Apr 2004

Sickness and Pets

About two weeks ago, I took a walk on a sunny day following some days of rain. I came upon a manhole cover sunken in the sidewalk, holding an inch or two of water. In that little bit of water, I was amazed to discover some 40 to 50 tadpoles swimming sluggishly around. Right on the sidewalk!

I had recently discovered that in China, it’s a common childhood thing to keep some tadpoles as pets and watch them develop. When I was younger, I had had rabbits, mice, dogs, lizards, fish, and even a snake. But never a tadpole.

The water in the manhole depression was slowly but surely evaporating, and there already wasn’t much left. I decided to rescue some of them.

I managed to get about 20 out of the depression using a spoon and a plastic bowl. I bought a little glass fishbowl and some fish food (for 7rmb total). When I fed them, they gobbled up the food greedily. Up to that point, they had been cannibalizing the weak.

Keeping the tadpoles alive proved to be harder than I expected. I’m not sure whether the water got a little too dirty or what, but they were slowly dying off.

Then last Friday I got sick. I woke up early with a case of diarrhea that was completely painless but utterly sincere. I was rushing to the toilet every 5 minutes, it seemed, and I was losing a lot of water. I had to call in sick to work. By evening I had a fever, and my girlfriend insisted I go to the hospital. So I did. It was 10:30pm.

It took forever to get treated because I had taken an anti-diarrheal and thus couldn’t supply the sample they wanted. Eventually they took blood. The Chinese medical solution to virtual any malady seems to be an IV, and this was no exception. It was midnight before I finally had the IV in me, supplying my bloodstream with vitamins and antibiotics.

For this IV treatment I was seated in the emergency room. My girlfriend kept me company for a while, but she had class in the morning, so had to leave. Being right in the emergency room, I saw all kinds of people come in. Most of them ended up with IVs.

One guy was almost catatonic, brought in on one of the cargo tricycles used all over China to transport goods. His family must have been pretty poor, not wanting to resort to hospital treatment unless absolutely necessary. About an hour later, the awful sound of a woman’s wailing came from the back of the hospital. “Someone died,” the people around me whispered.

Another woman was brought in writhing, and laid out on a gurney. She was there on an IV nearly the entire time I was, and never seemed to get much better. Eventually her husband took her away.

One guy was brought in completely unconscious by some friends. Alcohol poisoning. Baijiu, his friends said. The vile white rice wine. I’m not sure what happened to him, but his friends wondered around the room drunkenly for hours.

For a while an old man was seated next to me for his IV. At one point, he had to go to the bathroom, so the people with him unzipped him, stood him up, and had him go into a plastic bag right there.

Around 3am it started to get cold in the room, because inconsiderate people would leave the main door open. Around that time two women arrived with a man. The girls look like the type that sing at karaoke bars. Very pretty. Only one of them had been battered badly across the face. Her face was all black and blue, her eyes swollen shut. Later, hearing her talk to her friend, my suspicions were confirmed — some man had done that to her. Two of the guys in the room tried badly to hide smirks when she came in. Why, I can’t imagine. But I wanted to punch them. The girl got an IV too.

Soon thereafter, more loud sobbing seemed to indicate that someone else had died.

According to the doctor, my IV (2 bottles) was supposed to last 3 hours. They ended up lasting 5. I couldn’t sleep and had nothing to do but watch sick people. I got home at 5am. The hospital bill was 150rmb (under $20). No medications were prescribed.

I had decided to release my remaining tadpoles into the pond in Jing An Park. It seemed like a good day to do it. I waited for my girlfriend to arrive first. When she showed up, she surprised me with a gift of two cute little white rabbits.

It was a nice surprise, but also an impulisve, irresponsible purchase. I was not in the best position to care for rabbits, and I did not want to be responsible for their deaths. The vendors that sell rabbits and other little animals don’t tend to sell them in the healthiest condition to begin with.

Still, she had bought them and given them to me, so they were my responsiblity. The remaining tadpoles (less than 10) were freed. But now I had rabbits.

