the cash handler.)

I told her no, I didn’t have change. Giving her the 0.9 in change was the best I could do. Muttering in Shanghainese under her breath, she pulled out the nearly empty change drawer tray and picked up a stack of bills from underneath. She removed a 20 and a 10 from the stack, slapped the rest of the bills on the counter, and proceeded to ignore me.

Had I been a little quicker, I would have realized that the stack she had pulled out was worth 100 RMB, so the stack on the counter was worth exactly 70 RMB in 10s and 5s. But she didn’t say anything to me and I wasn’t especially quick at that moment, so I asked her, “what does this mean?” (but I didn’t say it in a rude tone).

She then snapped at me, “you didn’t have any small change, so that’s what you get!” I took my stack of small bills and left.

Two days later I returned to the same convenience store, and my new friend was on the register again. It was sort of late, and there was only one other customer in the store, just browsing.

My total came to 13 RMB and change. I slapped down three 5 RMB bills and joked with her, “I’m returning some of those 5s you gave me the other night.”

She remembered me and knew what I was referring to, but rather than smiling at my joke, she proceeded to apologize profusely for that incident, telling me that it had been very busy, and she had no other change, and that she really hoped I understood. I told her it was not a problem.

Leaving the store, I realized that if I hadn’t made my pointless little joke about returning the 5s to her, I would have always considered that woman a cranky bitch. But through that little exchange, my view of her had changed.

Sure, assholes exist too, but we also catch good people at bad times every day. Sometimes it’s our first impression of a person, and sometimes it’s the only time we’ll ever meet that person in our lifetime. China is no different from the rest of the world in that respect.


Related posts:

No, I do not have change. (Talk Talk China)
Overcome by Friendliness (Weifang Radish)
Taxi Incident (Sinosplice – wherein I commit the same mistake that I accuse foreigners of in this entry)


10

Jul 2006

How to Spot a Jap

How to Spot a Jap

Chinese and Japanese faces

In 1942 the US War Department produced a Pocket Guide to China, which includes a comic book-like section titled How to Spot a Jap. The goal of the section is to teach American soldiers how to differentiate the Chinese from the Japanese. It covers differences in the face, feet, stride, and pronunciation of English. (Do any veterans out there remember this thing?)

I found How to Spot a Jap a fascinating little piece of wartime memorabilia. Go on and “nostalge” about the US’s racist wartime policies. (It sure is a good thing that’s all a thing of the past, right?)


08

Jul 2006

Singing Migrant Children Need English

I recently got this e-mail:

> As you probably know, I’ve spent much of my year teaching a choir made up of migrant children. As you probably know, migrant children are among the poorest in the city. They aren’t allowed into public schools so their families have to pay double the tuition of a public school to send their kids to poor quality schools created specifically for migrant children. The Shanghai Migrant Children’s Choir has performed in four concerts, including a concert with 5 time grammy award winning artist Steven Curtis Chapman, and the choir has been featured in over 12 TV and newspaper publications in China. Now, a friend of mine and I are starting a music school so that these children have a permanent place to learn music. We would also like to give the children a place study after school and attend free tutoring lessons.

> Because the migrant school that these children used to attend was in such poor shape, we’ve coerced the local government to allow our choir kids into public school. They say that they will let the kids into public school ONLY if the students’ English skills are up to par. So, right now, our most immediate need is an English tutor. We need a college-age native English speaker to come to our school once or twice a week for the month of August to tutor 26 migrant children. The tutor will have a native Chinese speaker assistant from Fudan who can assist the tutor. The school is located 5 minutes away from Fudan University in Jiangwan district. All transportation costs will be covered.

If you are interested, please e-mail me and I will give you the necessary contact info.


06

Jul 2006

Tranciest Waterworks Site Ever

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?

Good news. Your search is over. (上海市自来水市南有限公司)


04

Jul 2006

Chinese Exams Are Not Fun

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.


01

Jul 2006

Hao Hao Report, Taiwan Blog Feed

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.


The Chaos Run

27

Jun 2006

The Chaos Run

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

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!


25

Jun 2006

Jacob's Creek

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.


23

Jun 2006

Blog Awards and Danwei

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.

And finally, I just have to comment on Jeremy’s post on Danwei:

> 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.


22

Jun 2006

Mother-Daughter Chitchat

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.

It’s more than just the food….


20

Jun 2006

Freakonomics in Chinese

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.

Freakonomics: 魔鬼经济学 (cover)     Freakonomics: 魔鬼经济学 (back)

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?


19

Jun 2006

End of Semester Vacuum

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.


17

Jun 2006

Shanghai Carrefour Showcase

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.

Carrefour 01    Carrefour 02    Carrefour 03    Carrefour 04

Carrefour 05    Carrefour 06    Carrefour 07    Carrefour 08

Highlights:

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.


16

Jun 2006

Two Minor Disappointments

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.

Hello Pizza Feast

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.


12

Jun 2006

China: Alternative Film Showcase

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.



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