Tag: culture


23

Aug 2011

The Rare Chinese Font

You know “the Chinese font“? The one that just screams Oriental, because it looks like it’s made out of bamboo pieces (?), mystically arranged by a wispy-bearded kung fu master?

In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, let me remind you:

The Pagoda

Chop Suey

Long Wong's

Well, the above font is one that, in my experience, you’ll be hard-pressed to find in mainland China, especially in Chinese. (Anyone out there have a different experience?) Most typed Chinese here is in one of about 4 fonts, and “Oriental” isn’t one of them. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, I suppose; the Chinese just have no reason to parody themselves.

There’s a place on the way to the AllSet office in Shanghai that actually uses the “Oriental” font, though, in Chinese. This is a rare find. Here it is:

The Rare "Chinese" Font

That’s a dry cleaner’s window. The “Oriental font” is in the middle. It says, 八折价, which means “80% of the original price.”

Mystical indeed.


14

Jul 2011

I miss Best Buy

The other day I went to Chinese electronics retail giant Suning (苏宁) to pick up a new USB drive. I’ve never been impressed by either Suning or Gome (国美), but my most recent visit made me wonder if with Best Buy’s recent closing, they’ve just kicked back and completely stopped trying altogether.

I was looking at Sandisk’s USB drives, eyeing the 8 GB one, and then I noticed an equally compact 16 GB version. I asked the price, which wasn’t listed. The exact same model 16 GB drive was quite a bit more than twice the price of the 8 GB model. Hoping against hope, I asked if this wasn’t a little strange (check here for an example of normal pricing on Amazon), and that if she might have gotten the price wrong. I forget what the salesperson said, exactly, but the message was clear: “I think you’re confusing me with someone who gives a damn.”

Take a number

Anyway, I decided to go with the 8 GB version, but I forgot that I wasn’t at Best Buy anymore. I couldn’t take my selection to checkout, I had to take a special number to the far side of the store to make my payment in a carefully hidden location. But the amusing thing was that my order number was not printed out, or even handwritten on a standard form. No, it was scrawled on a random scrap of paper. Classy.

Cashier

Anyway, I found the cashier in a desolate corner of the store and made my payment. (Apparently the number wasn’t made up, at least.) I located the original salesperson, wondering where my purchase was. She had cast it aside on a random shelf under some earphones. She retrieved it for me. I asked for a bag. Sorry, no bags.

So, walking towards the exit with my unbagged purchase, I wondered how I looked any different from a shoplifter just making off with an item plucked from the shelves. Many Chinese stores that use the “cashier all the way across the store and nowhere near the exit” system have a guard at the exit who checks for a receipt. At Suning, there were no guards, no employees in sight. Just a big wide swath of apathy pointing the way out.

Yeah, I must admit that I miss Best Buy. I still think “service” is a good idea.


27

Jun 2011

The Naked Wedding

Naked Wedding (裸婚)

The Chinese neologism 裸婚 (literally, “naked wedding”) came up in an AllSet Learning client’s lesson, and I think it’s an interesting word with social implications, worth taking a look at.

The word has its own page on the Chinese wiki Hudong: 裸婚. The brief explanation is:

> “裸婚”指的是不买房、不买车、不办婚礼、不买婚戒,直接登记结婚的一种节俭的结婚方式。自古以来,婚姻一直都被人们看做是人生的头等大事,而婚礼的隆重与否直接体现了整个家族的地位。然而,近年来“裸婚”风渐渐盛行,成为“80后”最新潮的结婚方式。

And the English translation:

> “Naked wedding” refers to not buying a house, not buying a car, not having a wedding ceremony, not buying wedding rings, and just directly registering legally for marriage as a way to save money. Since ancient times, marriage has always been seen as a major event in a person’s life, the pomp of the ceremony directly reflecting a family’s social status. The gradual popularization of the “naked wedding,” however, has emerged as a new wedding trend for the post-80’s generation.

