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26

Apr 2008

Enslaved by Telecommunications Corporations

An old high school friend recently visited me here in Shanghai with her husband. Our chat made the usual rounds of old friends, life updates, etc., and then settled on China. When it comes to discussing life in modern China, one topic I find myself returning to again and again in my conversations with Americans is the whole cell phone thing. Americans are always blown away by how easy and convenient (for the consumer) the system here is.

My own situation:

– Monthly 30 RMB plan with China Telecom, comes with talk time and plenty of text messages. I don’t think I ever exceed my limit, but if I do, I pay very little extra.
– Cell phone bill paid by prepaid card, which I can purchase at any convenience store in increments of 100 RMB or 50 RMB. I only need to do this about once every three months, and it takes 5 minutes to add the money to my account. China Telecom SMSes me when I need to re-up.
– My account and phone number are linked to my SIM card, which I can remove from my cell phone at any time and use in any other cell phone here in China. Upgrading a cell phone is as easy as removing and inserting a SIM card, and takes less than a minute.
– No mail, no credit cards.

I don’t even know the full extent of the hell that American telecommunications companies put their customers through, because I never had to deal with it myself. I got my first cell phone in China. But it all sounds really stupid. The whole concept of “cell phone minutes” annoys me.

The one drawback of not being enslaved by the telecommunications companies is that any cell phone you can steal you can use immediately by simply swapping out the SIM card. Small price to pay, I say. Just be careful.

The worst part about all this is that when Americans come here and realize that even China has a way better cell phone system in place, they are blown away, but they are nevertheless completely resigned to their fate. And yet, it doesn’t have to be that way…


22

Apr 2008

Deaf, not Dumb: Chinese Sign Language

It’s been a while since I last wrote about sign language, but some interesting YouTube videos by Alice (胡晓姝) recently pulled me back into it.

Below is the video that I found most fascinating. It’s subtitled in Chinese, but worth a watch even if you don’t read Chinese. I’ll sum up the main points in English below the video.

Before I list Alice’s main points, I need to first explain some background. In the video, Alice discusses the Chinese sign language counterparts of the Chinese words 聋哑人 (literally, “deaf mute person”) and 聋人 (“Deaf person”). The former is the most common way to refer to a Deaf person in Chinese, whereas the latter is the word many in the Chinese Deaf community wishes everyone would use. 哑巴 is the word for “mute,” and it’s definitely not polite.

Alice’s main points are:

– The Deaf Chinese are used to using signs for “deaf-mute” (聋哑人) and “mute” (哑巴) but these signs are not respectful to Deaf people.
– Overseas, Deaf communities stopped using the expression “deaf-mute” 20 years ago, and only China persists.
– It was foreigners that appreciated that within the character for deaf, “,” is the character , meaning “dragon,” a traditional mythological protector being. That’s pretty cool!
– The traditional Chinese sign for “deaf-mute” (聋哑人) is loaded with negative connotations, but there is an international symbol for for “Deaf person” (聋人) that we should be using.
– The word “deaf-mute” (聋哑人) should also be rejected because “deaf” and “mute” are two separate concepts; deaf does not have to mean unable to speak, and being unable to speak does not mean one must be deaf.
– Some Deaf people believe basic, improvised signs are lowly and spoil the aesthetics of the language. This is wrong, because sign language is the language of the Deaf, developed by the Deaf, with its own grammar and special characteristics.
– There are two kinds of sign language: literary sign language (文法手语), used to reflect mainstream written language, and natural sign language (自然手语), the everyday language of the Deaf.
– Deaf people are not handicapped people (残疾人). We have our own culture and language. Let’s unite and improve ourselves.
– The Chinese Deaf community needs to be bolder, to candidly discuss issues and to struggle together.
– Remember, it’s 聋人, not 聋哑人. Spread the word: 聋人.

I have to say, this video fascinated me. There’s so much there, linguistically (not to mention that it was filmed next to a sushi conveyor belt, which is just damn cool). I think you can tell when a gifted orator makes a stirring speech in a foreign language, and this is the same feeling I get watching Alice deliver her message. It’s inspiring.