I was stunned by some of the “advice” I was given by various Chinese people on how to care for rabbits. Some of the things I was told: “Rabbits can’t be given water. It’ll give them diarrhea and they’ll die.” “Don’t give them vegetables, or they’ll get diarrhea and die. Give them bread.” “Don’t let them eat much grass or they’ll get diarrhea and die.”

Exactly how do these people think rabbits live in nature?! Unbelievable. Anyway, under my care, two sluggish little rabbits have become lively. They actually have both solid and liquid waste now, too, which didn’t happen for about two days, owing to their previous diet. The new diet: grass and water.

Yesterday, the evil diarrhea come back at 5am. I couldn’t go to work again. I returned to the hospital, but not the emergency room. This time I went to the part of the hospital “for foreigners.” The hospital has one big building devoted to plastic surgery. One floor deals with ordinary medical cases like mine.

To make a long story short, I was not given any clear explanation as to why I was sick. It wasn’t food poisoning. But the hospital was much cleaner and more orderly. Everyone was friendly and spoke English (until they realized they didn’t have to). I was given an IV again, which took five hours for two bottles again, but this time I was in a bed the whole time. I walked away with 4 different kinds of medication to take. The total bill was 850rmb (over $100).

So I’m feeling better now. And I have rabbits. I wonder how those tadpoles are doing…

Related entry: Verbal Horror


Apr 2004

Back Online

Sinosplice was down for about 3 days, but it’s all been sorted out. I had renewed for another year with my host (, but what I didn’t know was that after the first year, the domain name registration is not included. So my domain name registration had expired and had to be renewed. That’s done now.

A big thanks to my dad, for taking care of all that. More news soon.


Apr 2004

Cartoon Voice Debut

I mentioned recently that I’ve done the voice of an animated pig for a series of short educational cartoons at my company. Well, the first cartoon is done, and online already. If you’re interested, go to the Melody homepage, and then under “What’s New” at the left, click on the first link (“MELODY样片”). The voices of both the pig character and the unseen native speaker are mine.


Apr 2004

When Culture Lets Go

For this month of April, Wilson has been visiting me, staying at my place. As with any close friend, he’s more than just fun to hang out with; he provides me with new ideas to think over. He inspires me. Our conversations cover a broad range of topics, but they usually center on China. On us, and why we’re here. And on where all this is going.

After staying in Hangzhou, China for a year and a half, Wilson returned to an America he has discovered he’s pretty unsatisfied with. There’s one sentence he keeps repeating. America is culturally bankrupt.



In our many discussions, when Wilson refers to characteristics of life in the States, I can’t help but think that what he really means is life in California. California has a distinct subculture of its own, one that I associate especially closely with materialism and narcissism. But then, I’ve never really spent any time in California, and to be honest, I haven’t spent enough time in the United States in the past four years to be any real authority on current cultural trends. Regardless, one thing is clear: the lives we imagine ourselves living back in the United States right now are unfulfilling.

If it’s merely materialism we’re shunning, however, you’d think that Shanghai would be the last place either of us would want to settle. The scramble for wealth in all its forms here is nauseatingly apparent. But we don’t feel such a steely grip on our souls here. Why?

You could say that living in China has been sort of an “out of culture experience.” We have left our cultural bodies back home to float over here for a look. The result is that not only do we gain an outsider’s perspective on what’s going on in China, but we can view much more objectively what’s going on back home, and how we’re enveloped in it.

Change is unavoidable in any society. In China, it’s coming in a raging torrent, but we actually feel like we can be part of what’s directing the flow. That’s exciting. In the United States, the change feels much more sluggish, but it nevertheless seems to sweep us all away along with it, like drowning rats.

Living outside of one’s home culture just feels empowering to us. We feel much more capable of rejecting the values with which we disagree, both those from back home as well as those from China.

In spite of all these feelings, we can’t deny that it is American culture that shaped us. And we’re grateful for that. But there comes a time when you have to gather what you’ve gained and spread your wings. I like where I’ve come to rest. Like I said, the view is great.

