May 2005

eBay and Wordplay

eBay currently has an ad playing on the flatscreen displays of the Shanghai subway system. It shows a series of short Chinese phrases, each followed by a brief illustrative video clip. The phrases are:

拍球 (dribbling a basketball)
拍瓜 (smashing a cucumber — a typical way to make some cucumber dishes)
拍脸 (daubing shaving cream onto a man’s face)
拍粉 (powdering a girl’s face)
拍被子 (beating the dust out of a quilt)

These images are followed by the phrase “不管你怎么拍… eBay” (“no matter how you … eBay”). I think that’s most of the commercial. I might have missed a little of it, though.

I’m pretty sure the word 拍卖 is never uttered in the commercial. 拍卖 is the obvious 拍 reference — 拍卖 means “auction.” eBay is referring to its various ways to auction items, I suppose.

I find the choice of 拍 objects pretty interesting because none of them are the most common examples. The really common ones would be 拍照 (take a photo) and 拍手 (clap). Of the usages chosen for the commercial, I think I’ve only ever encountered the first: 拍球 (not to be confused with 排球). I think I usually hear used most commonly for the last one.

I also thought it was cool that I could gain a better understanding of the scope of the verb 拍 just by watching a commercial. For me, that sort of understanding is usually gained by discussion with a teacher or tutor.

Why is eBay China advertising on Shanghai’s subways? Well, because it’s engaged in full-on war with Alibaba‘s online auction service Taobao, of course. More info:

Standing up to a Giant (Forbes)
Alibaba, EBay Square off (China Daily)
Jack Ma: Chairman and CEO, (Asia Inc)
EBay’s Bid To Regain Its Glow (E-Commerce Times)

(Sorry, not trying to be–don’t expect much more of this kind of “news reporting” stuff in the future.)


May 2005

Gaijin Complex

Remember Marco Polo Syndrome? Well, Marxy of the excellent Japan blog Néomarxisme has recently written about a parallel phenomenon:

>…all foreigners with interest in Japan hate all the other foreigners with interest in Japan. The Colonialists all like their ex-pat buddies and pubs, but the Japanese-speaking foreigner contingent is in constant battle with themselves, vying to prove linguistic abilities, obscure knowledge, and depth of societal penetration. I call this the “gaijin complex,” and I’m only finally finding my way out of it now after a long period of affliction and convalescence.

It’s very interesting to me that the phenomenon in Japan involves “vying to prove linguistic abilities, obscure knowledge, and depth of societal penetration.” That’s something that few expats in China attempt. Sure, there are those with the obscure knowledge (especially political), but all three?

It’ll be interesting to see what kind of creature the “China expat” evolves into. With China’s continued economic development, will he resemble his cousin in Japan someday?


May 2005

A Reminder

Sometimes I still ask myself, “Why have I taken my degree in Japanese and chosen to develop my career in China? Why don’t I consider going back and pursuing something in the States?”

Oh yeah, now I remember. Thanks,, I’m not so sorry now that I still haven’t removed myself from your job update e-mail service.

Note: Of course, yes, I do love my life in China, learning every day.


May 2005

The Faces of Shanghai

I found a link to the New York Times Travel Slide Show: The Faces of Shanghai on Micah’s blog. I had seen the link elsewhere, but didn’t bother clicking on it until I saw it on Micah’s blog. He has good “link cred” with me, I guess.

As Micah mentions, there’s definitely a slant to the people who were chosen for the portraits and profiles. To me, the slant seemed a lot like, “the Chinese are no longer the backwards Communists you think they are,” and since there are still people with this misperception, it’s good to keep getting that message out. Whatever the message, and however imperfect, I found the collection really entertaining.

Browsing the photos, it also made me recall that back in the day I once discussed doing something similar with Wilson. Probably out of laziness, I never did. But I’m sure there are other people with nice cameras that could do just as good a job as the NY Times if they wanted to.


