Blog


11

Oct 2003

Alaric is at it again

Alaric Radosh has made a big splash in the tiny world of blogging in Chinese as a foreign language. His Chinese language blog has earned him a lot of respect from Chinese people and foreigners alike. I haven’t really mentioned it here before because it’s in Chinese, and most of my readers don’t read much Chinese.

Alaric has recently started a Chinese Language Blog and Study Journal in English, which he calls a “a companion to my Chinese language blog, journal of thoughts and goals, portal of community with other online students of Chinese-as-a-second language.” The guy’s writing really good stuff. Gold. I found his latest entry on Becoming an Avid Reader in Chinese particularly relevant to my current situation in my Chinese studies. If you’re studying Chinese, read what Alaric has to say. You will benefit.


09

Oct 2003

Too much DNA

I didn’t have my usual Intensive Reading Chinese class today. Yesterday in class someone from the administration came and passed out special letters of invitation to the “First China Zhejiang Academic Festival” (首届中国浙江学术节). We were told if we went our taxi fares would be reimbursed, and we’d get a free lunch. We all decided to go.

Last week I was walking near West Lake with Russell and we passed a huge lavish meeting hall-type building. We weren’t sure exactly what it was. It turned out to be the Provincial People’s Congress Hall (浙江省人民大会堂), and that’s where the “Academic Festival” was. Today I showed up 10 minutes late and was greeted on the steps of the building and given a ticket and a special pass to wear around my neck (it said “特邀代表证”). Then I was ushered to my seat along with a classmate who happened to show up at the same time.

A word about the Congress Hall. It is massive. Lavish. Lush. Evidently no ordinary four walls and a roof will do when it comes to determining the will of the people. It’s like that place was built just to make painfully apparent the point that the government is squandering the people’s money on displays of opulence. (That said, it was cool to be there for an official function once and to have a “specially invited representative” pass.)

I was seated on the ground floor of the “show room,” but there were balconies on the second and third level which could be accessed by escalator. There were massive video screens on either side of the stage, showing a zoomed-in view of the “important” people seated on stage. This was their day to shine, to blab on and on about boring crap. You know they’re bullshitting when you hear them mention the “Three Represents” over and over.

The “award ceremony” was kinda amusing. This troop of girls in red qipao was parading around with plaques, handing them to the appropriate recipients. At one point sashes were handed out to outstanding scientists, but there weren’t enough to go around, and one guy didn’t get one, on stage, in front of everyone. Some Chinese guy behind me was calling out loudly and repeatledy, “HA! They’re short one!” Tactful.

Next the main speaker launched into an intensely boring and long-winded talk on DNA. I really don’t get it. Why was he talking about DNA? The talk was too basic for anyone in the field of biology, but a little too in-depth for anyone not. The guy was going on and on about Watson, Crick, Franklin, and Pauling, and all the details of the discovery of DNA’s double helical structure. It would have been interesting to hear a 5-minute talk on the subject, as I was familiar with it (my major freshman year of college was microbiology — I once wanted to go into geneetic engineering) and it was kinda interesting to hear it in Chinese, but this guy went on for an hour and a half with his neverending PowerPoint presentation! People were nodding off left and right. I did my best to keep my own drowsiness from getting too obvious, but I think I failed.

The talk did provide lots of vocabulary. I got to hear words like “double helix” and “cytoplasm” and “chromosome” in Chinese. Word of the day: 蛋白质 – protein. As you might expect, the word came up again and again, and I just think it’s a funny word. “Protein” in Chinese, translated literally into English, is “egg white essence.” That’s kinda funny in itself, but I can’t help also associating it with 蛋黄南瓜, a Chinese dish made with pumpkin and egg yolk (“egg yolk” translated literally from Chinese is “egg yellow”).

