I have this bad habit of randomly sampling Chinese Flash animations and games from time to time. Recently I found this trivia game called 百萬富翁遊戲：愛國版 (Millionaire Game: Patriot Edition). It’s got trivia questions mainly relating to the Opium War and Republican China. I have never been a very good student of history, so between my ignorance and the annoying traditional characters it took me a few tries to win the game. But now I feel confident enough to take on those Hong Kong primary schoolers!
The game kind of made me wonder about Hong Kong’s version of Chinese history. Both the PRC and RoC have ridiculously stilted versions of history. How is Hong Kong’s? Did it change a lot after 1997? I really have so little contact with Hong Kong.
OK, we all know how we are supposed to trim our toenails, right? Always straight across. eHow says:
> Cut toenails straight across and avoid cutting them too short; otherwise, you might get ingrown toenails (a condition in which edges of toenails push into the skin).
Just to make this absolutely clear, let me provide a visual aid:
Recently I went on a trip to Wuyuan with some other ECNU students, and I went to our hotel’s foot bath with a friend. At one point during the soaking/greasing/kneading process they asked if I wanted my toenails trimmed. I said sure. Why not?
It wasn’t until a few days later that I even noticed how they trimmed my big toenails:
I sure hope I don’t get ingrown toenails because of how those clowns trimbed my toenails! So if you ever get a foot bath in China, watch out.
[Incidentally, another thing I should warn you about is pictures of toenails. I used Google Image Search to search for toenails (and other variations), and I got quite a few eyefuls of some naaaasty stuff. Interestingly, when you search for toenails in Chinese on Baidu (脚趾甲), you get only pretty toenails, interspersed with hot chicks, puppies, sunsets, pandas, cherries, and other happy images. If this is the CCP’s vision of a cleaner internet, I think I like it. Anyway, that’s why I had to draw my own toenail images.]
It seems hard to believe, but bulk pricing is hard to find in China. When I had only been in China for about a year, I would typically have conversations like this with supermarket clerks:
> Me: How much for one?
> Clerk: 5 rmb.
> Me: OK, how about if I buy this 6-pack?
> Clerk: (looking at me like I’m a little slow) 30 rmb.
> Me: OK, then this whole case of 24?
> Clerk: (wondering what’s wrong with me) 120 rmb. Like I said, 5 rmb each!
Coming from such a hugely capitalist nation, it confuses me when I’m not constantly being goaded into consuming more, more, more. But finally I got it: China just doesn’t do bulk pricing in supermarkets.
Until recently! I saw this box of 蒙牛 (lit. “Mongolian Cow”) milk packets at the grocery store, and they were doing a special promotion: you buy the box of 8, and you get the one taped to the outside for free. Soon thereafter I began seeing this “buy 8 get 1 free” strategy everywhere (but only for milk).
But speaking of Mengniu, have you had this stuff? It is so good! I’m a milk drinker, so I can’t believe I lived in China so long before trying it. It’s so thick it puts American “whole milk” to shame. And then Mengniu chocolate milk… well, don’t even get me started. If you live in China and you drink 光明 (Bright), you’re totally missing out. (If you don’t want all that delicious milk fat, I guess maybe you want to be missing out, though…)
This is a picture of Kitano Takeshi (北野武), AKA “Beat Takeshi.” (I always find his Chinese name, Běiyě Wǔ, surreally different from his Japanese name.) My syntax teacher looks a lot like this guy, except for having smile lines around his eyes instead of Takeshi’s perpetual mask of indifference. They seem to share a love of the cigarette.
So sometimes when I’m listening to a lecture on Chinese syntax, my teacher’s visage sends my mind back to a scene in Hanabi, or images of a gangster hanging out with a little boy in Kikujiro. Except instead of spitting out tough guy talk, he’s outlining how the latest cognitive linguistics research affects our understanding of phrase structure. Then he cracks one of his bizarre jokes, and those smile lines seize his face once again, shattering the illusion completely.
I like my teacher, but I’m really not so into Chinese syntax theory. Somehow, though, Takeshi’s Chinese doppelganger helps get me through those classes.
