Recently ChinesePod released its first video podcast: a visit to Shanghai’s Xiangyang Market (襄阳市场). The video is pretty entertaining and well done, and gives you an idea of how items are haggled over in a Chinese market.
The ChinesePod Weblog has some interesting topics, ranging from issues in applied linguistics such as the ‘lexical approach‘ to Chinese ‘buzzwords‘ (didn’t Micah used to have buzzwords too? What happened to those?).
The other video podcasts I discovered recently are by Ron Sims, a guy from Cleveland currently living in Fuzhou, China. His podcast series is up to three official episodes, and they’re not bad. So far there’s “the haircut” (can Chinese barbers cut black hair?), “street food” (he even eats stinky tofu on camera!), and the “breakdance show” (Ron was not impressed). Ron speaks Chinese, but the podcasts are mostly in English. I think he does a good job of providing a glimpse into life in China.
Ron’s videos are MP4s, so you may need either iTunes (which I hate) or a recent version of Quicktime to play them.
OK, this is an entry that’s likely to bore many readers to tears. You have been warned.
While I don’t find the study of Chinese grammar remarkably stimulating, there are some aspects of it that catch my interest. It’s kind of cool how Chinese parts of speech don’t fit so neatly into our Western designations. When China first starting applying Western linguistics to Chinese, Chinese syntax was forced into the Western mold. Over the years Chinese scholars have decided that this just doesn’t work.
So what’s different about Chinese grammar?
Talk Talk China has had some good entries about Chinese traffic (I especially enjoyed their use of Spy Hunter graphics), but my favorite commentary on Chinese traffic is now the China Driving Exam. It has lots of pictures (many of which are a bit frightening, to tell the truth), and the “test questions” are great. Check it out.
It took me a while to learn to grunt like an East Asian, but I feel much more comfortable here now that I can. Sure, I’ve been grunting like an American all my life. I may have learned the “annoyed grunt” from TV, but I’ve been saying “uh-huh” for yes and “unh-uh” (if that’s how you spell it) for no, as well as the special “nuh-uhhhh!” (reserved for childish arguments) ever since I was a kid. Oh, and don’t forget that “I dunno” noise we make that I’m not even going to try to spell out. I guess each culture has its own ways of communicative grunting, but outsiders have to learn these noises just like every other part of the language.
The year I studied in Japan I lived with a Japanese family. It took me a while to get to the point that I was actually communicating, but I remember very clearly the day my homestay brother Shingo said to me, “quit saying hai all the time. It’s way too formal. You need to learn how to say un (うん).”
It was like I was saying “yes” all the time and never “yeah.” It just wasn’t natural. By that time, hai was quite a habit, so it took a concerted effort to work un into my speech patterns. Once I did, however, it was so much more comfortable.
In China, the first communicative grunt I learned was 嗯. Interestingly, it sounds very similar to the Japanese affirmative grunt. I have to admit, though, that I find 嗯 the least articulate of any grunt-like communication, because unlike the Japanese un, it doesn’t even require you to open your mouth. But I guess that’s what makes it so comfortable too. It’s the linguistic equivalent of “lounging around all day at home in your pajamas.” (And we all know how many Chinese feel about staying in pajamas as much as possible.)
As much as I like the 嗯 of Chinese, I think I like 欸 even more. You may have to go to the trouble of actually opening your mouth, but I find it much more expressive. There are lots of tonal options, and plenty of room for creativity/personal interpretation. There’s also something about the utterance that just strikes me as so Chinese, too. I recently downloaded the song 吉祥三宝 on Micah‘s recommendation. Not only is the song really cute, but it contains an excellent example of the 欸 sound. In the song, the mother says it* to mean, “yes, dear?” and it’s not even Mandarin she’s speaking, and yet it struck me as just so Chinese.
My Chinese grunting makes me feel much more at ease in my environment. For the longest time, whenever I would bump into neighbors on the way out of the building and they’d greet me with a “going out?” (出去啦?) I never knew exactly how to reply. Sure, they were just making small talk, a casual friendly gesture, but I always found myself woodenly responding with the Chinese equivalent of, “It is, in fact, as you say, good sir. I am indeed going out.” It was the Chinese affirmative grunts which finally equipped me to respond naturally with the Chinese version of “yup.”
If you’re learning Mandarin, I heartily recommend you try to loosen up and get into the grunting if you haven’t already.
* Technically, I think the character closest in meaning would be 唉, but the mother definitely makes a “ei” sound. The father, however, definitely makes a “ai” sound. Still, if it’s not even Mandarin, who cares about these distinctions, right?