My favorite part of the video is the stretch from 1:12 to 1:22. You can easily tell from Alice’s facial expression that the sign for “deaf-mute” (聋哑人), which uses the pinky finger, is distasteful, and that one should use the index finger instead to say “Deaf person” (聋人). It’s not just a matter of arbitrary signs, though. In Chinese sign language, the sign for “good” () is the “thumbs up” sign. The opposite of that is thumb in, pinky out. That’s the sign for “bad” (不好). So the meaning of the sign for “deaf-mute” is clear: “ears bad, mouth bad.” Quite negative. The newer sign uses the index finger, drawing attention to the ear and mouth without disparaging it. You can watch Alice put down the negativity of the pinky finger and choose the index finger instead.

Check out Alice’s other videos. Not all of them have Chinese subtitles, but one interesting one that does is an interview with Deaf rapper Signmark. Alice interviews him in international sign language.

I haven’t watched them all, but it looks like none of Alice’s videos to date have English subtitles. I’m working on convincing her that it would be worthwhile.


Related:

“deaf” vs. “Deaf” (read the explanation on the side)
Signmark rapping in Japan (note the character on the back of the group’s shirts)
– the 2009 Deaflympics are in Taipei, the year after the Beijing 2008 Olympics (coincidence??)


19

Apr 2008

Office Moved, Life Improved

Life has just gotten way better for me. Last Friday Praxis Language (home of ChinesePod) moved to the Zhongshan Park area (where I live).

Why is this a big deal? Well, it means I can walk to work. It’s about more than convenience, though.

I used to take the subway to work every morning, and then back home at night. My commute took me down Line 2, through the People’s Square exchange, over to Line 1, at rush hour. Hey, millions of people do this every day in this city, so why shouldn’t I? Well, eventually I learned why. Over time the crushing commuting hordes really got to me. I would start every day lying in bed cursing my alarm clock, dreading my commute, and then, after running the gauntlet again, arrive at work in a foul mood. At the end of the day when work was finally over and I could relax, my bad mood would be reinstated by the commute home. It all added up to a significant amount of unhappiness, far exceeding the daily hour and a half I spent in commute.

I tried carpooling, but that didn’t work. Eventually I started taking taxis a lot more. It was kind of expensive, but I learned it was well worth it. I was buying back a pleasant emotional state, and it was a good value.

Toward the end, John B and I started carpooling by taxi in the morning and taking the subway home after work. We had to leave a half hour earlier in the morning to ensure that we’d get a taxi every day, but we could split the fare. Totally worth it.

Starting Monday I’ll be walking or biking to work every day. It’s going to be sweet.

If you’re planning on living in Shanghai and wondering how close to work you want to live, I say VERY.


16

Apr 2008

Barack Obama in Shanghai (with Evil Obama)

This picture, taken over the weekend, shows Barack Obama with his secret evil twin, “Evil Obama,” in Shanghai. (Evil Obama is recognizable by his mustache, goatee, and evilly slanted eyebrows.) Careful study of this photo shows that no Photoshop work has been done.

Obama and Evil Obama Support Sinosplice

I’m not sure what Obama is doing in Shanghai at a crucial election time like this, but I was pleasantly surprised to see Evil Obama donning an attractive Sinosplice sweatshirt.

Now, as regular readers of this blog know well, I do apolitical China commentary. In this case, however, it’s Obama advocating Sinosplice. Nothing political about that!

By the way, now that the weather is warmed up, you might be interested in these Chinese-related Sinosplice t-shirts:

Sinosplice T-shirts


12

Apr 2008

Kevin Rudd's Chinese, Analyzed

Kevin Rudd, Wu Bangguo

Kevin Rudd with Wu Bangguo

You may have heard of Kevin Rudd, the latest laowai to become famous for speaking fluent Chinese. This guy is kind of different, though, because he happens to be the new Prime Minister of Australia.

Yesterday’s ChinesePod lesson is about Kevin Rudd’s Chinese. Overall a very positive review, of course, but it’s an interesting exercise for advanced students to hear what 小语病 (little language problems) he still has in his speech.

