It doesn’t feel like the movie Big Hero 6 (called 超能陆战队 in mainland China) was hugely popular in Shanghai, but the character Baymax sure is! I see him everywhere these days. His Chinese name is 大白, literally, “big white.”
To me this name is cute, because it reminds me of 小白, a common name for a dog in China (kind of like “Fido” or “Spot”), except, well… bigger. When I ask Chinese friends, though, they don’t necessarily make the same connection.
The eagle-eyed will also spot a little characterplay going on with the word 暖男, which is a relatively new slang term. Literally “warm male,” it refers to a sensitive, considerate guy. Chinese ads often go out of their way to incorporate the latest slang as much as possible.
I enjoyed Kaiser Kuo’s recent Sinica podcast on Popup Chinese featuring Jeremy Goldkorn of Danwei.org and Will Moss of Imagethief. They started off with the provocative statement that “the English language China blog is dead,” and went into some analysis of how things are different now than they were. Their analysis seemed pretty spot-on to me.
This is an issue I’ve been thinking about for a long time: how the “China blogosphere” has changed, how I still fit in, and how it’s still enjoyable or worthwhile. I think when I first arrived in China and was doing various English teaching jobs while I furiously studied Chinese in my free time, aside from intangibles like Chinese learning and friendships, my blog and website was the most important, lasting thing I created. It’s what led to a job at ChinesePod in 2006, the point at which I officially embarked upon what would become my career. Blogging, for me, had to take a backseat, and it has to this day. The “top ideas” on my mind were less and less often blog topics as work usurped my focus.
I’ve revisited this same topic as I’ve considered whether or not to put more time or effort into the China Blog List. There are just so many blogs out there now that organizing them really does seem too big a task for one tiny directory. It’s a task that needs to be crowd-sourced or done through social media somehow, if it even needs to be done at all. That site still has potential (and good Google rank for “China blog” and “China blogs”), but the concept needs to be rethunk. In the meantime, it’s just no longer relevant.
I was pleased to hear those guys mention my blog in their podcast as one of the ones that’s been around the longest, but as the list of blogs went on and on, I had to think, how do these guys have the time to read so many blogs? Like Will Moss said in the podcast, I’ve found that the decreasing signal-to-noise ratio has just led to less overall blog reading.
This afternoon I had the pleasure of sitting in on a talk at Glamour Bar hosted by history professor Jeffery Wasserstrom of China Beat as he discussed various issues with the New Yorker’s China correspondent Evan Osnos. The topic was writing and blogging, and they kicked off the discussion by mentioning Sinica’s take on the issue. Both writers had begun blogging relatively recently, so Evan referred to them as “post-modern, or, perhaps, ‘post-mortem’ bloggers.” Both Wasserstrom and Osnos were optimistic about the role of blogging. Evan was particularly happy about the recent proliferation of translation bridge blogs like China Geeks.
One of the more interesting questions thrown out by the crowd was basically, “yeah, you both write well about China, but how much do you guys (or anyone) really understand China?” Both men were humble in acknowledging the limits of their knowledge, but I liked Dr. Wasserstrom’s response that despite the smallness of what we can know, the view from outside offers a different perspective which contributes in an important way toward the full picture. This closely parallels the view I take on language learning: the native speaker perspective should be combined with the learner perspective to reach a fuller picture of the language more relevant to the learner.
> A China-focused blog that includes Mandarin speaking tips and apolitical, largely irreverent (and in some cases irrelevant) observations about Shanghai and the rest of the country, among other tidbits.
“Irreverent and irrelevant.” Heh, I can live with that. I have to say, though, that this blog is only occasionally relevant to Shanghai.
But relevance is always an issue on my mind. The new business is getting quite busy, and while I have less free time than ever, it’s a rich source of new observations and blogging material about Shanghai and learning Chinese. I won’t keep those bottled up. The search for relevance is not fruitless.
I’ve recently made two trips to Shanghai’s Suzhou Creek Art District (more info). It’s in the Moganshan Road area (Google map), and it’s probably easiest reached by taking the subway (Line 1) to the Shanghai Train Station, then Changshou Road west over Suzhou Creek, then making a right, following the creek north. The road there deadends into a complex of buildings which make up the art district. You’ll see a bunch of graffiti as you head in.