ChinesePod has been generating buzz online for some time among those of us who are interested in new methods of studying Mandarin Chinese, and yet you haven’t heard a peep out of me about it (OK, maybe one peep). There’s a reason, so let me explain.
When I first discovered ChinesePod months ago, I thought, “that’s kinda cool, but a podcast a day? Let’s see how long they can keep that up.” Well, they did keep it up, and the buzz grew.
Then I got an offer to join the ChinesePod affiliate program (a form of advertising that pays only when people sign up). I was interested, but I also didn’t want to throw my support behind ChinesePod just yet. I already had Google ads in my archives, but because those are targeted to content, you’re not actually endorsing any particular product. With ChinesePod it would be different, so I wanted to be sure I really liked the product. I wasn’t personally interested in the content because the intermediate lessons were too easy and there were no advanced lessons then. I was a little too busy to check out the service at that point.
Well, at about the time ChinesePod started producing advanced lessons, they also contacted me and asked if I would be interested in working with them. It sounded like a cool opportunity, so I met up with ChinesePod for a chat. I was quickly sold.
The product as it stands now naturally has its shortcomings, but the team is well aware and is working hard to improve it. Virtually all my initial criticisms of the site are already being dealt with, and in fresh, innovative ways. Furthermore, the company is so open to criticism and feedback it’s scary. It even cares about theoretical linguistic foundations. I know I sound like a cheesey commercial, but the ChinesePod team and plan just impressed me that much.
Anyway, now that I have joined the ChinesePod team and will play a part in influencing its development, there’s no reason why I wouldn’t fully support it. It’s good stuff, and rapidly getting better.
Note that the Chinese Number Tool handles simplified, traditional, and even 大写. The tool can also optionally insert commas in the output. See Mark’s blog entry about it for further explanation. Nicely done, Mark!
The group of ECNU international students that went to Wuyuan last weekend was composed of undergrads and above (no language students). So that meant everyone could communicate in Chinese pretty well already. There was a whole busload of Korean students and half a bus of Japanese students, however, so you still heard a lot of Korean and Japanese on the trip.
It was nice hearing Japanese again (it’s been a while), and even nicer knowing I still understand it pretty easily. What was not so nice was discovering that when I speak it now, it requires much more effort than it used to.
I was talking about that with a new friend from Sri Lanka. He noticed I wasn’t talking to the Japanese students a whole lot and asked me why I didn’t make friends with them and practice more Japanese. I explained to him that after living in China for over 5 years, I have become extremely sensitive to the practice of using people for language practice. I refuse to use Japanese people for Japanese practice.
It’s sad, because thinking about it, I realize that I’m less friendly to those Japanese students because I don’t want to use them. I unintentionally pass up chances for friendship because of my strong aversion to the idea of “using” them.
[The antagonistic may now ask, “well why do you think it’s fine to use the Chinese but not the Japanese?” I’m going to pretty much ignore this question because I can see nothing wrong with sincerely engaging people in their native tongue in their own country, and never will.]
Obviously, the solution is to “lighten up” and just “be natural.” Why is that so hard? I honestly feel slightly socially scarred on this issue. I am trying to do something about it, though. I warmed up to some of the Japanese students by the end of the trip.
So in Jiangxi on the way back from Wuyuan our bus got stopped for 30-40 minutes at a toll booth. It turned out that a ways back our driver had hit a dog. He knew he had, but the dog had come out of nowhere, and it definitely didn’t make it. We kept going. The owner saw the bus hit his dog and took off after our bus on his motorbike. He caught up to us at the toll booth.
The owner demanded 500 rmb as compensation for the dog. Now, I love dogs, and my sympathies are with the owner, but 500 rmb is an outrageous amount. The dogs in the countryside are all mongrels that just roam around.
The owner’s motivations were clear. We wondered if he was even the owner. He might have just been a guy that saw the dog get hit. None of the dogs we saw in Jiangxi wore collars or anything. Some of my classmates were joking that maybe he raises dogs just to chuck them in front of out-of-town tourist buses.
The taxi driver and the dog owner argued for quite some time while we all sat in the bus. Eventually police came to mediate. In the end the driver had to pay 300 rmb.
