May 2006

GigShanghai has launched

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.


May 2006

Earning Love

> “How do you say 赚钱 in English?”

> “‘Earn money.’ You could also say ‘make money.'”

> “‘Earn money’ is the same as ‘make money?'”

> “That’s right.”

> She thought about it for a second, and then: “so then can you also say ‘earn love?'”

Simple logic, when applied to language, can lead to very frightening conclusions.


May 2006

The Importance of a Name

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.


May 2006

Volunteering to Teach in China

Do you know anyone who has “volunteered” in China? Volunteers are often good, selfless people, but I can’t help but see most volunteers in China as suckers. I’ve just seen a little too much about the way it usually works here.

There are tons of “programs” that, for a fee, help you find work teaching English in China. These programs make deals with schools–either directly or through intermediaries–to provide English teachers. They charge both the teachers and the schools as much as they can get away with, pay the teachers an extremely modest salary, and end up making a very nice little profit on the deal. If their teachers are volunteers, it’s just all the more profit for them.

Too often, the teachers are new to China and very naive. They realize their pay is very low, but they explain it with, “China is very poor.” After living in China for about a year, they often learn that the local director for their program drives a BMW, that other English teachers make about three times what they do for the same work, and that their students are no more disadvantaged than most kids in China.

Now obviously, the respectability of different programs will vary. I’m sure some of them have admirable goals. But if the organization uses any kind of local “middle man” to find its schools, some kind of funny business is almost a sure thing. The English teaching business attracts quite a few unscrupulous individuals.

I shouldn’t pretend to know too much about how these organizations work, but I do know enough to recommend this: if you’re looking into any kind of volunteering program in China, be very, very wary. The primary beneficiaries of your good heart and hard work might not be who you think.


May 2006

Sci-Fi Titles in Chinese

Busy with work and classes, I don’t have a lot of time for pleasure reading, but I manage to read a bit here and there. Lately I’ve been on this extended classic sci-fi novel kick. I’m almost through the entire Foundation series by Isaac Asimov, and I’m currently reading Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein (1961). Since these are classics, they have all been translated into Chinese already, as our friend Joel Martinsen reminds us on Danwei.

I’m not really very interested in reading these novels in Chinese, but I’d be interested in discussing them with Chinese people, so I thought it would be a good idea to learn these books’ titles in Chinese so that I at least would have a starting point for my nerdy wild goose chase of trying to find Chinese people who have read them. Some of the titles are interesting.

First is Stranger in a Strange Land. I think this is a cool title in English, and interesting that it comes from the Bible:

> And she bare him a son, and he called his name Gershom: for he said, I have been a stranger in a strange land. (Exodus 2:22)

The Chinese name of Stranger in a Strange Land is 《异乡异客》. When I first saw this name I parsed it as four parts, literally meaning “strange country, strange guest.” But it can be taken as two parts, meaning “alien land, stranger” (Wenlin’s translation). This strikes me as a very nice translation. But does it keep any of that Biblical reference? I was curious.

The original “stranger in a strange land” quote comes from the King James Version. In the New American Standard Bible, for example, the quote becomes:

> Then she gave birth to a son, and he named him Gershom, for he said, “I have been a sojourner in a foreign land.” (Exodus 2:22)

(Yeah, not quite as catchy.) So I didn’t think there was much hope of the Chinese book title matching the Chinese Bible verse, but I thought I’d check anyway. I checked two different online Bible versions. Results:

> 西坡拉生了一个儿子,摩西给他起名叫革舜,意思说,因我在外邦作了寄居的。 (出埃及记 2:22, source)

> 她生了一个儿子,梅瑟给他起名叫革尔熊,因为他说:「我在外方作了旅客。」 (出谷纪 2:22, source)

Not even close. That satisfied my curiosity. I still like the name 《异乡异客》 anyway.

The other translation I was interested in was the name of the Foundation series. I kind of suspected what it would be, but I hoped it would surprise me with something cleverer. Nope. The Chinese translation is 《基地》 (literally, “base”).

Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems to me that this translation falls a bit short. The whole premise of the “Foundation” is that it is an organization that will become the foundation of the new galactic empire. Yes, the Foundation starts out as a base on a planet, but by giving the Foundation the Chinese name 基地, you’re just calling it “base,” and without the abstract, far-reaching implications. (The abstract meaning of “base” is a separate word in Chinese–基础–which can also be translated as “foundation” but would never work as a book/series title… It would be like calling the series “Basis.”)

OK, so I can’t think of anything better, but “Base” is just lame. Boo, translators. Hiss.

Also, what’s up with translating Brave New World as 《美丽新世界》 (literally, “Beautiful New World”)?