Industrialization and commercialization in a society are inevitably followed by a generation that rejects the new materialistic forms of social status, right? Here’s another sign that the forces for such a social change are building in China…


07

Jun 2011

China Lite

As someone who’s taken up residence in China long-term, I’ve had quite a few visitors over the years. One of the things I’ve learned is that you have to do a little “visitor profiling” if you want your guest to have a good time. Two of my own personal “case studies”:

1. My sister Grace visited me in Hangzhou in 2001. I hadn’t been in China long, and had spent a lot more time studying Chinese than trying to get comfortable. I fed Grace the 5 RMB local cafeteria food I was used to eating. When we went from Hangzhou to Beijing, I screwed up on the sleeper “ticket upgrade,” so it was 17 hours on the train in hard seats. In Beijing, we went everywhere on foot, by subway, or by bus. Poor Grace didn’t adapt too well to Chinese food; I think she might have had western food a few times, but she also shed quite a few pounds during her two weeks in China.

2. My parents visited China in 2007. We toured West Lake in Hangzhou, and went on a Bund cruise in Shanghai. We flew to Beijing and saw the sights there, assisted by a driver. We took the cable car up to the top of the Great Wall. We sampled the local food everywhere, while also getting some western food when it felt “necessary.” My parents had a very pleasant stay (but probably didn’t lose any weight).

Fortunately, by the time my parents had visited, I was a bit more compassionate about the needs of my less hardcore visitors (and had had a chance to practice this “kinder, gentler version of China” when my other sister Amy visited in 2004). Grace actually had a really good attitude about the whole ordeal, though. She felt that she had had a taste of “the real China,” and referred to what my sister Amy had experienced as “China Lite.”

China Lite

I’m not trying to be a China snob here; this “China Lite” concept is useful. With my parents planning another visit, I’m working on perfecting the China Lite experience (without resorting to a tour group, if possible). While the whole “Real China” vs. “China Lite” thing is more of a continuum than a black or white issue, I’ve found it useful to compare the two.

Real China China Lite
Stay in hostels, crash at friends’ places, or even do some kind of homestay Stay in nice hotels or service apartments
All Chinese food, and the more street food the better Chinese food is fine as long as it’s not too weird; some western food (even KFC) is needed to buffer all that Chinese food
Baijiu (that Chinese white grain alcohol) isn’t so bad… Tsingtao is exotic enough when it comes to alcohol
As much Chinese language as possible; gotta put that phrasebook to use and communicate with the locals English if possible; translations if not
Travel by bus, train, and bike (with the people) is great Airplane preferred for long trips; other forms of transportation need to provide appropriate personal space
Pack your own TP, and study the proper squatting position in advance Never stray too far from a western-style toilet
China is big, and you don’t have much time to soak it all in, so pack that itinerary tight! China is tiring; plan the itinerary carefully and leave sufficient down time
Consider the whole trip to be “off the grid” or at least “off the beaten path” with just the occasional internet cafe Plan for internet needs, and provide a cell phone for your visitors if possible (the cost of the SIM card and phone service is negligible in China)

Got any tips to add the the list?

Some visitors are looking for “the real China,” where others are hoping to enjoy “China Lite.” They’re both here, but it’s best to be clear on what your visitors are after.


Other takes on “China Lite”:

China Lite in the New York Times
China Lite on globorati
CNYE in China Lite by Ryan McLaughlin


03

May 2011

Chalk “Calligraphy”

I’ve seen Chinese calligraphy written in water many, many times, but this past weekend was the first time I saw it in chalk. (Maybe I just need to go to Chinese parks more?)

Chalk "Calligraphy"

Chalk "Calligraphy"


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!


09

Feb 2011

Fat, and also Beautiful

The first part of the name of this shop qualifies for the “really simple signs” file:

Fat and also Beautiful

The name of the store reads 胖也美服饰, literally, “fat also beautiful apparel.” This is the equivalent of a plus sizes store in the US (although, looking at the official 胖也美 website, the Chinese 胖 isn’t quite as big as the American “plus”).

To make it even clearer exactly what they’re selling, the 胖也美 website also uses the phrase 胖人服饰, which could be literally translated as “fat people apparel.”

This is one of those cases where culture makes a huge difference in translation.


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.)


01

Feb 2011

CNY Confusion Ahead (but also CNY Sexiness)

Chinese New Year (CNY) is this week, and it’s bound to cause confusion. This is because we’ve basically got three systems for numbering days overlapping, and quite close together:

1. The days of the week are referred to by numbers, starting with Monday (AKA “One-day”), then Tuesday (AKA “Two-day”), etc. In Chinese they’re 星期一星期二星期三星期四星期五星期六星期天.