Some of the graffiti in the area:
The when I went just this month I checked out the work of a an art collective called Liu Dao (六岛), AKA island6. The group likes to mix traditional art forms with newer media, like animated LED displays. Quite interesting (check out their website for examples).
Yesterday I checked out the exhibits at “Things from the gallery warehouse 2” [PDF intro].
> In the Fiction between 1999 & 2000 (2000), Hu Jieming takes on a more universal challenge, the daunting proliferation of media and information engendered by the Internet. Hu’s huge information labyrinth is constructed from screen captures collected from across the Web and network television during the twenty-four-hour period from midnight of December 31, 1999, to midnight of January 1, 2000. It represents the difficulties we all face in navigating through a world where information can be empowering, but only if we can filter through the barrage of useless images and texts that cloud our minds and dull our instincts. Hu asks, “What will we choose to do when we are controlled by information and lose ourselves?”
I liked this one a lot… The piece actually makes up a maze that you can wander through. There are so many screen captures which make its point rather well: there’s no way you can look at it all. You find yourself wanting to just get out before too long. Nicely done.
This other piece, Massage Chairs, while perhaps less aesthetically appealing, answers an engineering question I’ve always had: what, exactly is inside those electric massage chairs?? The massage chairs below were stripped of their padding, the moving parts laid bare, but still powered up and moving.
> Massage Chairs – Then Edison’s Direct Current was surrendered To the Alternating Current (2003) consists of six massage chairs of various designs – found objects, readymades – stripped of their upholstery. Still in operation, their mechanisms are clearly visible, the cogs and belts moving the various shapes intended to knead and gently pummel the backs of human bodies requiring relaxation. Without their padding and soft surfaces, the chairs themselves are skeletal, strangely anthropomorphic and not unreminiscent of electric chairs. The sounds they emit,
the whirrings and rhythmical clickings echo ominously in the gallery interiors they now occupy, evoking a response that is a far cry from any of the desired effects of massage.
Finally, the pieces at Mr. Iron were really fun and imaginative. It’s that style where sculptures are created out of old scrap metal. Some of them were really amazing, and quite a few are strongly commercial (see the site’s classics section for examples.) My favorite one, already long sold, was a recreation of Giger’s Alien (sorry, it’s a picture of a picture with a cell phone camera, so not very clear):
I guess it’s pretty obvious that I’m personally most interested in art’s intersection with technology, but there are lots of different styles of art in the Suzhou Creek Art District, so I recommend you check it out, no matter what your interest. A word of warning, though: there’s extensive construction going on right now (2010 World Expo prep?), so it’s quite messy.
The phrase 中国特色 means “Chinese characteristics,” and it’s one you hear a lot in China-centered conversations. When it comes to instant messaging with Chinese characteristics, the only game in town is QQ. Even though it started out as a clone of the once-popular IM client ICQ, over time it has gained its own personality (although I will never forgive it for its malware phase). I really like its “hide” feature, and I wonder why other IM clients don’t use a similar one.
[To learn Chinese related to QQ, check out this ChinesePod lesson: MSN and QQ.]
Anyway, browsing Youku (a Chinese YouTube clone), I stumbled upon this “music video with QQ characteristics.” Here’s a screenshot:
I don’t like the song itself, but the QQ-style presentation is enjoyable (for 30 seconds or so).
It’s Monday, and it’s the day of the Super Bowl in China. Thanks to our good friend time difference, we watch the Super Bowl at around 7am on Monday morning here in China. (What time could be better, right?)
Somehow this feels wrong and fake and anticlimactic and too easy to me. It feels something like this:
But anyway. that’s what it is. Chāojí Wǎn.
Most Chinese spend Super Bowl Monday Morning completely unaware of the great American advertising sporting event that is the Super Bowl. Some expats in Shanghai spend it at the sports bars, eating a fancy breakfast and getting drunk before 10am.
It can be difficult to get up around 6am for the sake of one’s home culture, but this year I have once again opted to make that sacrifice.
If you’ve ever seen a “men’s magazine” like FHM or Maxim, you know that one of the main staples is “interviews” with buxom young females. In these multi-page features photographs figure prominently, words are squeezed in at the sides, and key quotations are carefully selected and displayed in big type next to the photographs. These quotations are usually sex-related, designed to get the reader’s pulse racing. (If you really need examples of this, you might try taking a look at NSFW-1 or NSFW-2.)