May 2005

Adopte una bitácora

Not long after AP did a story on China which mentioned Adopt a Blog, Italy’s major newspaper Corriere della Sera also picked up the story. That’s likely how Punto Informatico, an Italian site, got word of it. From there, it has spread to the Spanish language blogosphere via

>La iniciativa se llama Adopt a Blog (adopte una bitácora​) y persigue crear una ‘red de libre pensamiento’ que permita dar conocer las ideas, las opiniones y el pensamiento de los ciudadanos chinos ‘no alineados’.

Trackbacks show it has spread via at least three other Spanish language blogs (Noticias de, SimDalom :: WyP, Arkangel YABlog). It’s pretty exciting to see one’s idea spread and gather support on a global scale (I derive a special pleasure from seeing myself written about in foreign languages, and in this case I can actually read it), but the sad part is Adopt a Blog still isn’t going anywhere. I have not found the sponsor I was looking for.

Of course, Adopt a Blog is not the only hope for free blogging in China, by any means. Others are working hard on a variety of solutions. Adopt a Blog may never really go anywhere, and if that’s the case I’m happy just contributing my ideas, possibly influencing the development in a small way.

Whatever happens, though, I should say to the Spanish blogosphere: Gracias por su apoyo! Estoy contento que el proyecto tenga tanto apoyo en las bitácoras hispanohablantes y espero el día cuando información en China sea libre.

May 8 Update: Isaac Mao reports that Chinese bloggers’ situation is worsening. (Thanks to Gordon for pointing this out to me.)

And, for an alternative view (on why Adopt a Blog is a bad name), you can check out an e-mail I received.


May 2005

study make John HONGRY

Since this week I haven’t had to go to work, I’ve used it to buckle down and finish learning the material on Modern Chinese that I need to know for the exam this month. I have to display understanding of this material in order to be admitted for graduate school.

I haven’t finished it yet (working mainly on 现代汉语, a 560 page extremely dry Chinese textbook), but I’m getting there.

One thing I’ve discovered is that putting in about five hours of study a day (reading and writing) really works up an appetite!

The other night when Carl, his friend Drew, and I made spaghetti for dinner, they each had a bowl of it. I had three bowls of spaghetti plus a blowl of salad. The next day Drew and I had 饺子 (dumplings) for lunch: carrot and pork, cabbage and beef, leek and pork, and qingcai and chicken. Good stuff. We each had about 4 of dumplings. Drew seemed to think it was a good amount of food.

That night when we went to dinner Drew said he was still fairly full from lunch, but I ended up eating way more than any of the other four people at the table. It was a Xinjiang restaurant, so we ate (Uygur bread), 羊肉串 (spicy lamb skewers), 丁丁炒面 (chopped noodles), 老虎菜 (a sort of spicy salad with tomato, cucumber, and onion), 蒜泥黄瓜 (garlic cucumber pieces), 红烧豆腐 (soy-braised tofu), 酸辣白菜 (hot and sour cabbage), and 大盘鸡 (a chicken and potato dish), washed down with Xinjiang black beer. I guess it was too much food for five people, but everyone else gave up way too fast. I kept eating for about 30 minutes after they had stopped.

If all this studying in the final stretch leading up to my exams is going to make me ravenous every day, I really can’t say I mind at all.


May 2005

Multisyllabic Hanzi?

Students of Japanese are quite used to characters (漢字) nearly always having multiple pronunciations, ranging from one syllable to five or more. (Example: in Japanese, depending on the context, the character 侍 can be pronounced as or as さむらい.)

That’s one of the areas in which switching from studying Japanese to studying Chinese came as a relief: in Chinese you can be sure each hanzi (Chinese character) has a monosyllabic reading, and 90% of characters have only one reading.

In my studies, I recently discovered that this has not always been the case. My Chinese textbook gives me three examples that were around until 1977, when a character reform had them eradicated.

