Mar 2007

Buying God of War 2 in Shanghai

I recently went to my local video game store and asked when God of War 2 was coming out (yeah, I’m a little excited about this game). They told me March 15th. Well, this past week at ChinesePod was really busy, working hard to implement all kinds of new features.

Yesterday (March 16th) after work, I met my wife for dinner. She asked about God of War 2. I had forgotten about it. We rushed over to a nearby video game store, and the conversation went something like this (keep in mind that the normal price in Shanghai is 5 RMB per PS2 game):

> Me: Do you have God of War 2?

> Shop Owner: (not looking up from his game) Yes.

> Me: How much?

> Shop Owner: (not looking up from his game) 20.

> Me: 20?! Why??

> Shop Owner: (not looking up from his game) It’s DVD-9 and it’s brand new.

> Me: So how long is it going to be 20?

> Shop Owner: (not looking up from his game) Come back tomorrow and it’ll be 10. No, wait, 15.

> Me: Forget it.

Then my wife and I headed to our local video game store. We were afraid it would be closed, but it wasn’t. They had God of War 2, but the boss told me it wasn’t working on a lot of people’s PS2 machines. When I tried to pay, he insisted on giving it to me for free, because I had recently helped him out with something.

When I got home it took about 5 tries, but it worked.

Today John B informed me that that same shop is charging 15 RMB for the game.

Oh, and by the way… yes, it is awesome.

P.S. Piracy is bad!


Mar 2007

A Conversation with a Wrong Number

I had the following conversation with a woman this morning after she called my cell phone for the second time:

> Woman: Hi, are you Pan Meihua?

> Me: No. You’ve got the wrong number again.

> Woman: Are you sure? What’s your name?

> Me: Yes. My name is Pan Ji, not Pan Meihua.

> Woman: But do you know Zhang Jie?

> Me: What?

> Woman: Zhang Jie! Do you know her?

> Me: Well, I know a “Zhang Jie,” but it’s a pretty common name…

> Woman: The Zhang Jie that sells insurance!

> Me: Oh, yes, I do know a Zhang Jie that sells insurance…

> Woman: Well, I’m her cousin! I’m in Shenyang!

> Me: OK…

> Woman: I’m moving to Shanghai soon!

> Me: Look, I know Zhang Jie, but that’s only because she’s my insurance agent!

> Woman: Oh. I guess I still have the wrong number then.

> Me: Yes.

> Woman: OK, bye then.

> Me: Goodbye.

I felt almost bad, because this Dongbei woman was so excited about moving to Shanghai, and she totally wanted to talk to me about it, but she obviously had the wrong number. I guess maybe my insurance agent gave her my number by mistake.


Mar 2007

Busy ChinesePod

I’ve been doing work for “Version 3” of ChinesePod for quite a while now, but it was sort of not public so I couldn’t really say anything. Now the fabulous news is coming to light. Ken and Hank are blogging about it. The latest is: Brand new look. So if I’ve told you “I’m really busy at work” recently, this is why. (Also because new hire Adsotrans Dave is wreaking havoc in the office and stealing my pens.)

In other fascinating CPod news, blogger Frank Fradella interviewed me on his blog. Reading it is free!


Mar 2007

Homework Excuse Note

So last week my hard drive stopped working right before the deadline for my semantics/pragmatics paper. I was able to get an extension, but “I had computer troubles” is the “dog ate my homework” excuse of the modern age, so, conscientious student that I am, I felt the need to get documented “proof” of my computer troubles. I had the computer shop that fixed my hard drive write up a note and put the company seal on it.

Yeah, the whole idea sounds kind of silly, but not nearly as silly as it ended up looking. The computer guy used a tiny scrap of paper to scrawl the note. It just looks ridiculous (and yet, somehow… awesome?):

Homework Excuse Note

Anyway, I thought I’d share it because I kind of enjoy the challenge of reading handwritten Chinese. This note isn’t too difficult to read, although a little challenging in parts. If you want help deciphering, though, click through to the Flickr page.

Translation of the note:

> Pan Ji‘s teacher: Hello.