NOTE: Those that like reading about cultural issues regarding Americans and Chinese should definitely take a look at an excellent new blog called Zai Mei Guo. It deals especially with stereotypes.


Apr 2004

When Humor Runs Aground

I think it’s pretty universally true that humor, being culturally dependent, is a tricky undertaking in a foreign language. Just supposing you have the necessary language skills to accurately communicate what you want to, the target culture may not find your “joke” the least bit funny. On the contrary, they might be offended (this has happened to me before), they might recognize you were trying to make a joke in their language and boo your lame attempt (that always happens to me in Japan), or they might just accept your statement at face value, not realizing there was any attempt at humor involved (which seems to happen to me the most in China).

I used to think that sarcasm was unknown in China. For a long time, my every attempt at it in Chinese would fail miserably, and it wasn’t due to grammar or pronunciation. Later I learned that “sarcasm” and “satire” are both translated as one Chinese word — 讽刺 (fengci) — in most dictionaries. Say what? From my perspective, this vocabulary issue pointed to a conspicuous difference in style of humor. This “no sarcasm” issue seemed to add to the “innocent Chinese” stereotype. But was my perception correct? Does such a gaping cultural divide even exist in reality?

Since coming to Shanghai, I’ve discovered that there are plenty of Chinese people that not only understand sarcasm, but find it indispensable in their daily exchanges. It’s been very refreshing. My girlfriend is one such blessed person. The thing is, she tells me that many Shanghainese feel that other Chinese are not nearly as quick-witted in their style of humor. And I know from experience that they’re less likely to “get” sarcasm.

It seems that sarcasm is most likely to “work” here in China when it’s especially exaggerated, e.g. “Oh, THANK YOU, I’m SO HAPPY!” A “wry” style of humor seems pretty much completely unappreciated here.

Here’s an example of a real incident from my workplace:

> HER: What’s a good way to teach the beach lesson vocabulary?

> ME: That’s easy. Just take them to the beach.

> HER: But there’s no beach nearby!

> ME: Stop making excuses!

> HER: (whimper)

OK, I know what I said wasn’t really funny, but the point was that she took my reply seriously when I never expected her to in the first place. My second response fared no better.

A former co-worker of mine has extensive experience telling jokes to Chinese audiences in Chinese. His Chinese is quite good, and in most cases, he is able to elicit the desired chuckles. His advice to me (should I choose to carry on the torch at future training seminars) was: “When you tell a joke to a Chinese audience, you may need to make the ‘punchline’ a bit later than you would ordinarly deem necessary.”

I’ll share the joke he told me. It’s a generic “smart people, dumb people” joke, which he filled in with Chinese and Japanese for convenience (and automatic audience approval).

> Two groups of foreigners were visiting the USA. One was a group of three Japanese businessmen, and the other was a group of three Chinese businessmen. They happened to be taking the same train.

> The Japanese bought their three tickets, but then happened to notice that the Chinese guys behind them only bought one. They were confused by this, thinking perhaps there was a miscommunication, but decided to mind their own business and not say anything.

> Once on the train, the two groups were sitting very near each other. As the ticket-taker started coming around, the Japanese watched the Chinese with interest.

> Suddenly the three Chinese guys sprang up, walked down to the end of the car, and crammed into the small restroom together. When the ticket-taker came by, he could tell someone was in the restroom, so he knocked on the door, calling “TICKET.” The Chinese slid their one ticket under the door. The ticket-taker collected it and moved on, and the Chinese came out shortly thereafter and sat back down.

> The Japanese were duly impressed by the crafty Chinese.

> On the train ride back, as luck would have it, the same two groups wound up on the same train. The Japanese, nervously seated with one ticket among the three of them, eyed the Chinese as they entered. The Chinese didn’t seem to have a single ticket. The Japanese didn’t know what the Chinese were up to, but they were nevertheless glad they had a chance to use the new trick.

> When the ticket-taker drew near, both groups headed for the restrooms. The Japanese crammed into the restroom on the right side, the Chinese crammed into the restroom on the left side.

