Feb 2006

Bad Sample Sentences

I’m currently doing some editing work for a Taiwanese book on English. It’s one of those books that takes the most common English words, organizes them alphabetically, then provides a Chinese translation, English sample sentence, and Chinese translation of said sample sentence for each word. Now, since each word only gets one sample sentence, it’s important that the usage in each sentence (1) corresponds to the most common meaning of that word, and (2) provides clear usage of the word.

OK, now let’s look at two entries I was given:

1. are (v. 是): You are kindly. 你很亲切。

2. bun (n. 小圆面包) Mary always wore her hair in a bun. 玛莉总是把她的头发挽成一个圆髻。

Even if you can’t understand the sample sentence in #1, if you look carefully, you can see that the definition (v. 是) given is nowhere to be found in the sample sentence. This is because of a major difference between Chinese and English grammar. The person writing the sentence seems to be completely unaware of this point. Since the author is choosing the definitions, doesn’t it make sense to choose sample sentences in English which can be translated in such a way that the word in the definition will appear in the sample translated sentence? Well, not to some people, apparently.

I think my complaint with #2 is pretty clear. A sample sentence should use the basic meaning of the sentence, not some relatively obscure derived meaning.

Man, I thought I was going to breeze through this editing job in a few hours, but since I have to rewrite/retranslate so many of these sentences, I’ve already spent over 2 hours on vocabulary for letters A and B alone. Good thing it pays by the hour.


Feb 2006

Filial Piety

I recently learned that a grad student at my university worked hard over the CNY vacation and earned 8000 rmb. That’s about US$1000. That might not seem like a lot if you don’t live in China, but that is quite an impressive sum for a college student to earn in two months. To put it in perspective, my university teaching job in Hangzhou got me only 3000 rmb per month to start. Many Chinese laborers earn less than 1000 rmb per month.

The student earned the money as a Chinese tutor. The going rate in Shanghai for grad student tutors is 50 rmb per hour. That means she put in 160 hours of teaching during her vacation.

She earned the money not because she really needs it (although she has supported herself through her entire college education–something which very few Chinese college students do). Here’s the kicker: she worked so hard to earn money so that she could send her parents on a nice vacation. She just really wanted to do that for them.

This kind of thing blows me away. Even a Chinese friend of mine marveled at her behavior, calling it the definition of : the Confucian virtue of filial piety. It’s stories like those that still give me a little jolt of culture shock. I mean, sure, I’d like to do something like that for my parents too, but I’d never consider it as a self-supporting grad student.

Filial piety, hard work… they may not be universal in China, but these values are still very much alive and well here. (Take a guess as to whether it’s significant that the student is not from Shanghai…)


Feb 2006



Perplexing Ad



Feb 2006



Sinosplice Character Creations #1


1. 一般性口臭
2. 急性口臭
3. 闲话
4. 挞克馅饼(是一种墨西哥菜。请看照片:1234
5. 多层营销(MLM)
6. 断臂山(电影的英文名字叫做《断背山》)


Feb 2006

Character Creations

An older post by ChinoChano brought my attention to an amusing page on called New Chinese Characters. The characters are created by foreigners using existing character components (some knowledge of Chinese required). Some of them are pretty funny. Anyway, the page inspired me to create a few new characters of my own:

Sinosplice Character Creations #1


1. 口 (mouth) + 蒜 (garlic)
2. 口 (mouth) + 死 (death)
3. four 口 (mouths) + 女 (woman), arrangement based on 器
4. 肉 (meat) on top of 凹 (which means “concave” but represents the taco shell here). (Variant form adds the 鱼 (fish) radical.)
5. 贝 (cowrie, used in characters to mean “money,” as in 财, 购) over 众 (used as a pictographic representation of downlines)
6. 山 (mountain, but broken)

I suspect I will do more of these in the future. It’s kinda fun.


Feb 2006

Irate Football Fan

Two weeks ago was “Super Bowl Monday.” At 6am John B and I caught a taxi to Windows Scoreboard, the place the Carl said would be “the place” to catch the big game. Well, “the place” insofar as it’s a pretty decent sports bar, beer is cheap (in the Windows tradition), and you can even get a decent American breakfast for a reasonable price. Plus they were showing the Super Bowl through satellite TV, so we didn’t have to put up with that outrageous 15-second delay.

I’m not a big sports fan at all, but I enjoy a good football game from time to time. I’d never started drinking so early before, and it was a good reason to hang out with John B and Carl, my former roommate I hadn’t seen in a while.

