personal


19

Feb 2011

Sinosplice Tooltips 1.1.1

There’s a new version of the WordPress Sinosplice Tooltips plugin out. With the help of Mark Wilbur’s pinyin tone mark conversion code (see it in action on Tushuo.com), version 1.1 added the ability to convert numeral pinyin (like this: “Zhong1wen2”) to tone mark pinyin (like this: “Zhōngwén”), and add that pinyin as a tooltip to text within WordPress, producing a nice little tooltip effect on your WordPress blog or site (like this: 中文).

Installing and using the plugin is by no means difficult, but in case you’re new to WordPress, to blogging in general, or to the idea of tooltips, this is the post for you! Here I’ll just go over quickly how to install it on WordPress 3.0.5 and what exactly you need to do to produce the effects above.

(more…)


13

Feb 2011

No Smoking… in China?

1001 Taiwanese-Style Beef Noodles

China is known to be a nation of heavy smokers. So I was taken by surprise when I overheard this exchange in a beef noodle restaurant in the Cloud Nine (龙之梦) mall by Shanghai’s Zhongshan Park:

> Customer: 服务员,烟灰缸! [Waitress, (bring an) ashtray!]

> Waitress: 这里不可以吸烟。 [You can’t smoke here.]

> Customer: 有吸烟区吗? [Is there a smoking section?]

> Waitress: 没有。 [No.]

> Customer: [grumble, grumble]

In case you’re not familiar with China, let me tell you what’s surprising.

1. The guy asked for an ash tray rather than just lighting up.

2. The guy (and the other two men with him) accepted the restaurant’s no smoking policy

I guess I just like to celebrate the tiny little signs of social progress I see around me.


I’ve also noticed a sharp divide between the coffee shops in Shanghai. If you accept that the major chains here are Starbucks (星巴克), Coffee Bean (香啡缤), and UBC (上岛咖啡), they fall on a smoking/no-smoking continuum like so:

The Smoking/Non-Smoking Cafe Continuum (Shanghai)

Costa Coffee aligns with Starbucks, and, at least in some locations, Cittá has recently joined the “glassed-in smoking section” faction, joining Coffee Bean.

You can see how smoking policies align with these companies’ target markets. UBC, with its dedication to universal smokers’ rights, frequently reeks of smoke, and has quite a few middle-aged Chinese men in there talking business (or something). Starbucks, on the other hand, is full of trendy young Shanghainese, and usually at least a couple foreigners. The interesting thing is that Coffee Bean and its ilk seem to have basically the same types of customers as Starbucks, and you rarely see middle-aged people there, even if they can smoke there. Most of the smokers at Coffee Bean and Cittá are young.

What does all this mean? Well, I’m just hoping that there will be less smoking in China’s future. Maybe UBC will even start to reek less!


06

Feb 2011

Pittsburgh Left = China Left

Pittsburgh

Photo by Melissa Robison

I subscribe to the Urban Dictionary word of the day mailing list, and just yesterday I got this one:

> Pittsburgh Left

> Making a left turn just as the light turns green, pulling out before the oncoming traffic. Most people in Pittsburgh allow and encourage this behavior.

> “That jagoff wouldn’t give me the Pittsburgh left!”
“You should honk”

Hmmm, I would have called this a “China Left.” (Usually at a major intersection in Shanghai, the first 2-3 cars in the left turn lane will try to make their turns before the incoming traffic crosses the midpoint. This is totally normal, and no one gets upset about it.)


05

Feb 2011

Character Rotation Game

Fierce Wind Zone

Fierce Wind Zone

My friend Jason recently brought to my attention this cool logo for a band called 凶风区 (“Fierce Wind Zone”). This brought to mind a Chinese character game I proposed on my Chinese blog years ago in a post called 转字游戏 (literally, “Turn Characters Game”). I’m not sure why I never posted this stuff in English, but I figure better late than never!

Here are the rules of the game as I originally posted them, in Chinese:

zhuanziyouxi

Basically, the aim of the game is to take any character and rotate it (most likely 180 or 90 degrees) to get a different character. So focusing on symmetrical characters like 田 is missing the point. The easy example I gave is the pair 由/甲.