I felt a little bad about assuming the guy was merely a blatant opportunist. Maybe the dog actually did mean a lot to him. But then as we pulled away I got a look at him. He had quite a grin on his face.
Back in my first year or two of teaching at ZUCC, there were several instances where I showed up to the classroom all prepared to teach “Spoken English” (invariably they were early morning classes), only to be stood up by the entire class. No one came. Why? It was their 春游–their yearly “Spring Outing.” The “class monitor” (班长) had neglected to inform me.
What are these “Spring Outings?” They’re a very Chinese way of enjoying life’s splendid reemergence in nature. They’re an opportunity for students to bond and further develop comraderie. They’re a means for Chinese citizens to rediscover the natural beauty of their motherland. But most importantly, they are a “get out of class free” card.
You see, when a Spring Outing comes up, all you have to do is tell the teacher “we have a Spring Outing,” and class is automatically canceled, no questions asked. Matters of curriculum are petty in comparison to this wondrous rite of Spring.
Well, this year, I finally get my turn. The international center of East China Normal University has arranged a Spring Outing for its foreign students: a three-day trip to Wuyuan (婺源), Jiangxi Province. It only costs 50 rmb per student–bus fare, hotel, and basic food included! I leave today at 7am and get back late Sunday. It might be an overly touristy experience, but at least I’ll get some time to meet some more people. Plus I haven’t gone on a trip in a while, and I’m overdue. I’ll probably pick up some tea for my girlfriend’s parents (I hear they like that). Anyway, all that is only secondary, because this time I’m getting out of class and going on a Spring Outing as payback. This time I’m… field tripping for vengeance!
The other video podcasts I discovered recently are by Ron Sims, a guy from Cleveland currently living in Fuzhou, China. His podcast series is up to three official episodes, and they’re not bad. So far there’s “the haircut” (can Chinese barbers cut black hair?), “street food” (he even eats stinky tofu on camera!), and the “breakdance show” (Ron was not impressed). Ron speaks Chinese, but the podcasts are mostly in English. I think he does a good job of providing a glimpse into life in China.
Ron’s videos are MP4s, so you may need either iTunes (which I hate) or a recent version of Quicktime to play them.
This semester all my classes are in classrooms with facilities that could be aptly described as “lacking.” Although there is no dearth of multimedia classrooms and many teachers regularly conduct class through PowerPoint presentations, some of my professors’ classrooms don’t even have blackboards. To make matters worse, the two most poorly equipped classrooms are the two with the professors that like to ramble.
Now, I don’t mean to say that these professors don’t come to class prepared. They both come well prepared with pages of material beautifully organized in outline form. I’ve even caught glimpses of those sheets, so I can confirm that the profs do really teach from their notes. The problem is that in the transition from the well-structured written outline to the teacher’s mouth, that precious order goes out the window.
My professors are forever making lists, but I can’t for the life of me figure out how to gather that information and properly organize it in my notes. I know for a fact that my classmates, while definitely faring better than I, struggle with this somewhat as well.
If I took my organizational cues solely from what my professors say (and especially what they don’t say), I would frequently end up with notes looking something like this:
It’s pretty maddening. It makes me wonder if I need to get a wider notebook. My classmates seem to be used to this. They frequently compare notes in the course of a lecture, and their combined brainpower is usually sufficient to reorganize the flow-of-consciousness delivery into something a little more disciplined.
I know for a fact that it’s not totally a listening comprehension issue on my part; in one lecture my classmates and I actually counted, and at various points throughout the lecture the professor said “第三个大问题” (“the third major issue”)–which should have corresponded to big Roman numeral three on the overall outline–three times!
The lesson here is that there are ways in which the Chinese educational system encourages critical thinking and independent analysis. I have seen it, and it’s not pretty.
The headlining band is The Subs, a punk band from Beijing. I’m glad that foreigner indie band Living Thin will also be playing (I’ve only seen them once before), and Slit is always interesting.
All you people who complain about Shanghai’s live music scene need to get out to this show! This is part of a constructive effort to build upon the scene. So I’ll be there, and I think Micah will be too. See you there!
