Tag: vocabulary


22

Nov 2009

Updates and Links

Updates:

– Since my GFW Android Market rant, it looks like the Android Market may no longer be blocked. I’ve been able to access it again for the past few days on my HTC Hero here in Shanghai. Not sure if this will last, but it’s certainly a welcome development!
Pleco for iPhone (beta) just went into Beta 4 testing. Michael Love says this will probably be the last round of testing (but wow, that team does an amazingly thorough job!), so that means it will likely be submitted to Apple for review very soon.

Links:

– Google recently released a pinyin conversion tool on Google Translate, but it’s super primitive. Mark at Pinyin.info details all the ways it sucks (via Dave), but they all boil down to this: the tool simply romanizes characters, without regard for proper spacing, proper punctuation, or multiple character readings that can only be determined with data-informed word segmentation. (Boo, Google! You can do waaayyy better!)
– Google also added a cool-looking new Google Translate Toolkit (via Micah), which looks like the beginnings of competition for translation software like TRADOS (the preferred tool of translator Pete).
– An over-the-top rant on the importance of reading Chinese (via Micah) serves as a good reminder to those of us who might be satisfied with our functional speaking ability and too lazy to improve our literacy (this is definitely me at times!).
– Speaking of reading material, ChinaSMACK recently reminded me that even when you’re too lazy to tackle 老子 or modern thinkers, there’s still less challenging but interesting material to read in Chinese, and reading something is certainly better than nothing.
– Finally, most of us have used character-by-character literal translation as a mnemonic for memorizing certain Chinese vocabulary, but now there’s a blog dedicated to just that, called “those crazy chinese.” “Sweet pee disease,” “hairy hairy balls,” “ear shit”… check it out.


20

Oct 2009

Slumming it with nciku

I recently looked up the word 贫民窟 (meaning “slum”) in nciku. The definition included this example of usage:

> She decided to slum it for a couple of months.

> 她决定去贫民窟待几个月。

The Chinese sentence, translated back into English, would be:

> She decided to stay in a slum for a couple of months.

I think the translator missed something in this particular case, and the content of the sentences (as well as the order) strongly suggests that the Chinese is a (not so great) translation of the English.

So how nciku is getting its sample sentences for Chinese words? The OED is the champion of the dictionary quotation for the English language, containing tons of examples of its words’ usage “in the wild.” Dictionary sample sentences are best when taken from other sources, but those sentences should at the very least be composed in the language the dictionary serves. It seems this is not what’s happening with nciku, but maybe Collins (one of nciku’s data sources) is to blame.


29

Sep 2009

Can't Afford

Intermediate students of Chinese will be familiar with the following pattern:

> V + 不起 = can’t afford to V

> V + 得起 = can afford to V

This pattern is most commonly about money, the typical example being 买不起 (can’t afford to buy).

The pattern is fairly productive, so you’ll see it for lots of different verbs (and not always about money), but recently I heard a new one. A friend was saying that she was going to eat at an expensive restaurant, but someone else was getting the bill. She said she ordinarily wouldn’t be able to afford even just her own meal at that restaurant (in China, each person getting her own check is a “system” called AA), so in this case, she used: AA不起.

Heard any interesting usages lately?


04

Aug 2009

Making Family Vocab Personal

Learning Chinese family relationship words is a huge headache. It’s way too complicated and tends to come far too early in a typical Chinese course. Really, who wants to memorize the word for “father’s older brother’s wife” before you can even handle a basic conversation?

The reason Chinese family relationship terms are so complicated is because they can take into account (1) relative age, (2) mother’s or father’s side, and (3) blood relative or relative by marriage. In English, on the other hand, if I say someone is my uncle, none of those factors are addressed. The man could be my mother’s or father’s brother, or maybe brother-in-law, and there’s nothing about relative ages at all.

So for these reasons, learning a bunch of different terms to make all these relationships 100% clear feels entirely unnecessary to a lot of students. To be honest, it is unnecessary for them. Unless lots of their conversations in Chinese are going to revolve around family members, it’s just not that important.

I realized this fairly early in my studies. I had learned the family terms well enough to know which were male and which were female, but I didn’t bother with all the other distinctions. And guess what? It didn’t really matter.

There are a few times when it does matter, though. One is when you marry into a Chinese family and you have to know who all these people are. But that’s when a major new factor emerges: you’re no longer memorizing vocabulary, you’re memorizing real people and their titles. It’s the difference between a human face and a bunch of lines and circles on a chart, and your memory appreciates it.