And here are some of the solutions I provided (SPOILERS BELOW!), the second row being a bit less strict than the first row:

(more…)


27

Jan 2011

Nice try, Carrefour

Carrefour keeps trying new things to deal with the shopping hoard that flows through its boundaries every day here in Shanghai. I mentioned a “basket-only line” idea a while back. I’m not sure when it disappeared, but it seems that idea is long gone. Lately I noticed another interesting idea:

IMG_0004

The text reads:

> 如您前面有4人排队 If there are 4 customers waiting before you

> 请按键 Please press the button

> 减少您的等待时间是 Reduce your waiting time by every second in cashier line

> 我们的承诺 is our commitment

Decent idea, in theory, but the reason that button is so funny-looking is because the button is actually missing (presumably destroyed by all the constant frantic mashing it received).

Nice try, Carrefour.


Related: Shanghai Carrefour Showcase (2006)


25

Jan 2011

Aeviou: A Chinese Input Method with Promise

Aeviou” is the name of a new input method for Chinese, designed specifically for a new generation of touchscreen mobile devices with soft keyboards. This new input method, which looks to be at least partially inspired by Swype, seems to solve a lot of the problems currently faced by pinyin-centric input methods.

The Problem

The problem is that while pinyin is a convenient way to enter Chinese on a keyboard, for many, it’s an extremely unforgiving input method. For languages like English, T9 predictive text input on older phones and, more recently, auto-correct on soft keyboards have greatly sped up text input on mobile devices, but neither of these works for pinyin. This is partly due to the shortcuts offered by pinyin input methods. For example, to get 你好, you could enter “nihao” in its entirely, but you can could also enter “nih” or “nhao” or maybe even just “nh”. Most of the pinyin input methods out there now will display 你好 as a top result for any of these inputs. You quickly get used to entering “xx” (or at most “xiex”) instead of “xiexie” to get 谢谢, and the whole thing saves a lot of time.

The way this system of shortcuts is unforgiving is that it depends on every keystroke being accurate. When a single letter is used to represent a whole syllable (and thus a whole character), a typo can be disastrous. When you’re spelling out whole words in English, there’s some leeway which can be leveraged in order to create input methods like T9 and auto-correct. But when you’re shortcutting your way through pinyin, T9 and auto-correct aren’t options. (I have to admit, though, Chinese pinyin-based auto-correct would have results disastrous enough to be way funnier than the ones seen on damnyouautocorrect.com.)

Some Examples of Why You Can’t Auto-Correct

I’m going to give some hypothetical examples based on my Mac’s pinyin input system, QIM. Theoretically, you could get the same or similar results on many mobile device soft keyboards, although each is a little different. The most interesting results would probably occur on an Android phone using Google pinyin, since the input method is synced with your PC’s pinyin input method.

Anyway, the examples (in each case, there’s a typo affecting one letter in the input):

1. Trying to type “hpy” to get 好朋友 (good friend), you type “hpt” and get 很普通 (very ordinary).

2. Trying to type “bjhcz” to get 北京火车站 (Beijing Train Station), you type “bjhcx” and get 北京话出现 (Beijing dialect emerges!).

3. Trying to type “xgmn” to get 性感美女 (sexy beautiful woman), you type “xfmn” and get 幸福吗你 (are you happy?).

OK, so these examples are a little over the top, and no one is going to get by using only the first letter of every syllable to type in pinyin, but the shortcuts are built into the input method.

A New Solution

So the reason the Aeviou is a great solution is that it offers the quickness of the “shortcuts” above through a “swipe” method, made possible by a soft keyboard that updates with each “keystroke” to offer input only of possible syllables. Effectively, it kills the shortcuts but allows full, unambiguous pinyin syllable entry to become quick and painless.

Read more on TechRice, where I read about this new input method, and check out the video below for a demo:

Great idea! I’m really happy to see innovation around Android in China.


20

Jan 2011

Big Snow in Shanghai

I say “big snow” because that’s the literally translation of the Chinese word for “heavy snow”: 大雪. And what we woke up to this morning in Shanghai is definitely a heavy snow for this part of China!

The Shanghainese aren’t used to the snow. This car, for example, drove out into traffic without even clearing its rear window:

IMG_0022

Probably the weirdest thing to see, though, is the “snow sweeping”; the use of Chinese straw brooms to clear the snow. No, it’s not very effective, but no one has snow shovels.