What redeemed the entire ordeal was the meal afterward. It was in a nice restaurant, and it was really good. Crab, shrimp, mussels, chicken, duck, tofu, asparagus, lotus, dates, nuts, and other stuff I can’t remember — all really good. Also, the waitresses had this habit of refilling my wine glass pretty fast, so I was well on my way to very happy by noon! I had to teach class at 1:30. I was very cheerful in class.


08

Oct 2003

Dumb Pronunciation

That pronunciation guide I made turned out to be a big pain for me. It has gone through multiple revisions, but I think it’s pretty done now. The latest revisions included adding “pinyin clarifiers” in red which may very well only make it all more confusing. Oh well. I also changed the tone of my “condemnation” of pinyin to satisfy the pinyin fanatics out there who can’t bear to see the word “inconsistent” associated with pinyin (OK, that’s a joke — calm down).

I hope it’s more accurate, more balanced now. The “Background” section was never even supposed to be the important part, so those of you who haven’t done so already long ago can forget about it now. The people who were paying the most attention to it probably don’t need it anyway. The following is an e-mail I got from a learner who found my pages via Google.

> John,

> I have recently begun learning Mandarin. I knew there was a difference in pronunciation between j & zh, x & sh, q & ch, but I was very frustrated in my attempts to find a clear explanation of the difference. You’re website is like cool water in a desert! Marvelous!

> Thank you very much for putting so much effort into setting the record straight! Now, at last, I can get my pronunciation close enough that my tutor can help me fine tune it.

> Great job John! God bless you!

> Charles

That’s exactly what I made the pronunciation pages for. They’re working. I am content. Thank you everyone. I exit now to sleep, and to later arise and report another day on my Chinese studies which have been consuming so much of my time of late…


05

Oct 2003

Independence is so overrated

In an age when young Americans are trying so hard to be independent it’s just so refreshing to see a sector of Chinese society charging full tilt in the opposite direction.

“My son has never been away from our family. He doesn’t talk much, is poor in managing his daily life and doesn’t even know how to wash his socks. I’m afraid that he will put aside his studies and indulge in playing computer games all day long.” Ms. Song, a lady from Nanjing, quit her job immediately upon hearing of her son’s acceptance to a college in Shanghai and rented an apartment near this school. According to Ms. Song, she has been with her son and supervising his studies since his elementary school years. “I didn’t watch him closely for a while during his second year of junior high school because of my busy schedule and during this time my son would often sneak out to play computer games, therefore causing his grades to drop.” Since then, she would rather sacrifice a steady job than to leave her son alone in his studies.

Read the whole article. It’s pretty hilarious.


04

Oct 2003

Rainbow

As “foreign teacher liaison” at ZUCC, it’s my job to help recruit new teachers (speaking of which, spaces are filling up fast for next semester; there may already be none left), welcome new teachers, and do a bunch of other miscellaneous stuff. This semester I voluntarily added to my list of responsibilities the task of finding and assigning Mandarin tutors for the newcomers. Some of the tutors I found were my previous students.

The tutor I found for Greg is an excellent former student of mine who also has a presence in the China blogging scene. I was still teaching her when she volunteered to participate in my ZUCC Blog project using the moniker “Rainbow.” I’m no longer her spoken English teacher, but since last semester she has come to dominate the posting (and not in a bad way) for the ZUCC Blog and has even formed her own blog.
Recently she has posted some Tips on Mandarin on her own blog which I find especially interesting. Her inspiration is her own new teaching experiences, but she touches on the mistakes of the beginner as well as the advanced student. I hope to see more of this.

Speaking of tips on Mandarin, I need to do the final edit of the Pronunciation of Mandarin Chinese section on Sinosplice. I’ve solicited enough reasonable opinions and talked to enough qualified native speakers to be able to make the necessary final adjustments. On the dialogue I had going with Prince Roy in e-mail over whether pinyin is consistent or not, I’m going to have to maintain that it is not, since to me, “consistent” does not mean “consistent if you know all the exceptions.” English is pretty consistent if you study phonics, but I don’t think anyone wants to make the claim that English spelling is “consistent.” Anyway, that update is coming in the next few days.