My co-worker Clay commented that if you compare the Chinese Rudd uses in his public appearances from a few months ago with the Chinese he uses now, it has gotten a lot better. It does make me wonder what kind of coaching Rudd gets on his Chinese, and as the Prime Minister of Australia, what kind of priority does he put on improving his Chinese (a truly powerful diplomatic tool)? Is it worth 10 hours of intense language training a week? More?

Anyway, check out the lesson: ChinesePod Media – 澳洲总理秀中文


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].


06

Apr 2008

A Trip to Anji

My wife’s family got their tomb-sweeping done early (apparently that’s allowed), so we used the three-day weekend for a trip to Anji (安吉), Zhejiang Province’s bamboo wonderland.

Anji Tourism Map
Anji Tourist Map [click here for another version]

It has been a while since I went on a trip like this on China, so I was reminded of an important fact: When you go as an uninformed tourist, you get the full tourist experience. We didn’t do a whole lot of research before going. My wife found a pretty nice place to stay online, and the “mountains + bamboo” scenery was great, but we ended up visiting various locations as just two more cogs in the tourism machine. If we ever go back, we’ll remember to do it a bit differently. The following are some of my observations for those of you that are interested in Anji.

Early April was a good time to go because it wasn’t too hot and the crowds were tolerable, but the mountain waterfalls are a little less full, and the bamboo a little less green this time of year. It’s a trade-off.

Bamboo Forest

The place with the most attractive name, 中国大竹海 (Great Bamboo Sea of China), was something of a rip-off. I think my wife’s observation was pretty astute: “they’re just trying to make a tourist buck off of their bamboo production land.” True enough. They also rely heavily on being the bamboo forest location in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. (See image below)

中国大竹海

The text on the billboard which greets you when you arrive reads:

> 《卧虎藏龙》、《像雾像雨又像风》等影视作品拍摄地
周润发、章子怡来了,
周迅、陈坤来了,
周星驰、刘德凯也来了,
嘿,明星们都来了,我们还等什么?

A rough translation:

> Filming location of cinematic works such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Love Story in Shanghai
Chow Young-fat, Zhang Ziyi came,
Zhou Xun, Chen Kun came,
Stephen Chow, Liu Dekai came,
Hey, the stars all came — what are we waiting for?

We didn’t go too deep in, because we didn’t like what we saw in our first hour there: truckloads of cut bamboo on their way out (which tourists had to dodge), fairly thin bamboo forest, bamboo in the forest marked for cutting in big black characters, and tourists frenziedly trying to find and dig up new bamboo shoots (which they’re told they can have if they find). Other random additions included a mini roller coaster and an alpine zipline.

We tried the roller coaster (40 RMB per person), and it was pretty fun. What was interesting is that it had a hand brake. Fortunately my wife let me man the brake, because I was determined to use it as little as possible (whereas must of the Chinese tourists seemed to be applying it right away on the initial descent). It did raise the troubling question, though: is this hand brake here for tourists’ peace of mind, or can this track really not handle us going around the corners at full speed? There was a net along the sides of the track in some places, but not others (including a few tight turns), and the end of the ride requires the riders to brake themselves.

Break now! Roller coaster car

竹博园, something of a bamboo-themed botanical garden, was also pretty lame. You get to see lots of different types of bamboo, but it wasn’t looking very beautiful. There was also a fair amount of random park-like stuff, including the inflatable bubbles on the pond, and even a stage for performances, which radiated loud annoying techno-pop (not the best thing for the atmosphere).

We stayed in the 九龙峡 (literally, “Nine Dragon Gorge”) scenic area, where we saw 白茶谷 (literally, “White Tea Valley”) and 藏龙百瀑 (literally, “Hidden Dragon Hundred Falls”), which were both pretty decent, scenery-wise. The area at the top of 白茶谷 was still under construction, so we couldn’t go all the way to the top. We only went as far as a Buddhist temple about 3/4 of the way up. We had some 白茶 (“white tea”) on the mountain, and it was tasty.

Don't pick the tea!

We didn’t go all the way to the top of 藏龙百瀑 either, because we were both a bit tired from our first mountain climbing experience that day, it was getting dark (no lights), and everyone said the best spectacle was the waterfall halfway up.

Anji in general is still rapidly developing for tourism. I talked to a worker on the way up 藏龙百瀑 who told me the mountain paths (cement/stone stairways in the mountainside) were all only 7-8 years old. (That is, probably not so coincidentally, right when Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon came out.)