2. For most of the year, dates are also referred to using the Western system. So starting Tuesday (today), it’s the first (1号). (Which is also Two-day.)

3. Since it’s CNY, everyone switches over to the lunar system for just a week or so. Day one of the lunar month (初一) is Thursday (which is Four-day, and also the third).

Sound confusing?? No, not at all. I’m a big fan of Chinese New Year.

But just to make everything clearer, you might want to check out this PDF calendar (Warning: traditional characters!). Some key vocab:

大年三十: Chinese New Year’s Eve
春节: Chinese New Year
初一: the first of the lunar month (never used more than around CNY)
初二: the second of the lunar month
初三: the third of the lunar month (see a pattern here?)

OK, now for the sexy part. 2011 is the year of the rabbit. (Really, I’m going somewhere with this; be patient!) I did a little searching for images on the Chinese internet and found this creative graphic:

2011=Rabbit

Also, somewhat to my surprise, my innocent 兔年 (“year of the rabbit”) search turned up some rather sexy pics. The year of the rabbit only comes around once every 12 years, so I’m pretty sure it’s the first time this particular sexied-up CNY theme has appeared in mainland China (it’s referred to as 兔年美女):

兔年美女

And while not all of the Playboy bunny-esque photos floating around online now are actually specifically meant for Chinese New Year, the one above is, as evidenced by the golden thing in the model’s hands, which is a 金元宝 (a gold ingot, an ancient form of money which usually makes appearances in CNY decorations).

Anyway, Happy Chinese New Year.


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!)


11

Jul 2010

Churchill and Hitler: Evil Supervillains?

Yesterday in the bookstore I noticed these two books, titled 丘吉尔 (Churchill) and 希特勒 (Hitler):

Churchill and Hitler

Now am I crazy, or do these two historical figures both look really evil, perhaps Churchill even more so than Hitler??

Apparently this was just a bad choice of photo (and color) in the cover design, though; if you click through to either Churchill’s or Hitler’s Amazon.cn pages, you see lots of other books in the series. Only Mussolini looks as evil as these two.

According to the introduction on Amazon, the book about Churchill is not an explanation of how he was actually Britain’s greatest supervillain. That’s a relief.


06

Jul 2010

Chinese Characters: not so magical

Mark over at Pinyin News had a great rant the other day reacting to a New York Times article which exoticized Chinese characters.

It’s funny, when you first learn anything about Chinese characters, you learn that they’re a “writing system.” Fair enough, seems simple, right? But you don’t have to study long before you’re bombarded with all kinds of ideas about how the characters are the language, or the characters are the essence of the culture, or the language could not exist without the characters.

And Mark is, of course, completely right to say that it’s all nonsense. He declares this so vehemently and at such length that the ordinary person might start getting suspicious, but it’s all true.

木

photo credit: DigitalFreak

Language is a fundamental part of the human condition. Writing is a technology. It’s an important technology, with a tremendous influence on culture and human civilization, but it’s still a technology. As Wikipedia puts it, “writing is the representation of language in a textual medium.” In human history, this representation always follows the representation we call speaking. Theoretically it shouldn’t have to; that’s just the way it works in practice. (If you don’t like it, turn to sci-fi.)

Could Chinese exist without characters? Yes. It existed for a long time before characters came along. I’m not advocating the abolition of characters; I think that will work its way out naturally in good time (accelerated by the internet). Mark feels quite strongly about this issue, though, which you can tell by reading the original article.


One of the comments in response to Mark’s post caught my attention:

> Nongandwong said,
July 2, 2010 @ 8:55 pm

> Wonderful post, pity lots of people will have read about magical Chinese from that NYT article.

> What they should have done is get her to try and explain the etymology of the character and how it relates to the meaning. This was the character that made me give up looking for character etymologies because the explanation made less sense than just memorising the strokes!