30

Sep 2003

Let the Fun Begin!

Some of you may recall my entry on this subject a while back, but the week-long vacations that are given in China once a semester are somewhat of a sham and a big pain. We’re glad the vacation is now finally here for real.

The October holiday officially begins tomorrow, and we foreign teachers at ZUCC embrace it whole-heartedly. We’ve got the free time, the right mindset, and the full liquor cabinets. We’re all ready to let loose (see Carl’s entry for details).

I just got back from helping Alf haul is big heavy new computer home. It took us hours to get back because there were no taxis due to the coming holiday. There’s little more frustrating than really needing a taxi and not being able to get one. We had to make a long walk to a bus stop, lugging the big boxes, and take the bus home.

OK, before I start mixing some drinks and heading over to Carl’s, I also want to mention that of all the twenty-something ZUCC foreign teachers here, Alf, Carl, John B, Russell, and I all have blogs, and Greg is going to set his up over the break. Wayne is in the nether region between the twenty-something teacher group and the middle-aged teacher group, and he says he’s going to set one up too. This crowd is all about blogging, apparently. The ZUCC teacher page now has links to all the teachers’ blogs.
OK, the party calls…


28

Sep 2003

West Lake & Beer

Last night Russell, Greg, John B, and I took the two new Aussies to West Lake. West Lake’s Nanxian (南线) area, newly renovated, looks very nice at night. If you’ve been to West Lake before but not recently, you have no idea what you’re missing. The newly renovated section, Xixian (西线), is opening for the National Day vacation throngs, and it’s also supposed to be very nice, in the old school traditional Chinese style. I’ll go check it out after the tourist crowds depart and put some pictures up (something I haven’t done in quite a long time, as Wilson kindly pointed out to me).

After checking out West Lake at night, we headed over to a very cheap bar I know of. The name is 西部小镇; Old West Town is their translation. There’s a cowboy hat on the sign. It’s in a prime location, in a string of little bars right next to West Lake. It’s not a great bar. It’s very loud, and the music is always bad. The bar serves little more than beer, despite the plethora of Western liquors on display. The bartender’s job is basically to pull out more beers and open them. The one saving grace of this bar is its beer special: 3 West Lake beers for 10rmb ($1.25). West Lake Beer is not the greatest beer in the world, but it’s always so cheap that in Hangzhou I find myself drinking it more than any other beer. Apparently it’s owned by Asahi now.

So we did what so many Chinese people do in bars — drink and play a dice game called chui niu (吹牛). It’s this game where everyone has a cup of 5 dice, and you have to estimate how many of a given number there are out there, under everyone’s cups. Ones are wild. Bluffing is key. It’s a fun game, but not quite fun enough to warrant its popularity in China, in my opinion. Anyway, it was good for the new Aussies, Ben and Simonne, because we played it in Chinese and they got their numbers down (kinda). We left a little while after the bar ran out of cold beers.

On the way to West Lake, I was given this flyer:

> Restaurant Bar Club
Nothing Comes from Nothing.
Nothing comes from Nothing.

> In celebration Z Bar begins a new chapter, in a new city
that mix our minds and drinks our souls.
We stamped the ground and strung the lights to launch this new theme Restaurant-Bar-Club of modern artistry.
Experience the sight, the sound, the taste,
the energy —
We welcome you to experience our
OPEN DOORS

I think English in China is getting better…


27

Sep 2003

Turandot

Ever hear of an opera called Turandot? Perhaps you’ve heard of the film The Turandot Project, which is about the opera. The opera is by Giacomo Puccini, and it’s in Italian, as any proper opera is, but it’s set in ancient China and tells the story of a Chinese princess named Turandot. The name, seemingly French, is not. In French the opera is called Turandeaux, but apparently in English the final t is pronounced. (I read that in a discussion board online, so I can’t really vouch for its reliability.) The name, written in traditional Chinese characters on the Turandot Project website, is 图兰朵 in simplified characters.

