Wow, this year December has turned out to be very low on posts. I’ve been trying to update twice a week, but I didn’t pull it off this month. I was in Florida visiting family for more than half the month, and blogging just didn’t happen.
While not blogging, I’ve been thinking a bit about how this 2012 went. I came up with two main conclusions.
It was a good year for AllSet Learning.
Again, I have to thank the exceptional bunch of people that have entrusted us to help them learn Chinese here in Shanghai. Our clients are our investors, and thanks to them, we’re going strong.
In 2012 AllSet Learning launched the Chinese Grammar Wiki, which has more than doubled in number of articles while quality of articles rises across the board (more on this later). We also released the AllSet Learning Pinyin iPad app in the first half of the year and the Chinese Picture Book Reader iPad app in the second half. Both are doing well, and I’m just so pleased to be making my designs a reality.
We’ve also had some more awesome interns, a trend which looks to be continuing into 2013. (Thanks, guys!)
It was a bad year for staying in China.
I’ve remained silent on the news buzz about Mark Kitto et al because I don’t really think it’s that much of a story. But the disturbing thing about it all is that this year a surprisingly large proportion of my close friends in Shanghai have either left or announced plans to leave.
It’s not that I expected everyone to stay in Shanghai forever. I always tell people that I’ll be in China as long as it makes sense, and due to the particular career path I’ve chosen, it makes sense for me to stay around longer than perhaps a lot of my friends that have taken up residency here. But it still seems a little strange that so many friends would decide to leave all around the time. I suspect that the “10 year mark” has something to do with it. We humans do tend to attach importance to that number.
The latest to leave Shanghai is Brad Ferguson, of the website BradF.com, which has long since ceased to be his domain, but it’s how I originally got in touch with Brad. He helped me move into my first apartment in Shanghai the first time we met, which I think was a pretty good sign that he was a decent guy.
Brad did one thing before leaving which I thought was quite interesting. He got a Chinese character tattoo. Seems like most of the time the ones getting Chinese character tattoos are white people that have never set foot in Asia, and oftentimes end up inking questionable symbols on their bodies. Brad, however, got a pretty cool Chinese poem tattooed on his arm:
Not sure exactly about the meaning of a white guy getting such a tattoo on his arm as he leaves China, but it makes me think.
Here’s a chart which incorporates illustrations of food into their Chinese character forms [Note: these are based on Japanese kanji, so not all apply equally to Chinese; see my notes below]:
Below are the characters involved, suped up with Sinosplice Tooltips for the readings of both the Chinese and Japanese (more notes at the bottom). I get the impression the English translations were not written by a native speaker, so I’ve added a few notes in brackets to clarify where appropriate.
蛯 ( / 老 / 蝦)
root [= radish]
Creating this table was a good exercise in both vocab comparison between Japanese and Chinese, and also simplified and traditional characters. A few things jumped out as I created the table above:
1. Many of the Japanese characters above are not normally written in characters (kanji). In modern Japan, many words like 林檎 (apple), 苺 (strawberry), and 蛯 (shrimp) are often just written as “りんご,” “いちご,” and “えび,” respectively, in hiragana (no characters).
2. There are words like レモン (檸檬), the word for “lemon,” which looks weird not written in katakana. And I’m not familiar with 腹詰; I’ve always encountered “ソーセージ,” which entered Japanese as a loanword from the English “sausage.”
3. 苺 means “strawberry” in Japanese, but it’s the morpheme “-berry” in Chinese, used in such words as 草莓 (strawberry), 蓝莓 (blueberry), and 黑莓 (blackberry).
4. I’m not a big fish-eater, so I’m not confident in the fish translations. Any corrections are welcome.
There’s a lot more I could say here, but unfortunately, my blogging time is limited. Comments welcome!
Anyway, now that Sinosplice has been redesigned, it feels like it’s time to do the tooltips right: as a WordPress plugin. That way WordPress upgrades will be (mostly?) unaffected, and I can easily share the tool with other bloggers. I’m working with a developer now to create the plugin, free and opensource.
Basically what it will do is:
– Add the CSS you need, giving you a few options
– Add a quicktag to the HTML text editor to facilitate addition of tooltip code
The good part is that the effect is general enough that it doesn’t have to be pinyin-specific, meaning it could work for regular English blogs, blogs about Japanese, etc. I know there are a few WP tooltip plugins out there, but none of them offer quite what I want, as a blogger frequently writing about Chinese for learners.