Update: It was a great show! I think Brad broke the record for number of people packed into Shuffle for one event (90% of them foreign). My favorite performance was The Living Thin‘s. Congrats to Brad for doing such a good job on the first concert he organized.
On Tuesday I got a morning telephone call. I was still sleeping at the time, so what I was about to hear didn’t make much sense to me. I was told I was supposed to come pick up some information that I needed. “Who are you?” I asked. “This is the blah blah blah Center,” she told me. Never heard of it.
“What information is this?” I asked. “Why do I need it?”
“Have you bought stock?” she replied.
“Do you have insurance?”
“Well, then, you need this information on new financial regulations applying to your insurance. Please come to our office this afternoon at 3pm and pick it up. Don’t forget to bring your ID (身份证).”
I wrote down the address (some place in Xujiahui) and got the phone number. Then I forgot about it.
The next day the woman called back and asked why I hadn’t come and picked up the information. This time I was more awake, so I demanded more information. Who was this? Again, the blah blah blah Center. Meaningless. I decided to be a wuss and put my girlfriend on the phone to get to the bottom of it.
My girlfriend ascertained that the woman didn’t know what insurance I had or even what my name was, but still insisted that I needed the information. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t Chinese. My girlfriend asked why my insurance agent hadn’t notified me about this, and she was given some excuse. My girlfriend asked why it couldn’t be mailed or sent by courier. It just couldn’t. It all seemed veeeeerrry fishy.
I called my health insurance company (AIA), and my agent told me she didn’t know anything about this “financial information” I supposedly needed. She advised me to ignore this woman. She thought that if I went to the address they would probably try to sell me some kind of fake insurance.
Well, the conwoman called me again for the third time today, wanting to know why I still hadn’t picked up my “information.” Even though I wasn’t planning on going in, my girlfriend already told her yesterday that I’d pick it up tomorrow. Since I was now convinced that it was some kind of scam, I yelled at her and told her I knew it was a scam and to never call me again.
I’ve gotten very few telephone solicitations in China, let alone such a bold telephone scam. Does anyone have experience with this kind of thing?
I’d been telling my girlfriend that we’d do karaoke sometime soon ever since Valentine’s Day, and last night I finally made good on that promise. We showed up at “PartyWorld” (AKA 錢櫃) at 11:45pm, and, thrifty young souls that we are, waited around for fifteen minutes for the hourly rate to drop from 158rmb to 58rmb.
I, of course, abhor karaoke. I can’t sing, and I don’t particular enjoy proving that to the world, even when “the world” in Asian style karaoke means only the other people in the private karaoke box with you. My girlfriend is a good singer, though, and she doesn’t like much crappy pop, so I don’t mind going to karaoke with just her. She sings, I eat. (If drinking happens to be on the agenda, I sometimes end up singing.)
So I’ll just mention here a few songs I found noteworthy. Most of them are not new at all.
– 嘻唰唰 by 花儿乐队 (Flowers) (click for Baidu MP3 search). I’ve written about this poppy punky band before, but they’ve caught my attention again. The title of this song could be another entry in the onomatopeia vocabulary list, and the fun immaturity of the song reminds me of Leather Jacket by Screeching Weasel (but not nearly as punk). In keeping with the sound suggested by the song’s title, the band was dressed as window washers in the video. This song is currently one of the most popular titles at PartyWorld.
– 完美的一天 by 孙燕姿 (Stephanie Sun) (click for Baidu MP3 search). This song really reminded me of a lot of Japanese pop I’ve heard, maybe a little like something by Chara. I guess it’s largely the rhythm that makes it seem like a nice change from a lot of Chinese pop. The video also struck me as Japanese-esque, with the singer being pushed through a supermarket in a shopping cart, and later hanging out with a giant inflatable leaning Astro Boy on the beach.