This semester all my classes are in classrooms with facilities that could be aptly described as “lacking.” Although there is no dearth of multimedia classrooms and many teachers regularly conduct class through PowerPoint presentations, some of my professors’ classrooms don’t even have blackboards. To make matters worse, the two most poorly equipped classrooms are the two with the professors that like to ramble.
Now, I don’t mean to say that these professors don’t come to class prepared. They both come well prepared with pages of material beautifully organized in outline form. I’ve even caught glimpses of those sheets, so I can confirm that the profs do really teach from their notes. The problem is that in the transition from the well-structured written outline to the teacher’s mouth, that precious order goes out the window.
My professors are forever making lists, but I can’t for the life of me figure out how to gather that information and properly organize it in my notes. I know for a fact that my classmates, while definitely faring better than I, struggle with this somewhat as well.
If I took my organizational cues solely from what my professors say (and especially what they don’t say), I would frequently end up with notes looking something like this:
- blah blah
- blah blah
- blah blah
- more info
- blah blah
- blah blah
- more stuff
- blah blah
- blah blah
It’s pretty maddening. It makes me wonder if I need to get a wider notebook. My classmates seem to be used to this. They frequently compare notes in the course of a lecture, and their combined brainpower is usually sufficient to reorganize the flow-of-consciousness delivery into something a little more disciplined.
I know for a fact that it’s not totally a listening comprehension issue on my part; in one lecture my classmates and I actually counted, and at various points throughout the lecture the professor said “第三个大问题” (“the third major issue”)–which should have corresponded to big Roman numeral three on the overall outline–three times!
The lesson here is that there are ways in which the Chinese educational system encourages critical thinking and independent analysis. I have seen it, and it’s not pretty.
Brad of Shanghai Streets has organized a concert for this Saturday night at Shuffle Music Bar (next to where Tanghui used to be). Despite Dan’s assertion that it’s an inconvenient location, I find it extremely convenient. Not everyone lives in that part of town.
The headlining band is The Subs, a punk band from Beijing. I’m glad that foreigner indie band Living Thin will also be playing (I’ve only seen them once before), and Slit is always interesting.
All you people who complain about Shanghai’s live music scene need to get out to this show! This is part of a constructive effort to build upon the scene. So I’ll be there, and I think Micah will be too. See you there!
Update: It was a great show! I think Brad broke the record for number of people packed into Shuffle for one event (90% of them foreign). My favorite performance was The Living Thin‘s. Congrats to Brad for doing such a good job on the first concert he organized.
On Tuesday I got a morning telephone call. I was still sleeping at the time, so what I was about to hear didn’t make much sense to me. I was told I was supposed to come pick up some information that I needed. “Who are you?” I asked. “This is the blah blah blah Center,” she told me. Never heard of it.
“What information is this?” I asked. “Why do I need it?”
“Have you bought stock?” she replied.
“Do you have insurance?”
“Well, then, you need this information on new financial regulations applying to your insurance. Please come to our office this afternoon at 3pm and pick it up. Don’t forget to bring your ID (身份证).”
I wrote down the address (some place in Xujiahui) and got the phone number. Then I forgot about it.
The next day the woman called back and asked why I hadn’t come and picked up the information. This time I was more awake, so I demanded more information. Who was this? Again, the blah blah blah Center. Meaningless. I decided to be a wuss and put my girlfriend on the phone to get to the bottom of it.
My girlfriend ascertained that the woman didn’t know what insurance I had or even what my name was, but still insisted that I needed the information. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t Chinese. My girlfriend asked why my insurance agent hadn’t notified me about this, and she was given some excuse. My girlfriend asked why it couldn’t be mailed or sent by courier. It just couldn’t. It all seemed veeeeerrry fishy.
I called my health insurance company (AIA), and my agent told me she didn’t know anything about this “financial information” I supposedly needed. She advised me to ignore this woman. She thought that if I went to the address they would probably try to sell me some kind of fake insurance.
Well, the conwoman called me again for the third time today, wanting to know why I still hadn’t picked up my “information.” Even though I wasn’t planning on going in, my girlfriend already told her yesterday that I’d pick it up tomorrow. Since I was now convinced that it was some kind of scam, I yelled at her and told her I knew it was a scam and to never call me again.
I’ve gotten very few telephone solicitations in China, let alone such a bold telephone scam. Does anyone have experience with this kind of thing?
I’d been telling my girlfriend that we’d do karaoke sometime soon ever since Valentine’s Day, and last night I finally made good on that promise. We showed up at “PartyWorld” (AKA 錢櫃) at 11:45pm, and, thrifty young souls that we are, waited around for fifteen minutes for the hourly rate to drop from 158rmb to 58rmb.