At least no one tried any funny business with the translation of 1984 (《一九八四》).


May 2006

Center of Civilization

“The back of your head is so round. Ours aren’t, you know. Ours are usually pretty flat in back. You foreigners have sort of a weird bulge back there.”

“Yeah, I know. That’s where we keep our abilities to form lines, obey traffic rules, and not spit everywhere.”

She promptly socked me.


May 2006

Violet Eclipse

I remember when writing a blog about teaching English in China was a new idea. Blogging itself was new back then. We felt that people in the States needed to know about the Chinese hellos and the crazy food and the linguistic torture. Nowadays, though, there is no shortage of this type of blog. As lone administrator of the China Blog List, I see quite a few. I certainly have nothing against them, but after seeing so many, I start to lose interest.

Until now! One of the newest additions to the CBL has me rediscovering China all over again from Shandong, and starting all over with the language as well. Meg at Violet Eclipse writes with enough charm and good humor to make me ashamed of the dry, linguisticky discourse that passes for blog entries these days on Sinosplice.

She shares lots of the everyday:

> Fresca and I wandered in to a Qingdao street market as part of our ongoing quest to try all the barbarqued tofu in Shandong. We bought scallion bread and rice dumplings and strawberries, which was a lot harder than in sounds. First, because we can’t understand what they’re saying with Qingdao accents. Even when we use the Chinese handsigns for what we want and how many we want, the vendors seem to interpret “2 dumplings” as “Please call the rest of your family over to see the Americans. Really. And touch my hair, I love that.”

And even the occasional “romantic” story:

> The shopkeeper called over an interpreter from another shop, a younger man who said he speaks English. He speaks English the way some of us can remember a bit of bit of our high-school French or Spanish, only his high-school English teacher was not only not a native speaker, but had probably never met a native speaker. Anyway, he was able to ask us questions as long as we wrote down the answers in block letters. The two men were shocked to find out how old we are, and then the interpreter started to practice his next question.

> “Marry. Marry? Marriaige? Marring? Marry?” he says to himself. Just when we think he’s going to propose, he asks us if we’re married.

So check out Violet Eclipse, the best of its kind since*

* You know you’re old skool if you get that reference.


May 2006

Craisins for China

If you’ve never had to buy presents in the USA to bring back to Chinese friends, you probably don’t understand how hard it is. Nearly everything is made in China these days, and quite often those same products are sold in China as well. Quite a few times I’ve bought presents in the USA thinking, “you can’t buy this in China,” only to discover upon presentation of the gift that it is, in fact, available in China. In Shanghai, the issue is even worse. Furthermore, a lot of things that you can’t buy in China the Chinese don’t want (think: most American candy).

Since bringing back gifts is a non-negligible part of Chinese culture, this creates a major problem: what presents do you buy for the Chinese when visiting the USA?

I recently mentioned that I had found a good present to bring back from the USA and give to Chinese friends. Don’t expect it to revolutionize West-East gift-giving; it’s only a minor item. But it seems to have gone over well. I brought back packs of Craisins.

Craisins make a good present for several reasons:

1. If you can even get them in China, they’re certainly not widely available. I’ve never seen them here.

2. The Chinese typically don’t know what cranberries are, and often have never heard their Chinese name before (蔓越莓), giving them a sort of exotic quality. Some Chinese have heard about them (particularly in association with American Thanksgiving), but few have tried them.

3. You can’t bring fresh fruit through customs, but no one wants to eat fresh cranberries anyway. So dried, sweetened, and packaged is good.

4. The dried, sweetened fruit thing is very similar to a lot of Chinese snacks, so they’re easier for the typical Chinese person to accept. (Many foreign foods aren’t.)

Craisins have a special meaning for me as a linguistics student as well:

1. The name “Craisins” is a good example of a blend (cranberry + raisin).

2. Leonard Bloomfield, key contributor to structural linguistics, uses the “cran-” in “cranberry” in discussions of morphology as a (now classic) example of a bound morpheme that exists in only one lexeme (although this status is possibly changing, thanks to modern marketing). The “cranberry” example is often cited by Chinese linguistics professors (I have heard it many times already) even though most of them are not exactly sure what a cranberry is.

Thus I was able to present Craisins to my linguistics professors and classmates as a “souvenir with linguistic characteristics.”

Most importantly, they ate them all up. Nothing says “I’m not just being polite” like devouring the entire bag.