Similarly, when I returned to the States with my in-laws this summer, I knew I’d have to be introducing them to various people from my parents’ side of the family. Rather than digging out the old Chinese family relationships chart, I went through the relatives I knew would be there and gave them Chinese names. For example, my Uncle Marty is my mom’s younger brother, so he’s Marty 舅舅, and his wife is Kathy 舅妈. My Uncle Jim is my dad’s older brother, so he’s Jim 伯伯, and his wife is Dot 伯母. Learning the terms by assigning them to real people makes them easier to remember and ensures that they’re actually useful to you.

When you think about it, it’s how kids learn these words in the first place. In fact, they learn to associate the titles with real people long before they even understand the relationships the titles refer to. Later on, they learn the relationships, and then learn to relate the relationships to other people.

To take it even further, here’s an example of a real conversation I had with my wife recently:

> Me: So my mom’s little brother is my…

> Her: Jiujiu (舅舅).

> Me: Right, jiujiu. So I can call him Marty Jiujiu.

> Her: Right.

> Me: So then my dad’s older brother Jim is my…

> Her: Bobo (伯伯).

> Me: OK, Jim Bobo. And then my dad’s older sister?

> Her: Uhhh… I forgot. My dad doesn’t have an older sister.

This isn’t the first time I’ve run into this kind of “vocab lapse” with native speakers. With a whole generation of only children, more and more personal links are missing, and the nomenclature system just doesn’t carry the weight it once did. You can decry the decline of family values and Confucian ideals all you want, but for the average Chinese student it means this: you don’t have to worry too much about Chinese family relationship titles until it becomes personal. And that’s also when the titles become memory manageable.


16

Mar 2009

Learning Piano

In my recent post on learning in China, I mentioned that I started piano lessons this month. Some of my experiences illustrate nicely a few of the points I made in that post, so I’ll share them here.

A bit of background first. I studied piano just a little bit when I was in high school. I learned the basics of reading music, the notes of the piano keys, etc. Then, about 6 years ago in Hangzhou, I took piano lessons in exchange for English lessons for about half a year. So I’d say I’m still a beginner, but I’m not starting from scratch.

In my first two lessons I’ve taken quite a bit of criticism from my teacher. I don’t pay enough attention to my finger positioning or movements. My left hand accompaniment is not staccato enough, and my right hand isn’t playing the melody smoothly enough. (Who knew Oh Susannah could be so agonizing?)

So here’s how it works out for me linguistically:

piano

Photo by sobriquet on Flickr

Finger positioning. This requires little to no Chinese to learn. I’m hearing things like 不对 (“not right”) and 手指应该这样 (“the fingers should be like this”), all the while being shown the proper form, or, in some cases, having my fingers bent/moved for me. It may be difficult to conform to all the rules, but it’s certainly not hard to figure out what one is doing wrong, no matter the Chinese level.

Vocabulary. I’m hearing a lot of the same words over and over in my lessons: 节奏 (rhythm), 伴奏 (accompaniment), 断奏 (staccato), 连奏 (legato). Hmmm, do you see something these words have in common?

When I first started my lessons, I knew the word 节奏 (rhythm). The rest of the terms mentioned above all kind of made sense in context, and the second syllable zòu, which they all share, isn’t a very common one in Mandarin. So when it wasn’t entirely clear, I was still guessing that each word was somehow related to rhythm. Still, the frequency that those words came up drilled them into my head, and while possibly related, the terms clearly did not mean the same thing as rhythm. So I was compelled to look each one up when I got home, just to make sure I was understanding my teacher correctly. (You muddle through when you can, but once the repetitions reach a certain level, muddling starts to feel silly.) So I’ve already had those new additions to my vocabulary reinforced more strongly than any other words I’ve learned in a long time. This is learning.

piano

Photo by kulp on Flickr

Pedagogical background. The biggest difficulty we’re having communicating is that my teacher expects all her students to be familiar with the do re mi fa so la ti do technique for referring to notes in a scale (those in the know seem to call this solfège), but to me, that’s pretty much just just a song in The Sound of Music. I know the notes, and I’m fine with assigning numbers to them, but if you want me to play mi-mi-fa-re in the key of C right now, I’m lost. Fortunately, my teacher is accommodating and switches to names of the notes that I actually understand… when she remembers. I just give her that blank look every now and then to remind her.