Excited by the breakfast food which Carl assured us would be very tasty, I ordered a 30 rmb omelette with cheddar, bacon, onions, and tomatoes. I was really looking forward to that.

When we arrived at 6:30am, the place was fairly crowded, and breakfast orders were flying. I waited a good while for that omelette, and I was getting hungry. (Plus, like a wuss, I wanted to eat before I started on my beer.) At one point I decided to go up to the bar and check on my order.

There was a foreigner in front of me trying to put in a food order. He got the extremely busy waitress’s attention and started giving her his order (in English). She gave him an embarrassed laugh and told him she didn’t understand (in Chinese). The guy tried again (in English). She apologized again (in Chinese) and started to leave. I sympathized with the guy, because the bartender could take his English order, but the bartender was really busy too, and so the foreigner might have to wait another while just to put his order in, let alone actually eat. So I stepped in and told the guy I’d translate for him. I started telling the waitress in Chinese what the guy wanted.

The foreigner did not like that. He gave me a nasty, “I’d like to order my own damn food, if that’s OK with you.” So I immediately backed off and left the guy alone. I eventually got my omelette and it was goooood. (More memorable than the Super Bowl, in fact.)

So what was the guy’s deal? My interpretation is that the guy was just in a bad mood (maybe he was a Seahawks fan?), but maybe not… I wonder how many other foreigners would be pissed off by what I did. It’s been my experience that any newcomers with no language skills are typically grateful in a situation like that. But maybe the guy has been in Shanghai a while and he’s pissed off that he still can’t order food, and thought I was trying to show off? If the guy was trying to order food in broken Chinese but the waitress couldn’t understand him, I could understand how he would get pissed at me for butting in. I wouldn’t have said anything in a case like that. But he wasn’t speaking any Chinese at all.

I find these multilingual/cross-cultural exchanges and all the emotion-laden sociolinguistic baggage they come with to be very interesting.


Feb 2006

Adding the pinyin quicktag in WordPress

A while back I wrote about adding pinyin tooltips using a little CSS and a span HTML tag. I later mentioned that I had worked a “quicktag” into my blogging interface. Today I’ll tell you how to easily add this button to your WordPress “Write” page.


The pinyin quicktag in action

After installing WordPress 2.0, it took me a while to get around to uploading my custom quicktags.js file which includes the “pinyin” quicktag button. Since I add pinyin to words quite often, I was really annoyed by the loss of the button. It really makes adding pinyin so much more convenient.



Feb 2006

Chinese Grammar Issues

This week I’m finally getting around to writing my two remaining final papers for last semester. Classes don’t start until something like the 27th though (I think). One of my assignments is to revise my paper on Chomsky according to my professor’s comments. That shouldn’t be too hard, except that she left a few questions on my paper that would seem to warrant entire essays of their own in order to answer. (Ah, she won’t remember what she wrote on my paper, right??)

The other essay is a response to one of the lectures given in a seminar course. The Chinese name of the course was 当代学术前沿讲座 which basically translates to “a bunch of boring lectures.” The only one I found remotely interesting was 汉语语法的问题和方法 (Issues and Methods in Chinese Grammar). So that sure narrows down my possible writing topics.



Feb 2006

Defense and Defecation

I had to laugh when I stumbled across this the other day:


It’s an important tone difference which I learned a while ago but didn’t actually personally encounter much until this past semester as a grad student, when suddenly the word “dabian” kept popping up everywhere.

Just imagine (mis)hearing your professor tell the class: “I have to cancel class this Thursday because I have to take a dump.” The silly schoolboy in me inwardly giggled every time.

Image via chinat0wn.


Feb 2006

V-Day Chinese Mail Order Brides!

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, direct shipping service of Chinese mail order brides has recently become avilable. Not only do they ship right to your door, but they arrive wearing the traditional qipao (旗袍). The clear shipping case ensures a few jealous looks from your neighbors as the delivery man sidles up to your door.


I for one applaud this all-out embrace of ultra-commercialized holidays. Not only do I love the over-priced Valentine’s Day rose bouquets, chocolate sets, and dinner deals that have become so common in Shanghai, but I love the Valentine’s Day mail order bride concept, which, for me, represents the ultimate in commercialized romance.

I think the shipping option pictured above may be a bit expensive, but here’s an insider tip: come live in China, and you save big on postage!

Even if you end up paying a lot in postage, remember: mail order brides are to be loved. Don’t abuse them.