I haven’t really taken a look at the Chinese equivalents of these magazines, but I recently chanced upon the following picture of Chinese model 陈馨婷 (Chén Xīntíng):
The quote says:
> 我很期待穿婚纱的感觉。 (Wǒ hěn qīdài chuān hūnshā de gǎnjué.)
which might be (a bit awkwardly) translated as:
> I’m really looking forward to the feeling of wearing a wedding dress.
That funny feeling you’re left with is a special brand of men’s magazine culture shock. Maybe.
While surfing Chinese-forums.com, I discovered a promising new website for learners of Mandarin Chinese: Chineseblast (“collaborative learning engine for Chinese”). The site revolves around users’ “projects” (which usually means translation projects). The community contributes to projects both in adding and editing the translations themselves, as well as in adding comments and questions.
It very much reminds me of manga/anime fans’ community efforts at translating Japanese, but in the case of Chineseblast, the content translated isn’t so concentrated on one theme. Furthermore, different forms of media are covered by the projects:
I like the variety — variety of content, of media, of language. You get audio and video, you get Mandarin and Cantonese, you get Taiwanese Mandarin and mainland Mandarin, you get traditional and simplified characters. I also like the way the video pages are designed, allowing you to scroll through the script as you watch a video. The small, gray literal translations above the more natural translations are also a nice touch.
It seems that most of the content is aimed at intermediate-level users. If that’s you, check it out.
哦哟! is a Chinese expression that means something like, “whoa!” But 哦哟！视频 (www.oyoo.com) is a video guide to the shops along Shanghai’s subway lines. Ads for the new website are currently plastered all over the Shanghai subway system.
It’s an interesting concept. You take a bunch of short videos, set them to poppy music, and put them on the site in YouTube fashion. But the videos taken are all of shops along Shanghai’s subway line. They’re organized by subway stop as well as by category: 好吃 (food), 好玩 (entertainment), 好看 (clothing and accessories), 好家 (home decoration/furnishing), 好学 (education), 好朋友 (partners?).
I must say, the videos offered are all pretty dull (with the possible exception of the “Transformer Heaven” shop video); they’re all basically just poorly shot commercials. I also don’t see a lot of evidence of activity. I’m not sure that 时代报 (Metro Express) has what it takes to make this site work, but it’s good to see the Chinese experimenting. Other encouraging signs: the site is relatively free of the cluttered design that plagues Chinese websites, and the page looks fine in Firefox!
I’ve mentioned Danwei TV on my blog before, but I think it’s about time I devoted a post to its praise. I liked some of the earlier episodes, but with the arrival of the extremely entertaining Sexy Beijing hosted by 苏菲, the Danwei team has really raised the bar. The show’s parodying of Sex and the City–from the name to the appearance of the host to the “typing on the computer” bedroom scenes–is not so subtle, and it works beautifully. This is what good alternative media looks like, people.
In the latest episode Sexy Beijing tackles a topic that many China bloggers have covered before: Chinese people’s crazy English names. (Read my Name Nazi post for my stance on this.) The way this episode is done really breathes new life into the issue.
I’d like to find some good Chinese podcasts. I don’t mean podcasts for studying Chinese, I mean podcasts in Chinese, intended for a Chinese audience. Interesting podcasts. The only problem is I don’t have a lot of time to search and then listen to all those podcasts. So I asked around a bit.
As it turns out, CSL blogger extraordinaire Alaric listens to a few Chinese podcasts. These are the ones he listens to:
Have you ever heard of Exploding Dog? It’s a website where Sam Brown, the artist, takes suggestions for titles, then turns them into simple, awkward drawings that can leave quite an impression. I’ve known about Exploding Dog since way before my more recent affair with webcomics, and I’ve even linked to it here once (wow, that old entry feels a little embarrassing now…).
Anyone at all familiar with Exploding Dog knows that although the drawings are very simple, they have a very distinctive style. Therefore when 21st Century (China Daily’s youth-oriented English language newspaper) put an Exploding Dog illustration on its front cover, it wasn’t hard to recognize. The use of the image was not approved. The illustration is only marginally relevant to the text beside it, and Exploding Dog isn’t featured anywhere else in that issue.
Click on the image at the right to see a larger image of the newspaper cover featuring the Exploding Dog art. Apparently someone removed the text from the original artwork and then did a mirror image of it.