My teacher doesn’t use English with me, but she mentioned that she has one or two foreign students with whom she has to use English. (This reinforces my point that speaking Chinese is not an absolute necessity for this stuff.)

Besides learning a few words, I’m starting to feel that I understand just a bit more of the pain of being a Chinese kid. Fortunately there’s still no Chinese mom making me practice piano when I’d rather go play.


26

Jul 2008

The Name Nazi in Chinese Translation

Reader Kevin informs me that one of my classic blog entries, The Name Nazi Defied, has been translated into Chinese and widely circulated. Totally uncredited, of course.

It’s actually very good to see interest in what I had to say about the choosing of English names, and if you look at the comments on the postings, they’re mostly in agreement. It would be nice to be credited, though.

Here are a few of the translation postings:

老外受不了:中国学生这样的英文名让人耻笑
老外都受不了!中国学生取这样的英文名只能让人耻笑
老外都受不了!中国学生取这样的英文名只能让人耻笑

Oh, and in case you’re curious, they translated “Name Nazi” as “姓名纳粹.” (“姓名” seems like an odd choice for “name,” considering it was pretty much all and no involved in the nazi-ing, but oh well…)


22

Jul 2008

13 o'clock

Those of us that learn Mandarin according to the Beijing standard typically learn the expression 二百五 pretty early. While it seems to be the innocent number “250,” it actually has a slang meaning: “stupid” or “idiot.”

13 o'clock

Zhao Wei: 十三点

Those of us spending time in China’s south eventually come to a realization: you don’t hear 二百五 that much around here. What you do hear, especially in Shanghai, is 十三点 (“13 o’clock”). While it means basically the same thing as the north’s 二百五, it’s milder, often approaching something more like “silly” or “dopey” (in Chinese, 傻得可爱, or “cutely silly”).

Interestingly, Baidu Zhidao even gives us a poster child for the 十三点 look: a character once played by actress Zhao Wei (赵薇).

Baidu tells us that when it’s used between two people of the opposite sex, it’s often used in flirting (and most often comes out of the girl’s mouth).

As for origins of the expression, Baidu Zhidao gives us two main theories:

1. It’s a reference to an illegal move in a gambling game (6 and 7 can’t be played at the same time, and they add up to 13)
2. It’s a reference to an hour that traditional clocks do not strike (no military time back then!)

13 o'clock

13 o’clock: the shirt!

I thought 十三点 might be a fun thing to put on a shirt (more fun than “250” anyway), so I made this new one. I think it’s the kind of thing that laowai would enjoy wearing to see what kind of reaction it gets out of the Chinese, whereas the Chinese can’t fathom why a foreigner would possibly want to wear a shirt with that on it. (Good times all around!)

The Sinosplice shop has other conversation-starting Chinese-themed t-shirts.


07

Jun 2008

Cool Vocabulary You Totally Don't Need

Had lunch with a former co-worker yesterday. I hadn’t seen her since my wedding. She told me she had recently had surgery to have a 畸胎瘤 removed. What is that? Well, means “deformity,” means “fetus,” and means “tumor” (or similar growth). As far as I can tell, this is called “fetus in fetu” in English.

What happened to my friend is that when she was originally in the womb, she had a twin, but her twin did not develop normally. Her body enveloped her twin’s, which stayed tiny, and was not even noticeable. It lived on inside her as a parasitic twin, without a brain. Over the years, it remained in her abdomen and very slowly grew larger until it was the size of an apple. It was causing discomfort, was discovered, and was finally removed.

Crazy vocabulary acquisition!

P.S. Don’t Baidu/Google image search the words above unless you want nightmares!


UPDATE: 畸胎瘤 is actually teratoma in English (thanks, Henning!). What my friend described to me was fetus in fetu, though, so something doesn’t add up.


08

Apr 2008

Learning by not looking everything up

A recent conversation on ChinesePod brought up the question of how much input learners need, and how much “study work” needs to be done on that input. Here are some of my ideas:

> …You DO need more input. Don’t treat all input equally, though. Massive input is great, but you definitely don’t need to be looking up every word you don’t know. This is a trap I myself have fallen for many times in the past. It can turn a great source of input into a frustrating chore.

> So I think the best thing for you would be to expose yourself to as much Chinese as possible (that’s always great), but don’t actively STUDY it all… Just listen/watch/read and absorb what you can, and don’t worry about the rest. Concentrate your studies on using what you have already learned, with incremental advances. Meanwhile, all the extra input you are getting in between “official study times” will be quietly improving your Chinese in the background of your mind.