– 瓩 qiānwǎ (kilowatt); now standardized as 千瓦
– 浬 hǎilǐ (nautical mile); now standardized as 海里
– 呎 yīngchǐ (foot); now standardized as 英尺

Besides their very existence, I found several things about these characters interesting. First, they’re all for units of measure. Maybe at one point people liked the idea of a single character for each unit of measure? Second, it was an interesting evolutionary turn the language was taking. From a student’s perspective, I’m not sure I like it, but it’s interesting. You can clearly see which part in each character represents which syllable. Lastly, it was the government that quashed this fairly recent orthographic innovation in favor of standardization.

Note: You won’t find this info in Wenlin. I got it from 现代汉语 (上海教育出版社, 2004).

2011 Update: The venerable scholar Victor Mair writes about this subject on Language Log: Polysyllabic characters in Chinese writing.


May 2005


As in many Chinese companies, from time to time things get pretty hectic at my company, and people are asked to do overtime. There’s no talk of overtime pay; working overtime is just a periodic necessity in the workplace. Chinese workers don’t even complain about it much.

When I’m asked to work overtime, I make it very clear that I expect that time off in the future. I know I won’t get overtime pay, but I don’t work for free.

The worst is when the middle managers try to plead with you: “just this once. Everyone else has to do it too.” And then there’s the three characters you hear the most that burn more than any others: “辛苦了“. This phrase is meant to acknowledge your hard work and sacrifice, but the reality is that this three-character utterance is the only thanks you’ll get.

At one point I felt bad that, as a foreigner, I was treated differently. Why should I rarely be asked to do overtime when the Chinese workers have to do it regularly? I’m no better than them.

Later, I decided that it is my duty to demonstrate what it is to be a worker from the West. To demonstrate that we really do abide by contracts, that employee-employer responsibilities are not one-way, that employees have power, that time is money, and my time–not just the company’s–is valuable too.

Sadly, none of the Chinese workers could possibly follow my example. They could easily and immediately be replaced. As a foreigner with special skills, I’m in a unique position. I can insist that each and every term of my contract is adhered to. And I can provide an example to my Chinese co-workers that will hopefully leave an impression: this is how it should be.


May 2005

No More Chinese MP3s!

A while back I made a webpage dedicated to the Chinese song “The Moon Represents My Heart.” I also put online ten different renditions of this song in MP3 format. I thought it was pretty cool to be able to compare them. Aware that the Chinese words on the page would soon have Baidu’s searchbot on my case, I did my best to keep it off my site with my robots.txt file. Looks like that was completely futile.

Teresa Teng’s version of the song was the first to be hammered. I had to replace it with a link to‘s search results to preserve my own bandwidth. Soon, the bandwidth consumed by the other MP3s on that page started creeping up as well. I had to remove Andy Lau’s rendition. Then Lesley Cheung’s. I forgot about it for a while, but if I hadn’t checked my stats in the middle of April I would have exceeded my bandwidth allotment solely because of those MP3 files, as bandwidth consumption had taken another big jump. I removed all the MP3s. I had no other choice.

Lesson learned: do not put up Chinese songs for download. Your bandwidth is no match for China’s web surfing population! (Well, don’t put up popular songs, anyway. Rapping flight attendants might be OK.)

In other news, I recently participated in an anonymous blogging survey for someone’s thesis. I was e-mailed because I was in the Technorati Top 2000. Wow! That kind of surprised me. Top 2000 out of 9,500,068 blogs. Top 2% isn’t too shabby for a niche blog prone to periodic entries as boring as this one.

In case you’re wondering (as I did) where this “Technorati Top 2000” list can be found, it can’t. There’s only a Technorati Top 100 online. The student contacted Technorati with details of the study, and Technorati complied.


May 2005







Apr 2005

Bollywood Pickup Lines

At my girflriend’s urging I recently purchased my very first Bollywood movie. I only spent 7rmb on it, but watching it was a three-hour time investment. It was with much trepidation that I started viewing Veer-Zaara.

I was pleasantly surprised by what I found. Pakistan was not portrayed nearly as negatively by Indian producer-director Yash Chopra as I had expected, and there were fewer song/dance scenes than I imagined. The story, while not what one would call “realistic,” was not as predictable as I had expected, either. Overall, it was a very enjoyable experience. (Did I mention Bollywood actresses are really hot?)