I had to laugh out loud when I saw this comment, because I had exactly the same experience myself. For me, the process went like this:

1. Try to learn characters by rote, as instructed by teachers. Hate it. Feel strongly that there must be a better way.

2. Discover Heisig’s method. Enjoy that breath of fresh air. But then start to doubt a little.

3. Try to abandon Heisig’s method in favor of learning actual character etymologies. Fail miserably, again and again and again (but starting with ).

4. Return to Heisig, but with a healthy longing for actual etymologies (except when they’re a hopeless, ridiculous goose chase).

For those of you that are wondering, the etymology of goes something like this (courtesy of Wenlin):

> 你 (nǐ): From 亻(人 rén) ‘person’ and 尔 ěr ‘you’.

> Etymologically 你 nǐ is a “colloquial variation” of 尔(爾) ěr; the two sounds nǐ and ěr both derive from ancient nzie (–Karlgren).

OK, so now all we need is something for “尔(爾) ěr” that makes sense, and we’re done, right?

> Which came first, 尔 or 爾?

> Wieger cites this explanation for 尔:

> “从入丨八, 会意。八者气之分也。”

> Then 爾 came from 尔 (phonetic), 巾 ( = 两 a balance) and 爻爻 weights on both sides, to give the meaning “symmetry, harmony of proportions”.

> Karlgren (1923) says of the form 爾, “…original sense and hence explanation of character uncertain”, and considers 尔 an abbreviation.

> The pronunciation was once something like nzie. This produced both ěr and nǐ, the latter written 你 nǐ, which is the modern word for ‘you’. Now 尔 is only used in a few adverbs and archaic expressions, and in foreign loan words.

Riiiight… This is the word for “you,” also the first character in the basic Chinese word for “hi” (你好), which is likely the first word you’ll ever learn. I guess it does make rote memorization look pretty good.


17

Jun 2010

Chinese Restaurant Worldwide Documentation Project

I recently stumbled across this Flickr group called Chinese Restaurant Worldwide Documentation Project. It has this intriguing description:

> Chinese Restaurants – Worldwide, except China and Taiwan. Here you’ll find the culture ‘clash’ and culture ‘mash’ with all the societies they have adapted to.

Below are a few examples of photos from the group pool, taken at locations all over the world.

Genoa, Italy:

Santa Cruz, Bolivia:

Brooklyn, New York, USA:

Antwerp, Belgium:

Aguas Calientes, Peru:

Paphos, Cyprus:

Of course, there are many more in the pool.


15

Jun 2010

Quotes from Tales of Old Peking

It’s been a while since I got my copy of Tales of Old Peking. I’ve taken my time going through it. It’s a patient a book, its contents largely magazine-style, most articles only indirectly related to each other. A book like this doesn’t demand your attention or keep you frantically turning those pages until the end. But it’s still a fascinating collection of accounts of old Beijing, through the eyes of foreigners. Below are a few of the quotes I enjoyed the most:

On the City

Page 92:

> I visited Peking about thirty years ago. On my return I found it unchanged, except that it was thirty times dirtier, the smells thirty times more insufferable, and the roads thirty times worse for the wear. —Admiral Lord Charles Beresford, The Breakup of China, 1899

Page 14:

> … But in spite of so much that disgusts and offends one in this wreck of an imperial city, who can deny the charm of Peking, that unique and most fascinating city of the East! –Lady Susan Townley in My Chinese Note Book, 1904

Page 135:

> …if you have once lived in Peking, if you have ever stayed here long enough to fall under the charm and interest of this splendid barbaric capital, if you have once seen the temples and glorious monuments of Chili, all other parts of China seem dull and second rate… when you have seen the best there is, everything else is anticlimax. –Ellen N. LaMotte, Peking Dust, 1919

I may be a member of the Shanghai faction, but I’m not totally immune to the charms of Beijing either.

On Foreigners in China

Page 26:

> As I am here and watch, I do not wonder that the Chinese hate the foreigner. The foreigner is frequently severe and exacting in this Empire which is not his own. He often treats the Chinese as though they were dogs and had no rights whatever – no wonder that they growl and sometimes bite. —Sarah Pike Conger, Feb. 1, 1899

Page 72:

> He has been in Peking nearly four months now, in a comfortable Chinese house studying Chinese history, smoking opium in spite of the prohibition, and frequenting only the Chinese with whom he appears thoroughly at home. He is really very original. –D. de Martel & L. de Hover, Silhouettes of Peking, 1926

The more things change, the more they stay the same?