IMG_0018

IMG_0019

IMG_0021


17

Jan 2011

Going to the Dentist in Shanghai

Life in China for us non-Chinese is a never-ending process of adaptation. Some things come easier than others. For me, one of the most difficult to get used to has been going to the dentist. Let’s face it — Americans are pretty vain when it comes to teeth, and we don’t see a lot on a daily basis to inspire confidence in China’s dentistry skill. Does an American like me dare go to the dentist in China? How does one make such a decision?

I don’t claim to have all the answers for everyone, but I can share my own experiences, which may be useful to some of you out there (especially those of you in Shanghai).

I started my China stay in Hangzhou. The only “dental clinics” I ever saw there were tiny little shops on the side of small roads. They often had glass sliding doors opening right into a tiny room with a dentist’s chair, and if you walked by the shop at the right time, you could peer right into a patient’s open mouth from the other side of the glass door, without even going inside. Not exactly private. Some of them also look, to put it nicely, quite “amateur,” and they offer pricing to reflect that. Clearly, they fill a need in the Chinese market, but they’re not the type of place most foreigners are going to entrust their pearly whites to.

Here’s one of the “roadside dental clinics,” this one in Shanghai, and actually looking a lot nicer than the ones I saw back in the day in Hangzhou (click through to the Flickr photo page for an explanation of the characters on the doors):

Dental Clinic

What I didn’t know at the time, living in Hangzhou, is that many Chinese people actually go to hospitals to have their dental work done. I’ve never done that, but from what I’ve heard the quality of dental work offered at hospitals can vary quite a lot, and the sheer volume of patients going through hospitals means the service is not likely to be of the same caliber as a dedicated dental clinic.

In a big city like Shanghai, western-style dental clinics do exist. They’re more expensive than more traditional Chinese options, but there are also acceptably priced options. For over 8 years in China, I had successfully avoided trying out any of these dental care options, feebly hoping that my faithful brushing and flossing would be enough to carry me through forever. Eventually, an old filling came out, and I had an undeniable need for a dentist. I ended up choosing Byer Dental Clinic (拜尔齿科) in Shanghai’s Zhongshan Park Cloud Nine (龙之梦) Shopping Center. It looked very clean, professional, and up-to-date, and respectful of patient privacy.

Byer Dental

Byer Dental

I was really impressed by the service and price I got from Byer Dental. Make no mistake; it was more expensive than I could have gotten from a host of more traditional Chinese options, but I actually felt at ease. I hadn’t been to a dentist in years, and it was good to see that the facilities were far more technologically advanced than anything I had seen before. The replacement filling used a high-quality white material which hardened instantly under a special blue light. The filling it replaced was from 1998, the ugly metallic green kind, that typically last less than 10 years before needing to be replaced.

I don’t remember how much I paid for my last filling, but just recently another old filling cracked, and I found myself back at Byer Dental. This time the total was 610 RMB (currently USD 93). I’m not a “member” or anything. I made the appointment the day before, was seen at 3pm on Saturday, and was completely done and out of there at 3:45pm. I could eat right away, and even though I had had a shot of local anesthetic, I guess it was just the right amount, because my mouth wasn’t even numb.

The staff is perhaps not super-fluent in English but sufficiently bilingual, and they were happy to talk to me in Chinese. I really enjoyed talking to the dentist about recent advances in dental technology, and the difference between my old crappy fillings and the new ones they put in. She taught me words like 光固化 (“photo-curing”? means “light,” and “固化” means “to make solid,” as in “固体,” the word for “solid”). Really friendly and informative staff every time I go.

This recommendation is based on only two visits to Byer Dental over roughly two years, but I’ve had really great experiences there. I recommended Byer Dental to my friend Hank, and he also had a good experience there. If you’re delaying a visit to the dentist due to fear of Chinese dental clinics like I was, I recommend you give Byer Dental a try before it’s too late.

Obviously, if anyone else has any good (or bad) dental experiences in Shanghai or the rest of China, please feel free to share them in the comments. This information can have a permanent effect on other people’s lives, so please don’t hold back!