The part I found funniest were some of the lines in a song called “Do Pal.” The song starts with a line which goes:

> Just for two moments, the caravans of our dreams made a stop
And then you went your way and I went mine.

Caravans of our dreams? Interesting lyrics. I was put on high cheese alert. My vigilance was richly rewarded. I found the following lines of the song especially amusing when I realized that they could be used as pickup lines! Here they are, copied directly from the subtitles, in English and Chinese:

> Was that really you or was it a luminous sunbeam?

> Was that you or was that the monsoon of my dreams?

> Was that you or was that a cloud of happiness?

> Was that you or was that just a fragrant wind?

> Was that you or were those songs resounding in the atmosphere?

> Was that you or was there magic in the air?

Sinosplice readers, you have a homework assignment. Get out there and use these pickup lines! Then report back by leaving a comment.

The astute observer might ask, “what is a post about Bollywood doing on a China-themed blog?” Ah, but I saw a pirated Chinese copy of this Bollywood movie, and even supplied some Chinese translations. How clever of me!

Related Links: Veer-Zaara IMDB profile, political effect of Veer-Zaara, alternate translation of the lyrics from which the pickup lined were extracted (it’s called “Do Pal,” fifth song down)


Apr 2005


Yay! Now there’s a Sinosplice page just for feeds! This serves two purposes:

1. You can check for new updates to any of the (semi-)frequently updated sections of this site in one place.

2. You can see all the Sinosplice feeds (RSS/Atom) you can subscribe to in one place.

I expect that this page may become more important in the future, if I’m able to do some of the other things I want to do….

Thanks to Roddy for hooking me up with the necessary PHP script.


Apr 2005


大家都知道中国人和外国人往往有不同的美丽标准透视。虽然很多美国人认为Lucy Liu很好看,但中国人觉得她一点都不好看。这样的例子很多,其实我对这个话题已经没什么兴趣了。我想说的是屁股的美丽标准。

我觉得中国人评价美女时,最重要的是:人要瘦,脸要美。外国人可能更注意身材,也不喜欢太瘦的。太瘦的话我们说:“she looks anorexic”(看来她得了厌食症)。太瘦就是不健康。当然太胖也不好看。

屁股呢?很多外国人看中国女孩说“they’re pretty, but they have no asses!”(好看是好看,但没有屁股!)。很多外国人觉得屁股太小也不好看。

那么外国人对屁股有什么美丽标准呢?这很难说,但其实我也不用说因为前不久在网上出现了一个非常好的榜样。很多男的都说这是“the perfect ass”(完美的屁股):




Apr 2005

Micah on Creativity

Just in case it has escaped some of you, Micah is my friend and co-worker here in Shanghai. (If you have a compulsive need to follow “all things John Pasden” (ha!) you should keep an eye on Micah’s blog because my name pops up there from time to time.)

Micah recently wrote a thought-provoking entry on raising children in China as an expat:

> Having gone to Spanish public school for so many years has cocktail party utility, but I blame it for my near-absolute lack of creativity and critical thinking. I just wonder if Chinese school wouldn’t have the same effect on a kid but magnified a hundred times. And even if you think “American parents will mean that the child will be different from their classmates”, well, no matter how much influence you think you have on your kids, the place that you send them for 6 hours of 180 days each year is going to have a strong influence on their mental development.

> The other side of the coin is that not sending your kids to Chinese schools will isolate them from their surroundings in a much stronger way than it would in Spain because the written Chinese language is nearly impossible to simply pick up naturally. And I highly value the cultural education I got from attending a public school abroad, so it is important to me that my kids be culturally conversive (if not fluent) in the country where we live.

A real-life example from my friend Shelley: at one summer camp in China, the teacher was actually dictating to the young kids what color each item should be in their coloring activity. Dissidents were reprimanded.