May 2006

Spammers, You Flatter Me

Some of what I write attracts criticism, and even the occasional hateful comment. It’s nice to see compliments every now and then. What’s not nice is that these days the vast majority of my admirers are spammers. Scrolling through my blog’s collected spam I see the following:

– Excellent site, added to favorites!!
– This is a great site. Not everyone has to agree but I sure do. Can’t wait for some more posts.Keep it real.
– Best site I see. Thanks.
– Your site is very cognitive. I think you will have good future.:)
– So interesting site, thanks!
– HI! I love this place!
– I’m really impressed!
– Your home page its great
– Great website! Bookmarked! I am impressed at your work!
– I like your site

So if you’ve got a blog, my advice to you is: beware the flatterers.


May 2006

Looking back on the visit

I have just returned from yet another visit home. I no longer have many reverse culture shock experiences (e.g. the cliché “Americans are so fat” one), but I notice lots of little things. This is how I measure the growing disconnect between modern American culture and me. Here are some of my observations from my last visit:

– Having lived in China for so long, I no longer like sweets as much as I used to. I find myself somewhat repulsed by the ubiquitous sugary goodies, and I have to carefully space the ones I want to enjoy if I want to stomach them.

– I no longer want pizza when I go home. Between Papa John’s, Hello Pizza, and New York Pizza (Jing An Temple), I’ve got all my pizza needs covered in Shanghai, with a satisfactory array of styles and prices. The same goes for pretty much all fast food.

– I have zero interest in American TV anymore. Anything that’s good will come to China on DVD. (Same goes for movies, unless there’s something really new that I want to see.)

– My parents’ ADSL connection was often slower than my connection in Shanghai. I know it’s partly because my parents’ connection isn’t very good, but still… how sad.

– White girls get hotter every time I go home. (Also Hispanic girls, black girls, etc.)

– Life is hard without an ayi. (Oh, China, you have spoiled me rotten.)

– Americans complain about the cost of real estate, but many homes in Florida are actually cheaper than homes in Shanghai.

– The last couple days of my visits are always characterized by frantic shopping trips for friends in China. I’m getting better at remembering all the people I should shop for, and even getting better at figuring out good presents to buy. (More on this soon.)

While I was home, I pretty much only heard mainstream music. Two songs stood out: Ridin’ by Chamillionaire (what a stupid name, but I can’t help loving this song) and SOS by Rihanna (good use of the Tainted Love beat). And what do you know… both can be found through Baidu (here’s how).


May 2006

Zhang Ziyi in TV Commericals

Zhang Ziyi on Flickr

Zhang Ziyi

If you do search for Zhang Ziyi on Youtube, you’ll find quite a few commercials. As I see it, this is good for Ziyi fans as well as those interested in either learning Chinese or seeing Chinese commercials. (Unfortunately, some have no audio.)

Here are some of the commercials featuring Zhang Ziyi to be found on Youtube:

Coca-Cola (1)
Coca-Cola (2)
Lenovo computers (1)
Lenovo computers (2)
Maybelline (1)
Maybelline (2)
Pantene (1)
Pantene (2)
Visa (feat. furious kung fu action)
Visa (feat. Pierce Brosnan)
Bottled water (Korean)
Asience (hair care)

I’m not a huge fan of Zhang Ziyi, but while looking through YouTube for a ChinesePod blog post I found so many commercials featuring her that I thought it was worth mentioning.


May 2006

The Experts

An entry on The 88s entitled America’s China “Experts” has asked:

> Just who are America’s China “experts?” And the question we all really want answered: do any of them actually speak Chinese?

To my dismay, the second question (emphasis mine) was not answered, but it’s an interesting list nonetheless. Well, interesting to me personally in that after some consideration I found that I really didn’t care who most of those people were. But maybe I should? Maybe you could convince me to care? Maybe.

I’ll never be a sinologist.


May 2006

Stand Up Comedy

While home my sister took me to see some stand up comedy here in Tampa. Two of the comedians were John Heffron and Tracy Ashley. We had a good time. The next day I was talking to my girlfriend on the phone, telling her what I’d been doing, and I wanted to tell her that I went to see stand up comedy. But I completely did not know how to say “stand up comedy!” I went into a long-winded description of the event which left me completely convinced: I need to know how to say stand up comedy in Chinese!

Shortly thereafter, I was chatting with Brendan online, and I asked him if he knew. Big xiangsheng fan that he is, his response was “单口相声” (one-man xiangsheng). That was a clever way of putting it, and probably pretty easily understood by the Chinese.

I later did a proper Google search and turned up 现场喜剧 (live comedy), which often had 表演 (performance) tacked onto the end. You can find such a usage on the Chinese version of the Wikipedia entry for David Letterman. (That source strikes me as a particularly good example of the surreal beauty of the internet.) I have my doubts as to whether 现场喜剧 can be readily understood by most Chinese as “stand up” without further elaboration, though.

