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.
Taiwan-based blogger Prince Roy visited Shanghai recently. It’s weird, because I’ve “known” the guy for about five years through the internet, but we only just met face to face.
On his blog he writes about his impressions of Shanghai in one post, and his encounters with John B, Micah, ChinesePod, and me in another post. Prince Roy talks about food a lot, so I’m happy that he wasn’t disappointed with the Hunanese restaurant I took him to.
He took some nice shots of the food:
Yum. Yes, it’s nice to be able to eat food this good any time you want, and to pay next to nothing for it.
I’ve been reading my friends’ blogs through Google Reader for a while now, so I don’t often actually go to their sites. I just visited Micah’s site today for the first time in a long time, and I was impressed. This site design is genius! And it really perfectly suits Micah’s eclectic-aggregated blogging style.
Well done, Micah. Well done.
I’m a Firefox user, and one of the greatest things about it is its extensibility. PicLens, a full-screen 3D image viewer that works especially well with Flickr, has got to be one of the best extensions I have ever seen (even if it is almost too iPhone). I never blogged about a Firefox addon before because there wasn’t really a reason to. Now I never want to go back to boring HTML views on Flickr.
You have to see it in motion to really appreciate the addon, but check out these screenshots of PicLens views of some of my favorite (Greater) China-based photographers:
One great thing about the addon is that it’s much easier to skim quickly through a photographer’s collection and get a sense of the overall style. Give it a try.
This song “Killer” (杀手) by Lin Junjie (林俊杰) is all right, and video is kind of interesting and weird, but there’s a part of the chorus that totally seems like a ripoff of that “there’s a place in France where the naked ladies dance…” song I heard in second grade. Anyone feel me on this one?
P.S. YouTube has been really slow lately…
It snowed in Shanghai today, lightly as snow goes, but pretty heavily for Shanghai. A quick look at the Flickrverse reveals:
Note: Most of these are not my photos. Click through to see who took them.
What fine journalism.
Perhaps I should add a warning to my comments section… Warning: anything you write here may appear in China Daily.
When you first start studying Chinese, you are introduced to Mandarin’s four main tones. You are invariably shown some variation of the chart on the right. You may have wondered where these lines came from. Are they just some artist’s conception of how the tones sound that everyone ended up agreeing on? No, actually, they’re tone contours, the result of linguistic research into the pitch contour of the various tones of Mandarin Chinese.
At this point, your average language student is going, “oh, right, pitch contour. Linguisticky mumbo jumbo. Whatever.” He then decides to accept the chart, no matter how helpful or useless he happens to find it, and move on. The reality, however, is that pitch contour is incredibly easy to see, thanks to a piece of free linguistic software called Praat. I’m going to show you how to do this yourself in a few easy steps so that you can stop accepting this “tone contour” stuff on faith alone.
I recently read a very interesting article called Do the Right Thing which discusses moral standards in different cultures. From the article:
> Consider the following dilemma: Mike is supposed to be the best man at a friend’s wedding in Maine this afternoon. He is carrying the wedding rings with him in New Hampshire, where he has been staying on business. One bus a day goes directly to the coast. Mike is on his way to the bus station with 15 minutes to spare when he realizes that his wallet has been stolen, and with it his bus tickets, his credit cards, and all his forms of ID.
> At the bus station Mike tries to persuade the officials, and then a couple of fellow travelers, to lend him the money to buy a new ticket, but no one will do it. He’s a stranger, and it’s a significant sum. With five minutes to go before the bus’s departure, he is sitting on a bench trying desperately to think of a plan. Just then, a well-dressed man gets up for a walk, leaving his jacket, with a bus ticket to Maine in the pocket, lying unattended on the bench. In a flash, Mike realizes that the only way he will make it to the wedding on time is if he takes that ticket. The man is clearly well off and could easily buy himself another one.
> Should Mike take the ticket?
The article stated that Americans are likely to say that no, Mike should not take the ticket, but that in many cultures Mike’s social obligation outweighs the prohibition against stealing.
Since Chinese culture attaches great importance to relationships, I would expect Chinese people to agree that Mike should take the ticket and get to the wedding. But will they really?
I’m leaving the conclusion up to you, my readers. Pose the story above to a Chinese person or two, ask them the question, and then in the comment of this posts, report back on what they say. I’ll add the results to the end of this post.