Overall, a pleasant visit, but be prepared for the stuff that comes with a newly developing tourism industry, and learn from my mistake: do your homework first! We only saw a few parts of a large beautiful region. There is still lots to see.


01

Apr 2008

Ninja teens or ninja teams? Ask the Chinese!

Ryan North, artist, linguist, Canadian, and all-around “great thinker,” has posed an interesting question recently: in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme song, is the line “Splinter taught them to be ninja teens” or “Splinter taught them to be ninja teams?”

Video below if you must listen for yourself:

I was pretty sure it’s teens myself (rhymes with “machines”… exactly!). Still, in the spirit of “1.3 billion people can’t be wrong,” I had to wonder what the Chinese people thought the lyrics said. Sure, they’re just going on a translation, but whatever the common translation is, that’s what 1.3 billion Chinese people think the song lyrics mean. That’s gotta count for something!

Naturally, I went to ninjaturtles.cn and obtained the lyrics in Chinese:

少年变异忍者神龟,
少年变异忍者神龟,
少年变异忍者神龟,
身披硬甲的英雄们
龟的力量!

他们要迎接世界的可怕挑战
[多纳泰罗:我们是最棒的] 他们是身披硬甲的绿色英雄
[拉斐尔:嘿,快跟上]

当坏蛋史莱德来捣乱的时候
神龟小子们是不会让他好过的

少年变异忍者神龟,
少年变异忍者神龟,

斯普林特老师教授他们成为忍者少年
[利昂纳多:他是一个激情满怀的老鼠]

里昂那多是领导
多纳泰罗是个天才发明家
[多纳泰罗:这都是真的,伙计]

拉菲尔很酷但有些鲁莽
[拉斐尔:饶了我吧~] 米开朗基罗可是一个万人迷
[米开朗基罗:Party!]

少年变异忍者神龟,
少年变异忍者神龟,
少年变异忍者神龟,
身披硬甲的英雄们
龟的力量!

First of all, the Chinese translation confirms the “ninja teens” view (忍者少年)… sorry, Ryan. But looking at the rest of the translation, I must say that there is a thing or two about the translation of these lyrics which concerns me. In the spirit of subtitle surrealism, we better do this whole thing.

First comes original English lyrics (in bold), then Chinese “translation”, then re-translation back into English (in brackets).

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
少年变异忍者神龟
[Teenage mutant ninja supernatural turtles]

Whoa, did someone sneak an extra word in there? Mostly an exact literal translation, except that the Chinese prefer to call the turtles supernatural turtles (神龟), or “god-turtles,” for the more literal-minded. Thinking this particular phrase might have some root in China’s rich cultural heritage, I did a Baidu image search. Hmmm. Lots of TMNT. No legends involving Guanyin and a massive turtle or something? I guess it’s not as important as TMNT. You know… the god-turtles.

Heroes in a half-shell
身披硬甲的英雄们
[Heroes draped in hard armor]

Hmmm… dramatic, but decidedly less turtley.

Turtle power!
龟的力量!
[Turtle power!]

Sweet!

They’re the world’s most fearsome fighting team
他们要迎接世界的可怕挑战
[They take on the world’s fearsome challenges]

Hmmm, so these “challenges” the translator made up are fearsome, but the turtles are not? Maybe it’s because they’re god-like.

We’re really hip!
我们是最棒的
[We’re the greatest!]

This is actually less humorous than a ridiculous cartoon character from the 80’s saying “we’re really hip.”

They’re heroes in a half-shell and they’re green
他们是身披硬甲的绿色英雄
[They are green heroes draped in hard armor]

Wow. Nice dramatic effect.

Hey – get a grip!
嘿,快跟上!
[Hey, catch up!]

Hey, a turtle is telling you to catch up! That is so cool but crude.

When the evil Shredder attacks,
当坏蛋史莱德来捣乱的时候
[When bad egg Shredder comes to make trouble,]

“Evil”… “bad egg”… more or less the same right? Yes! …in Chinese.