I was actually reminded of China a bit as I listened to Tracy Ashley’s act. She was talking about her experience being black in Minnesota. (Apparently there are not many black people there.) Her description of the awkwardly enthusiastic greetings between black people in Minnesota that don’t even know each other made me think of foreigners in small-town China. (OK, the parallel doesn’t go too far, and then there’s also Marco Polo Syndrome, whose likelihood is directly proportional to the size of the Chinese city….)

All this entry illustrates–if anything–is that when you bring stand up comedy together with Chinese culture, it’s a little awkward.

This is dedicated to my commenters that hate my professor because he discusses his quirky off-topic theories in class.


May 2006

History as the Final Judge

This is part three of my professor’s lecture on speech acts. This part is even more of a digression than the thoughts on race and “the weak,” but it’s related to the Confucian quote, and, more specifically, ideas about history.

My professor was saying that he thought that social order required there to be a “final judge” (最后审判者). For the West, that “final judge” has been the Judeo-Christian God and the accompanying system of morality. However, China’s “final judge,” my professor argued, was certainly not religious in nature. So what was it?

According to him, through the ages the Chinese have feared not the judgment of some god or moral system, but rather history. He felt that for China, history is the final judge.

What did China’s emperors have to fear? Certainly not the wrath of anything divine. The only thing they feared was how historians recorded them.

Similarly, parents toil their entire lifetimes because their vision is firmly locked on the future. Their children will have better lives, and they are willing to accept a role in the history of that better future.

I’m not going to write too much about this… This is the kind of thing that doesn’t get written down in my notebook (since it’s almost completely irrelevant to speech acts), but it certainly captures my attention and imagination a bit more.


Apr 2006

Liking Google Calendar

I just started using Google Calendar, and I’m liking it. Previous calendar apps had never had quite enough to hook me, but I think Google has finally done it. It also helps that my ChinesePod co-workers are using it. Micah is too, and maybe Brad and John B will too?

Here are some tips to get you Shanghai dwellers started:

1. Obviously you need to go to Google Calendar and open an account first.

2. In the left sidebar you’ll see a Calendars box. Click on the plus sign to the right of “Other Calendars.” Now you’ll be on the Add Other Calendars screen. Click on “Holiday Calendars.” On this screen I added “US Holidays,” “China Holidays,” and “Christian Holidays.” Add whatever you want, then click OK.

3. Now I want some Shanghai events. Go to the Shanghai page and click on “Subscribe…” then copy the iCal link for the Shanghai events (or you can obviously just copy it from here). Now go back to Google Calendar’s Add Other Calendars screen. This time click on “Public Calendar Address” and paste in the Shanghai events iCal link. Click Add and then OK. (After you do that, you will probably want to change the display name. Do that by clicking on the little arrow tab to the right of it in the Calendars box, then clicking on “Calendar Settings” and editing “Calendar Name.”)

4. Now go back to your Google Calendar and you should see a lot more events on there now. You’ve got tons of Shanghai events, Chinese holidays, and holidays from your own country. Note that your calendar can never get “too cluttered” because you can toggle each separate calendar’s visibility by checking or unchecking the individual calendars in the Calendars box in the sidebar.

5. You probably want to create your own personal events, but don’t forget that you can divide your own events into separate calendars too. For example, I have one for my classes, one for work, one for personal stuff, and one for birthdays. That toggle visibility thing really comes in handy. Don’t forget you can change the colors too.

I’m still just discovering the genius of this thing…


Apr 2006

Successful Beer Bartering


satellite dish = beer

Thanks to Dan of Shanghaiist who spread word of my “satellite TV for beer” deal, yesterday I successfully traded a satellite dish with box for 4 cases (96 bottles) of Sol beer. Lenny and John B can verify that the Sol is much tastier than the satellite dish could ever be. Thanks also to Peter for his generous bid.

I’m leaving for the States tomorrow for a two week visit. Will there be any beer left when I get back? Hmmm…

This visit home is a first in a way because of the awesome deal I got on my plane ticket. It’s the first time I have paid less than 8000 rmb for a round-trip plane ticket to Tampa–I only paid 5600 rmb! It’s also the first time I’ll have less than two connecting flights. This is the simplest (best) route I’ve ever taken: Shanghai – Chicago – Tampa. The American Airlines direct flight from Shanghai to Chicago just started.

Anyway, if posts are light, it’s because I’m busy trying to gain 10 pounds in 2 weeks.


Apr 2006

Visual Learners in China

I am a visual learner. I want to see new words written down. I like to see concepts diagrammed. I understand more easily and remember much better that which I see.