– Phonebook by 林凡. 林凡 is a decent singer I guess. I wasn’t totally paying attention, but I think in this song she’s brooding about friends and lovers from the past, and she has found an old notebook with names and numbers of those people. The thing is, she calls this book a “phonebook.” So while she’s earnestly crooning about these former relationships, she suddenly busts out with the English line, “IT’S AN OLD PHONEBOOK” (which is in all caps on the screen, of course). So amidst all this mushy nostaglia, I get this image of an old phonebook like the one we used to keep next to the microwave in the kitchen shoved in my face. Awesome.
I’m still no fan of (sober) karaoke, but I gotta say, it’s a lot more tolerable when it’s just the two of us and I have some veto power. It was also a refreshing musical smack in the face, considering all I’ve been listening to for the past few days is I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning.
I first came to China when I was 22, and my metabolism was raging. I was one of those people that could eat anything, in any quantity, and remain skinny. Combined with the fact that I’m not a very picky eater, I had a grand time in my new environment. (Oil? What oil? That’s juice! [slurp!])
When I was 24 my metabolism finally decided to slow down from a full-on sprint to a slow jog. It took me some time to adapt my eating habits, so I chunked up a bit. It certainly didn’t help that I was living in a ZUCC teacher apartment, with an on-campus convenience store conveniently located right next door. Beer has never been much of a factor in my weight gain/loss, but the snack foods — like crazy Lays and anything by Glico — were plentiful, and my cupboard was always stocked. Not the healthiest.
After moving to Shanghai, supermarkets and convenience stores are nowhere near as convenient. Instead of being right downstairs, the nearest convenience store is a five minute walk away. That might not be far at all, but my laziness is almost always stronger than my attacks of the munchies (particularly in the winter). Furthermore, I don’t stock up because the supermarkets are 10-15 minute walks away–easily within walking distance. But walking to (and mainly from) the supermarket means you have to carry everything the whole way. I could take a cab back, but I’m too cheap. Consequently I buy significantly less on my trips there, especially when it comes to snack foods and drinks (which are always the heaviest).
So now when I find myself getting an attack of the munchies, I go into the kitchen and find… nothing. Leftovers from dinner in the fridge, and virtually nothing else. Drinks are generally limited to water and tea. I very rarely have food delivered because I’m cheap (Sherpa’s is expensive, dammit!) and impatient. I find myself considering raw spaghetti noodles as a snack, or speculating on how they would taste with barbecue sauce on them. I literally have nothing to snack on. Last time this happened I got so desperate I ate an orange. My snacking skills are totally slipping.
As a result, I’m pretty slim these days, even if I don’t get nearly as much exercise as I should. My weight sticks to around 200 lbs. (I’m 6’4″).
So there you have it: better health in Shanghai through laziness and cheapness.
People keep telling me they want to hear more about what it’s like to be a grad student in China. I promise I’ll say more in the future, but for now here’s my class schedule for this semester. At this point I haven’t even been to the first class yet for most of these classes, though, so I can’t comment on the content yet.
Modern Chinese 现代汉语
Studies in Pragmatics 语用学研究
Modern Chinese 现代汉语
Chinese Syntax 汉语语法学
Oh wait… I can comment on one thing. You’ll notice that one of my classes is “Modern Chinese,” which you might remember is what I was tested on to get into grad school in the first place. I got a B on that test. So why am I taking it again?
Well, because I don’t have to take the English or Chinese political theory classes, I have to make up the credits somehow. My advisor suggested I take the second semester of Modern Chinese in order to strengthen my understanding and get 4 credits pretty easily. I’m taking the “Studies in Pragmatics” course for the same reason. Both are in the college of Chinese as a Second Language (对外汉语), and since my advisor is a head honcho in that department, it’s easiest to arrange classes there. That’s OK, since my interests in applied linguistics lean heavily toward Chinese as a Second Language anyway.
The one downside is that the Modern Chinese class is an undergraduate course. I don’t mind taking class with the kiddies, but undergrad courses mean undergrad testing style: lots of memorization and written tests. All my other classes only require attendance and a final paper. Oh well. That I’ve learned that Modern Chinese stuff once before should make it easier. (And fortunately the prof said they’re not going to be covering much of the dreaded 修辞!)