> Due to a computer hard drive failure,

> data could not be read.

> computer company, Chen Hua

> (examined from the 8th to the 10th )


Mar 2007

Oriental Virgin

Yesterday I saw this logo plastered on the wall of a construction site. It’s the logo for a new office tower in Shanghai.

Oriental Virgin

Apparently the recipe for their English name and logo went something like this:

1. Take a successful foreign company’s name and add “Oriental” to the front. Base the Chinese name on the English name.
2. Copy the logo of a different company, altering it a bit.

Sony Ericsson logo

I’m guessing that getting a sexually charged name like “Oriental Virgin” was pure “luck”…


Mar 2007

Forced Break

Wednesday my hard drive died. When I tried to boot my computer, I got this message:

> OS not installed

Yikes! Luckily I had my Ultimate Boot CD, but even that is of little use when your system has decided that your main hard drive (the one with Windows installed on it) is no longer there.

That hard drive was only three months old, so the company I bought from will replace it free of charge, but they can’t do the data recovery. Furthermore, if I want them to replace the hard drive right away and give me the bad hard drive back so I can find someone to recover the data, I need to pay for a new hard drive because they need the bad one to return it to the manufacturer. They’ll refund my money when I return the bad hard drive.

I think I’m just going to pay for the bad hard drive, then when I return it, exchange it for a new one. I’ll then have three 160 GB hard drives. That will be nice (especially if they stop breaking).

Anyway, I am on a short break. Once I get my computer back tomorrow I need to rewrite my 3000 character semantics/pragmatics paper that was due today.

UPDATE: It turned out the problem was that an IDE setting in the CMOS spontaneous changed. I still can’t figure out how that would happen, but anyway, it was an easy fix and no data was lost! The guy showed me which setting to change if it happens again. No charge. I didn’t end up buying another HD after all, and I got a signed, stamped note proving my computer was broken to give to my school. Heh.


Mar 2007

My Antidiuretic Presence

It was early evening, shortly after dinner. I was on the outskirts of Shanghai trying to find a cab to get home. As I walked the streets I was vaguely aware of a guy standing facing a wall, having a conversation with another nearby guy in a car. I’ve learned that (especially in China) it’s best not to pay attention to guys facing walls on the side of the street, so I never gave him more than a glance. As I passed by, though, I couldn’t help but overhear a part of the two men’s conversation.

> Guy in car: [something annoyed and impatient-sounding]

> Guy at wall: Hold on! I just saw a foreigner so I can’t pee!

I couldn’t help but laugh. Up until that point I hadn’t realized that one of my laowai superpowers was my antidiuretic presence.


Mar 2007

Four Character Puzzle

In Chongqing my wife’s cousin gave her a Buddhist pendant as a gift. On one side was a form which consisted of four Chinese characters blended together. Can you see them?

4 Character Riddle

The four characters together actually form a (Buddhist?) saying. For the answer, see below. (more…)


Mar 2007

China and Eugenics

China finally came up on my one of my favorite blogs, Sentient Developments:

> When stripped of all its historical and social baggage, however, ‘eugenics‘ can be used to describe two general philosophical tendencies: 1) the notion that human hereditary stock can and should be improved, and 2) that such changes should be enforced by the state (or other influential social groups such as cults or religions).

> These two concepts are not married to one another. Transhumanists tend to subscribe to the first point but not the second, leading to the charge that they are liberal eugenicists. China, on the other hand, engages in a form of eugenics that draws from both agendas; the state is actively involved in the ongoing biological re-engineering of its citizens for ideological ends.

As usual, the article was a good read. In case you’re unclear of what the author meant by China’s engagement in eugenics, here’s a summary:

> [In 1995], China adopted a new law on maternal and infant health care. The law mandates that all persons have a premarital medical examination to detect serious genetic diseases, some infectious diseases, and “relevant” mental disorders. If a detected disorder is deemed serious, the couple is not permitted to marry without committing to contraception or tubal ligation. Prenatal testing is enforced, and pregnancy is terminated if the fetus has a serious genetic or somatic abnormality. [China’s Eugenics Law on Maternal and Infant Health Care]

The thing is, since 2003 the Chinese government no longer requires premarital medical exams. That leads to this kind of situation:

> The abolition of the national system of compulsory premarital medical checkups one year ago has led to a rapid increase in the rate of birth defects in China, and if the government fails to take measures, it could lead to a still more serious pubic health problem within three to five years, medical experts warned. [ChinaDaily]

So where does the Chinese government now stand with regards to eugenics?