Through my job I have come into contact with Chinese educational materials for young children which claim one activity which nurtures creativity is allowing your child to color a picture any way he likes. Of course, this one “free coloring” activity is sandwiched between ten other activities which demand strict adherence to guidelines.

It’s not that Chinese education is deliberately against creativity. In fact, they’re always talking about the importance of creativity in education. It’s just that the educators honestly have no clue as to how to foster its development. Like Micah, I find this scary.


Apr 2005

Re-enabling the comments…

I just found out a little while ago that my blog’s comment script is not working. (From my little sister, of all people!) I had no idea it wasn’t working. I’ve been too busy with work these past few days to notice that kind of thing, although I did notice the comments had died down quite a bit.

It looks like maybe my host disabled the script (Roddy says they tend to do that, without warning).

I e-mailed them and they had it working again within 10 minutes. Not bad service, that.

The question is… why did the script stop working? If my host disabled it, why? If it was because of excessive load, what caused it? Does this have anything to do with the angry comments I got with regards to my very old post about the evils of an old version of Messenger Plus?? (I deleted their stupid comments and closed the comments to that post — I’m not really interested in their comments, considering they were all supporters of the new Messenger Plus, while my post was about the version I installed in 2003.) Bizarre.

[Update: Yes, my host disabled it, and yes, it was because of excessive load. They wouldn’t give me details, but they suspect spammers. The thing is, I only got 4 spam comments in the period right before the script was disabled. Does that mean MT Blacklist was doing its job, but there was still a tremendous strain on the server?]


Apr 2005

Suzhou: any good?

I spent Friday and Saturday in Suzhou with Carl and his parents. Carl took his parents for sightseeing, and since I’d never been, decided to tag along.

Suzhou has always been paired with Hangzhou in my mind, due to the famous Chinese saying:

> 上有天堂,下有苏杭。
> Above there is Heaven,
> Below, Suzhou and Hangzhou.

Living in Hangzhou, I had this verse cited to me countless times. Hangzhou was not quite Heaven, but it was a pretty nice city as Chinese cities go. I was always just a little curious to see how Suzhou compared. I finally had my chance.

My first impressions were not good. The touts at the train station in Suzhou are particularly aggressive and annoying. These touts learn a few phrases of English just so they can rip off unwary foreigners. After finally convincing them we REALLY had no interest in their services, we got in the taxi line. It was extremely long.

Then we had trouble finding the hotel we wanted to stay at. That may very well be the Lonely Planet’s fault; who knows. We ended up getting off somewhere and walking for quite a while. We walked through Suzhou University’s campus, which was quite nice. Very green campus, with interesting circle-inspired architecture. Eventually we decided on a hotel right off Suzhou’s shopping/bar street (十全街).

The first touristy place we went to was the maze-like “Garden of the Master of the Nets” (网师园), which was supposed to be the most famous of Suzhou’s legendary gardens. The admission was 30 rmb. Wow, what a let-down. Not interesting, not beautiful. Not even very green. I guess maybe I’m bringing in my own Western ideals of what a “garden” should be, which does not necessarily jive with China’s version throughout its history, but so what? We didn’t like it. Carl, always looking for the good in things, made the comment, “this place would be good for playing paintball.”

That afternoon we sipped freshly harvested Suzhou green tea and played 五子棋 (traditional Chinese “Connect 5” boardgame) while having a nice chat in a teahouse.

That evening Carl and I checked out the bar scene on 十全街. The bars all seemed to be hostess bars or dead. All the bars we came to would be either (a) absolutely lifeless and uninviting, or (b) filled with provocatively dressed girls that tried to pull us in as we passed. I guess that’s just how 十全街 is. We saw a lot of foreigners on that street. A staggeringly large amount.