I’ll be presenting the idea at Shanghai Barcamp tomorrow; maybe I’ll get some good ideas there. Good ideas are always welcome in the comments, too, of course!
Earlier this year, my Dreamhost webhosting account was hacked. I’ve been dealing with it for months, but I’m no programmer. The information provided by Dreamhost customer support, while helpful, has been far from sufficient to actually resolve the problem in a satisfactory way. That’s why I’m writing this blog post: to help others than might be in a similar situation.
How the Hacker Got In
I’m pretty sure the hacker got in through an old abandoned WordPress install that I had forgotten to delete. (It’s essential that you either keep all web apps up to date, or delete them. To do otherwise is to ask for trouble. Hackers will eventually discover the old installs with security vulnerabilities.)
After gaining access, the hacker uploaded a PHP backdoor script which allowed him to get back in easily and upload or edit any files he wants, even after I deleted the old WordPress installation that had the vulnerability. The backdoor script he used is called PHPspy, and is freely available on the internet. (Interestingly, it’s also Chinese.)
The first time I went to Xujiahui looking for iPhones, I didn’t have much luck. All the shops told me they didn’t carry 水货 (smuggled goods). Later, Brad tipped me off about exactly where to go in the computer market, and when I actually bought the iPhone about a week ago, the iPhone seemed to be for sale everywhere.
The place to buy the iPhone in the Xujiahui computer market is B1 (don’t waste your time upstairs). There are actually two computer markets in Xujiahui (both accessible from the subway); both are selling the iPhone in B1. I recommend the one connected to the big glass globe; there’s more selection/competition. The iPhone 3G can be found, but it’s quite expensive. I didn’t pay much attention to its selling price because the iPhone’s new 3G capabilities are useless in China. Instead, I sought out the original iPhone. The 8 GB version can be bought for around 4000 RMB, and the 16 GB version for 5000+ RMB. I opted for the former.
It can be confusing shopping for the iPhone because of the disparity in vendor prices, and when you try to find out why, you get all kinds of stories. I didn’t see anything that looked like a knock-off, but you definitely have to make sure that the iPhone is undamaged and comes with everything it’s supposed to.
My employer, Praxis Language, is a leader in the field of mobilelanguage learning, so it strongly encourages key employees (in the form of a nice subsidy) to get iPhones. I bought mine with some co-workers on a “company field trip,” and we tried to get a 团购 (“group shopping”) discount. I was quoted a price as low as 3500 per iPhone by one vendor, but we ended up paying 3900 per and going with a vendor that seemed more trustworthy. A telling exchange:
> Me: Your iPhones are all opened.
> Him: Yeah, we have to open them.
> Me: But that shop over there sells them unopened.
> Him: They just re-shrink-wrap them. If you want me to, I can re-shrink-wrap one for you too.
This kind of candor sold us on the vendor. He was also happy to provide all the following services:
– Install latest version of Cydia (installer service for third party apps)
– Put on a free screen protector (and also throw in a free case)
Altogether we bought six iPhones. I was the only one that found a defect; I got a phone with a scratched screen. The vendor tried to downplay the defect at first, but gave into my demand to replace the phone even after I had paid.
Overall, a pretty good consumer experience. The iPhones you buy in China obviously don’t come with Apple support or hardware warranties, but if you find a good vendor you can go back to them for help dealing with firmware issues.
Let me know if you have any questions about the experience. I was initially somewhat wary of buying 水货, but the company subsidy was just the push I needed. After learning a lot about the iPhone in the past week, I’m quite pleased with the purchase and with the iPhone’s functionality in China, even despite a recent iTunes Stores block.
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?
> I think live music in Shanghai is going to continue to suck progressively less and less over the next few years, and eventually it won’t suck. [source]
It’s too bad about Windows Underground, though. Without either live music or Brad’s presence (and music collection), I’m pretty much out of reasons to go there. (Their 10 RMB “special hamburgers” are pretty good, but not that good.)