Related ChinesePod lessons:

Elementary – Toothache
Intermediate – Going to the Dentist
Upper Intermediate – Straightening Teeth
Upper Intermediate – Phobias (in which I admitted that I had been in China 6 years already, but still hadn’t gotten up the nerve to see the dentist in China!)


31

Dec 2010

A Rough End to 2010

This Sinosplice silence has gone on for too long! Time for a personal post.

Leading up to Christmas, I was preparing to make a trip back to the USA. This time that involved not only the usual gift-buying, but also getting a good lead in the recordings at ChinesePod, and also making sure that all of my AllSet Learning clients are properly taken care of the whole time as well.

What was meant to be a “short and sweet” visit was turned not so short by the massive snowfall in the northeast, canceling my flight out, and turned not so sweet by a bout of the flu. (I thought maybe the constant exposure to Chinese germs had me toughened up to the point of being nearly invulnerable to American germs, but this time I fell hard.)

It’s been a long and tiring 2010, but an enormous amount of good work has been laid for an awesome 2011. I’ve got lots more ideas for this blog, and I’ll be taking the time to write them up. (Now if only I could eat solid food…)


14

Dec 2010

Chinese Christmas Videos, Chinese Christmas Songs

Well, it’s that time of year again. People are looking for Christmas songs. I try to add a little to my collection every year. This year I’ve got a couple new videos at the bottom.

Classic Christmas Songs in Chinese

Enjoy this Sinosplice Christmas music content from the archive: The Sinosplice Chinese Christmas Song Album (~40 MB)

preparing for shanghai christmas 2/12/6

Photo by Luuluu

1. Jingle Bells
2. We Wish You a Merry Christmas
3. Santa Claus Is Coming to Town
4. Silent Night
5. The First Noel
6. Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
7. What Child Is This
8. Joy to the World
9. It Came Upon a Midnight Clear
10. Jingle Bells
11. Santa Claus Is Coming to Town
12. Silent Night
13. Joy to the World

[The sharper among you may have noticed that some of the songs towards the end repeat. That’s because there are multiple versions of some of the same songs. See also the original blog post from 2006, or download the songs individually, for a limited time.]

Other Christmas Fun:

Ding Ding Dong (hilarious Hakka version MP3)

Christmas Classics in Cantonese (the song link is still good, but the Flash links below are mostly dead now)

The Christmas Story in Chinese (#005 and #006 in the New Testament)

Chinese Christmas Videos:

OK, this one is so ridiculous I had to share it. What happens if you put classic 90’s video games, East vs. West, racist toothpaste, and strong homosexual overtones into one little Christmas-themed Chinese commercial?

You get something like this [Youku link]:

Finally, I leave you with dancing Chinese Santas. Don’t thank me yet… [Youku link]:


09

Dec 2010

The Top Ten China Myths of 2010

I rarely blog about current events, but this one is too interesting and concise to pass up: The Top Ten China Myths of 2010, by Evan Osnos of the New Yorker.

Quick and dirty list of the 10 myths:

1. Dissidents no longer matter in global diplomacy.
2. No company can afford to antagonize China.
3. China is parting ways with North Korea.
4. The U.S. has lost the green-technology race.
5. Beijing doesn’t care about air quality.
6. Beijing has licked its air-quality problem.
7. China’s G.D.P. growth speaks for itself.
8. The “Beijing Model” is a product of Deng Xiaoping’s economic engineering.
9. Apparatchiks can get away with anything.
10. China will do everything it can to avoid ruffling foreign powers.

Read the full article.


30

Nov 2010

Subway Firewall Ads

I noticed these ads recently in the subway. They’re sponsored by the Shanghai fire department. It makes sense to want to raise fire safety awareness in light of the recent tragic fire, but I don’t really get the whole “firewall” thing. Like in English, the Chinese term 防火墙 seems to be used primarily in the IT industry these days.

Firewall in the Subway

Firewall in the Subway

P.S. My dictionary says “firewall” is another word for “Chinese wall.” Hmmm.