> After a few seconds, one of the Chinese quietly emerged from the restroom and headed to the one occupied by the Japanese, who were nervously waiting for the ticket-taker. The Chinese guy knocked on the door and called out “TICKET.”

The joke, in its original form, is supposed to end there. My co-worker found it wise to add the following for his Chinese audience, however:

> The Japanese slid their ticket under the door. The Chinese guy grabbed it and went back into the other restroom.

Part of the appreciation of a joke is making the final connection yourself. It seems that the two cultures differ on where, exactly, that “final connection” is.

The Chinese love to crack open nuts, crabs, shrimp, turtles, etc. when they eat. They consider it part of the joy of eating. Many foreigners find it unnecessary work. Could it be that when it comes to humor, the situation is reversed?


Apr 2004

Couldn't Resist…

For all I know, this has been floating around for years already, but I just got it via e-mail (thanks Penny!). Not obscene.

Chinese cutie

I briefly pondered over whether I should be disturbed or just amused. I went with the latter reaction.

(NOTE: For more similar juvenile humor that’s almost obscene but not quite, check this out too.)


Apr 2004

Not just singing and dancing

They’ve been keeping me busy with lots of different tasks at work lately. I once complained that foreign teachers in China are expected to play the role of “singing dancing game-playing clown entertainers.” Working in Shanghai was supposed to get me out of that role and into more serious work where I could use Chinese. Ironically, while it has succeeded in that respect, it has also simultaneously brought me closer than ever to the “singing dancing game-playing clown entertainer” role.

My work today was an interesting combination of mind-numbing drudgery and light-hearted fun work. The fun part was doing the voice dubbing for a cartoon in which I play the bilingual role of a pig character. Originally they had me playing some rascally racoon, but I had trouble saying my Chinese lines quickly in character (i.e. altering my voice) and with proper feeling, so I got switched to the slow-witted pig. That’s fine by me. My lines are way easier, and they really liked my pig voice. (Those that wanted to hear me speaking Chinese may soon get their wish, if this animation goes public.)

Then after that I had to join in on a small group singing the chorus for a children’s song. Anyone who knows me knows I hate singing in public (especially karaoke!), so to have my singing actually recorded is a nightmare. But in a group it actually went OK.

When I’m part of a team giving 6-hour seminars to Chinese kindergarten teachers, presentation is key. I have to use mostly Chinese when I’m in the spotlight (unless I’m specifically covering pronunciation), but I also have to keep it lively and entertaining. Games, smiles, jokes. Education with a heavy dose of entertainment.

Today’s fun was balanced with translation work. I’m helping the parent company in Taiwan with one of its new products. Apparently in Taiwan there’s a lot of immigrant labor (from Vietnam, Thailand, the Phillipines, etc.) filling the demand for maids, and “mail-order bride” type situations as well. I have to leave out the details, but this product aims to alleviate the multi-lingual problems posed by the situation. A small sample of what I’ve been translating into English:

  • Yesterday grandpa went to the hospital for a stool test.
  • Do you want white bread or wheat bread?
  • International calls are expensive. It’s best if you write a letter.
  • I want to send this month’s salary home to my husband in Vietnam.
  • I don’t understand when you speak fast, but I will study hard.
  • Your soup is really not bad! It’s sour but tastes good, with that Vietnamese flavor.
  • If that’s how it is, A-Fang, I’m sorry, but I must send you home.

OK, so they’re not all this mean and depressing, but it’s not fun work. I don’t blame the company at all, either; it’s just responding to a situation.

On the upside, I’m learning a lot of interesting/crazy Taiwanese terminology. [Does anyone know of any definitive list of Taiwanese/Mainland vocabulary discrepancies?]

Anyway, work remains engrossing. Now, back to that translation….


Apr 2004

Jobs in Shanghai

My company is looking to hire a few people for part-time or short-term work, and it has enlisted my aid. I decided to add a new section to my site:

Sinosplice Jobs

If you’re looking for work or for teachers, please take a look. Feel free to link away.