Aric was involved in ChinesePod in its early days (that’s where I met him), and was host of the much-loved ChinesePod Saturday Show. Later he was involved in other events in Shanghai such as GigShanghai and GigLive (discontinued). I don’t know all the other projects he’s been working on lately, but he’s also been making regular DJ appearances at Windows Tembo, a bar managed by our mutual friend Brad.
Speaking of Windows Tembo, it has just moved to a new location on Nanjing Lu, and is now called Windows Underground (because it’s underground). Oh, also it has cool live indie music shows. The Grand Opening is tonight (698 Nanjing Xi Lu). I’ll be there.
My thesis is taking up most of my free time these days. The deadlines are coming real soon and I have a lot of work left to do. (How could I have ever known an experiment would be a lot of work??)
The good news is that I have a pretty good idea of how the paper is going to turn out, even if I don’t have all the particulars nailed down yet, and I think it’s pretty interesting. The bad news is I have to have 30,000 Chinese characters on paper to turn in way too soon!
Anyway, for that reason, over the next month I will probably not be posting as frequently as my usual one post every 2-3 days, and when I do post, they will likely be quickies. Once all this is over, I will have a lot to say about my Chinese grad school experience. But it just wouldn’t be prudent to say too much yet.
Somehow I made it onto someone’s Facebook “Laowai Test.” This is especially surprising because there were only 6 questions, and at least two of them were about Dashan. Anyway, I was highly amused by the question about me:
The whole “John has lived in China for x years” line at the top right corner of my website started about 2.4 years ago (sorry, couldn’t resist) shortly after I redesigned this blog layout. I was switching over to WP for the blog and PHP for the whole site in order to do cool time-saving stuff with includes, and I realized this opened up some other possibilities. The first thing that came to mind was the “John has lived in China for x years” calculation. I threw it up there for the hell of it, and for no special reason it has never come down.
Since then, I have gotten some funny comments about it. Some people evidently think I am sitting around with a calculator, rushing to update my blog code every time the decimal changes. OK, so I may have a nerdy tendency or two, but I don’t do that, people. It’s a PHP script.
Even the people that realize it’s a script take note of it, though. I guess it’s the counting years in decimals. No one really does that, and it’s just odd enough that people take note.
I’m actually planning on updating my site layout soon. It’s been long enough. No major changes (wider layout, mostly), and I’m keeping the “John has lived in China for x years” line for sure. It’s just in the Sinosplice DNA now.
Thanks to Brad for pointing out the Facebook Laowai Test, and for being the one that coded the little “John has lived in China for x years” PHP script for me!
GigShanghai is a new website created to share the Shanghai music scene with the world. Created by Brad of ShanghaiStreets and Aric of ChinesePod, it provides regular audio content via podcast to give you an actual earful of what Shanghai live music venues have to offer. You can also stream the podcasts directly from the site.
I know both Brad and Aric personally, so I can tell you that this teamup has a lot of promise. Maybe they’ll even mention this website someday, when someone asks about when the Shanghai music scene started gathering steam for its eventual eclipse of Beijing’s. Check it out.
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.
It’s amazing how quickly Brad’s photography has improved, considering that it’s only a hobby to him and he still keeps a full-time job. I remember when he first started up his photo blog I wondered how long it would last. If the average lifespan of his past blogging attempts were any indication, I figured a couple of months, tops. But not only is his photo blog still going strong (albeit a little stuck on Christmas lately), his site has blossomed into the only resource I need for the music scene in Shanghai. If you haven’t already, visit Shanghai Streets, and check out the Favorite Photos of 2005 while you’re at it for some impressive amateur Shanghai rock scene photography.
Shortly after I moved to Shanghai in early 2004 I decided to hire an ayi (housekeeper/maid) to do some cooking and cleaning. (Her last name was Zhou, so I’ll call her “Zhou Ayi.”) I really enjoyed having a cook, and I wasn’t shy about expressing my great satisfaction with Zhou Ayi. Things were great for a while.
Over time, our relationship worsened. I find it difficult to explain exactly how or why, but I’ll try.
I’ve been doing occasional translation work lately. It produced this IM conversation with Brad:
> John: ARRGHHH… look what I have to translate into English:
>> 学生：老师，有一个同学还没来呢。[Student: Teacher, one student isn’t here yet.]
>> 老师：他生病了。 [Teacher: He’s sick.]
>> 大家：啊？ [Students: What??]