Carl and I settled on Venice Bar, killed some time there, and then later went to meet up with Matt (of Chabuduo). We chatted at his place for a while with him and his charming young bride Wang Ying, and then we headed out to a nice pub Matt knew (which, thankfully, was not on 十全街!). We had a good bilingual conversation there (Matt, as expected, speaks some good Chinese), put away a few beers, and then headed back into town for a late-night snack of 麻辣烫 (a kind of DIY spicy soup, or “the poor man’s hotpot,” as I think of it). I passed on the 麻辣烫, which for some reason disappointed the others. I’m just not a big fan of it. Then we said bye to Matt and Wang Ying and promised to meet again, probably in Shanghai next time.

The next day the only thing we did of mention before coming back was visit “The Humble Administrator’s Garden” (拙政园), which charged a steep 70 rmb admission. Wow, what a difference from the “Garden of the Master of the Nets”! It was sprawling, very green, had interesting landscaping, and flowers were in bloom everywhere. Carl and I spent a pleasant hour and a half there before the tourist crowds got to be too much and we headed back to Shanghai.

If I had to compare Hangzhou and Suzhou, I’d have to say that Hangzhou would win, hands down. Suzhou may be greener than your average Chinese city, but it certainly isn’t doing much about its pollution problem. The canal that ran by our hotel (which is in a major commercial area, mind you) absolutely reeked, and at one point we saw the green murky water bubbling. Furthermore, Suzhou’s attractions are its gardens, but those are walled off and isolated from the rest of the city, plus admission can be pretty steep. Hangzhou, on the other hand, makes West Lake its public tourism focus, and, indeed, the center of its city planning. The bulk of Hangzhou’s touristy spots radiate outward from West Lake, and the parks are free. Hangzhou has its problems, but it’s on the right track. In any case, it’s closer to “Heaven” than Suzhou. If not for the promise shown in “The Humble Administrator’s Garden,” I probably wouldn’t even recommend Suzhou as a sightseeing destination. And if I did recommend it, it would have to be a spring trip. Even so, I feel no compulsion to see the rest of Suzhou’s gardens.

Conclusion: best two things about Suzhou (that Hangzhou hasn’t got): Matt and “The Humble Administrator’s Garden.”


Apr 2005

Dezhou 2

Paji looooi!” the vendors cried as I stepped from the train. Hazy memories from almost a year ago quickly came back into focus. I was in Dezhou again.

My company had sent me for the second time to the mid-sized Shandong city for a day of teacher training. It’s a 14 hour train ride to Dezhou, and the train leaves Shanghai at 8pm, which puts arrival at 10am. The only problem was the training was scheduled to begin at 8am. The solution? I arrived a whole day early. I originally thought I’d be either taken sightseeing or allowed time to myself to study. That was really overly optimistic of me.

I was given a soft sleeper ticket, which meant a nicer bed and a more private sleeping chamber. Unfortunately I wound up with three men who snored like banshees. (“Banshee” may seem like a strange choice of words, but you really should have heard them. One seemed to have some weird lung condition, and another was really more moaning than snoring. It was very creepy.) Still, I managed to pass 13 of the 14 hours prone in my bunk, never coming down once. Time passes by much faster when you’re as good at sleeping as I am.

The afternoon of the first day was spent making last-minute trips to random kindergartens. It scored our agent gratitude from the schools, as most of the children had never seen a real live foreigner before. My task? “Teach them something.” “Play with them.” It didn’t really matter what I did anyway. My victory was ensured by my mere presence. Still, we had a good time, and I daresay the kids may have learned something from me.

I think the hardest part about company trips is the dinners. Almost every night it’s another big formal event at a fancy-schmancy restaurant with multiple guests of honor. Of course, I have to talk to these people, tell them “no, my Chinese is really quite terrible,” how long I’ve been in China, that I like Chinese food, and what the difference is between China and the USA. I’m supposed to flatter them shamelessly, but I never do that. I just play my foreigner card (read: different culture, incomplete mastery of the language) and try not to gag as everyone fawns all over each other.

And then there’s the liquor. There are always many, many toasts. You can’t start eating until the first toast has been made, and the last toast signals the end of the meal. If I’m lucky the alcohol is beer or red wine, but every now and then I’m forced to drink the vile baijiu. Shandong is one place where the people are especially insistent about the baijiu imbibing.