I, of course, abhor karaoke. I can’t sing, and I don’t particular enjoy proving that to the world, even when “the world” in Asian style karaoke means only the other people in the private karaoke box with you. My girlfriend is a good singer, though, and she doesn’t like much crappy pop, so I don’t mind going to karaoke with just her. She sings, I eat. (If drinking happens to be on the agenda, I sometimes end up singing.)
So I’ll just mention here a few songs I found noteworthy. Most of them are not new at all.
– 嘻唰唰 by 花儿乐队 (Flowers) (click for Baidu MP3 search). I’ve written about this poppy punky band before, but they’ve caught my attention again. The title of this song could be another entry in the onomatopeia vocabulary list, and the fun immaturity of the song reminds me of Leather Jacket by Screeching Weasel (but not nearly as punk). In keeping with the sound suggested by the song’s title, the band was dressed as window washers in the video. This song is currently one of the most popular titles at PartyWorld.
– 完美的一天 by 孙燕姿 (Stephanie Sun) (click for Baidu MP3 search). This song really reminded me of a lot of Japanese pop I’ve heard, maybe a little like something by Chara. I guess it’s largely the rhythm that makes it seem like a nice change from a lot of Chinese pop. The video also struck me as Japanese-esque, with the singer being pushed through a supermarket in a shopping cart, and later hanging out with a giant inflatable leaning Astro Boy on the beach.
– Phonebook by 林凡. 林凡 is a decent singer I guess. I wasn’t totally paying attention, but I think in this song she’s brooding about friends and lovers from the past, and she has found an old notebook with names and numbers of those people. The thing is, she calls this book a “phonebook.” So while she’s earnestly crooning about these former relationships, she suddenly busts out with the English line, “IT’S AN OLD PHONEBOOK” (which is in all caps on the screen, of course). So amidst all this mushy nostaglia, I get this image of an old phonebook like the one we used to keep next to the microwave in the kitchen shoved in my face. Awesome.
I’m still no fan of (sober) karaoke, but I gotta say, it’s a lot more tolerable when it’s just the two of us and I have some veto power. It was also a refreshing musical smack in the face, considering all I’ve been listening to for the past few days is I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning.
Related: Using Baidu MP3 Search
I noticed this one a while ago (sometime after Weight Loss Pun #1), once again on the back of the passenger seat in a taxi:
It’s an ad for “double layer” “tight skin” liposuction, which is supposed to meet your “little waist requirement.” (Yes, it’s a horrible translation, I know, but it’s a pun, so I don’t really see how I can do a good job.)
So the pun is on the words 小要求 (“little demand”) and 小腰 (“little waist”).
At least for these two cases of weight loss treatments, the puns are terribly obvious because the punned characters are in quotation marks each time. Would too many people not get them otherwise? Oh well… it helps us foreigners get them a little more easily, at least.
A long time ago I made a page for names of different types of alchohol in Chinese. At the time, I had grand visions of lots of atypical and interesting vocabulary lists (i.e. no list of “countries” or “animals” or “fruits” in Chinese). That project stalled. For a long time.
Well, it’s back: Sinosplice Vocabulary Lists. Right now there are only three, but that number will expand. I’ve already started working on some new ones. (I also gladly accept additions to existing lists or new list ideas.)
One of the new ones is Chinese Onomatopeia. I compiled this list myself, and I haven’t found a similar list anywhere else on the internet. So get it here first, until other people copy it! (Better yet, link to it and give me some Google rank love.)
Onomatopeia are fun. My dad taught me a love for animal noises in foreign languages, but there are more than just animal noises in the list. Here are some wacky questions you can answer by browsing the list:
1. What noise in Chinese sounds like the name of a cheese in English?
2. How many of the 52 Chinese onomatopeia in the list are identical to the corresponding English onomatopeia? (Hint: not many!)
3. What bird makes the same noise as a frog?
4. What Chinese onomatopeia are missing? (Hint: this is a trick question to which I do not know the answer!)
Your conversational Chinese may be pretty decent, but you can likely stand to take it up a notch or two by adding the Chinese names of the Transformers, He-Man, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to your vocabulary. Yes, you need this. (Did I mention it impresses the ladies?)
With the exception of the original alcohol list, I have been using AdsoVocab to generate the lists. The auto pinyin completion saved me a lot of time. I recommend you check it out if you have not seen it already.
I would love to add stuff like this to my site all the time, but the sad, ironic truth is that I very rarely have time for this kind of thing anymore because I’m going to grad school so that maybe I can get paid to do something like this down the road. Anyway, enjoy! I’ll be out of grad school in 2007.
I first came to China when I was 22, and my metabolism was raging. I was one of those people that could eat anything, in any quantity, and remain skinny. Combined with the fact that I’m not a very picky eater, I had a grand time in my new environment. (Oil? What oil? That’s juice! [slurp!])