Also interesting are some Chinese geneticists’ views on the issues related to eugenics:

> Most believed that partners should know each other’s genetic status before marriage (92%), that carriers of the same defective gene should not mate with each other (91%), and that women should have a prenatal diagnosis if medically indicated (91%). The majority said that in China decisions about family planning were shared by the couple (82%).

You might be surprised that I’m writing about such a “political” topic. Actually, I’m not. I’m writing about a question of ethics, which is also related to a lot of the futurism discussions I’ve been reading a lot about lately.

Also, according to the prominent Chinese view, it would appear that if my Chinese wife and I have children, we’ll be engaging in a form of “personal eugenics,” since around here everyone knows that 混血儿 (“mixed blood children”) are “better looking” and “smarter” than most people. Hmmm.


Mar 2007

Secret Language Motivations

Love can be a motivation. I’m not talking about learning how to say enough for “one night love,” I’m talking about this:

> I am learning [language] so I can tell you how much I love you and have it mean more than if I told you in English.

I wonder how many years of study it will take…

Post Secret is still cool.


Feb 2007

Like a Hamster Ball on the Water

While in Chongqing we went to a carnival by the river side. There was one event that got our attention immediately. It looked like people running around inside giant hamster balls on top of water. What fun!

Playing in Bubbles

A thought immediately came to my mind, though: how do they get fresh air in those things? It turns out they don’t. They fill the balls with a big blower, then zipper them shut and put a big piece of tape over the zipper to keep it water tight. You’re only allowed in for 5 minutes, after which the carnies reel you in (the ball is tethered to the shore). It cost 10 RMB.



Feb 2007


My wife and I had a nice time in Chongqing, even though we saw only a sliver of what the city had to offer. We took Matt Scranton‘s excellent advice and checked out 瓷器口. There were so many cool snacks to try that we couldn’t even eat lunch, and a little later we wound up lost in a maze of twisting old alleyways up on the mountain. We also went to 洪崖洞, which was nothing special.

We spent a lot of the afternoon and evening with my wife’s relatives, where I got a good earful of the Chongqing dialect. I was amused that her uncle’s pronunciation of 美国 (the USA) sounded a lot like 玫瑰 (a rose).

There was so much we didn’t do (we didn’t even have hot pot there!), but we didn’t want to pack too much into the little time we had. We had a nice time, and I wouldn’t mind going back for more. Here are a few pictures.

Miscellaneous Spiciness

Cool Chongqing Dog

Riverside Carnival

Play with Fire

(Click through to the Flickr pages for explanations of the photos.)


Feb 2007

Chinese Food for Laowai

Laowai Chinese recently hit on a topic I’ve been meaning to write about for a while: What Foreigners Like to Eat in China. It’s true that foreigners in China find many menu items to be a hassle (read: almost any fish), while others are just not usually pleasing to our palates (read: chicken feet). In his post Albert makes a very good list, although mine would be slightly different.

First, I’d list the essentials (excluding rice) for foreigners in China. These are the best dishes for someone who has just arrived, but they also tend to remain in the favorite lists of foreigners that have been here a while.

Essential Chinese Food

1. 宫保鸡丁 – Kung pow chicken. This has got to be the favorite. I still love it.
2. 饺子 – Dumplings. They come in boilded and fried varieties, but they’re all good.
3. 扬州炒饭 Yangzhou fried rice. It’s better than just plain fried rice, because it has ham (oops, I mean “ham”), shrimp, peas, etc. in it.
4. 鱼香肉丝 – Fishilicious Pork Strips. [OK, that’s not the official translation, but that’s the one I’ve been using since my Hangzhou days.] There’s no fish in it; it’s strips of pork and other good stuff in a sweetish, spicyish sauce. Foreigners usually love it with rice.
5. 羊肉串 – Lamb kebabs. This needs no explanation.
6. 番茄炒蛋 – Stir-fried eggs and tomato.