>> 老师：他昨天到家喝了冰的汽水，晚上就发烧，拉肚子了。[Teacher: Yesterday he went home and drank cold soda. That evening he came down with a fever and got diarrhea.]
> Brad: hahahahahahahaha
> John: I hate that [nonsense]!!!
> John: fever AND diarrhea from a cold soft drink
> John: that stuff is poison in a can… just chill to activate the poison
> Brad: I’m sending you a long-ass Chinese email about “health” that was forwarded to me
> John: oooh, sounds fun
> John: hah… Thunderbird sent it straight to “junk”
> Brad: why do chinese people feel the need to make up bs explanations for their so-called health advice
> Brad: like if I say something about why chinese people tell me not to drink cold stuff, my manager or co-workers will say something like “most chinese people don’t eat or drink anything cold”
> Brad: so I ask why all the convenience and grocery stores have refrigerators full of drinks and ice cream
> Brad: apparently, young people are the *only* customers!
> Brad: and the reason they don’t get sick is because of their westernized diet…kfc and mcdonald’s
> John: what is that supposed to mean?
> John: that the traditional Chinese diet makes them weak?
> Brad: I guess
> John: later on in that translation comes this line:
>> 他已经打了针，吃了药，退烧了。 [He has already gotten a shot and taken medicine, and his fever has gone down.]
> John: wow, way to treat that damn cold soda
> Brad: did they warm up the saline?
> John: hehe… they poured it from a thermos
[Translation note: In order to avoid intercultural confusion in this particular translation, I translated the first part with “he ate something that upset his stomach,” and the later part with, “he has already taken some medicine for it,” as getting the fever, the diarrhea, and the IV were not at all important details in this case.]
I’m a reasonable guy. I don’t reject all Chinese conventional wisdom. Some of it is very accurate, and some of it makes sense even to an unbeliever like me. For example, I’ve had the “cold drinks cause stomach pain” idea explained to me in this way: “The body expends energy maintaining a constant temperature. Cold liquids, upon entering the stomach, require the body’s energy in order to be heated to the same temperature as the body.” Yes, this makes good, thermodynamic sense. But when something goes too far and completely goes against (1) my personal experience, and (2) Western scientific/medical knowledge, I’m going to by mighty skeptical.
I have to admit, though, once or twice since coming to China I’ve eaten or drunk something cold and then gotten a stomach ache immediately thereafter. I can’t explain it. It’s as if living in China and eating Chinese food day in and day out warps my physiological reality. Yikes!
It has always been my policy in China that if I can’t be with my family for Thanksgiving, I should at least try to get in some good Thanksgiving eating. Last year I had my Thanksgiving dinner with Brad at a Sofitel Hotel in Pudong. At around 200 rmb, it was pretty expensive, and not fantastic. This year I made some more phone calls to find out which American hotel chains in Shanghai were having Thanksgiving dinners. Most of the calls went something like this (in English):
> Staff: Hello, [hotel name].
> Me: Hi, is your hotel having a Thanksgiving dinner this Thursday?
> Staff: Let me transfer you to the restaurant.
> Me: OK.
> Staff: The Chinese restaurant or the Western restaurant?
> Me: Hi, is your restuarant having a Thanksgiving dinner this Thursday?
> Restaurant Staff: Yes, we have a buffet dinner.
> Me: A Thanksgiving buffet dinner?
> Restaurant Staff: Thanksgiving?
> Me: Yes, Thanksgiving. 感恩节.
> Restaurant Staff: 感恩节? Oh, no. It’s Italian food.
> Me: OK, thank you.
I don’t think that the Chinese should all recognize and celebrate Thanksgiving or anything ridiculous like that. I just expected most of the nicer international hotels in Shanghai to offer some kind of Thanksgiving meal. I guess that’s just not always done.
After about 5 or 6 unsuccessful hotel calls, I did what I should have done in the first place. I Googled Shanghai Thanksgiving dinner. I found the following pages helpful:
I chose the Moon River Diner dinner (the menu looks awesome!), but the Gubei restaurant’s Thursday night was already full, so I had to make a reservation at the Pudong location. I actually talked to the chef on the phone! He’s a guy named Micahel from New Mexico, and he assured me it would be authentic. As he pointed out, the few hotels putting on the super expensive Thanksgiving banquets hire European gourmet chefs, so they present distorted fancy-pants interpretations of Thanksgiving dinner. Totally not like mom used to.