When I was 24 my metabolism finally decided to slow down from a full-on sprint to a slow jog. It took me some time to adapt my eating habits, so I chunked up a bit. It certainly didn’t help that I was living in a ZUCC teacher apartment, with an on-campus convenience store conveniently located right next door. Beer has never been much of a factor in my weight gain/loss, but the snack foods — like crazy Lays and anything by Glico — were plentiful, and my cupboard was always stocked. Not the healthiest.
After moving to Shanghai, supermarkets and convenience stores are nowhere near as convenient. Instead of being right downstairs, the nearest convenience store is a five minute walk away. That might not be far at all, but my laziness is almost always stronger than my attacks of the munchies (particularly in the winter). Furthermore, I don’t stock up because the supermarkets are 10-15 minute walks away–easily within walking distance. But walking to (and mainly from) the supermarket means you have to carry everything the whole way. I could take a cab back, but I’m too cheap. Consequently I buy significantly less on my trips there, especially when it comes to snack foods and drinks (which are always the heaviest).
So now when I find myself getting an attack of the munchies, I go into the kitchen and find… nothing. Leftovers from dinner in the fridge, and virtually nothing else. Drinks are generally limited to water and tea. I very rarely have food delivered because I’m cheap (Sherpa’s is expensive, dammit!) and impatient. I find myself considering raw spaghetti noodles as a snack, or speculating on how they would taste with barbecue sauce on them. I literally have nothing to snack on. Last time this happened I got so desperate I ate an orange. My snacking skills are totally slipping.
As a result, I’m pretty slim these days, even if I don’t get nearly as much exercise as I should. My weight sticks to around 200 lbs. (I’m 6’4″).
So there you have it: better health in Shanghai through laziness and cheapness.
People keep telling me they want to hear more about what it’s like to be a grad student in China. I promise I’ll say more in the future, but for now here’s my class schedule for this semester. At this point I haven’t even been to the first class yet for most of these classes, though, so I can’t comment on the content yet.
Studies in Pragmatics
Oh wait… I can comment on one thing. You’ll notice that one of my classes is “Modern Chinese,” which you might remember is what I was tested on to get into grad school in the first place. I got a B on that test. So why am I taking it again?
Well, because I don’t have to take the English or Chinese political theory classes, I have to make up the credits somehow. My advisor suggested I take the second semester of Modern Chinese in order to strengthen my understanding and get 4 credits pretty easily. I’m taking the “Studies in Pragmatics” course for the same reason. Both are in the college of Chinese as a Second Language (对外汉语), and since my advisor is a head honcho in that department, it’s easiest to arrange classes there. That’s OK, since my interests in applied linguistics lean heavily toward Chinese as a Second Language anyway.
The one downside is that the Modern Chinese class is an undergraduate course. I don’t mind taking class with the kiddies, but undergrad courses mean undergrad testing style: lots of memorization and written tests. All my other classes only require attendance and a final paper. Oh well. That I’ve learned that Modern Chinese stuff once before should make it easier. (And fortunately the prof said they’re not going to be covering much of the dreaded 修辞!)
> I think that the way Chinese is presently written, with clauses related by topic and linked by commas, is a better reflection of the way people think than is the structure of written English.（我认为当代汉语的写作用逗号来连接相关的分句，因而要比英语书面语的结构更好地反映人的思路。）
I’ve been helping a student prepare for the IELTS (雅思 in Chinese), and she recently brought an interesting point to my attention. In her book of practice tests (a quality book published by Oxford University Press), different fonts were used for different reading selections. For example, a selection about biology was written in Times New Roman, whereas an article about education was written in Arial, and a passage about blindness and visualization was written in Verdana. She wanted to know if the real test was going to be like that.
I was impressed by her observation, but I had no idea to respond. Does the IELTS use a standard font, or does it vary the font from passage to passage? I’ve done some preliminary research, but I’ve been having trouble finding an answer because when I use “font” as a search term, Google ever so helpfully includes font tags and CSS text in its search, rendering the search results useless.
I asked my student if she thought the choice of font affected her performance. She responded, “Yes, it does. Sorry, I’m sensitive.” Heh. It would probably affect anyone at least somewhat on the unconscious level, but her years of experience in the marketing industry brought it to her conscious attention.
So, I’d just like to know… does anyone know if the IELTS actually varies the fonts of the passages on the real test? If not, which font does it use? If so, why does a respectable publisher vary the font in the practice test?? I think it’s good practice to expose students to different fonts, but in a test prep book, I don’t think it’s justifiable unless the test itself uses various fonts.
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.
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 孝: 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…)