There are obviously a lot of other that could be listed (see Albert’s list), but those would be my essential six. I still enjoy all of them, despite favoring them heavily for over six years.

So basically, if a foreigner showed up in China alone, and was allowed to choose what food he wanted to eat without any outside influence, there’s a good chance he’d end up eating these six and liking them the best.

I feel like there should be ten, though. Ten is a much nicer number. I wish I had time to make a list of the “perfect ten,” but I have a plane to catch to Chongqing.

Bon appétit!


Feb 2007

A Day in Chongqing

My wife is going to Chongqing on business, and she’ll be free the whole day on Friday, February 23rd. She was able to get me a ticket to accompany her, so that means we have one day to check out what Chongqing has to offer. It’s probably not the best time of year to go, but oh well. (And yes, we both like spicy food!)

I chucked my Lonely Planet long ago, but in looking for info on Chongqing, I was thinking that there should be an online version of Lonely Planet. Something less commercial, in wiki format, that could offer the most up-to-date info on hot travel spots. That’s when I found The site’s a little… visually boring, but it seems very functional. It has a page on Chongqing, but it doesn’t seem to offer much. Are the Dazu Rock Carvings (大足石刻) worth checking out?

To anyone who has been to Chongqing or lives in Chongqing, I would love to hear some suggestions of fun or interesting things to do. Thanks in advance!


Feb 2007

Best Chinese New Year Podcast for Learning Chinese

I may “hate” Chinese New Year, but it’s inescapable. We also do coverage of it at ChinesePod, of course. This year we did an Elementary lesson on Chinese New Year Firecrackers, but the one I especially liked was at the Advanced level, called 春节采访 (“Chinese New Year Interview”).

I’ve talked about the Advanced lessons on ChinesePod before, and one of the criticisms I got was that the dialogues (which are scripted) seem too fake. I think that’s a valid criticism, and I totally agree with it. The 春节采访 podcast was partly an experiment to see what we could do when we went “totally natural.” Here’s how we did it:

1. The academic team brainstormed questions about the topic (in this case, Chinese New Year), then chose the six most interesting ones
2. We made a list of all the Chinese employees in the office and where they’re from so that we could have a variety of accents in the podcast, then chose 6-8 to interview (being sure to include both male and female)
3. After Xiao Xia interviewed everyone, we narrowed the results down to (1) the most interesting interviewees, and then (2) the most interesting answers, making sure that we kept a balance in both accents and genders
4. The audio production team cut out everything we didn’t need/want
5. The academic team transcribed the final interview audio
6. Jenny and Xiao Xia listened to the audio and used the transcript to go over the interview material for the full podcast

I think the result was a very interesting Chinese New Year podcast. Most of the language wasn’t difficult at all, but there are a few challenging parts that go into lesser known local customs. The “dialogue” part of the podcast was a lot longer than usual, but I’m sure this won’t bother the listeners. As a result of that, though, the transcript was significantly longer than usual.

I think this dialogue was definitely a step in the right direction for a better advanced podcast. The problem is that it takes much longer to create natural content like this; it would be impossible to do it for every podcast. You have to expect to get boring and/or unusable content, so you have to record a lot more and cut out what you don’t want. So that’s a lot of extra time editing, and then transcribing as well. Still, I think there are elements of this process that we can keep using going forward to produce more engaging content.

If any learners have any thoughts on this, I’d be happy to hear them. You probably want to listen to the podcast first (remember that it’s all in Chinese). If you haven’t listened to ChinesePod’s Advanced content lately, you definitely need to check it out.


Feb 2007

10 Reasons I Hate Chinese New Year

I am well known for being positive and upbeat about life in China, but sometimes I just have to vent a little. This one is a special case, because when I first arrived in China I was thrilled to be celebrating the real Chinese New Year, with real Chinese people, the authentic way. With each passing year my enthusiasm has faded just a bit more, until it became this colorless loathing for the alpha holiday of the Chinese calendar.