Then later in the thread:

>> Do you really think it is a trap? Didn’t the “looking up every word” phase leave any noticeable advances in your passive vocab base?

> Actually, I think this is partly a function of your current level, your personality, and your motivation.

> When I first started studying Chinese, I DID look up every word in the material I was studying. After three semesters of Chinese, I came to China with my Oxford English C-E / E-C dictionary, and I literally took it with me EVERYWHERE. I really did look everything up.

> There comes a point, though, when this becomes quite inefficient, and it’s much more practical to figure out words by context or to ask people, or to just make simple notes and look words up later at home.

> If you are still looking up every word and you don’t mind, then I say do it. But you will probably reach a point when this begins to become very laborious and it begins to hurt your motivation. It’s crucial that when you get to this point you realize that you don’t HAVE to look up every word, that it’s a rule you set for yourself and a habit you got into; it’s not the way you HAVE to learn the language. (It’s also not likely to be the way you learned your first language as a child… I have two librarian parents who used to always tell me “look it up,” but you better believe I only did that as a last resort.)

> Now, when I read a Chinese novel, most words I don’t know can be easily inferred by context. I don’t worry about them. I don’t add them to a vocabulary list or anything; that would hurt my enjoyment of the novel and thus my motivation. Of the words I don’t know on first glance, there are a small class of words I run into which I think are either (1) really worth learning, or (2) crucial to my understanding of the story. These words are usually not hard to recognize. I like to highlight them, but I don’t stop to go look them up right then. I keep going. Only when it becomes cognitively unbearable do I actually look up those words (or, more often, ask my wife). It turns out that the majority of the words I highlight I never go back and look up, because I actually understood the story just fine without looking them up.

> Sure, I CAN go back and look them up, but I just read a story in Chinese and enjoyed it. Do I really need to look them up?

> The answer to that question comes down to personality.

I also liked Clay’s method of reading:

> I also fell into the habit John warns about. It really limits your amount of input. You can get so meticulous in breaking down every single word, that you actually lose the meaning of the passage. I would sometimes get through an article, breaking down every word (and tones!), and two hours later, i don’t even really fully comprehend it.

> I finally had a teacher break me of this, with a pretty simple yet effective method of reading (newspaper articles and short stories in particular). She had me read the passage 3 times.

> 1st time: try and read the passage at a speed you would read in a similar speed in your native language. Therefore, FAST!

> 2nd time: read it at a slower pace, and circle the words you don’t know with a pencil.

> 3rd time: read it at the same pace, this time flip your pencil around and get ready to erase the ones you figured out on the last go round. There will almost always at least be one of those circled that you will erase.

> You can take a normal sized article and get through it three times using this method in 10-15 minutes. In that class, we were timed, and asked ten or so comprehension questions. It’s amazing how much more of the MEANING of the full passage you can decipher. I know it’s hard not looking up all those words, as you want to know EVERYTHING. I still have the urge to do it, but it really will limit your input.

Thanks to Mark on ChinesePod for starting the thread [free ChinesePod account required to access the original post].


07

Feb 2008

Getting to the Bottom with Music

Some people will tell you that repetition is the key to memorizing the words of a foreign language, but the words I remember the best are the ones that had a story associated with them. I remember the first time I heard Madonna’s name in Chinese, and I never forgot it, worthless as it may be. I still haven’t forgotten the word for bug light. I’m going to share one more of those little stories in this entry.

Flashback time!

> I had been in China for about two months. I had just started rooming with a Chinese guy, and the week before had discovered that the little restaurant right outside my apartment stayed open until 3am. Going out for a late plate of fried noodles was a real joy. I was still in that “I can’t believe I’m in China!” daze.

> I was perhaps only witnessing it for the first time that night, but I later decided that the most charming of Chinese habits had to be public singing. You know that cliché “dance like no one is watching” advice you get on how to “live life to the fullest?” Well, quite a lot of Chinese have a “sing like no one is listening” philosophy. Well, to be more accurate, it’s really just that no one cares if you can’t sing. Whatever the reason, it’s not uncommon to hear guys on the street burst into song as if they’re part of a musical. I find it quite uplifting, coming from my “if you can’t sing, don’t” mindset.

