Every now and then I see something around Shanghai that feels like it were almost designed for Chinese learners, to put on a flashcard or something. Here’s the latest one (photographed near the Xintiandi Metro station):
The character is 宠 (CHONG), and it means “to spoil” or “to pamper.” You know, that’s the whole reason people get pets (宠物): they’re animals (动物) that they can totally love, dote on, and spoil (宠).
Obviously, this particular example is a bit over the top, and if it were a bit more up with the times, it would be an apricot toy poodle, clearly the current “fad dog” in Shanghai. You see these little dogs on the arms of girls all over the city, as well as in the photos of various types of social media.
(I think this city is due for a new fad dog, actually.)
Well, it’s almost Chinese New Year, and this new one is the year of the dragon. It didn’t escape too many Chinese designers’ notice that it’s pretty easy to turn a “2” into a dragon, so lately we’re seeing a lot of designs like these:
Here’s one that’s a little different:
Not as fun as last year, though! I’m still not a huge fan of this holiday, and it’s getting harder and harder for this country’s residents to go home to it celebrate it properly, but it’s still an interesting time of year.
Happy Chinese New Year! 新年好！ (The new year starts Monday.)
Recently discovered this hilarious video on Youku. Be sure to watch it to the end.
The video appears to be from Taiwan.
This got me thinking… “funny animal videos” (along with “cute baby videos”) belong to a small set of video types which has universal appeal. If you watch funny animal videos on Youku, you’ll notice that most of them come from outside China, and were simply “ported to” (copied and uploaded to) Youku. Obviously, it could go the other way as well, but for now, that’s less common. Why aren’t more “funny animals videos” from China?
Well there are a number of reasons… Household pets are not as common in China yet, and video equipment may not be quite as prevalent (although it must be getting close!). As these two increase, you can reasonably expect the filming of pets to increase, and with that the number of funny animal videos coming from China.
So I wonder… how long do we have before the majority of these videos come from China?
ChinesePod and Shanghaiist just kicked off a collaborative podcast called Chinese Soundbites. The first one is about China’s star track athlete Liu Xiang (刘翔). On the show Jenny and Amber talk about current events in China, and give a few relevant Chinese vocabulary words.
One of the phrases in the first episode is 好样的. It’s kind of hard to translate because literally it means something like “good appearance” or “good form.” But it’s used a lot like “good job” is in English (which, conversely, cannot be directly translated as 好工作 into Chinese!).
In the podcast Jenny uses 好样的 to voice her support for Liu Xiang. It’s kind of funny, because lately my strongest association with the phrase is my wife’s use of it. We’re house-training our puppy, and every time he successfully does his business outside, my wife praises him with a “好样的!” (“good boy!“).
I talk to my dog in Chinese. It makes sense, really. He’s a Chinese dog.
He’s not a Chinese breed, but he’s born and raised in China. He may be white, but I’m not racist enough to make that mean English is his language too.
Jokes aside, it’s still not that simple. I’ve been paying attention to my dog’s other interactions, and it seems that my wife, normally not big on the “English practice” thing, talks to him an awful lot in English. (I mainly talk to him in English only when I’m mad at him for peeing on the floor… again.)
Yesterday Brad came over and talked to him in Chinese too. I’m not sure if he was just following my lead or what… I didn’t ask Brad about it, but I wouldn’t expect him to have consciously chosen the language he used to talk to a dog.
In some ways pets make the best language partners. They never criticize, never mishear or misunderstand… they just listen. The speaker is under no pressure to perform, and yet has the attention of a transfixed audience.
I’m quite sure I would not talk to my dog in Chinese if I were back in the States, though. My dog is experiencing the effect of his master living in a second language environment.
Obviously, a pet can never be a true language partner; there’s very little real communication and no negotiation of meaning going on. Still, it’s a nice intermediary step between talking to oneself and actually speaking with a human partner.
It does make me wonder, though: have there been studies on human-animal interaction in a second language acquisition context?
Mouse Umbrella is a “free beautifully illustrated Chinese/English children’s book.” I probably would have written about it sooner if it were e-mailed to me rather than submitted as a new blog on the CBL.
The author’s explanation:
> As an educator I was hoping you would take a look at my book and give me some feed back. This beautifully illustrated 6 page haiku is intend for Pre-K children who speak Chinese as a first language or English speaking children learning Chinese as a second language. A little mouse is enjoying a bright red cherry at a restaurant when he is washed away by a flash flood. He has only a drink umbrella to help him. Originally written and illustrated by me – Tansy O’Bryant as a bridge between Chinese speaking children and English speaking children. Chinese translation was provided by and Chinese student who was afraid to write because her characters where not perfect. It was esteeming for her to know that the act of not writing is far worse than a little “wobbly” writing. Helps children understand both the power of writing and the beauty of reading with Mouse Umbrella.