Apr 2004

ZUCC Community Photos

Wilson has returned to Hangzhou,
his trusty camera at his side.

Wherever he goes,
he leaves photo galleries in his wake.



Apr 2004


I won’t be posting for a little while because I’m going to Hangzhou for the weekend. I had worked 11 days straight (including a nice business trip to Wuxi), so I took off today, giving myself a 3-day weekend. Wilson arrived for a visit Tuesday, so we gotta return to our old stomping grounds. Also, a new club in Hangzhou called Lava is having a big bash tonight (Friday, April 2) organized by my friends in Hangzhou [more info].

I also expect to be devoting a fair amount of time when I come back to the Adopt a Blog project. I’m very pleased that it seems to be taking off. Please, get involved!


Mar 2004

The Adopt a Blog Project

When the government blocked another blogging service recently, I became nervous, because it means that the government continues to view blogs as a threat. Regardless, bloggers’ responses to the block reveal that they are not going to admit defeat so easily. As a result, I see two possible eventual outcomes: (1) the government decides to give up the blocking effort, or (2) the government steps up its efforts.

What scares me the most is the possibility that what we have seen so far is only a small taste of what is to come. We know the government is working on more advanced internet filtering technology. Every time I can’t access my site for small periods of time, I wonder if I’ve been blocked. When it comes back online, there’s still a nagging suspicion that I’ve been tested and tagged for a future block should the need arise.

Proxies work well enough for the time being, but these services could easily be blocked as well. And where would we be then?

This thought process led to my idea for the Adopt a Blog project. It could enable bloggers to skirt the current blocks, as well as ready the community defensively against a possible bleaker future with regards to freedom online.

It is my strong hope that this project will be accepted by the blogging community globally, or at the very least contribute to the formation of a lasting solution. Please, if you care at all about freedom of speech, spread the word. Adopt a Blog.


Mar 2004

Thoughts on the Blockings

Recently Typepad blogs have been added to the list of blog services blocked by the Chinese government. This is already old news. Some bloggers have responded by turning their blogs’ background color to black as a sort of “virtual protest.” I guess that’s cool, but I think they’re going to have to either get used to black backgrounds or just accept the blocks.

Just before the Typepad block, some major Chinese blog services were blocked temporarily. But before that, the last big blocking to directly affect expat blogs in China was the blocking of Blogspot (AKA “Blockspot”). Guess what? Blogspot is still blocked. The big stink bloggers made about it then had little effect, and it seemed to have even gotten more international media coverage than the most recent block of Typepad.

After Blogspot was blocked, many bloggers adopted a less direct approach to the problem. It’s the same one Napster users adopted when that great giant was struck down. They found another service they could use. The Sinosplice Network began, and at the same time the number of other blogging services commonly used multiplied. Things seemed to be peaceful for a while, until the most recent blockings.

Thankfully, due to bloggers’ decision to branch out in the blogging services they used, the most recent block did not affect as large a proportion of China blogs as the Blogspot block did, although some of our favorite blogs were among the fallen ( the most notable in my own personal reading habits).

Those of us that follow tech news may have recently read about the biological principle of genetic variation helping to guard populations against disease being applied to the computer world. I think the same principle applies to the blogging community in China.

Yes, they shouldn’t block us, but I don’t think mere ardent idealism is going to get us very far in this case. We need to be smart. We need to use lots of different blogging services. It would be best if every blog had its own URL, each with a different hosting service in a different IP range, but that’s a little unrealistic.

Unfortunately, the existence of the (rather complete) China Blog List could be a big help to those that would thwart us. I can’t really help that.

Also, should the powers that be ever decide to block any blog in the Sinosplice network, this network I put together could easily be taken down in one fell stroke. I can’t really help that either. But it seems that if the new blockings are going to continue (and we currently have no good reason to believe that they won’t), further grouping blogs on one server (like Living in China) is only going to hurt the “blog population” in the long run unless that server has some aces up its sleeve.