Ah, plagiarism in Chinese news. Not news, really. I just happened to notice it this time because, being an “old-timer China blogger” I was interviewed for that edition. My painstakingly crafted interview responses were then trimmed way down and branded “EASY.” Heh. Take a look.
The Chinese media is way too excited about plastic surgery. It’s pathetic. Time is writing about the Asian trend too, although this “news” is far from new. But it’s not dying down.
I don’t watch much TV or read a lot of Chinese news, but even I have seen quite a few “丑女变美女” (“ugly woman turns into a beautiful woman”) stories. Here are two sample shots from an online story that came out last week:
In the “before” shot she’s not even that ugly! She’s clearly not wearing any makeup, not wearing nice clothes, and she’s purposely looking dejected. She probably hasn’t washed her hair for a few days just for this picture. According to the story, “because of her appearance, she was driven away when she applied for jobs, scared people when she went out, and didn’t have any friends.” What bullshit. It makes me angry.
Then in the “after” shot… well, all I can say is, congratulations, you’re now a clone of the super generic Chinese “pretty girl.” (The surgery was actually intended to reproduce the look of a certain Chinese star. See the story for pics of that.)
OK, so I’ll admit that she looks prettier on the right, but the actual difference is not very extreme. What would drive this girl to seek out plastic surgery? Well, the Chinese media hyping it for all it’s worth sure didn’t help.
I also saw a short portion of a TV special which featured another “ugly woman.” The woman in that special was a different story. She looked extremely odd — unhealthy. I strongly suspect she didn’t get the proper nourishment as a child. She was way too thin, and her voice sounded like a child’s. The way she talked seemed to indicate that she was of lower than normal intelligence, too. But she had definitely decided that the only way her life could be worth anything is if she got plastic surgery. The show was about her quest to get the surgery paid for somehow despite the fact that she didn’t have much money. It was basically a “look how ugly I am — pity me!” campaign. Really sad.
I don’t mean to judge these people. You can’t argue with quotes like this (from Time):
> “I always wanted to believe people were ultimately judged by what was inside,” she muses, her gaze hesitant and sad. “But I knew from my personal experience that this wasn’t true. It’s always the pretty girls who win the good things in life.”
I also don’t mean to suggest that this trend is China- or Asia-specific. I’ve just been seeing it here so much lately. The whole thing is just so sad. It’s the media that should be condemned. It really seems like the media has made some kind of promotion deal with plastic surgery providers. The hype is just everywhere.
The page features various articles on what foreigners are up to, and two pictorials. One is a gallery of foreigners fixing bikes (and it’s every bit as fascinating as it sounds!). The other is a smaller gallery of foreigners drinking beer out of traditional Chinese vessels called 痰盂. The dictionary says a 痰盂 is a spittoon, and the characters that make up the word seem to indicate this is well. According to a Chinese source, however, these 痰盂 were frequently used in the past as a “port-a-potty.” In other words, they housed not only phlegm, but also human waste. My source told me that for a Chinese person, seeing someone drink out of one of these things causes automatic feelings of revulsion, “even if they were actually brand new,” never having been actually used for their intended purposes. I pointed out that particularly in picture three, the bottoms of the 痰盂 clearly show some wear; they don’t look brand new at all.
Danwei.org did a post on the “transsexual blogfest” almost two years ago. Why, then, does it still feel like transsexuals are all the rage here in China?
Last week I caught Korean transsexual superstar Harisu in China on TV doing some kind of Chinese gameshow. They just kept showering her with comments the whole time, going on and on about how pretty, sexy, and feminine she is. I wanted to hear her voice. I was curious what it would sound like. Unfortunately, they were doing this simultaneous interpretation thing, and Harisu’s voice was dubbed over in a female Chinese voice for the broadcast. (Harisu’s voice was just barely audible in the background, too soft to hear clearly.)
Then on Saturday a Western documentary on transsexuals was aired on Chinese TV. It was dubbed in Chinese, and a good source of vocabulary. The words 变性人 (transsexual) and 生殖器 (reproductive organs) got drilled into familiarity.