> As I sat waiting for my noodles, one of the restaurant staff was cleaning a pot outside, and singing as he did. I had never heard the song before, and didn’t know enough Chinese to understand what he was singing, except for one or two lines of the chorus:

> 你爱不爱我?你到底爱不爱我?(Do you love me or not? Do you love me or not?!)

> He was really putting his heart into it, and something clicked for me.

“你爱不爱我” was extremely simple Chinese that I had learned in the first few weeks of Chinese class. “Do you love me (or not)? But what the song drove home for me so nicely was the word 到底, which, up to that point, I only had a very loose grasp of. If you break it down to the character level, 到底 literally means “to the bottom.” And that’s what the word does, it tries to get to the bottom of the matter. It tells the listener to cut the crap and tell it to you straight. Depending on the tone of voice, 你到底爱不爱我? might be asking sincerely, “[I need to know, so just tell me:] do you love me or not?” If the asker is a little angrier, it might be, “do you love me or not, dammit?!”

Funny how some random singing busboy in Hangzhou, China is the teacher I’ll never forget for the word 到底.

Later, I heard the song on the radio and it really reinforced. Here it is, from YouTube:

Recently I shared the “Chinese learning power” of this song with Ken and Jenny, and we even worked it into a ChinesePod episode called Whatever. You’ll hear a clip of the song in the podcast.

The song is called 爱不爱我 and it’s by a band called 零点. I don’t know much about the band, but I do know that they’re old, they shot videos in the cold, and they’re now very (uncool). My wife really doesn’t appreciate it when I play that song. I guess it would be like her playing Def Leopard. No wait, that still kind of rocks. Billy Ocean? Maybe. You get the point.

Anyway, 到底.


06

Jul 2007

Condoms and Sexual Vocabulary in Chinese

ChinesePod just did a lesson on condoms. It was an amusing dialogue. (You can listen to just the dialogue on the online player by clicking on “DIAL” and then the play button.)

Then in the comments someone posted a link to the largest collection of sexual vocabulary and slang in Chinese (and English and Swedish) that I’ve ever seen. Impressive. It’s called 牛X语言, and yes, you might find it obscene, so click at your own risk.


22

May 2007

The Light that Kills Mosquitoes

Tonight I went out to pick up a few items. I wanted to get some drinks and a bug zapper light. (Summer is slowly seeping into Shanghai in all its steamy unpleasantness, and with it comes the skeeters.)

The grocery store was already closed, so I turned to one of the little hardware/general shops that line the road.

> Me: 有杀蚊子的灯吗? (Do you have lights that kills mosquitoes?)

> Shopkeeper: 么哇某某灯?没有。 (Something-something light? Nope.)

> Me: 叫什么? (What’s it called?)

> Shopkeeper: 灭蚊灯。 (Bug zapper.)

> Me: 哦,谢谢啊。 (Oh. Thanks!)

> Shopkeeper: 不谢。 (No prob.)

The word doesn’t have the refined feel of the word for mosquito coil, 蚊香 [literally, “mosquito incense”], but at at least it’s easy to understand. Literally, 灭蚊灯 means “extinguish mosquitoes light.”

So I didn’t get my bug zapper light, but I got a new word. Armed with the new vocabulary, I quickly asked three other shops. None of them had any “extinguish mosquitoes lights” either. I failed my mission, but I had a new word cemented in my memory.

It made me nostalgic… I used to learn so many new vocabulary words that way, but I only just realized how long it’s been. Carrefour just isn’t as fun.

Note: If you’re reading this via RSS feed, then my experimental “fuzzy response” CSS effect (on the shopkeeper’s initial reply) probably didn’t carry over. Visit the site to see what you’re supposed to.


03

Mar 2006

Vocabulary Lists Are Back!

A long time ago I made a page for names of different types of alchohol in Chinese. At the time, I had grand visions of lots of atypical and interesting vocabulary lists (i.e. no list of “countries” or “animals” or “fruits” in Chinese). That project stalled. For a long time.

Well, it’s back: Sinosplice Vocabulary Lists. Right now there are only three, but that number will expand. I’ve already started working on some new ones. (I also gladly accept additions to existing lists or new list ideas.)

One of the new ones is Chinese Onomatopeia. I compiled this list myself, and I haven’t found a similar list anywhere else on the internet. So get it here first, until other people copy it! (Better yet, link to it and give me some Google rank love.)