These Turtle boys don’t cut him no slack!
神龟小子们是不会让他好过的
[The supernatural turtle guys will not give him an easy time]

Now I see why they’re not referred to as “fearsome.”

Splinter taught them to be ninja teens
斯普林特老师教授他们成为忍者少年
[Teacher Splinter taught them to become ninja youths]

And here you have the translator correcting the original lyricist’s mistake of not giving Master Splinter proper respect.

He’s a radical rat!
他是一个激情满怀的老鼠
[He is a rat brimming with passion]

Ah yes, “brimming with passion,” the little-known synonym for “radical.”

Leonardo leads, Donatello does machines
里昂那多是领导,多纳泰罗是个天才发明家
[Leonardo is the leader, Donatello is a genius inventor]

This line has lost the ambiguity of “does machines,” but I guess we won’t miss that.

That’s a fact, Jack!
这都是真的,伙计
[This all is true, man]

Props for not using “杰克” (Jack).

Raphael is cool but crude
拉菲尔很酷但有些鲁莽
[Raphael is cool, but he’s a bit crude]

Nice! They even toned it down to just “a bit crude” to save him some face.

Gimme a break!
饶了我吧~
[Forgive me!]

Yes, he is less crude in Chinese.

Michaelangelo is a party dude
米开朗基罗可是一个万人迷
[Michaelangelo is a mack daddy]

Well, it’s debatable whether 万人迷 means “mack daddy” or “ten-thousand men love,” but the real question is where’d the “party” go?

Party!
Party!

Ah, there it is.


UPDATE: Ryan has responded to this post on his site, and here’s what he said:

> April 3rd, 2008: A few days ago T-Rex was considering the “ninja teens” / “ninja teams” issue in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme song. I got a lot of emails about that (and here it is nice to be able to say “Man, it’s not me that’s wrong, it’s T-Rex!”) but SECRETLY, I agreed with T-Rex, and thought that the lyrics says “Splinter taught them to be ninja teams”. But guys! I am going to admit that I was wrong.

> Here is the fantastic blog post, by linguistics grad student John, that turned me around. It turns out the answer to this debate is (as in most things) to simply Ask The Chinese.

Thanks for the link, Ryan!


30

Mar 2008

A Chinese Music Video, QQ-style

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:

QQ在线视频视频求爱全过程

I don’t like the song itself, but the QQ-style presentation is enjoyable (for 30 seconds or so).

(Are Youku videos viewable outside of China?)


On a related note, the “Back Dorm Boys” (后舍男生) seem to have their own Youku page now, but does anyone still care?

后舍男生


25

Mar 2008

Ignored Contractions

contractions

No, not THAT kind of contractions…

One thing I’ve noticed about students of English in China is a tendency to ignore contractions. Chinese college students tend to be weak on spoken skills in general, and one of the symptoms is this failure to use contractions. We native speakers like to use contractions in informal speech, and as a student of English, failing to follow suit makes you stick out. When I taught English in Hangzhou, I used to focus on the use of contractions to get my students speaking more natural English.

Typically, the symptom goes something like this. Given this sentence:

> I’m a college student.

A typical Chinese college student will read this:

> I am a college student.

Given this sentence:

> He’s a very smart* boy.

A typical Chinese college student will read this:

> He is a very smart boy.

Obviously, these are not heinous mistakes, but it does make me wonder why for something so simple, the students don’t just read what’s written there.

Common sense tells me it’s just a habit. The teacher once told them, “I’m” means “I am” and “he’s” means “he is,” and it was just easier to convert it over, in pronunciation as well as in meaning. And the teacher didn’t care.

Still, a part of me wants to link it to characters somehow (you can’t contract 我是 or 他是**), or some “deeper” reason. I have to mentally smack that part of me… contractions are something of an ordeal for any learner of English; being Chinese has nothing to do with it.

If you’re teaching English, though, one easy way to help your students sound more native is to remind them to use contractions in their speech, or at the very least to get in the habit of pronouncing them correctly when reading them.

* Have any of the textbooks started to use the word “smart” instead of “clever?” They never did in my day, even when they claimed to be teaching “American English.”