Random photos

I suppose “hate” is a strong word, but let me just say I’m not fond of the ol’ CNY. (Still, I’m keeping the word “hate” because I’m so sassy.) So now I give you the 10 reasons I hate Chinese New Year, in the order that they come to me:

1. It’s noisy. Yeah, fireworks are fun. Yeah, the Chinese invented them. Yippee. I always thought the best fireworks were the bottle rockets that exploded midair in colorful displays. Well, here in China, the most common kind is firecrackers, or just any kind that isn’t much to look at but makes a lot of noise. This kind is fun in moderation, but “moderation” is entirely out of the question when CNY rolls around. We’re talking non-stop pili-pala (the sound of firecrackers) for days on end. What? You wanted to go to sleep? Too bad. What? You wanted to sleep in past 6am on your vacation? Too bad.

2. It’s dangerous. It should come as no surprise that an environment seething with explosions is not particularly safe. The Chinese aren’t exactly world-renowned for being “safety conscious,” either. If the public pyrotechnics everywhere weren’t bad enough, this is also the time of year when kids have firecrackers too, and they just go around lighting and throwing them at random.

3. It paralyzes the nation. Not being able to get a taxi or go to your favorite restaurant isn’t the end of the world (although, my regular Xinjiang restaurant, I do not forgive you for going back to Xinjiang for CNY an entire month early — I’m pretty sure you didn’t walk back). The problem comes when you try to do anything bureaucratic. Virtually nothing can be accomplished if CNY is even remotely near. It’s all a smile and a mei banfa (there’s nothing we can do). It’s an excuse that’s not only incontrovertible, but one you’re also supposed to be happy about it. You had better hope your visa doesn’t expire right before Chinese New Year, because you’d be screwed.

4. It encourages craptaculars. The Chinese New Year craptacular (春节联欢晚会) is the mother of all Chinese craptaculars. Watching it is not only a family tradition for many, many Chinese families; it almost seems like a patriotic duty. Year after year, I hear people saying, “the craptacular was crappier than ever this year,” and yet they watch it, year after year after year. This horrible TV tradition somehow imbedded itself in the nation’s cultural DNA, and the populace seems resigned to this.

5. It brings out overzealous hospitality. Chinese food is good. Eating is good. But Chinese hosts are infamous for “hospitably” force-feeding their guests, and this is the holiday when that impulse goes into overdrive. You can starve yourself for days, but it will do no good. As the old Chinese proverb goes, “even a large bucket cannot hold the sea.” (OK, I made that up, but it sure makes my point.)

6. It involves lots of Chinese liquor. I like Chinese food, but I will never like Chinese rice wine. This is one of those Chinese holidays where I have to buck up and just drink it. I’d be a dick if I refused. And man, it is nasty.

7. It causes temporal cognitive chaos. I’ve talked about this before. Around CNY, Chinese people refuse to use the solar calendar for a week or two and cognitively switch over to that alternative universe where the moon determines the dates. If you don’t make the temporary crossover with them, you’re in for some serious calendar confusion.

8. It screws over the little guy. At Chinese New Year, everyone goes home to spend the holiday with their families. Oh wait, did I say “everyone”? I meant everyone except for the wage slaves that have to work in the restaurants for the New Year’s Eve dinner because the city folk don’t like to bother celebrating at home anymore. Oh, and except for drivers and operators of essential public transportation. The more commercialized the holiday becomes, the more people that get cheated out of it. This is nothing new to someone from a capitalist nation, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it when I see it happening anywhere.

9. It’s a mass migration the country can’t really handle. It really can’t. One of my co-workers from Guilin will not be spending the holiday with her family for the first time ever because she simply could not get a ticket home. She’s not the only one. It’s just way too many people trying to “go home” all at the same time. It’s the world’s largest human migration, and it’s only getting worse as more and more people move to the big cities to make a living. It’s one hell of a problem for the government, totally cultural in origin.