Onomatopeia are fun. My dad taught me a love for animal noises in foreign languages, but there are more than just animal noises in the list. Here are some wacky questions you can answer by browsing the list:

1. What noise in Chinese sounds like the name of a cheese in English?
2. How many of the 52 Chinese onomatopeia in the list are identical to the corresponding English onomatopeia? (Hint: not many!)
3. What bird makes the same noise as a frog?
4. What Chinese onomatopeia are missing? (Hint: this is a trick question to which I do not know the answer!)

The other new list is Cartoon Character Names. Kastner helped me out by compiling this one. I still owe him for that. (Thanks, man!)

Your conversational Chinese may be pretty decent, but you can likely stand to take it up a notch or two by adding the Chinese names of the Transformers, He-Man, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to your vocabulary. Yes, you need this. (Did I mention it impresses the ladies?)

With the exception of the original alcohol list, I have been using AdsoVocab to generate the lists. The auto pinyin completion saved me a lot of time. I recommend you check it out if you have not seen it already.

I would love to add stuff like this to my site all the time, but the sad, ironic truth is that I very rarely have time for this kind of thing anymore because I’m going to grad school so that maybe I can get paid to do something like this down the road. Anyway, enjoy! I’ll be out of grad school in 2007.


01

Dec 2005

Shanghai Vegetable Prices

The other day Micah posted a list of vegetable prices, which I find very useful. Normally I would just link to his entry, but Micah’s permanent archives are on “Blockspot,” which is just a pain. So with his permission I’m reproducing the table here (and adding pinyin tooltips so that I’ve at least contributed something).

From Shanghai Evening Post’s “Metro Life” section called 蔬菜批发价格, or Wholesale Vegetable Prices:

品种
Type
价格
/公斤
Price
(RMB/kg)
品种
Type
价格
/公斤
Price
(RMB/kg)
青菜
Chinese greens
0.7 番茄
Tomato
2.1
毛菜
???
1.7 什椒
Peppers
2
卷心菜
Cabbage
0.6 冬瓜
Winter melon
0.6
大白菜
Chinese cabbage
0.45 黄瓜
Cucumber
2.1
花菜
Cauliflower
2.6 毛豆
Soy bean
1.8
生菜
Lettuce
1.8 豇豆
Cowpea
2.7
美芹
Celery
1.9 刀豆
String bean
3.1
雍菜
Water spinach
(blank) 茭白
Wild rice stem
3.8
茄子
Eggplant
2.1 土豆
Potato
1.45

It’s weird — not only can I not find a translation for 毛菜, but I can’t find any definite pictures of it either (can you make sense of this or this?). Yet I’m pretty sure I’ve eaten it before!


29

Oct 2005

White Bear

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.

Bai Xiong Ice Cream

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.


27

Oct 2005

Those Shanghai Laowai…

tanyu

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.

Shanghai's Laowai

Shanghai Online, a Chinese internet portal site, recently did a special on Shanghai’s laowai.

[The chamber pot chuggers belong to a “drink and run” club called the Hash House Harriers. The Shanghai chapter has a website if you’re interested in joining.]

Hmmm, so what image of laowai is Shanghai Online trying to portray…?

Update: Bingfeng already blogged about the beer chuggers, way back in May! That’s what I get for not reading more than a handful of other blogs, I guess…


11

Oct 2005

Dubbing transsexuals

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.

So, transsexuals in China… still hot!


12

Sep 2005

Taxis and Rain

Yesterday as I rode in a taxi through Xujiahui I was glad that I was not one of the many people trying in vain to hail a cab. It can be extremely hard to find a taxi when it rains. Sometimes it’s completely impossible.

A thought struck me, so I asked the driver:

> Me: Master*, do you like rainy days better or non-rainy days better? On rainy days you get more business, right?

> Driver: With traffic like this, the rain doesn’t do that much for business. I can only get a few fares anyway, with all the traffic I have to sit in.

> Me: Well what about rainy days when the traffic isn’t bad?

> Driver: The traffic’s bad even when it doesn’t rain. When it rains it’s even worse.

> Me: Well what about late at night when it rains?

> Driver: Yeah, I guess business is a little better than usual then.

> * In China, drivers (and many other blue collar workers) are addressed as shifu, which is the same way students address their kung fu masters. I always get a little kick out of calling a taxi driver or a plumber a word that can be translated as “master.”

The typhoon is upon us here in Shanghai. What an auspicious sign for my first week of classes. This week I don’t actually have my first class until Thursday, though.