Feb 2006

Riding with Strangers in Yunnan

It was 2003, and I was spending my Chinese New Year vacation in Yunnan. I headed out there with a Chinese friend, but after hanging out in Dali (大理) and Lijiang (丽江) some, we soon found our vacation mindsets quite different, and we went our separate ways. I was more than happy to be wandering wild crazy Yunnan on my own. I headed to Jinghong (景洪), the starting point for most “treks” in the southern Xishuangbanna (西双版纳) area of Yunnan Province.

I won’t go into the details of the trek in this post, but it was a 40 km trek. It was supposed to take two whole days, but since I was doing it alone, I figured I’d start early, walk a little faster (at 6’4″ I have long legs), and do it in one day. The night before the trek I stayed in a pretty miserable little town and slept in a dirty little bed that was overpriced at 40rmb. I was off at dawn.

As the sun was setting, I had made it to the end of the almost 14-hour trek. I found myself walking through some little town, but evidently I was still a ways off from the bus stop that takes you to Jinghong. After walking through that town for about half an hour with blistered feet, I asked and determined that I was still 10km away from the bus station, so I caught a ride. I arrived at the station just in time to see a bus pulling away. Guess which one it was? Yes, it was the last bus to Jinghong.

At that point I had to make a decision. I had already paid for that night at my hotel in Jinghong. It wasn’t really a lot of money, but it seemed stupid to spend the night where I was. Although I really enjoyed the trek, there was no disguising the squalor of the villages. The people there understandably saw foreigners as money-making opportunities, which didn’t allow for many meaningful interactions. I was sort of getting into a “get there, understand, get out” mentality. I really felt I didn’t belong, and I was ready to go. Maybe I was experiencing the onset of travel fatigue.

If I didn’t want to spend the night in that village, though, what options did I have? The last bus was already gone. Seeing a fairly nice car coming down the road the bus had just left on, I did something impulsive. I went over to the car and asked the two men inside if they were going to Jinghong. They were. I asked if I could get a ride with them.

I have to explain here that I’m not the type of person that hitchhikes all the time. I’ve certainly done a fair bit of hitchhiking around Japan, from Tokyo to Fukuoka, but that’s Japan. That’s pretty much the only place I feel hitchhiking is really safe (at least for a big male foreigner like me). Yet that night in Yunnan, a sort of desperation came over me. I felt I just had to get out of there. I imagine it’s the same sort of feeling China as a whole gives some foreigners. We all have our own thresholds. Anyway, catching a ride in Yunnan with two men I didn’t know really didn’t seem like a bad idea at the time. They looked like decent guys.

So I got in their car, and we started chatting. They had driven down for the day on business. They had to collect gambling money for the boss or something like that. It was soon pretty obvious that these guys were some kind of gangsters. I had hitched a ride at night with gangsters in China’s drug capital.

It was really dark. There are a lot of remote roads in Yunnan, and not enough public funding for street lights. I really had no idea where we were going. I just knew that the two guys had said they were going to Jinghong when I asked. I tried not to think about it. It was well into the trip, when we were driving down a desolate tree-lined road that one of the guys turned to me and asked, “do you know where we’re going?”

“Jinghong,” I told him, trying to disguise a rising feeling of alarm.

“Jinghong, huh?” he replied, smiling. He gestured to the road ahead and the spookily lit trees, cradling the dark road like claws. “Does this look like the road to Jinghong?

I don’t even remember how I replied. The two were looking at each other and laughing. I wasn’t sure what to think or what to do. The guy didn’t say much after that.

As more time passed, it became clear that we were almost to Jinghong. The guy had been joking with me. He and his friend’s chatter about drinking, gambling, and whoring hadn’t exactly assuaged my fears that these guys were dangerous, but at least they really did intend to take me all the way to my hotel as they promised. They tried to get me to go drinking and whoring with them, but those invitations were easy enough to deflect. I slept really well that night.

Yeah, I have to say, hitchhiking in China isn’t the best idea. I’m lucky all I got was a scare. I don’t remember what the guys looked like, but I very clearly remember that dark road, and the guy asking me, “Does this look like the road to Jinghong?”

That trip to Yunnan was pretty awesome.

Related Link: Yunnan photo album (2003)


Feb 2006

Inherent human worth

I am a grad student, and I’ve been doing part-time English tutoring and translation work to pay the bills. As a tutor, I sometimes have English sentences to correct. I recently got this sentence (more or less):

> It’s common for people to envy the people who are better than them.