24

Nov 2010

Writing Songs through the Expat Experience

I’m organizing an event that takes place tonight in Shanghai at Xindanwei (details here):

Tom-Mangione-poster

If you’re familiar with Tom, you know he puts a lot of thought into his songs. This talk is going to be kind of like a real-life “director’s commentary” version of a DVD, except the commentary comes after the content. Tom is going to play three different songs (one of them in Chinese) while the lyrics are displayed, and then he’ll talk about the inspiration and experiences that went into each song. Of course, he’ll also answer questions from the audience.

The event is 30 RMB, and includes drinks and snacks. Remember: it’s tonight!


14

Nov 2010

Kingston 256 GB USB Drive (?!?)

Spotted in the electronics market at the southwest corner of Huaihai Rd. and S. Xizang Rd.:

Kingston 256 GB USB Drive (?!?)

The 256 GB drive is fake. The vendor in the electronics market admitted to me that the actual hardware was a 64 GB drive (pictured to the right). He said he wouldn’t sell a fake USB drive to foreigners like me who speak Chinese. (Get ripped off less: Another reason to learn Chinese.)


10

Nov 2010

China Mobile GPRS Settings for the iPhone

I switched back to the iPhone lately, but since I don’t want to leave my China Mobile number, I’m stuck with the slow GPRS (Edge) cellular data connection. Anyway, somehow I always seem to have trouble finding the proper cellular data info to get everything working, and I thought I’d share it just in case anyone needs it.

First go to Settings > General > Network > Cellular Data Network and then input this data:

China Mobile iPhone GPRS Settings

> APN: cmnet

> Username: user

> Password: cmnet

You don’t need to worry about the rest. Make sure that on the Settings > General > Network screen you have “Cellular Data” set to “ON.”

Obviously, you need to have already activated the cellular data service through China Mobile first for this to work.


04

Nov 2010

Google Suggest Venn Diagrams for Chinese, Japanese, and English

I was recently introduced to the awesome Google Suggest Venn Diagram Generator by Micah. Some interesting suggested searches by Google were crossed with a Venn diagram by some creative soul, and then the process was automated on the web by request. The result is a unique way to visualize and compare the data indexed by Google.

Here’s an example of what the diagram generator produces:

google-venn_people-girls-americans

So we can see from this graph that according to Google, lots of people are asking (or telling) why both people and girls are mean, why girls and Americans are dumb, and why people, girls, and Americans are all stupid.

I decided to try some queries of my own. I chose the terms “Chinese,” “Japanese,” and “English” as my recurring comparisons, and then added a little color to the results. Here are some of the more interesting ones:

how does _____ …

google-venn_how-does

Yikes, “how does Chinese water torture work“? Gotta love the intellectual curiosity. I like the “how does English sound to foreigners” question though.

learn _____ …

google-venn_learn

Apparently there’s a whole lot of learning going on in the DC area. It’s no surprise that people want to learn online for free, but it’s interesting that Chinese is the only language of the three that people expect to learn in 5 minutes. (Tip: it might take slightly longer than that.)

_____ grammar …

google-venn_grammar

Ah, good old . (I’m kind of surprised it trumped , though.)

awesome _____ …

google-venn_awesome

stupid _____ …

google-venn_stupid

Why is _____ so damn…

google-venn_so-damn-hard

Ah, yes. But we expected that.


25

Oct 2010

Learners as Experts

Hank recently turned me onto Kirsten Winkler’s blog, which is full of thought-provoking material for modern educators. One article I especially enjoyed recently was Leaving the Stage: Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age. It totally resonated with both my experience at ChinesePod as well as what I’m doing now at AllSet Learning.

Some choice quotes:

> The impact of digital learners on twenty-first century learning environments—including the traditional classroom—highlights the changing role of teachers who, in teaching digital natives, discover that the learners appear to have taken control of the learning process.

> In responding to these changes, what is expected of teachers? Will they simply pursue the traditional model—ignoring their learners’ overnight forays on the web—and assume that time and patience will restore the conventional roles of teacher and student? Perhaps they attempt to master the new technologies themselves, believing they can (or should) equal or even surpass their students’ expertise in navigating online learning environments. Or will teachers and learners together negotiate other possibilities for teaching learners in the digital age?

> […]

> In the past decade, however, the introduction of personal digital devices and a range of new web-based search tools and social media have woven a bold new thread into the discussion of “expertise” in the classroom: namely, the appearance of digital-native students who imagine that their ability to conduct extensive online searches, grab and store what they find, and rapidly share the information with each other qualifies them as experts, too.