It is a nice book, and the illustrations are great. The art reminds me of one of my favorite illustrators ever, Graham Oakley. It’s not the best book for studying Chinese, perhaps, but I’m sure some of my readers will enjoy it. (Anyone out there reading stories to their children from an on-screen PDF file yet?)
I had a great “only in China” moment this morning that had me chuckling. On my commute to work something smelled fishy (quite literally) ahead of me, and as soon as I saw the scene I realized what had happened.
by Aapplemint on Flickr
Apparently a woman was carrying a basket of live crabs on the subway, and on the transfer from Line 2 to Line 1 in People’s Square Station, she dropped her cargo. The basket ripped open, and three large blue crabs (about the size of an American football each) fled from their prison, scuttling off in three different directions. Despite clearly being somewhat afraid of the crabs, the woman was desperately trying to collect her precious cargo (I’m not being sarcastic here; the Chinese really love their crab, and these were some pretty big crabs). As busy commuters passed by, they couldn’t help but linger for a few seconds and smile at the comical scene.
Sadly, none of us helped her out, and none of us snapped a picture.
The graphic should be familiar to those that know their American history. The Chinese says 食蛇补身, which means something like “eating snake nourishes the body” (i.e. “snake is nutritious”). I’ll let you figure out what it means when you put the two together.
Sure, you may enjoy your dog’s company, and maybe he can lift your spirits when you’re down in the dumps. But what does your dog really do for you? Precious few dogs even fetch their masters’ slippers these days (not to mention the morning paper). It’s a disgrace.
So it’s time to put your dog to work! Make your dog into a flashcard. Buy this shirt and put it on your dog, and then instead of merely prancing around in empty-headed glee, he’ll actually be educating you, continually exposing you to the character 狗 (in the perfect context) and how to pronounce it: “gǒu.”
If you’d like to take it a step further, your dog could even educate you on the characters for dog meat: 狗肉. Your Chinese houseguests are sure to love that. (Just be sure they realize it’s a joke.)
Note: After creating the “dog meat” t-shirt I did a check, and indeed, I am not the first person to make such a shirt. Gou-rou.com had already thought of it (shocker!). Their shirt promotes their website, and mine promotes education, though.
Have you heard of the Chinese river dolphin? The Guardian recently wrote a story called On the trail of the Yangtze’s lost dolphin. By “lost” they mean “likely already polluted into extinction.” (Whoops… who could have predicted what whacky side effects repeated dumping of untreated chemical byproducts into a river could have?)
Alf on his Quixotic mission
The species may already be long gone, but that hasn’t stopped an international expedition from getting out there and trying to find it. My friend Alf actually joined said quest. It is as yet unclear whether their efforts are all in vain.
Alf, at least, got himself featured in the Guardian. Check out image 04 of the slideshow and you can see him peering through a pair of comically large binoculars. (Ladies, check out image 14 to see a Chinese fisherman with a physique rivaling Bruce Lee’s!)
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.
Imagine a Klondike Bar without the chocolate shell. Just a nice thick square of vanilla ice cream. That’s basically what White Bear (白熊) Ice Cream is.
The picture shows a spoon, but who needs that? The wrappered slab of vanilla fits in your hand comfortably, no utensil required. The ice cream is pretty good… rather creamy for a Chinese brand. It costs 5 rmb. I think I still prefer 大块头 ice cream at only 1 rmb, but I don’t have a scan for that.
Apparently in Chinese you can say either 白熊 (literally, “white bear”) or 北极熊 (literally, “North Pole bear”) for “polar bear.” My dictionaries don’t indicate a distinction between the two terms. Based on my own experience, 北极熊 is more common, but I can’t say I’ve really had many conversations about arctic animals in Chinese.
A while back (years ago, I believe) I offered to host Jamie Doom on the Sinosplice Network (wow, that page is really in need of a makeover). Apparently Jamie is aware of neither the gradual decline of the Sinosplice Network nor the unspoken statute of limitations on such a verbal offer (it’s one year). By resurrecting my long expired offer, I was put in an embarrassing situation which I handled deftly… by agreeing immediately to host him. And then set up a WordPress blog for him. And then customize and edit his theme for him. And then write a post on my blog promoting his new blog location. Such are the powers of awkwardness between friends that haven’t actually seen each other in a long time.