UPDATE: The responses seem quite divided. I gather that most of the commenters have a multi-cultural viewpoint (for example, Chinese abroad, or Westerners in Shanghai), so it’s hard to say what the “typical” answer would be. Conclusion: blog posts may not be the best medium for anthropological research into cross-cultural moral codes. Shocking!
I noticed this poster today:
The Chinese text: 既要发现危险！更要注意潜在危险！
Translated, it says something like, “We must perceive danger! More importantly, we must watch out for POTENTIAL danger!”
And where was this poster hanging? No, not in the Arctic Circle. It was on the wall inside Chinese cafeteria Reboo.
This was not the most welcome sight in the world, considering I was just digging into my first real meal in over three days, following a weekend of food poisoning hijinks. “Potential danger” indeed.
A while back John B introduced me to a blog called All Japanese All the Time, in which the author describes how he became fluent in Japanese while living in the States, in a relatively short amount of time. The key, as the name implies, is to immerse oneself in Japanese as much as possible. In our world of digital media, it’s not too hard to find listening material for a language like Japanese. Load this stuff onto your iPod or whatever, and soak it in. Obviously, you’ll need to be doing lots of studying as well.
Khatzumoto, the author of All Japanese All the Time, advocates finding a DVD you know well that has audio in the language you’re studying, getting familiar with the movie in that language, and then ripping the DVD audio. The idea is that you start out familiar, and with enough repetition, all those lines in the movie become yours.
I liked this idea, but I wanted to try it a slightly different way. Not long ago, my wife bought a cute animated Japanese movie called Arashi no Yoru ni. She was listening to the original Japanese dub, and watching with Chinese subtitles. I noticed in passing that the original Japanese was not difficult at all, and the plot was quite simple.
Here’s the plot (from the Wikipedia page):
> A goat named Mei wanders into a barn during the night for shelter from a storm. In the barn, the goat finds another refugee. The two can neither see nor smell each other, yet huddled together fending off the cold, they begin to talk and eventually develop a friendship. They decide to meet at a later time using the password “one stormy night”. The next day, when the two meet, Mei learns that his companion from the night before was a wolf named Gabu. Despite the fact that the two are naturally supposed to be enemies, they share a bond and begin meeting regularly. However, Mei’s flock and Gabu’s pack eventually find out about this and forbid their friendship. Mei and Gabu, hoping to preserve their friendship, cross a river during a storm, hoping to find an “emerald forest” free from persecution for their friendship.
> However, Giro, the leader of Gabu’s old pack, holds a grudge against all goats, and views Gabu as a traitor to his kind. Gilo and his pack go on the hunt to track down the two companions. Gabu and Mei, having reached the summit of a mountain and exhausted from fighting their way through a snow storm, stop and rest. Gabu hears his pack approaching and hides Mei in a nearby cave, ready to defend his goat friend to the death. As he is about to go face the wolf pack, there is an avalanche. The next morning, Mei digs through the snow blocking the cave and sees the “emerald forest” they had been searching for in the distance. However, Gabu has gone missing…
(If that’s not enough for you, there’s also an online trailer.)
OK, so now the basic question is: how well could I understand this movie in Japanese only by listening to it? That’s the point of the experiment.
The good news is that this same movie also has a high-quality Mandarin track (those Taiwanese do good work!), as well as a Cantonese track. There is no English track. I’m putting all these MP3s online for other people to give it a try as well.
If you give this a try, I’d really love to hear about the results. For example:
– Do you find there’s too much music to concentrate on language-learning, or does the music help?
– Can you follow the story?
– Is it enjoyable in audio-only format?
(And if you’re an angry lawyer representing Arashi no Yoru ni, just e-mail me.)
Word on the street is that the unedited version of Lust, Caution has already circulated pretty widely. My wife picked up a good copy a while back. I’m planning to watch it soon, partly to see what the fuss is about, and partly because of the ridiculous claim that I keep hearing from the Chinese: “foreigners can’t understand it.” (I actually probably won’t understand it–this isn’t the kind of film I’m into–but it’s still a ridiculous claim.)
Anyway, this is all just an excuse to make a post featuring “Reel Geezers,” the “dynamic octogenarian duo.” Their reviews are hilarious. Watch!