It has been my pleasure to work with the SpanishPod team at Praxis Language over the past year, and they have just made it to their 100th lesson today (if you listen carefully, you may hear a mention of me in that episode). They’re really doing amazing things!
Check out one of their recent videos, Spanish Fever in China:
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…
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]
> 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.
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:
I tried it out on YouTube and got this result:
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.
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)
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…
OK, I’ve gotten over this annoying message I see anytime I try to access a Google Video:
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:
(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.
P.S. I’m up to 12,000 characters in my thesis. 2,000 more to go for today…
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.
I recently stumbled across this graphic, and found it amusing enough to share.
So, does using an automotive visual help anyone learn tones any better?? It takes all kinds…
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.
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.
> 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…
My thesis is taking up most of my free time these days. The deadlines are coming real soon and I have a lot of work left to do. (How could I have ever known an experiment would be a lot of work??)
The good news is that I have a pretty good idea of how the paper is going to turn out, even if I don’t have all the particulars nailed down yet, and I think it’s pretty interesting. The bad news is I have to have 30,000 Chinese characters on paper to turn in way too soon!
Anyway, for that reason, over the next month I will probably not be posting as frequently as my usual one post every 2-3 days, and when I do post, they will likely be quickies. Once all this is over, I will have a lot to say about my Chinese grad school experience. But it just wouldn’t be prudent to say too much yet.
I can’t really believe this, but it’s still hilarious:
> In a long conversation that stretched way past midnight at Mao’s residence on February 17, 1973, the cigar-chomping Chinese leader referred to the dismal trade between the two countries, saying China was a “very poor country” and “what we have in excess is women.”
> He first suggested sending “thousands” of women but as an afterthought proposed “10 million,” drawing laughter at the meeting, also attended by Chinese premier Zhou Enlai.
> Kissinger, who was President Richard Nixon’s national security advisor at that time, told Mao that the United States had no “quotas” or “tariffs” for Chinese women, drawing more laughter.
> “Let them go to your place. They will create disasters. That way you can lessen our burdens,” Mao said.
> “Do you want our Chinese women? We can give you ten million,” he said.
> Kissinger noted that Mao was “improving his offer.”
> Mao continued, “By doing so we can let them flood your country with disaster and therefore impair your interests. In our country we have too many women, and they have a way of doing things.
> “They give birth to children and our children are too many.”
Story on Yahoo: Chairman Mao proposed sending 10 million Chinese women to US: documents. (via Hank)
While some of us have been slaving away on a stupid never-ending masters thesis over the CNY break, others (David Lancashire) have been updating their “open source natural language processing engine for Chinese text” (Adsotrans).
Dave started up a blog for Adsotrans (again), and he’s got some interesting news to share:
1. Adsotrans now has “sexier popups!”
2. There’s an Adsotrans WordPress plugin in the works!
Really cool stuff. If you’re studying Chinese and haven’t used Adsotrans before, be sure to try it out. Oh, and in case you didn’t know, you can download Adsotrans now.
I saw these board games on a recent trip to my local Carrefour supermarket.
Makes sense; they’re all translated into Chinese except for Scrabble, because that just doesn’t work. [There are at least two Chinese adaptations of Scrabble, though, called Magi Compo and Chinese Squabble.]
Did you notice the price stickers? Yikes! In case you missed them:
– Monopoly (地产大亨): 198 RMB
– Monopoly, Beijing version (地产大亨，北京版): 349 RMB
– Risk (大战役): 249 RMB
– Life (人生之旅): 199 RMB
– Clue (妙探寻凶): 169 RMB
– Scrabble: 238 RMB
Still cheaper than back home? I’m not so sure… What do these game go for in the States these days?
Related: China Risk
Somehow I made it onto someone’s Facebook “Laowai Test.” This is especially surprising because there were only 6 questions, and at least two of them were about Dashan. Anyway, I was highly amused by the question about me:
The whole “John has lived in China for x years” line at the top right corner of my website started about 2.4 years ago (sorry, couldn’t resist) shortly after I redesigned this blog layout. I was switching over to WP for the blog and PHP for the whole site in order to do cool time-saving stuff with includes, and I realized this opened up some other possibilities. The first thing that came to mind was the “John has lived in China for x years” calculation. I threw it up there for the hell of it, and for no special reason it has never come down.
Since then, I have gotten some funny comments about it. Some people evidently think I am sitting around with a calculator, rushing to update my blog code every time the decimal changes. OK, so I may have a nerdy tendency or two, but I don’t do that, people. It’s a PHP script.
Even the people that realize it’s a script take note of it, though. I guess it’s the counting years in decimals. No one really does that, and it’s just odd enough that people take note.
I’m actually planning on updating my site layout soon. It’s been long enough. No major changes (wider layout, mostly), and I’m keeping the “John has lived in China for x years” line for sure. It’s just in the Sinosplice DNA now.
Thanks to Brad for pointing out the Facebook Laowai Test, and for being the one that coded the little “John has lived in China for x years” PHP script for me!
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.
> 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 土 (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.
Urge to make cynical smartass remarks… nearly overpowering… URRGGgg…
All right, I’m OK now. But seriously, that video is just begging to be made fun of.
On a positive note, it’s a nice collection of everyday Chinese scenes (set though they may be in a parallel harmonious universe).
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?)
In case you missed the ChinesePod episode on the Super Bowl, “Super Bowl” in Chinese is 超级碗. Literally, it means (brace yourself for this)… “super bowl.”
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.
A recent post on LanguageHat called Bad Language got me thinking about the laowai (老外) issue again. Yes, it’s a rather tired (often overly emotional) discussion, but I think that LanguageHat’s very rational view on the topic offers a new perspective on the matter.
Basically, LanguageHat’s view is this:
1. When the privileged and powerful use originally neutral terms for groups of people “beneath them,” their contempt naturally creeps into the language they use.
2. Those groups targeted by the contempt-laden language object to it more and more over time, until politically correct alternatives come along.
3. The privileged and powerful are presented with the new language, and “PC language is a cheap substitute for actually treating people equally, so they usually go ahead and do it.”
Makes sense to me. But how does the laowai issue fit in?
Here are some key differences:
1. The laowai issue is cross-language, cross-cultural. We’re dealing with the way Chinese people talk about foreigners, in their own language. Just to make it absolutely clear, a similar thing would be Americans objecting to Mexicans calling Americans gringos when they speak Spanish. (I don’t believe the two examples are actually equivalent, though.)
2. When we look at which Chinese people use the word laowai, we’re definitely not dealing with the privileged and the powerful of Chinese society. Most often, it’s exactly the opposite. Some might claim that the educated of Chinese society don’t use the term laowai, but I maintain it’s the Chinese who have significant contact with (often hypersensitive) foreigners that avoid the term laowai. It’s pure pragmatics.
3. On average, foreigners get excellent treatment in China. It’s not uncommon for Chinese people who give extra favorable treatment to foreigners use the term, and it’s also used by the guys that yell “hello” and laugh at the “big-noses.” So the term is not a part of a larger picture of negative discrimination.
Again, this brings me back to my previous position: the term laowai in Chinese is not inherently derogatory, nor is it used in the familiar pattern of other offensive labels for groups of people outlined above.
I’m not looking to rehash the previous debates. If that is what interests you, please see this post.