But I suppose I should say something about the double cock action, which is presumably what drew you to this post in the first place.
Jamie was originally going to do his theme in some kind of wussy bamboo green theme (who likes green, anyway??), but I talked him out of it. I had seen the strength of the double cock action in his photo collection, and I knew that strength could be a part of his new blog as well.
From that humble double cock beginning, the theme took on a life of its own and matured. Jamie is anything but one dimensional, and double cock action alone is a completely inadequate representation of all that is Jamie Doom.
I’ve been told they exist here too, but I haven’t yet seen an ice cream truck here in China. What I have seen, as of last Saturday, is a cricket bicycle. No circus music tunes coming from this bicycle. Instead, incessant cricket chirping is what alerts you of its presence. It drew me right over.
Below, Cricket Man is showing me his goods. 3 rmb for the little crickets, 5 rmb for the big ones. You have to cut the little baskets open if you want to get them out.
Look at that bike… Loaded up, with crickety goodness! (Each of the spherical baskets on the back of the bike has a cricket inside it.)
At my request, Cricket Man is transferring a cricket to one of the nicer cages (which sell for 5 rmb each). He says they do bite, but it doesn’t hurt much. I noticed he didn’t want to touch the cricket, though.
Imprisoned again… more attractively, this time.
I didn’t buy a cricket. I gave Cricket Man a tip for going to the trouble of tranferring a cricket so I could get some pictures. He said the crickets he sold will fight each other. I guess these are the crickets I heard about, so long ago…
P.S. It strikes me that maybe these are locusts, not crickets. But so what? This is Sinosplice, not Entomosplice!
So many inventions and customs originated in China that it’s not uncommon for me to learn one that I never knew about before. Sometimes, however, the claims get a little ridiculous.
My favorite is the claim that the Japanese are actually a lost tribe of Chinese from southern Zhejiang, and that the Japanese language has evolved out of the dialect of Wenzhou. I think the first part is simply a creative attempt to explain Japan’s financial success while holding onto Chinese pride. The second part is undoubtedly rooted in the fact that a lot of Chinese people think that Wenzhou’s dialect–a dialect reknowned for being totally unintelligible to speakers of virtually any other dialect in China–sounds like Japanese. The people that say it sounds like Japanese usually understand no actual Japanese. As someone that understands Japanese, I can assure you that Wenzhou-hua sounds nothing like Japanese.
Recently I ran into another possible example of a far-fetched claim related to Japan. The claim is that the practice of keeping koi (colorful carp) originated in China. I immediately found this suspect, but then figured it was probably largely because my time spent in Japan was my first significant contact with the tradition, and the word koi has been imported into the English language from Japanese (not Chinese) recently. Obviously, neither of these reasons are real evidence that the practice of raising koi really originated in Japan.
I checked my favorite reference, Wikipedia. The koi entry had this to say on the matter:
While a Chinese book of the Western Jin Dynasty (4th century) mentions carp with various colors, Koi breeding is generally thought to have begun during the 19th century in the Niigata prefecture of Japan.
This doesn’t prove anything conclusively, so I thought maybe it would be wise to ask an actual domesticated carp where the practice originated:
Not long ago at work I was part of a team working on an educational cartoon about sea creatures. The term 鲸鱼 was used in the script. Someone pointed out that the correct term for the mammal is actually 鲸, since a whale is, in fact, not a fish at all (the 鱼 character in means “fish”). I found this quite interesting. In English we don’t need to worry about the actual name of a whale; its name doesn’t carry that information. Still, you hear some of the same kind of nomenclature lecturing from the zoologist crowd when people say “panda bear” or “koala bear.”
I think probably every language has funny words for animals that are based on other animals. In English we have guinea pig, groundhog, hedgehog, prairie dog, jellyfish, and sea lion. I don’t think those are going to change. The ones targeted for “revision” seem to be the ones that are actually potentially misleading due to great similarity.
If you’re a foreigner just learning the Chinese language, however, there are a lot of animal names that could be misleading. Some of the ones that come to mind:
I’m sure there are more, but I’m not a Chinese animal name encyclopedia.
Maybe I’ve left out a lot, but it seems to me that Chinese does a lot more “borrowing” of animal names to create new animal names than English does. Could it be related to Chinese characters? (A large number of animals have their own characters, but at some point that practice becomes impractical.) It seems that a much greater proportion of animal names in English are loanwords.
I’m not really trying to prove anything here… Just throwing out a few thoughts. Also, I think it’s names like the Chinese examples above that make learning a new language interesting, so it’s a fun thing to share.