I haven’t done a whole lot of looking into it, but as far as I can tell, this “Turandot” character is entirely fictional. The Chinese name seems like a foreign name transcribed into Chinese characters to me, but I don’t really trust my own judgement. Google searches seem to just turn up mostly news about Zhang Yimou’s collaboration with Allan Miller on The Turandot Project movie.

It’s kind of interesting to me that an Italian made an opera set in China. I wonder what the Chinese think of it… but not enough to really bother to find that information online. The Chinese seemed OK with Disney’s Mu Lan, so I guess they’re OK with this too. I noticed, though, that Turandot’s ministers’ names are Ping, Pang and Pong. Hmmm.

The reason this opera came to my attention is because my big sister Amy will possibly sing in this opera. She became a part-time professional opera singer last year, and she has this new gig lined up. She might pass it up, however, to come see me in China instead. That would be cool if we could coordinate it.


25

Sep 2003

serialdeviant

When new people post comments I check out their homepages. Sometimes I’m even smart enough to figure out the real URL when they type it wrong. This entry got my attention (you may have to scroll up a little after clicking on that link). It should sound at least remotely familiar to anyone who has spent much time in China.

So many new blogs… I think it’s time for China Blog List update. That will happen over the National Day (¹úÇì½Ú) holiday, coming up next week.

I also want to report on how my Chinese classes are going, but that can wait too.


22

Sep 2003

Nanjingren

Here’s a little gem in a newly discovered blog I found through Matt:

But, then, on the street, while listening to a child with her father, I realized something peculiar about learning a foreign language (especially Chinese). You strain to overhear two stranger’s conversation, you delight in what a child says to his/her parents, and each time you understand you’re excited. The most mundane conversations — “No, I’m not hungry,” “Where do we get off,” “Mama, I don’t want to leave” — become sources of delight. In your mother-tongue this all becomes background clutter, but to the struggling beginner it’s pure gold. Reaffirmation that today you’re better off than yesterday.

It’s so true. I remember those days quite clearly. It’s still true for me sometimes; there’s just something charming about a little kid speaking a foreign language natively….


20

Sep 2003

Chinese Pronunciation

I noticed recently that there’s a lot of bad information out there on the web about the pronunciation of Mandarin Chinese. So I created this new section on Sinosplice to address the issue. It’s quite long, and I think it’s quite thorough and accurate. This is for the people that are having trouble mastering the harder consonant sounds of Mandarin like q, x, and j.

Please let me know what you think or if you find it helpful.


18

Sep 2003

Chinese Food Quirks

Most of my friends back in the U.S. have long since ceased to write me with questions about China, other than “are you still there?! When are you coming home??” Recently, though, my friend Dan wrote me this question:

so here’s a question for you: you know how in the US 95% of the chinese food restaurants you eat at taste EXACTLY the same? i know u can find a few places that taste different, but for the most part it’s like they all use the same recipes for everything. also, the menus (both printed and up front) are almost always the same too. so my question is: is there like some business start up plan or special school in China where everyone goes to learn american style chinese cooking? and is american style really way different than authentic chinese style? cause if it is then the american ‘chinese’ food places must have learned the american style of cooking somewhere….
as you can see, a very pressing question.

Dan brings up an interesting question, but one which I’m unable to answer. Does anyone know the answer to why Chinese restaurants tend to be so uniform in the U.S.? I suppose maybe it’s quite different in California or New York….

As for the differences between authentic Chinese food and American Chinese food, I’ll make a small list here (commenters feel free to add to it).