So far, this seems like a handicap for me at ECNU. With only one exception, none of my classes this academic year have made much use of visual aids. (And when I say “visual aid,” I use such a loose definition as to include just writing anything on the board.) This semester has been especially bad in this respect, with three classes where the professor typically just sits there and talks the entire time, never going near the board. This wouldn’t be so bad if the professor were lecturing on some sort of material we had already read about beforehand, but for those classes the material all comes straight from the professor (although there are some recommended texts). So most of the time, class content is 100% aural.

The one class where the teacher consistently uses the blackboard is an undergrad class on Modern Chinese I am auditing to get extra credits. That class is so hugely different from my graduate courses it’s almost laughable, but it should be easier–it’s a core undergrad course. We have one set text, and the teacher goes straight through it. Much of what the teacher writes on the board is in the book anyway. When the teacher writes on the board, he writes in extremely neat, clear handwriting. (One of my professors has handwriting so bad it gives me nightmares.) Is this undergraduate class representative?

It’s my first time in graduate school anywhere, so in all honesty I’m not sure exactly what to expect. As a graduate student, I don’t expect content to be spoon-fed to me as if I were still an undergrad. It just seems like there should be some visual content in my graduate classes. I’ve heard rumors of PowerPoint, but have never seen it in any of my classes.

So all this leads me to wonder… are visual aids just for babies undergrads (in China)? Does China’s system of higher education possibly favor those who are not visual learners?

Never having been a graduate student anywhere else or an undergraduate student in China, these are questions I cannot answer on my own.


Apr 2006

Satellite TV for Beer

Do you live in Shanghai? Do you want satellite TV? Well, here’s your chance to get a satellite dish with the box. All you have to do is come over and pick it up. But you have to leave beer.

The satellite dish and box once belonged to a co-worker of my roommate Lenny. The guy left Shanghai, and left his working satellite dish and box with Lenny. The thing is, neither Lenny nor I watch much TV, so neither of us is interested in installing it or dealing with the descrambling card hassle.

But if you like satellite TV and you have some beer to donate, this is your lucky day.

Here’s the deal: e-mail me before Friday night telling me the type and quantity of beer you want to offer us for the satellite dish (please don’t let it be Bud), along with your contact info. Whoever makes us the best offer gets to come and pick it up on Saturday.

Sorry, no pic… but I won’t demand a picture of the beer either.


Apr 2006

April Chinese Links

The links have been piling up lately, and I thought I’d share a few related to China and studying Chinese.

1. Slate seems to think ChinesePod is pretty damn cool: Learning to Flirt in Chinese. Slate doesn’t really mention anything academic, but I’m working on that.

2. ChinesePod is not the only Chinese podcast game in town… there’s also Mandarin Chinese with Serge Melnyk. You compare.

3. A list of “Core Simplified Characters.” Great reference for anyone who’s trying to learn traditional after learning simplified or vice versa.

4. You’ve probably seen Pīnyī, but have you seen the blog Pīnyīn News? Good stuff.

5. Sinosplice commenter Annie has also put together a 4 Part Pinyin Tutorial. Each part has an instructional MP3, a text in PDF format, and a drill MP3. Also check out Pinyin Practice, which offers lots of online drills.

6. The Ohio5 ViewPoints Series will give beginners practice listening to Chinese through Quicktime video clips. Actually seeing the various speakers’ faces as they talk helps.

7. Condensed China: Chinese History for Beginners. China does really need to cut down on its history.

8. The most common Chinese characters in order of frequency. More than just a list, it actually gives character readings, meanings, and examples.

9. Just in case you ever need a list of 10-500 random Chinese names in traditional characters, there’s the Chinese Name Generator. Oh, but they all have three characters, and it won’t tell you how to pronounce them or what they mean. I can’t think of any possible use for this thing (except for maybe adding fake Chinese names to the credits of your homemade kung fu movie?), but there it is. (Also, don’t miss the pseudonym generator or the lucky company name generator.)

10. The zdt (Zhongwen Development Tool) is an easy to use, open-source Mandarin Chinese flashcard application. Supports simplified and traditional characters, lets you add characters as you browse, and has optional Adso database support (120,000 entries).

Many of these links were found through


Apr 2006

Happy Easter!

祝大家复活节快乐! (I wish you all a happy Easter!)


(Image found on Japancast.)

P.S. And a very happy birthday to a very special someone…

P.P.S. I don’t believe in any “war on Easter,” but as a Catholic I do believe that Easter is about the resurrection of Jesus and not chocolate bunnies. Still, I find this kind of thing funny.

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