** Although maybe some northern Chinese dialects kind of sound like they attempt this…


23

Mar 2008

Easter Events

Xujiahui Cathedral

Xujiahui Cathedral

Today was Easter, a good good day to complete the rough draft of my thesis. It came out to about 27,000 characters (40 pages). I still have a bit to add and polish, but the majority of the workload is now off my shoulders. What a relief.

Today Easter mass at Xujiahui Cathedral was packed. My wife and I couldn’t help chuckling at the little Chinese kid behind us, continually pestering his dad with questions:

> What does “hallelujah” mean? Does it mean “I’m awake now?”

> Why did they put out the carpet? It’s not raining today. [In Shanghai you frequently see mats or even broken-down cardboard boxes by the entrances of buildings on rainy days to help collect the water off of people’s feet. In this case, it was a red carpet leading to the altar.]

> What happened to the bishop’s hat? Did someone cut it open? It looks like someone cut it open.

> What’s a prophet? [先知]

Happy Easter!


19

Mar 2008

Saving on Eggs

Sam Flemming‘s latest tweet (message on Twitter) had me smiling:

> saw on old lady bring her own egg to the jian bing guozi seller to save money

Sam is talking about 煎饼果子 (pictures). They’re made by spreading a basic batter on a hot plate, and cooking an egg on top, and then spreading a sauce on it. The total cost (including the price of the egg), is usually 1-3 RMB (depending where you are in China). Eggs generally cost much less than 1 RMB each.


16

Mar 2008

YouTube: Down for everyone or just me?

YouTube has just been blocked in China. Somehow I don’t care nearly as much as I used to when this happens. It’ll be back.

Coincidentally, today I just stumbled upon a website called Down for everyone or just me?. The interface is dead simple:

Down for everyone or just me?

I tried it out on YouTube and got this result:

Down for everyone or just me?

Strange. My “IP sleuthing” seems to reveal that the site’s servers are in France. Did I do something wrong, or is YouTube also down elsewhere?

For a service like this to be done really well, it would have to have server checks all over the world, but this is a good start.


11

Mar 2008

Three Links for March

Some good things I recently came across:

1. Gladder: an auto-proxy addon for Firefox. Very convenient! Unlike TOR, it’s not either “always on” or “always off.” Just works for the sites you need it to work on. How did I not find out about this sooner?? (Via JP)

2. Olympic Game Piracy. Shameless. The best thing to do about this is to spread the word when it happens and turn up the scorn. (Via Dave)

3. The Deadly Huashan Hiking Trail: a photo journey. Don’t let the use of Comic Sans fool you; this is one hardcore mountain climb. Make sure you see the pictures toward the end…


09

Mar 2008

YouTube and Flickr: DENIED!

OK, I’ve gotten over this annoying message I see anytime I try to access a Google Video:

Google Video in China

I’ve gotten over it mainly because I don’t ever use Google Video. YouTube has everything. Today, for the first time, I got this:

Youtube - Denied in the PRC

(Text reads: This video is not available in your country.)

Thanks a lot for spreading this helpful practice to YouTube, Google. This is so annoying. Has anyone else in China gotten this? Fortunately I’ve only gotten it once, for this video.

While I’m on the subject, Flickr has been misbehaving a lot recently too.

Flickr - Denied in the PRC

Other people have also noticed it. The Access Flickr Firefox plugin doesn’t help, and the problem itself seems erratic. Any solutions?

P.S. I’m up to 12,000 characters in my thesis. 2,000 more to go for today…


08

Mar 2008

Pickles

I haven’t been married for long, and one of the challenges is getting used to having Chinese in-laws. Mine are great, so it hasn’t been very challenging, but I’m always looking for more common ground and good conversation topics. Besides our love for one particular Chinese girl, we really don’t have a ton in common.

When it comes to food, my father-in-law and I usually agree. (I may not be as fond of the rice wine, but at least we can agree on beer.) Recently my mother-in-law bought a jar of “Russian style” pickles at the grocery store and was delighted to find that both of us loved them.

The last time my in-laws came over for dinner, my father-in-law and I finished off another jar of those pickles. As I was smiling at the idea of pickles bringing two very different people together, my father-in-law reached for the pickle jar. “They’re all gone,” I was thinking. “What’s he going to do?”

And then he drank the pickle juice.