The food in China:

  • is smothered in MSG
  • often contains lots of bones, bone fragments, and shells which must be spit out or otherwise removed
  • doesn’t normally encompass “beef with broccoli” (and I sure wish it did!)
  • includes dishes like chicken feet, pig brains, live shrimp, dog meat, and snails
  • usually contains no raw vegetables
  • doesn’t usually include any dessert but fruit (fortune cookies, being a Chinese American invention, are of course absent and almost completely unknown)
  • varies greatly from region to region, city to city, and restaurant to restaurant

15

Sep 2003

SMS Surrealism

A little while ago I got this SMS from a Scottish friend who’s also living in China. This was her response, verbatim, when I asked her how she’s been lately:

pretty good apart from boy friends mother very ill hospital a major freak out there was a live chicken in here a few days ago

Ahhh, China….


13

Sep 2003

White Boy Antics

I have thus far neglected to mention that while I was in Japan, two more twenty-something teachers arrived at ZUCC. They are John and Greg. John has his own site as well, which is morphing into something of a China blog itself. (Side note: there are now 3 Johns among the 16 foreign teachers here, one of whom also has a son named John.) Anyway, they’re great additions to the team of teachers here; the new crew is shaping up to be really good.

John     Greg

The new ZUCC Foreign English Teacher page in now online.

Speaking of new China blogs (yes, an update to the list is coming!), Carl would have a conniption if I didn’t finally mention his new site, which he daily spurns as being “the stupidest blog ever.” It’s about China, though, and it’s not nearly as bad as he claims.

In other news, three of us had a mooncake-eating contest in honor of Mid-Autumn Moon Festival the other day. I’ll leave the details for later. I plan to devote a whole page to it (kinda like the Junk Food Review) if I can ever get the photos from Carl. In the meantime, you can get a taste from the Chinese blog if you read Chinese.

I’ll end this haphazard entry with an amusing incident that happened the other night.

> [Scene: a small Chinese bar]

> Me: You should talk to her. Practice your Chinese.

> Greg: But I don’t have anything to say.

> Me: Well just say something — you need to practice!

> Greg: Actually, I learned a great Chinese sentence today.

> Me: What is it?

> Greg: [I like cake.]

> Me: OK, great, tell her that!

> Greg: What? Why should I tell her that?

> Me: Just do it! It’ll be cool.

> Greg: I’m not going to tell her that!

> Me: Why not?

> Greg: It’s stupid.

> Me: But just do it anyway. Something good will come of it.

> Greg: I’m not gonna do it.

> Me: I’m telling you, something good will come of it.

> Greg: Forget it.

> Me (to her): [He says that he likes cake.]

> Her (to Greg): [Really? My family makes cakes! I can give you some cake, no charge!]

> Greg: [I like cake.]

No, I didn’t know the girl or that her family makes cakes. But that kind of thing seems to happen in China all the time.


11

Sep 2003

Double Bummer

Bummer #1

Recently the CD-RW drive on my computer quit reading CDs of any kind. That was annoying, because it’s my only CD-reading drive and I rely on it to play music CDs. Since my computer is still under its one-year warranty, I took the whole thing in, thinking I might also add a regular CD-ROM drive and possibly a hard drive. (I’m not much of a hardware guy.)

I went on a Sunday. I was really hoping they could fix it really fast and give me back my computer, because being somewhat of an internet junkie, I hate being without my computer. There was no one on duty. They let me leave my computer there, telling me I could pick it up the next day. Oh well, mei banfa

The next morning I got a call telling me to come in and they could have my computer ready for me immediately. When I showed up it was a completely different story. They told me they had to ship off the CD-RW drive elsewhere to be repaired (a 2-week process), but they could install my new CD-ROM drive. They did. But the brand-new CD-ROM drive wouldn’t read.

They concluded that it was a system problem, not a hardware problem. That would explain why neither CD drive would read, even though the CD-ROM drive was brand new. The CD-RW drive must actually be fine, and wouldn’t have to be sent off to be repaired after all. But they would have to reinstall Windows. I try to keep only Windows system files on my C: drive for this very reason. When they asked me if I had any important documents on C:, I confidently told them no. They could go ahead and wipe C: and reinstall Windows XP.