The first night I managed to talk my way out of baijiu (they get more forgiving when you’re willing to down a cup of beer for every sip of baijiu they take), but I thought I was going to lose it when one guy brought up the issue of Japan. He was obviously looking for a “yeah, we hate those Japanese bastards!” out of everyone, but before he could get it, one of my co-workers helpfully offered, “hey, you know John speaks Japanese. He even studied there for a year.” Then all eyes were on me. Great.

“You studied in Japan?” he asked me.


“So, what do you think of the Japanese? No, wait… What do you think of Japan as compared to China?”

“Well, do you mean the countries or the people?”

“The people.”

I hesitated slightly. “They’re both good.”

He leaned forward, intense. “They’re both good?


He looked around incredulously at his audience. They all seemed ready to change the topic. Before giving up on his hatefest, though, he just had to make a comment about how he was teaching his nephew to hate the Japanese because they’re an evil race.

That night I went to bed fairly early. One of the last things I noticed before going to bed was the sticker on the telephone: Please remember to inform your family of your safe arrival! Cute. What a nice hotel.

I was awakened briefly at midnight when they called to ask if I needed a girl to service me.

The next morning found me at the hotel’s free breakfast buffet. I’ve never had much appetite for breakfast in general, and never been a fan of Chinese breakfast in particular. I typically just have an egg or something. I’m glad I did a full tour of the dishes offered, however. Whoever translated the Chinese dishes’ names into English decided to chuck tradition out the window and make the dishes’ names into complete sentences. I discovered “It is hot to fry the white flower” (À±³´°×²Ë) and “The green pepper fries the meat” (Çཷ³´Èâ).

Training went fine. I was surprised that Mr. Japanese-hater showed up. He wasn’t a teacher, but he had been invited the night before (merely out of politeness, I thought), and he actually showed.

That evening I was taken to a middle school as a favor for one of the agents who taught there. Although they had been studying English for three years already, none of those kids had ever spoken to a foreigner.

First on the agenda were two short English plays put on by the students. The girls did one about shopping that didn’t seem to have any intelligible plot. The boys, however, decided to do a version of “Stone Soup.” Their take? It took place in post-war Vietnam with a stranded American soldier the guy who made the stone soup. Yeah… I’m not sure what that’s supposed to mean either.

After fielding the usual questions, I was expected to play some sort of game with them. I was amazed and delighted that the kids had never played hangman. I had to explain the game to them, but then they got really into it. Their first guy got hanged, but the second one survived. My two phrases? The East is Red and The truth will set you free. I’m rather sure my choices were entirely lost on them.

That night in my hotel room when I went through the hotel’s informational brochure I discovered an interesting special service. “Please dial 50118 and ask the front desk for help you to avoid disturbing the telephone. Have a good time!

A quick scan of the Chinese revealed what this message meant: “Please dial 50118 and tell the front desk if you do not want to be disturbed by phone calls.

In plain English, they meant: “Please dial 50118 and tell the front desk if you won’t be needing us to solicit you for sex by phone.” There’s never any direct mention of such hotel services.

I noticed a new, smaller sticker on the telephone as I went to bed that night. It was a telephone number for “health entertainment” (¿µÓé). I guess that’s about as overt as they’re willing to be.

I wasn’t able to leave until the next evening because an extra morning of training had been tacked on to the first day’s. I was promised the afternoon off, though.

At noon I had to schmooze with more “important people” over lunch. Apparently this one guy was super important. I was told flat-out that I should kiss up to him. I managed a “I think you look like a Chinese Tom Cruise” (he actually kinda did). Everyone loved that one. Mr. Important liked me so much that he talked the agents into letting him borrow me for several hours. That’s how I wound up at another school that afternoon for more unprepared “Teach them something” and “Play with them.”

Before getting on the train I had one last dinner in Dezhou. Mr. Japanese-hater insisted on treating me, the agents, and the Chinese trainer to a meal.