A Chinese Take on the Baseball Metaphor for Sex and Dating

25

May 2010

A Chinese Take on the Baseball Metaphor for Sex and Dating

Most Americans are familiar with the “base system” baseball metaphor for physical intimacy. If you’re not familiar with it, you might check out this XKCD comic for the complicated version, or this excerpt from baseball metaphors for sex from Wikipedia:

  1. First base is commonly understood to be any form of mouth to mouth kissing, especially open lip (“French”) kissing.
  2. Second base refers to tactile stimulation of the genitals over clothes, or of the female breasts.
  3. Third base refers to groping naked genitals (handjob or fingering), or oral sex.
  4. Home run (or rounding the bases, scoring a run, hitting a home run, scoring, going all the way, coming home, etc.) is the act of penetrative intercourse.

For the visual-oriented among us, here’s a graphic (adapted from XKCD’s complex version):

The base system (USA)

I can understand that a country little love for baseball might be confused by this metaphor system. Apparently even Europeans are confused by it. However, some people in China have picked it up, but in the process changed the system (reference link removed due to malware at destination website]):

  1. “一垒”代表拉手,
  2. “二垒”代表拥抱,
  3. “三垒”代表亲亲,
  4. “本垒”代表XX

Translation:

  1. “First base” represents holding hands,
  2. “Second base” represents hugging,
  3. “Third base” represents kissing,
  4. “Home” represents _____

Clearly, this is a whole ‘nother ballgame the Chinese are playing, and their playing field looks like this when superimposed onto the American field:

The base system (China)

So much for “rounding the bases!”

Thanks to Marco from EnglishPod for bringing this interesting cultural difference to my attention!


18

Apr 2010

The Wall Street Journal on Chinese Humor

I’ve been interested in Chinese humor for a while. Most recently, I’ve written about a few Chinese comics and Shanghainese stand-up comedian Zhou Libo. So I was quite interested in the Wall Street Journal’s take, which is initially about Chinese comedian Joe Wong. Apparently Joe Wong’s comedy works in the U.S. but not in China. It’s not your typical cross-cultural story.

This is the part which caught my attention (emphasis mine):

> Younger audiences are starting to warm to the stand-up style, with a Chinese twist. There are footnotes: after the punch line comes an explanation of why it’s funny.

> In Shanghai, Zhou Libo’s stand-up show has become a top event. His repertoire spans global warming, growing up poor and, that perennial crowd-pleaser, China’s emergence as a global economic power.

> He jokes about China’s massive purchases of U.S. Treasury bonds: “I am really confused about why a poor guy lends money to the rich. We should just divide the money amongst ourselves,” he says. “But on a second thought, each of us would only get a couple of dollars!” Then Mr. Zhou adds: “Because the population is so big.”

This is one of the observations I made in 2004 in a post titled When Humor Runs Aground, in which I give an example of a Chinese joke, with the punchline and also the “post-punchline explanation.”

I’d be interesting in seeing more examples of this “post-punchline explanation.” From a sociolinguistic perspective, I wonder how universal it is, and if it follows certain rules. More examples are welcome!


16

Apr 2010

Gag Chinese Documents (very official-looking!)

I was quite amused to stumble upon a whole array of fake (but humorous) Chinese documents last weekend. The documents adopt the official style of Chinese 证书 (official documents), but the names are a lot more fun. Here are the three I bought (for 5 RMB each):

Three Gag Certificates

The three types of documents above, left to right, are:

美女证 (Babe Certificate); “PLMM” stands for “漂亮妹妹” (pretty girl)
帅哥证 (Cute Guy Certificate)
白痴证 (Moron Certificate); “SB” stands for “傻屄” which I’ll politely translate as “dumbass”

There were at least 10 different types, including things like “World’s Best Mom,” “World’s Best Dad,” “Certified Genius,” “Certified Virgin,” etc.

The insides even look official, with space for a photo:

白痴证: Inside

For comparison purposes, here are some real Chinese certificates, collected from the internet:

Chinese Official Documents

I can’t imagine the government will be particularly happy about these things, especially with the Expo looming. I wouldn’t be surprised if these became scarce really quickly (especially in Shanghai).