At ChinesePod, we produce a lot of lessons, and at the forefront of the academic oversight is the question, “is this material appropriate for this level?” It’s a decision that never goes away, and even after 5 years, it’s not easy. After 5 years, though, experience does help a lot.

I certainly can’t deny that user input at ChinesePod has been enormously instructive in helping us shape the service. Especially when certain requests are made en masse, the way forward can be very clear. When a minority requests changes that will affect everyone, however, we have to be a lot more careful about acting or not acting on them.

Anyway, it was good seeing this article, which points out a change I’m already witnessing, and also highlights a new source of friction. Friction is good, though. Sometimes it leads to blisters, but it also leads to those smooth shiny spots.


18

Oct 2010

Busy Moving AllSet Learning Office

I’ve been very busy this past week with AllSet Learning. The growth of the business has necessitated a new full(er)-time assistant whom I’ve been busy training, and at the same time, our host office, Xindanwei, has just moved. That means the AllSet Learning office is now located in Shanghai’s trendy French concession area. If you’ve been delaying your visit because our previous location was not cool enough for you, your wait is over. The new address is:

> No. 50 Yongjia Road
> Shanghai, China

> 中国上海市永嘉路50号

Here’s a shot of the new location:

nEO_IMG_IMG_0566

I put a few more shots on the AllSet Learning News blog.

Anyway, I’m returning to blogging as usual on Sinosplice this week!


Get Sinosplice Tooltips from the WordPress Plugin Directory

08

Oct 2010

Get Sinosplice Tooltips from the WordPress Plugin Directory

The Sinosplice Tooltips WordPress Plugin is now downloadable from the public WordPress Plugin Directory. I’m not sure why it doesn’t yet show up in searches (either on through WordPress site, or through the WP admin plugin section), but you can still download and install it. I’d like to thank Andy Warmack, the developer, for his time and dedication to making this plugin happen and helping me to provide it for free.

And now a little bit of clarification on what the plugin does, for those that are interested.

What the plugin does:

– Adds the CSS and javascript to create attractive tooltips for Chinese like this: 中文
– Adds a quicktag to the HTML mode of the WordPress post editor, allowing you to add tooltip content as easily as you add a link
– Provides settings so that you can control the color and content (to a limited degree) of the tooltip
– Adds tooltip data into your post HTML in a standards-compliant way that degrades gracefully if the necessary javascript or CSS is not supported

What the plugin doesn’t do:

– Automate the addition of pinyin to Chinese words (it’s all manual at this point, for full control)
– Draw on any kind of dictionary data
– Convert numerical pinyin (pin1yin1) to tone mark pinyin (pīnyīn); I recommend my friend Mark’s Pinyin Input Firefox Extension for that, which works fine with the WordPress HTML editor

Download away! If you install the plugin and decide to keep using it, please leave me a comment so that I can see how it looks on other sites. Thanks!


28

Sep 2010

Ruined by Popularity

I remember when a big new Carrefour supermarket opened down the street from my Shanghai apartment I was quite happy about it at first. The convenience! Everything I needed, including a few imports, and for reasonable prices, right down the street.

Carrefour

Photo by Ek Chin Tan

As it turns out, that Carrefour was too popular. It was absolutely packed, all the time. I never wanted to go into that madhouse. Eventually I learned that there were certain times when it wasn’t too bad, but that pretty much ruins the convenience factor, right?

The same is true for China’s 7-day holidays. Never mind that the whole “7 days off” thing is a sham for a second — what can you do in 7 days in China? Well, a whole lot, actually. The only problem is that so can much of the rest of the country.

After a few years of experimentation, many of us, both foreign and Chinese, try to get out of China for these 7-day holidays (if affordable tickets can be found), or to lay low and take it easy. An uneventful vacation is better than a crowded, stressful one.

It does make me wonder, though, how well this whole “excessive popularity ruins things when your population is so big” idea is sinking in, and where the problem is going to strike next. (Cars and parking seems like a safe bet.)

Happy National Day Holiday (October 1-7)! I’ll be here in Shanghai.



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