10. It’s serious pollution. Those fireworks are more than just noisy and dangerous; they’re bad for the environment. Keep in mind that in China there are way more people more densely packed than in the U.S.; the amount of fireworks going off in one night all across the nation is simply staggering. If China didn’t already have such a great handle on its environmental issues, I might be worried. (Oh, wait a minute…)

I have tried for years to warm up to Chinese New Year, but I have stopped trying. My conclusion is that if you didn’t experience Chinese New Year as a child, you’re not going to learn to like it. It’s an exciting holiday for a Chinese kid… you get to see all those fun cousins, eat lots of great food in ridiculous quantities, and receive a hongbao (red envelope full of cash) from all your relatives. As an adult cultural outsider, I really don’t think I have any hope of ever truly enjoying this holiday.

But, here we go again…


Feb 2007

Pulp Fiction Apartment Hunting

There was a great entry at Jottings from the Granite Studio this week which combines Pulp Fiction lines with the very frustrating experience of trying to find a decent apartment in Beijing. Here’s a quick sample.

> Bring out the Gimp.

> The landlord was sweet as pie. She was wonderful. Her boyfriend was charming, all smiles, a real modern guy with “Starbucks” latte in hand. And then in walked “Auntie.” She was a dumpy, troll-like figure with a sour, peasant visage that betrayed no sense of warmth or mirth. It was quite a miracle when I saw her face actually begin to brighten into a grin when she met me… if only I knew.

Check out the whole entry: Pulp Fiction and Apartment hunting in Beijing. It’s great to see creative stuff like this, especially when it’s this funny.


Feb 2007

Doomsday Family Gift Exchange

Over at ChinesePod we’ve all been amused lately at the comments left by Japanese learner “Changye.” He has taken to posting rather poetic musings. Here are his thoughts on our recent Valentine’s Day Gift lesson:

> Doomsday is just around the corner.
Now I am eating chocolate in front of my PC.
But I am sorry that it is “not” a Valentine’s Day gift.
I have no choice but to count on the family gift exchange.



Feb 2007

Times Online Fumbles Pinyin

Reader Ash (of China Car Times) points out that Times Online is doing a “learn Mandarin Chinese” feature, complete with audio.

This is cool and all, but I found their online transcript a bit disturbing. A sample from Lesson 6:

> Part 1: Taking a train

> Clerk Qù nâr?
Leigh Qù Xî’ân.
Clerk Jî zhâng?
Leigh Liâng zhâng.

So, first and third tones don’t need to be distinguished, and pinyin conventions for how to write tone marks can be discarded at will?

I have a feeling someone made this call because there were pinyin encoding issues when proper tones were used. Still, this is pretty bad.


Feb 2007

The Poor Man's Soft Bristle Toothbush

When you leave your comfy Western nation for a long stint in China, there are certain things you might want to take with you because you can’t buy them over there. I’m talking dental floss. Deodorant. Size 13+ shoes.

toothbrush selection

Chinese toothbrushes

“Toothbrushes” used to be on my list. This is not because you can’t buy toothbrushes in China; you can buy one at any supermarket or convenience store, and you can even find brands you recognize, like Crest. The reason is that I find Chinese toothbrushes to have ridiculously stiff bristles. I guess I have wussy gums, but Chinese toothbrush bristles tend to fall in two categories for me: hard and gum-shredding. (Seriously, if I wanted that kind of scrubbing power in my toothbrush, I would use steel wool.)

So, I had been importing my soft bristle toothbrushes from the States in order to keep my brushing sessions pleasant. But now I know a better way.

Take a typical Chinese toothbrush. Pour a little bit of extremely hot water over the bristles. Apply toothpaste, and brush. The hot water softens the bristles just long enough for you to brush your teeth comfortably. Toothbrushes and big thermoses of boiling water are fairly ubiquitous in China, so the trick works basically anywhere.

Enjoy this technique, my tender-gummed friends, and may you not lose a single tooth in China.

we love cleanliness

Page 50 of 99« First...102030...4849505152...607080...Last »