He didn’t beat around the bush much. He brought up Japan almost right away. I cut him off to tell him, “Look, I don’t like the Japanese government either. But I don’t believe any race of people is ‘bad.'” He smiled, nodded, and said no more. He was able to meet me halfway on that. So then the beers started rolling in. Big bottles of cold Yanjing. If I hadn’t been pressed for time, I’m sure I would have gotten pretty wasted.

Something weird happened that meal. I actually started to like the guy. He was an interesting character for sure, but what really struck me had nothing to do with politics or prejudices. He was sincere. He was quite possibly the only part of my trip that was 100% real.

Mr. Japanese-hater insisted on seeing me off to the train station along with the agents. I kind of wished I had more time to understand the guy a little better. As I stepped on the train, the last thing I heard out of Dezhou was “Paji looooi!


Apr 2005

Chinese ID Cards

Pretty much every Chinese person has a government-issued ID card (身份证). They serve the roles of American social security cards (and sometimes driver’s licenses, for non-driving-related ID purposes). These ID cards are necessary for all kinds of everyday procedures and thus indispensible in daily Chinese life, although in some cases the ID number on the card is all that is needed.

Recently I became interested in the structure of the ID numbers on these cards. I was trying to sign up with an online Chinese bulletin board. I ran into a problem, however, because a Chinese ID number was a mandatory part of registration. I wondered: did the number really need to be valid? Was this important?

I googled 身份证 to determine the appropriate number of digits, and then entered a random number. My application was denied. Invalid ID number. Ah, so they won’t take just any old number.

But, I reasoned, they couldn’t possibly be checking the number I input with a central database of the ID numbers of all Chinese citizens, now, could they? I figured the ID number had information encoded in it, which was checked against the other registration information I provided in my application (such as date of birth).

I googled for an image of a 身份证 and found one. Some basic analysis was all that was required to invent an ID number that the automatic form would accept. Soon after, however, I decided that an account involving a fraudulent ID number could possibly get me into real trouble, and I cancelled my application.

Just recently I came across a related entry on the excellent Chinese blog GiE: 身份证号都代表什么意思? (what do the digits of an ID number mean?). Here’s a simple summary of the information provided on GiE in Chinese:

– Chinese ID numbers are arranged left to right, composed of 17 ID digits plus 1 validation digit, for a total of 18 digits.
– The first 6 digits are the address code of the owner’s place of legal residence.
– The next 8 digits are the owner’s birthdate: year (4), month (2), day (2).
– The next 3 digits are a “sequential code” for distinguishing people of identical birthdate and birthplace. Odd numbers for males, even numbers for females.
– The final validation digit is based on a formula which, quite honestly, I don’t understand at all. (If you can read the original Chinese and explain it, I’d be very interested.)

The above system applies to new (since 2000, maybe?) 身份证. In the examples below, you can see some changes over the years:

Issued in 1994. Old-style, only 15 digits.
Issued in 1995, but with a typo in the date. Old-style, digits obscured.
Issued in 1998. Old-style, 15 digits.
Issued in 2001. Old-style, 18 digits.
Issued in 2002. Old-style, 18 digits.
Issued post-2000? Old-style and new-style side by side, digits obscured.
Issued in 2004. New-style, front and back shown, 18 digits.
Issued post-2000? New-style, digits not visible.

You’ll also notice on these ID cards that 民族 (ethnic group) is listed on the card. Most Chinese people are Han Chinese (). You may notice that in the examples above, the last guy is not (although you wouldn’t know looking at him).

I’ve always thought it would be funny to get a fake Chinese ID card (these are easy to acquire, I understand) with my real picture and Chinese name on it, that said I was 汉族 (Han Chinese). But then I doubt the PSB have much of a sense of humor about that kind of thing, so I never went through with it.

Note: I wondered briefly if it was kosher to write about this kind of thing online, but the blog entry on GiE that I linked to was public and written in Chinese, and all the 身份证 pictures I linked to were found through Baidu Image Search, which is known to wholly comply with the Chinese government.

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