During the lesson, I told my student that the sentence was grammatically correct and the vocab word “envy” was used correctly, but I couldn’t help but find it funny. It reminded me of the play insults my little sister and I used to sling at each other in high school, or that spunky hillbilly in the movie, picking a fight with the snooty aristocrat using the line, “you think yer better’n me??

I explained to my student that blatant statements of one human’s inherent superiority over another are either ridiculously elitist or racist in nature, and frowned upon (officially) by the West, where we (in name, at least) adhere to the concept that “all men are created equal.” My student didn’t really understand what I was getting at, so I explained it this way:

> Let me compare myself with Bill Gates. You may say he’s richer than me. Well, yes, he certainly is. You may say he’s more powerful, more successful, and harder-working than me. I can accept all that. But if you say Bill Gates is better than me, I have to disagree. As humans, we are equal.

To my surprise, she still took issue with my point. She was nice enough not to say I’m worthless compared to Bill Gates, but she still held that some people are just better than others. Eventually I understood what I think her point was, and that was something to the effect of value to society. I’m not sure if I was able to explain the difference between “value to society” and “inherent human worth.”

In the end, we adjusted her sentence thusly:

> It’s common for people to envy the people who are better off than them.

Sometimes you really can’t guess what will be difficult to explain.


Feb 2006

CCTV's Li Yong

CCTV's Li Yong

A recent post by Micah reminded me about this guy Li Yong (李咏). Before I followed Micah’s link to the NY Times article on Li Yong, I didn’t even know who Li Yong was, but upon seeing the picture accompanying the story, I was all, “Oh, that guy!”

This guy is extremely familiar to those of us who have lived in China for long because he has hosted quite a few of CCTV’s Chinese New Year Craptaculars (春节联欢晚会) in recent years. If you watch a lot of Chinese TV (I sure don’t), I suppose you might know him from other programs as well. He’s immediately recognizable because of his long hair and often weird clothing. I don’t really have any feelings about the guy one way or another. Really, all I wanted to know was his name. When a face becomes that familiar, it’s good to have a name to go with it.

Finally, a question for those with more native-like Chinese than my own. Is 咏 a really weird character to use for a name or what? When I started searching for a pic of the guy based on just the pinyin (no tone), I needed to guess at the characters, and I figured “Yong” was probably either 勇 or 庸 (like 朱德庸). I had to change tactics because none of my guesses were right. 咏?? 咏 means to recite or chant or something. Is this not a bizarre choice of characters for a name?


Feb 2006

Google Acting Up

The internet has been really slow for me in Shanghai lately. These periods of sluggishness come and go, but it seems that they often coincide with new sites being blocked.

Those who follow current events in China know that Google has recently set up, which will comply with the PRC’s filtering desires. I agree with Jeremy that this, in itself, does not amount to some betrayal of the internet on the part of Google, but Rebecca MacKinnon got to the crux of the matter when she asked:

> …what happens if the Chinese netnannies use the existence of as an excuse to block the U.S.-hosted Google entirely? That would be very bad. And if that happens, how will Google respond? Will they shrug their shoulders and sigh? Or will they push back?

Personally, I don’t think Google will do a whole lot. Hopefuly the public outcry will be enough to have some effect.

I’m hoping it’s just a temporary glitch (these things do happen), but Google is not loading for me at all right now.

Update: Google was accessible again by the following morning.


Feb 2006

Remember that calendar we always use?

With Chinese New Year comes many annoyances. Nonstop fireworks for a week ranks up there pretty high. But another thing that annoys me is that during the Chinese New Year season, Chinese people lose the ability to refer to dates using the normal calendar. I use the word “normal” not in an ethnocentric way, but in the sense that it is the calendar that all of China uses for the other 50 weeks out of the year. When Chinese New Year comes around, however, attempts to use non-lunar date nomenclature result in East-West communication breakdown.


> Me: Let’s do it on February 2nd.

> Person: I’m not free on the 4th day of the lunar new year.

> Me: OK, so is February 2nd OK then?

> Person: Is that the 4th or the 5th day of the lunar new year?

> Me: I don’t know. It’s February 2nd. February. Second.

Even bizarrer:

> Me: So can you come next Wednesday?

> Person: Wednesday? What is that, the second day of the lunar new year?

> Me: Wednesday. You know, Wednesday.

> Person: Oh wait, I think that’s the fourth day of the lunar new year…

Call me culturally intolerant, but this is super annoying. The latest casualty of this phenomenon was me missing out on a meal cooked by my awesome ayi, Xiao Wang. Oh well. She deserves another day off for the holidays anyway.

