personal


18

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 Pīnyīn.info, 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 del.icio.us: http://del.icio.us/tag/mandarin.


16

Apr 2006

Happy Easter!

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

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.


14

Apr 2006

My Ayi on Politics

The other day as Xiao Wang (my ayi, a 32-year-old woman from the Harbin area) arrived, I was watching the news. Wen Jiabao (温家宝) was making some statement or other. Xiao Wang didn’t pay any attention. She started fixing dinner.

It suddenly occurred to me to get Xiao Wang’s take on Chinese politics, so I asked her what she thought of Hu Jintao (胡锦涛). I think it confused her a little, because Wen Jiabao was on TV, and I was talking about Hu Jintao. But her response was, “I don’t watch the news much.”

Not satisfied with that, I pressed her: “but don’t you have some opinion about the government?”

Looking up at the TV, which now showed a People’s Congress session in Beijing, she replied, “look at them… they’re all a bunch of Southerners.”

Thus ended the conversation on politics.


13

Apr 2006

Wanted: Good Chinese Podcasts

I’d like to find some good Chinese podcasts. I don’t mean podcasts for studying Chinese, I mean podcasts in Chinese, intended for a Chinese audience. Interesting podcasts. The only problem is I don’t have a lot of time to search and then listen to all those podcasts. So I asked around a bit.

As it turns out, CSL blogger extraordinaire Alaric listens to a few Chinese podcasts. These are the ones he listens to:

有一说二 (Roddy also likes this one)
反波 (Antiwave)
Princess Remy

As was pointed out on Chinese Forums as well, Alaric mentioned that the 2005 Chinese Podcast Awards Results are a good place to start looking.

Any other recommendations? Anyone?


11

Apr 2006

Who Wants to be a Patriotic Millionaire?

patriot millionaires

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.


07

Apr 2006

Toenail Terror in the Foot Bath

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:

Right Wrong

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:

Before After

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.]

06

Apr 2006

Bulk pricing at last?

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.

蒙牛 = Mongolian Cow

Mengniu Milk

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…)


05

Apr 2006

Like Syntax from Takeshi

Kitano, Takeshi

Kitano Takeshi

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.


03

Apr 2006

ChinesePod and me

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.

So, yeah. ChinesePod and me.


02

Apr 2006

Chinese Number Tool

A little while back I recommended that Mark of the blog Doubting to shuō make an online number conversion tool similar to his Pinyin Tone Tool and Cantonese Tone Tool. Well, Mark has done it. These are the kinds of conversions it can do:

Input Output
五千八百 5800
兩百五十 250
三百萬 3000000
三百万 3000000
7十 70
九億 900000000
九亿 900000000
6.25亿 625000000
1500万 15000000
五億三千九百二十萬四千四百四十一 539204441
壹仟叄佰柒拾捌 1378

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!


31

Mar 2006

Japanese Issues in Wuyuan

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.


27

Mar 2006

Making Money on Roadkill

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.


24

Mar 2006

Field Tripping for Vengeance

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!


22

Mar 2006

China Video Podcasts

ChinesePod Video

ChinesePod Video

Recently ChinesePod released its first video podcast: a visit to Shanghai’s Xiangyang Market (襄阳市场). The video is pretty entertaining and well done, and gives you an idea of how items are haggled over in a Chinese market.

The ChinesePod Weblog has some interesting topics, ranging from issues in applied linguistics such as the ‘lexical approach‘ to Chinese ‘buzzwords‘ (didn’t Micah used to have buzzwords too? What happened to those?).

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 Sims video podcast

Ron’s videos are MP4s, so you may need either iTunes (which I hate) or a recent version of Quicktime to play them.


13

Mar 2006

My Professors' Impossible Lists

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:

  1. blah blah
    1. stuff
    2. stuff
      1. blah blah
    3. info
      1. stuff
      2. stuff
        1. blah blah
          1. info
          2. more info
            1. blah blah
          3. stuff
            1. stuff
            2. stuff
              1. stuff
                1. info
                  1. blah blah
                    1. stuff
                      1. more stuff

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.


10

Mar 2006

The Subs at Shuffle

Brad of Shanghai Streets has organized a concert for this Saturday night at Shuffle Music Bar (next to where Tanghui used to be). Despite Dan’s assertion that it’s an inconvenient location, I find it extremely convenient. Not everyone lives in that part of town.

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.


09

Mar 2006

Telephone Scam?

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.

“No.”

“Do you have insurance?”

“Yes.”

“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?


07

Mar 2006

Karaoke Notes

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.


Related: Using Baidu MP3 Search


01

Mar 2006

Forced Healthy Eating

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.


Related: Junk Food Review, Junk Food Review 2



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