Furthermore, even if we can’t keep our attackers from accessing the full China Blog List, we can at least be a little more subtle in our methods of circumventing the blocks. Those outside of China don’t need the information, but those within China might do well to pass the information around a little more privately. There is much more to the proxy solution than the several websites which are most well known, but the full extent of our knowledge need not be publicly displayed.

Let’s be smart. We’re not in our native countries, so our instinctive responses are not necessarily the most appropriate.

A famous Japanese idiom comes to mind: the nail that sticks up gets hammered.

And we know this is true in China as well.


Mar 2004

Making the Chinese Face

When I was little, it was not uncommon for kids to make the “Chinese face.” By this I mean they would pull back the skin on the sides of their faces, stretching their eyelids back, and say, “look at me! I’m Chinese!”

That was a long time ago. At that time, “Chinese” still meant “Asian” to us. Since then, I’ve learned that that kind of behavior is considered rude and offensive. I’ve also grown up.

Recently, though, something made me think of that offensive “Chinese face,” and I started to wonder… what would Chinese people think of it? So I explained to my girlfriend that it was something that American kids used to do, although now it’s considered racist (for good reasons). And then I did it for her.

She thought it was hilarious. She couldn’t stop laughing for a minute or so. When she did stop laughing, she asked me to do it again. And then promptly erupted into laughter again.

My point is not that Asian Americans are uptight. Even though my Chinese experience is very different (and much easier) than that of an Asian American growing up as a minority in the USA, I can now much better appreciate how it feels to be a minority. You become super sensitive to every little way you are treated differently, but at the same time, no one takes much notice of jibes aimed at the majority.

I think that this little experiment also demonstrates that my girlfriend wouldn’t even recognize a lot of the more subtle ways that people are racist towards Asians. Growing up in China among all Chinese, she just never came into contact with it.


Mar 2004

Cheerios and Wang Lihong

I saw Cheerios in the grocery store the other day. Not at Carrefour, which has all kinds of imported foods that those foreigners who live in remoter parts of China can only fantasize about. I mean the regular Chinese grocery store.

Its Chinese name is “Guduoduo Cuigule,” which kind of mystifies me. Yes, 谷 can mean “grain,” but why such an unnecessarily long name? I would think that Cuigule (“crisp grain happiness”) alone would be enough. (Any Chinese people want to explain that, please?)

Anyway, the price was only 10rmb ($1.25 US). When I’d seen breakfast cereals before, they had always been around 30 rmb, which is kind of expensive for what it is, in China. So I bought it. Chinese pop star Wang Lihong‘s (I refuse to call him “Leehom”!) smug face was on the box reassuring me that I had made a wise purchase.

Well, the morning I tore into the box I immediately noticed that something was seriously wrong. There were 5 small cereal packets inside. Each cereal packet contained a measly 30g of Cheerios! (To give you an idea, a smallish 11 oz. box from back home has over 300 g of Cheerios in it.) I had to eat two packs just to feel like I had even eaten anything.

(There is only one pack of Cheerios in the bowl in the photo.)

Sitting there munching my ripoff Cheerios, I fixated on Wang Lihong. What a pretty boy. I don’t think he used to be this bad. I didn’t find any images of it online, but in his promo photos for the Chinese McDonalds “I’m lovin’ it” campaign, he looks so cosmetized it’s scary. I think this pic gives you an idea of how lame he is.

The worst part about it is that Wang Lihong is an ABC. He grew up in the States. I can only conclude that (1) he has completely sold out, rejecting any American identity imprint he might have once had, or (2) he is just a shameless money grubbing pretty boy.

Either way, he has my contempt. I wouldn’t have blogged about it until he conspired with Cheerios to rip me off, though.


Mar 2004

Evil Has a New Home

Take a look at this building:

Evil's new home

I know what you’re thinking: this building radiates pure evil! What on God’s green earth could this architectural abomination be?!

Well, I’ll tell you. It’s Shanghai’s municipal PSB headquarters.

Now I’m not saying that China’s Public Security Bureau is “bad.” All I’m saying is that I think dark forces were involved in the creation of this particular structure.