One of these years I’ll get around to realigning my temporal frame of reference to the moon just two weeks out of every year. But until then I will be annoyed for those two weeks a year.


Feb 2006

Pirated Orange


Evidently a V is just too much work for those fruit pirates. Nalencia, baby!

Fruit piracy must be an easy job, considering all you have to do is print a bunch of little stickers and then sell them to vendors. Hmmmmm…

(This is by no means the first fake Sunkist sticker I’ve seen in China, it’s just the first time I bothered to take a picture of it.)


Jan 2006

Work Work Work

It is now Year of the Dog, and I find myself working during my vacation. What am I working at? Well…

– This past weekend it was getting the site online at the new server. That’s now mostly done.
– Now it’s a big freelance translation job. Ahhh, translation… the work I love to hate. It certainly pays well over Chinese New Year, though. (Supply and demand, you have been kind to me this once…)
– Map editing. I took a freelance map editing job. Weird. I don’t mind it, but the worst part is I’m having trouble finding good maps in Shanghai! Even worse is that most Chinese maps don’t even list the scale to which the map was drawn. Cartographer fools!
– Class work. In the Chinese system, your final paper is due after the winter break. After you turn it in you get your grade. What kind of stupid procrastination-encouraging, vacation-ruining system is this?!

So that’s why posting has been light. There is proof out there that my vacation has been at least partially fun, though.

And, finally, I leave you with an example of horrible, horrible Chinese Flashmanship. I mean, really… what is the point of this crap??


Jan 2006

Moving to a new server

I’m in the process of moving my whole site to a new server. What a headache. I think it will be worth it, though.

Anyway, you won’t see any new entries for a little while, and if the site goes down at all, you know why.

Please don’t comment until I say that everything is working on the new server, or your comment may be lost. Thanks.

UPDATE: I have hit a major snag which will probably delay the move quite a bit. My WordPress database on my current host is encoded in UTF-8. The database on the new host is also encoded in UTF-8. As far as I can tell, the encoding is preserved through every step of the export/import process. Why, then, do Chinese characters come out garbled? Not cool.


Jan 2006

A Chinese View on Narnia

I’ve been looking forward to seeing the new movie The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I read (or was read) all those books when I was in third and fourth grade, and enjoyed them immensely. I don’t remember them very well, so I was looking forward to rediscovering some of that feeling when I saw the movies.

I watched the movie with my girlfriend, who is Chinese. She was not familiar with the stories, and was not raised in the Christian tradition, so she had quite a different take. I liked the movie well enough. She didn’t like it.

Here are some of her comments:

– [About the four kids:] I don’t like these kids. They’re all so pasty and pathetic looking.

– [When the White Witch is killing Aslan on the stone and Lucy and Susan are watching:] Why don’t they do something? I can’t stand weak characters like that!

– [As the battle begins:] Aslan sacrificed himself for that lame kid? None of these kids can even fight!

– [During the coronation of the four:] Those are the four most useless kings that ever lived.

– [When Aslan leaves:] If those four are the kings, then what’s Aslan?


Jan 2006

Windows Too

Windows is a “chain” of bars in Shanghai. The original Windows bar was so successful that Windows Too was opened, followed by Windows Tembo and Windows Scoreboard. A segment of the Shanghai population considers Windows trashy, and not without reason. I still think Windows is not bad at all, though, for the following reasons:

1. The drinks are really cheap. 10 rmb gin and tonics! All drinks are 10 or 20 rmb. (Drinks in most Shanghai bars start at 30 or 40, and I’m not talking about the expensive bars).

2. Even on Sunday night when other bars are deserted, the place gets pretty packed.

3. Cheap drinks!

4. People dance. It’s just a fun atmosphere. (No snobs in Windows!)

5. Drinks… cheap!

Since the Windows model has obviously been successful enough to open three additional bars, I wonder why more bars aren’t copying it. The model is basically: (1) cheap drinks, (2) popular hip hoppish music. Nothing remotely fancy or difficult. As best as I can guess, the model is not being copied because (1) bar owners like to be pretentious, and (2) most people in Shanghai like pretentious bars. (They call it “class” but they’re not fooling me.)

Windows Too is a bar in Shanghai I have had fun at on multiple occasions. I can’t really say the same about any other bar except for the now gone Tanghui and the legendary Excalibur Rocks behind the Portman, which I found out the other day has already disappeared into some new construction site (don’t cry, Greg). Of course, the best time I ever had at Excalibur Rocks was largely due to one Jamie Doom, but that’s another story

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