So I’m looking forward to this dinner. If you’re in Shanghai and you want to seize your once-a-year chance for a Thanksgiving dinner, you better hurry up and make a reservation.
I’ve seen it so many times in Shanghai… propaganda telling Shanghai residents to “be a cute Shanghainese.” The word for cute in Chinese is 可爱, and it’s not one of those tricky words to translate. “Cute” is pretty much just “可爱,” and “可爱” is pretty much just “cute” (except when it’s being “lovely”). So why is the government always telling its people to be cute? I have no clue.
Anyway, I’ve been meaning to get a picture of one of those “be a cute Shanghainese” messages for a long time, but never have. Brad at Shanghai Streets recently captured a good example of it, so I guess I can stop trying.
I may have posted about Shanghainese rap once before, but I normally only listen to rap or hip hop occasionally. Still, the one time I went to a hip hop show at Caesar’s Pub (since closed) with my girlfriend, Brad, and a few other friends, we had a really good time. So when Brad mentioned to me that ShanghaiNing was throwing a CD release party, I was happy to go.
I don’t have a lot to say about the actual event… Obviously, the fact that you can get a record deal (with Sony BMG) doesn’t really mean your music is better. I heard a few songs I liked, and also got an earful of awful “hip hop English.” Some of the songs on the CD are not bad, however.
Here’s what the CD cover and track listing look like (click for full size):
Check out Brad’s photos of the event:
Check out Dan’s blog entry and photos of the event:
When was the last time you felt infatuated? You met a new person, and there was just chemistry and excitement, and you couldn’t wait to see them again. But pretty soon, the spark was gone. You start to wonder what happened. Were you out of your mind before, or are you in a funk now? Pretty soon it doesn’t matter… the infatuation is over.
I have to admit: that’s how I feel about the Shanghai band Cold Fairyland (冷酷仙境).
Don’t get me wrong — Cold Fairyland is an awesome band, and I respect them a lot. They do an amazing and artistic mix of traditional and modern sounds. I also like how they almost never use English, no matter how many foreigners are at their shows.
The first show of theirs I saw at the Ark left me reeling. It was a truly amazing set, paced and executed expertly, driving the whole place into a dizzying climax. I was totally infatuated after that show. The two shows I have seen since then–one at the Ark again and one at the Creek Art Center–have led to me falling out of the infatuation.
I realized that they only have two songs that I really like. Those are their two rockingest songs. The others are cool, but when it comes to music, I have pretty simple tastes. For me, going to a Cold Fairyland show is kind of like going to an art museum to see an exhibit where I only end up liking one or two paintings. It’s sort of interesting, in that artsy “I’m appreciating culture” way, but it’s not exactly fun for me.
After the show on Saturday Brad and I headed over to Tang Hui (唐会). Ever since I first caught the live performances there, Tang Hui has been the only bar in Shanghai that I can say I really like. The shows I liked were put on by the owner, 张笃, a Chinese guy from Xinjiang who goes by the nickname of 竹马 (get it? 笃 = 竹马). He’s also the front man in his own band. He does a wicked cover of “No Woman No Cry” (who would have thought a Chinese guy could do such an authentic-sounding Jamaican accent??), some classic rock, and some cool ska Elvis covers. He and his friend from Xinjiang (who does a great “Nothing Else Matters” cover) also do some amazing rock versions of Xinjiang folk songs. I have no idea what they’re singing, but it sounds great. I thought Shanghai entertainment didn’t get much better.
Well, it gets a little better. Recently Tang Hui started giving this one Chinese woman a lot of time on stage, and she is amazing. She’s got a low, throaty voice, and the way she belts out songs makes for top-notch entertainment. Her songs are covers, and on Saturday night she did a bunch of Nirvana covers. Holy crap, I never thought a woman could do such awesome Nirvana covers. They weren’t even all the ones you’d expect, either — she did a few not on Nevermind like “Stain.” I was enthralled.
I was never really into cover bands before, but damn… that’s entertainment.
P.S. If you go to Tang Hui for the live music, don’t sit in the outer “hallway section.” It reduces the experience by approximately 60%.