03

Mar 2008

Car Tones

I recently stumbled across this graphic, and found it amusing enough to share.

Car Tones

So, does using an automotive visual help anyone learn tones any better?? It takes all kinds…


28

Feb 2008

The Mother and the Wife

Those of us with an adopted country always have very complex relationship with both our home countries and our adopted countries. Obviously her situation is completely different from mine, but Iranian author Marjane Satrapi makes an interesting analogy in an interview:

> So you’ve been in France for a long time now. Do you feel you can call it home in any way?

> I can live fifty years in France and my affection will always be with Iran. I always say that if I were a man I might say that Iran is my mother and France is my wife. My mother, whether she’s crazy or not, I would die for her, no matter what she is my mother. She is me and I am her. My wife I can cheat on with another woman, I can leave her, I can also love her and make her children, I can do all of that but it’s not like with my mother. But nowhere is my home any more. I will never have any home any more. Having lived what I have lived, I can never see the future. It’s a big difference when someone has to leave their country.

If you haven’t read Persepolis, I highly recommend it. I read graphic novel Maus as a teenager, and it left a deep impression on me. I haven’t gotten quite that feeling since, but Persepolis comes very close.


24

Feb 2008

Cordyceps and Traditional Chinese Medicine

I was watching a BBC documentary on jungles with my wife yesterday, and we learned about a fascinating parasitic fungus called Cordyceps. Here’s the clip we saw:

Just in case you’re too lazy or unable to watch the amazing YouTube video, the fungus spreads through the insect and compels it to go somewhere high up to attach itself and die. Then the fungus sprouts from the corpse and spreads its spores upon the insect populations below. Badass! (Watch the clip.)

After doing a little research, I discovered that the genus Cordyceps includes one kind called Cordyceps sinensis (AKA caterpillar fungus), which is actually used in traditional Chinese medicine!

Here’s what one source says:

> In 1993 Chinese women distance runners won six of nine medals at the World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany in the 1,500, 3,000 and 10,000 meter races. They were suspected of steroid use and were tested. The results were negative.

> According to their coach, Ma Junren, they had been running 25 miles a day and had been using cordyceps mushrooms.

And another:

> Cordyceps Sinensis, a plant of the ergot family, is a traditional and precious dried Chinese medicinal herb belonging to the fungus category. It was highly recommended by ancient medical practitioners as the most effective cure for all illness. Owing to the herb’s high efficacy and potency in curing various diseases, it is well-known as an important nourishing tonic. However, as the sourcing and gathering of the herb is rare and difficult, so its supply often falls short of demand.

This one even mentions Shanghai:

> In a huge herb market about 850 miles west of Shanghai, I point to a pile of what look like dried worms, with a puzzled expression on my face. “Tochukaso,” says the herb dealer. I nod, recognizing the Chinese word for Cordyceps sinensis, one of the most prized agents in Traditional Chinese Medicine. In the wild, cordyceps is a parasitic fungus which grows on caterpillars on the high Tibetan plateau. But cordyceps is now also cultivated on wood and grains. Heralded in Chinese herbal texts for over 700 years, cordyceps is now trumpeted by science as well.

I’m quite a skeptic when it comes to TCM, and trying to pass off Japanese as Chinese doesn’t make the above source any more credible. However, the Chinese name for Cordyceps sinensis is actually really interesting. From the wikipedia entry:

> In Tibetan it is known as Yartsa Gunbu [Wylie: dbyar rtswa dgun ‘bu], source of Nepali: यार्सागुम्बा, Yarshagumba, Yarchagumba. It is also known as “keera jhar” in India. Its name in Chinese “dong chong xia cao” (冬虫夏草) means “winter worm, summer grass” (meaning “worm in the winter, (turns to) plant in the summer”). The Chinese name is a literal translation of the original Tibetan name, which was first recorded in the 15th Century by the Tibetan doctor Zurkhar Namnyi Dorje….

Here are some pictures via Flickr of 冬虫夏草 as it may look in a TCM store (click through the second one for more info):

I was just very amused to find this crazy fungus reminiscent of Giger’s Alien, only to learn that the Chinese have been using it as medicine for hundreds of years. Yeah, I guess it fits…



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