I recently learned that a grad student at my university worked hard over the CNY vacation and earned 8000 rmb. That’s about US$1000. That might not seem like a lot if you don’t live in China, but that is quite an impressive sum for a college student to earn in two months. To put it in perspective, my university teaching job in Hangzhou got me only 3000 rmb per month to start. Many Chinese laborers earn less than 1000 rmb per month.
The student earned the money as a Chinese tutor. The going rate in Shanghai for grad student tutors is 50 rmb per hour. That means she put in 160 hours of teaching during her vacation.
She earned the money not because she really needs it (although she has supported herself through her entire college education–something which very few Chinese college students do). Here’s the kicker: she worked so hard to earn money so that she could send her parents on a nice vacation. She just really wanted to do that for them.
This kind of thing blows me away. Even a Chinese friend of mine marveled at her behavior, calling it the definition of 孝: the Confucian virtue of filial piety. It’s stories like those that still give me a little jolt of culture shock. I mean, sure, I’d like to do something like that for my parents too, but I’d never consider it as a self-supporting grad student.
Filial piety, hard work… they may not be universal in China, but these values are still very much alive and well here. (Take a guess as to whether it’s significant that the student is not from Shanghai…)
Two weeks ago was “Super Bowl Monday.” At 6am John B and I caught a taxi to Windows Scoreboard, the place the Carl said would be “the place” to catch the big game. Well, “the place” insofar as it’s a pretty decent sports bar, beer is cheap (in the Windows tradition), and you can even get a decent American breakfast for a reasonable price. Plus they were showing the Super Bowl through satellite TV, so we didn’t have to put up with that outrageous 15-second delay.
I’m not a big sports fan at all, but I enjoy a good football game from time to time. I’d never started drinking so early before, and it was a good reason to hang out with John B and Carl, my former roommate I hadn’t seen in a while.
Excited by the breakfast food which Carl assured us would be very tasty, I ordered a 30 rmb omelette with cheddar, bacon, onions, and tomatoes. I was really looking forward to that.
When we arrived at 6:30am, the place was fairly crowded, and breakfast orders were flying. I waited a good while for that omelette, and I was getting hungry. (Plus, like a wuss, I wanted to eat before I started on my beer.) At one point I decided to go up to the bar and check on my order.
There was a foreigner in front of me trying to put in a food order. He got the extremely busy waitress’s attention and started giving her his order (in English). She gave him an embarrassed laugh and told him she didn’t understand (in Chinese). The guy tried again (in English). She apologized again (in Chinese) and started to leave. I sympathized with the guy, because the bartender could take his English order, but the bartender was really busy too, and so the foreigner might have to wait another while just to put his order in, let alone actually eat. So I stepped in and told the guy I’d translate for him. I started telling the waitress in Chinese what the guy wanted.
The foreigner did not like that. He gave me a nasty, “I’d like to order my own damn food, if that’s OK with you.” So I immediately backed off and left the guy alone. I eventually got my omelette and it was goooood. (More memorable than the Super Bowl, in fact.)
So what was the guy’s deal? My interpretation is that the guy was just in a bad mood (maybe he was a Seahawks fan?), but maybe not… I wonder how many other foreigners would be pissed off by what I did. It’s been my experience that any newcomers with no language skills are typically grateful in a situation like that. But maybe the guy has been in Shanghai a while and he’s pissed off that he still can’t order food, and thought I was trying to show off? If the guy was trying to order food in broken Chinese but the waitress couldn’t understand him, I could understand how he would get pissed at me for butting in. I wouldn’t have said anything in a case like that. But he wasn’t speaking any Chinese at all.
I find these multilingual/cross-cultural exchanges and all the emotion-laden sociolinguistic baggage they come with to be very interesting.
A while back I wrote about adding pinyin tooltips using a little CSS and a span HTML tag. I later mentioned that I had worked a “quicktag” into my blogging interface. Today I’ll tell you how to easily add this button to your WordPress “Write” page.
The pinyin quicktag in action
After installing WordPress 2.0, it took me a while to get around to uploading my custom quicktags.js file which includes the “pinyin” quicktag button. Since I add pinyin to words quite often, I was really annoyed by the loss of the button. It really makes adding pinyin so much more convenient.