08

Sep 2005

New Ireland

When I ride in taxis, the drivers frequently ask me if I’m American. I confirm it, of course. I guess I look very American. The “casual look” and all. When I met Todd here in Shanghai recently, his comment was that I was “even more American than [he] expected.”

Well, I yam what I yam.

The other day I had an audition for a commercial, and I was told to come somewhat dressed up. So I did. The cab driver asked me if I was British.

After learning I was American, he asked me if “New Ireland” was a city or a state. I asked him to repeat the name. Then I realized I had misunderstood. I was having my first Chinese conversation about the tragedy that is New Orleans (新奥尔良). It sure sounded a lot like “New Ireland” the first time I heard it.

Neither of us had much insight to offer.


18

Aug 2005

Science (something) Sect

I hate celebrity gossip. I think it’s the stupidest thing. Why should we care about that stuff?? What bugs me the most is when I realize I am actually somewhat following it. I don’t want to, I don’t mean to… how does it happen?? I find it even more ludicrous that Chinese people sometimes also follow the celebrity gossip of Hollywood stars. Yeah, I shouldn’t be surprised, in this age of international media… but still. It’s ridiculous.

Last night I accidentally got involved in a celebrity gossip chat with my girlfriend. Argh! (Disclaimer: neither of us really knows what we’re talking about here, so if we’re wrong… ummm… so what??)

> Me: So you wanna watch a DVD tonight?

> Her: What DVD were you thinking?

> Me: How about Mr. and Mrs. Smith?

> Her: (wrinkles her nose)

> Me: Oh yeah, you saw that already… You didn’t like it, right?

> Her: Right. I just can’t believe he would do that to his girlfriend. I feel so sorry for her…

> Me: Huh?

> Her: You know, how he left her for that other woman…

> Me: (realizing what she’s talking about) Oh! You mean…

> Her: Yeah! Peter!

> Me: Haha… Not “Peter”… It’s “Pitt!” Brad Pitt!

> Her: Right… he left that one girl for the woman in this movie.

> Me: Oh, right. He left his wife Jennifer Aniston for Angelina Jolie.

> Her: Right. Because of this movie!

> Me: So you don’t like it because you don’t like him.

> Her: Right.

> Me: OK, I guess that decides that…

> Her: Which one would you choose if you were Brad Pitt?

> Me: (suddenly sensing very dangerous ground) Ummm…

> Her: I think I would choose Angelina Jolie. She’s younger and sexier.

> Me: (relieved) Yeah, me too.

> Her: Men always go for the younger woman. Like Tom Cruise.

> Me: Yeah.

> Her: I think they’re kind of a cute couple.

> Me: What?? Why don’t you hate Tom Cruise? He did the same thing that Brad Pitt did. He was married to Nicole Kidman, and then he did a movie with Penelope Cruz and divorced his wife. And he didn’t even stay with Penelope Cruz long!

> Her: Oh, really?

> Me: Yeah! And plus he’s crazy!

> Her: He is?

> Me: Yeah, you haven’t heard?

> Her: I heard that he and his girlfriend are having some troubles. One reason is that it’s Tom Cruise’s third wedding and he wants to keep it small and simple, but his girlfriend would like her wedding to be a big affair.

> Me: Hmmm.

> Her: The other is that her family is Catholic, and one time when Tom Cruise was talking to her father, he got in a big argument with him over religion. It almost came to blows! You know, because Tom Cruise is in that one religion… science something sect… [科学-什么-派]

> Me: Oh yeah… [“Scientology”]. (I had no idea what that was in Chinese)

> Her: So Tom Cruise is really crazy?

> Me: So it seems. There are all sorts of clips documenting it on the internet. Wanna see?

> Her: OK.


Celebrity Names in Chinese (absolutely worthless — don’t learn these!):

– Brad Pitt: 布莱德·彼特/皮特 (His last name in Chinese sounds like a transliteration of the English name “Peter,” so he gets called “Peter” a lot by the Chinese.)
– Tom Cruise: 汤姆·克鲁斯
– Angelina Jolie: 安吉利娜·茱丽 (Characters vary somewhat. Why didn’t they just use 周丽 for her last name??)
– Jennifer Aniston: 珍妮佛·安妮斯顿
– Katie Holmes: 凯蒂·霍尔姆斯 (This one was slightly harder to find.)

Scientology” in Chinese (could potentially result in some interesting conversations and/or jokes!): 科学论派 (literally: “science theory sect”)



Page 3 of 41234