What I found most interesting were the voices used to dub the transsexuals featured in the documentary. In every case, the “transmen” were dubbed by women affecting a deep voice, and the “transwomen” were dubbed by men affecting high, feminine voices. One of the transwomen looked like a completely normal woman, and one of the transmen looked very masculine — you would never have pegged him for someone who had had a sex change. And yet they still got stuck with these voices in the Chinese dub. I couldn’t hear how their real voices sounded, so I don’t know how well the dubbing reflected the original voices.
I wouldn’t have expected the transsexuals in the documentary to be dubbed that way because Harisu was dubbed in a female voice, and the Chinese media in general seems very accepting/supportive of transsexuals. To me, using the feminine voice to dub Harisu sent a subtle “she is completely feminine” message, while the voices used in the documentary sent a subtle “they can never be the gender they’re trying so hard to be” message.
I’m always surprised by how many Chinese guys admit that they find Harisu beautiful/hot on these TV shows. I think homophobia would prevent the majority of American men from making any such public admission.
I bought this book a while back solely because of its title: 老外也会喜欢你 (“Foreigners Will Like You Too”). The author was a twenty-something Chinese woman and, judging from the book’s cover (oops), the intended audience was Chinese women. It seemed likely that the laowai referred to in the title were male ones. Like me. This was going to be entertaining, I thought.
I was very wrong. Every time I tried to read the book, it failed completely to hold my interest. I demoted it to “bathroom book” status, figuring I’ll read anything on an extended visit to the commode. But even as a bathroom book, and even read in the “open to a random page” fashion, the book was utterly uninteresting. I was intensely disappointed. Of the few sections I did read, I remember virtually nothing. I vaguely recall a few ridiculous generalizations.
Please keep in mind that this is not a book review, because I didn’t read the book. I did, however, look at the pictures. Thoroughly. They were pretty.
In keeping with an incomplete treatment of the book, I will loosely translate the table of contents:
1. Where there’s a will, there’s a way
2. Where are the laowai?
3. No barriers to communication
4. Using charm in communication
5. Etiquette when getting to know each other
6. Communication’s visual etiquette
7. Dealing with a foreign boss
8. Foreigners’ taboos and customs
9. A beautiful mood
10. Foreigners have something to say
11. My view of foreigners
OK, now for the pictures. As I said, I found them the most interesting part of the book. I like the style. The question, however, is: what do these illustrations communicate to the reader? (more…)
[Haha… It’s great to read about the language difficulties I used to have in China and know that they’re a thing of the past (well, at least on the communication level).]
> I saw my guard friend Xu on the way home from dinner with Qijue, and he invited me to the guardhouse again to hang out. I told him I’d be by later because I was waiting on a call from a friend. It felt really good, though, to know that they liked talking to me. It’s kind of hard to believe, considering that at this point my communication ability is quite limited. Xu is a really good guy, though. When the others are trying to tell me something that I’m not getting, he takes it upon himself to put it into simpler Chinese that I can understand, and say it slowly and clearly for me. Xiong (the first guard I met) is a nice guy too, but not as patient, and his accent is stronger* than Xu’s. Xiong also has the annoying habit of getting louder to “help me understand” (or so he thinks), but I think I’m weaning him of that. Xu just has a gift for phrasing Chinese in ways I can understand.
> Anyway, today we talked about a bunch of stuff, including American movie stars. Xiong kept naming movie stars (and some sports stars too) and asking me if I liked them: Schwartzeneggar, Madonna, Mike Tyson, Michael Jordan, Julia Roberts, Angelina Jolie. The problem was he knew them by their Chinese transliterations, which are often pretty far off from the real English. Some of them took me a few minutes and some extra explanation. Mike Tyson was easier, plus the whole ear-biting stunt makes him easy to pantomime. Madonna, though, threw me for a loop. The Chinese pronunciation of “Madonna” is very similar to the pronunciation of “McDonald’s”. I couldn’t figure out why he was talking about McDonalds in the middle of a conversation about Madonna… I got it eventually, though.
> I know I’m going to learn a lot in that guardhouse. They told me to come back tomorrow. I will.
> *Neither Xu nor Xiong are from Hangzhou, and their hometown dialect influences their pronunciation of standard Mandarin. Even people born in Hangzhou (the city) don’t pronounce Mandarin quite the same way as Beijingers. They have a Zhejiang accent. Both Xu and Xiong pronounce the “h” as “f”, which is distracting, and Xiong also pronounces “sh” like “s” (typical of the Zhejiang accent), which can be very confusing.