Looks like my Flickr photos aren’t showing up for the time being; you can thank the GFW for that. The photos are viewable via proxy.


23

Mar 2010

Stand on the Right, Walk on the Left

I remember when I first arrived in Shanghai, thinking, “I wish that people in Shanghai, when riding the escalators, would stand on the right and let people by on the left, the way they do in Japan.” It’s just such a more courteous and efficient way of doing things.

But yeah, I know… this is China, not Japan.

So when recently riding the Shanghai subway for the first time in a while, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this practice is finally really being adopted in Shanghai. Not only are there signs asking people to do it, but people actually do it.

Stand on the right, walk on the left Standing on the right

Could it be due to the Expo? I don’t really care… I’m just excited to see a change.


26

Jan 2010

Hongbao Fantasy

I originally found this video introduced by a Chinese friend on Kaixin Wang as “a Chinese film way more fantastic than Avatar”:

Transcript for the students:

> 老师:你的孩子又考了全班第一。

> 家长:谢谢谢谢。(递红包)

> 老师:你在伤害我。

> 医生:好了,病人终于脱离危险了。

> 家属:谢谢谢谢。(递红包)

> 医生:你在侮辱我。

> 官员:你的审批手续全办好了。

> 商人:谢谢谢谢。(递红包)

> 官员:你在藐视我。

> 警官:恭喜你啊,考试通过了。

> 司机:谢谢谢谢。(递红包)

> 警官:请你尊重我。

> [source (with additional sarcastic commentary)]

The video is a public service message urging people not to accept hongbao (red envelopes full of money) for what they should be doing anyway for the good of society. (And apparently that idea is still rather outlandish in modern China.) Anyway, the video does a good job of educating us foreigners in what situations Chinese people typically give their “thank you notes”:

– A teacher tells a mother that her child is the top student in the class
– A doctor informs someone that his family member is no longer in danger
– A government official announces that a businessman’s procedure is complete
– A police officer announces that the student has passed his (driving) test

I know some students of Chinese that spend a lot of time on Chinese news websites. I’m finding that Kaixin Wang‘s 转帖 (“repost”) system is way better, acting as a combination RSS reader / Digg / SNS site (so the content is filtered by your young Chinese friends). I highly recommend it as a source of interesting material.

Apparently, though, some of the posts (like the one I refer to above) mysteriously disappear… so read quickly, and enjoy!


22

Sep 2009

Three Tales of Two Cities

During our recent trip to Beijing, conversation naturally turned to comparisons of Shanghai and Beijing. I don’t want to rehash that tired topic (again) here, but there were three particular anecdotes told by Chinese friends which I found amusing. All involved interactions with the locals in which the storytellers’ values clashed with the locals’.

I’ve recreated them below, in spirit, at least, and translated them to English, but I’m not revealing the cities. See if you can identify the city from the story.

Anecdote #1

> I wanted to take the bus to the nearest supermarket, so I asked a middle-aged person on the street. The conversation went something like this:

> Me: Excuse me, which bus can I take to the supermarket?

> Man: Bus? What do you want to take a bus for? It’s not that far, and you’re young! Just walk. The weather is great. Go straight up that way 5 blocks, then turn left.

> Me: Thanks, but I’d like to take a bus, so…

> Man: I’m telling you, it’s a great walk! You don’t need a bus! Just walk up that way 5 blocks…

> Etc.

Anecdote #2

> I wanted to buy a bottle of water in a small store.

> Me: I’ll just take this bottle of water. All I have is a 50.

> Shopkeeper: I can’t change a 50.

> Me: Well, I don’t have change, so…

> Shopkeeper: I told you, I can’t change a 50. Come back when you have change.

Anecdote #3

> I needed to buy a lighter, so I sought out a nearby convenience store.

> Me: I’d like to buy a lighter, please.

> Cashier: A lighter? You don’t want to buy that here.

> Me: What do you mean?

> Cashier: Lighters are way cheaper at the shop down the street. You save 2 RMB!

> Me: Thanks, but I’d like to just buy one here, so….

> Cashier: I’m telling you, they’re cheaper down the street! You don’t want to throw money away, do you??

> Etc.

Can you identify the cities?



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