But don’t just take my word for it. Amy agrees with me. But you must stand before it in the flesh for the full effect.

This building casts its shadow of fear on South Wuning Road (武宁南路).


Mar 2004

Happy Birthday, Grace!

little John holding baby Grace

(Taiwan Schmaiwan! It’s no secret that I’m not into politics, but in addition to 95% of the China bloggers covering the election, the mainstream media is too.)


Mar 2004

Heard at Work

Last Friday I enjoyed a number of interesting little incidents at the office.

One of the directors of the company has been visiting from Taiwan, and I overheard him chatting with someone else in our office. The director seems to take it upon himself to enlighten the mainlanders (according to the Taiwan view). I don’t want to go into specific political topics that came up, but one thing he did say was that currently airplane tickets from mainland China to Taiwan are especially cheap. Why? Because a lot of Taiwanese work in mainland China, and the Taiwanese government is trying to encourage those people to come home and vote in the March 20th election. Interesting….

I spent a good deal of my morning trying to explain to another employee here that some things just can’t be translated. You see, she had some songs that she wanted me to help her translate into Chinese. Among the lines that were giving her trouble were “itsy bitsy teeny weenie” (yellow polka dot bikini), “nick nack paddy whack” (give the dog a bone), and “Auld Lang Syne.” I’m not saying these are completely untranslatable, but they certainly require a creative translation to create the same effect in Chinese that they do in English.

Speaking of communicating linguistic principles, at noon my co-worker and I got in a debate with four girls in the office about grammar. We could hardly believe they weren’t joking at first. You see, these four girls’ contention was that the Chinese language has no grammar. Unbelievable. Their claim was that there’s no “grammar,” it’s just that Chinese people have gotten used to putting words together a certain way. (And what exactly do you think grammar is…??)

Since there were four of them that agreed to disagree with the two of us silly foreigners, they considered themselves victorious. But then at lunchtime three of them went off somwhere, and one of them ate lunch with my co-worker and me. Once we had her alone, we pounced on her (verbally) and tore her argument to shreds. That was fun. I don’t think it did any good, though.

Why would Chinese people think their language has no grammar? Is it because in elementary school they spend all the time in “Chinese class” just learning Chinese characters, and there’s no real need to cover grammar in-depth? I’m not very familiar with the curriculum of the Chinese school system at the primary level.


Mar 2004


I recently discovered a very interesting site: It’s designed specifically for the native Shanghainese. The tagline at the top says 侬白相啥? That’s how you would write 你玩什么? (roughly, “what do you do for fun?”) in Chinese characters to represent the particular words the Shanghainese use.

Translated excerpt from the about page:

> We represent the new Shanghai culture…..
We invite you to our website…
to discuss our concerns in our own language,
to sing our songs to our own music,
to dance to our own rhythm.

This kind of site highlights the strong grip on their identity the Shanghainese have.

Of interest is the Shanghainese rap section. Yes, that’s right… rap in the Shanghainese dialect. It pretty much sucks, but it’s cool that they’re even doing it. Give it a listen; there are currently 13 downloadable songs.

It’s always pissed me off that the only punk scene in China is in Beijing. Maybe Shanghai will develop along the rap/hip hop track?? Well, one can dream…


Mar 2004

UNC Buddhist Art

The reproduction of a beautiful sand mandala in the Tibetan/Nepalese Buddhist tradition by two Buddhist monks is photographed in stages at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Ackland Art Museum. Definitely worth a look. (Thanks to Cindy for the e-mail!)


Mar 2004

Shanghai vs. Beijing

Shanghai and Beijing are the two most talked about cities in mainland China, and for good reason. Shanghai is the most populous city in China, a very modern economic powerhouse. Beijing is the capital, the political and cultural center of the nation. Beijing is the emperor’s seat in the north, Shanghai the giant of the south. Comparisons are inevitable.

Obviously, I now inhabit Shanghai, and I want it to fare well in an honest comparison of the two. I’ve been to Beijing twice, but not recently, and never for an extended visit. Today I discussed the matter with an American co-worker of mine. He seemed an ideal, objective observer because he lived in Beijing for a year, and now, after staying in Shanghai for a little over a year, is leaving China. He speaks good Chinese, and he’s a shrewd observer of his surroundings. Here’s the breakdown of his opinions:

Climate. Beijing is colder, but you don’t feel it too much because everyone bundles up like mad, and central heating is quite widespread. In Shanghai the buildings are built with the hot summers in mind, and there’s precious little insulation. That, combined with the people’s strong desire for “fresh air” in the middle of the winter makes Shanghai “the coldest place I’ve ever lived.”

People. Both Beijingers and the Shanghainese feel a sort of superiority toward outsiders. Nevertheless, Beijingers are widely regarded as very friendly, and any sense of superiority is exhibited only subtly. The Shanghainese are not widely regarded as friendly or as subtle in their snobbery.

Culture. Do I even have to say it? It’s all in Beijing.

Language. Beijingers speak Chinese with as much “rrrr” as possible, as if they only “speak with the throat.” Despite the superfluous R’s, Beijingers’ Chinese is quite close to the national standard. The Shanghainese, on the other hand, speak a dialect that could easily be classified as a separate (but related) language. This affects their Mandarin, making it less standard. The Shanghainese, like most places in the south, have much less “rrrr” in their speech, relying instead on other standard variants (e.g. nali instead of nar, meaning “where”).

Western Conveniences. Shanghai’s got Beijing beat hands down. Sure, Beijing has most of the products Shanghai does, but in Shanghai they’re much more readily available. Some things that you can buy in Shanghai’s convenience stores you might have to go to a specialty store for in Beijing. In addition, Shanghai has a lot more late-night and 24-hour stores.

Entertainment. Beijing’s Sanlitun is a bit better than Shanghai’s bar streets. Beijing also has a lot more cheap entertainment options. Going out on the town in Shanghai often will deplete your funds fast.

OK, I think you see the trend. Shanghai is taking a wicked beating in the comparison. I’ve heard other people say it too: “Beijing feels so home-y and special. Shanghai is a soulless concrete capitalist jungle.”

I consider myself a reasonable person. Why, then, when faced with such evidence, do I still feel that I will never even consider moving to Beijing? I want to know this for myself. I think the reasons are:

1. I’m from Florida. That’s the American south (with northern flavor). I like it. I don’t like New York or Boston accents.

When I studied in Japan, my school’s program just happened to be in Osaka — Japan’s southern giant. I like the southern Japanese dialect, and feel Tokyo’s to be boring.

When I came to China, I chose Hangzhou — partly with climate in mind, but largely because I had a Chinese friend from there. Hangzhou was my home for 3 1/2 years. It’s where I learned Mandarin Chinese.

2. I hate the “rrrr” of northern Mandarin. I can’t help it. It sounds really dumb to me. Sometimes I find it amusing (I like hearing actor Ge You talk), but I can’t really take it seriously.

I also feel that it sort of impoverishes the language. The “-r” suffix can go on the end of words ending in a vowel, -n, or -ng. When the “-r” suffix starts going everywhere, you don’t hear the original syllable ending, and it reduces linguistic diversity.

(That’s probably just a dumb rationalization for in irrational dislike of a particular accent, though.)

3. “Beijing” seems so cliche to me. “Oh, you want to learn Chinese? Then go to Beijing! The Mandarin is so standard there. Dashan studied there!”

No thanks. I think I’ll tough it out amongst the hoardes of asshole expats.

4. I like the linguistic diversity of the south. I like that the Shanghainese speak a whole separate language from their northern overlords. It’s badass. It might seem exclusionary or snobbish to you, but then you’re also probably too lazy to learn it.

Somehow, I don’t really think any of this is totally it, though. Everyone says that Beijing is better, but I’m not gonna buy it. I guess deep down, I’m just stubborn. I’m in Shanghai now.

Related Links:, journal of an American Peking University student.
Kaiser Kuo, a writer in Beijing.
Ape Rifle’s Chinese city comparisons.

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