It wasn’t until much later that I remembered that one of my very important files — “outlook.pst” — was kept on C:. And it contained every e-mail and e-mail address I had.

So there you have it, folks. If you sent me e-mail before two days ago, it’s gone. I lost it all. It’s very likely I don’t have your e-mail address anymore, either, so e-mail me. This includes friends and “China Blog Listing” requests. Sorry.

In a way it’s kind of relieving, as I had waaaay too many old e-mails backed up. I’m going to try really hard to be better about replying promptly to e-mails and keeping my inbox lean, but that may be a challenge since this semester promises to be super-busy starting next Monday.

Unfortunately, the story doesn’t end there. When I went in the next day to pick up my computer, they told me it was all better, both CD drives were installed, and I could try it out if I’d like to. I said I would. I put in an MP3 CD to test the CD-RW’s reading ability. It wouldn’t read. It was exactly like before. I tried out the same CD on the new CD-ROM drive. It worked fine.

The computer guys all acted flabberghasted because “it had just been working.” Yeah, whatever. I have to wait 2 weeks for my CD-RW drive to be repaired. Fortunately my computer is now back home and I at least have a working regular CD-ROM drive so I can listen to music.

Competence. It can be a tall order in China.

Bummer #2

Last Sunday I had a meeting with a director of a TV show. He needed a foreigner to play a part. I had a busy day Sunday. I needed to take my computer in to be repaired, so I had to lug my computer to the meeting.

The director looked me over and had me stand up, talked to me a bit, and decided I would be fine for the part of French police chief. Chinese police chief, that is. But French. In China. Speaking Chinese. Yes, strange, I know. But it sounded like fun, and my coming week was pretty wide open for filming.

Well, the director isn’t ready to start filming until this coming Sunday, Sept. 14th. He wants to film for three days, straight through Tuesday. Well, it just so happens that I have a jam-packed teach/study schedule, starting Monday.

I really wanted to do it, but I just don’t have the time. Not only is the pay not great (only about 800rmb/day), but being in a stupid TV drama is just not a priority. Studying and teaching definitely is. The TV people were trying to get me to postpone/skip 2 days (14 hours’ worth) of English and Chinese classes so I could do the filming. Nope, I don’t think so.

A “famous” HK actress, Mo ShaoCong (莫少聪) is gonna be in the series, too. (Has anyone ever heard of her?) Here I thought I’d have the chance to attempt to compete with one of Wayne‘s cool China experiences, but alas, it was not meant to be….


10

Sep 2003

Unicode with Blogger

Unicode is great, but so far underused. It’s basically a newer, larger character set designed to make multilingual computing easier, indirectly bringing peace and harmony to all. Maybe one day we’ll be free of the mojibake and luanma (that’s Japanese and Chinese for “garbage characters”) that thwart our otherwise well-intended communications. Unicode is a step in the right direction.

What does implementing Unicode mean? It means you’ll no longer load up a page to find “garbage characters” and have to change the encoding used for the page. It means you can have characters from completely different character sets (say, Chinese and Korean and French) on the same page. Check out Glome for a good example of that. Unicode is great.

I bring this up largely because I think other China bloggers really ought to adopt Unicode in their blogs. Alf’s latest post reminded me of that. Even though he entered his Chinese name, “阿福,” correctly in Blogger, I can’t read it even when I change the encoding, and he made that post on my computer!

So I’d like to provide some instructions for those that use Blogger.

1. In Blogger, go to Settings, then Formatting.

2. Change the Encoding to “Universal (Unicode UTF-8)”.

3. Save Changes.

4. Go into the Blogger template.

5. In the <head> section of the document (that’s the part between the <head> and </head> tags), insert this line:

<meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=UTF-8" />

6. Save Changes.

7. Publish.

Now when people visit your blog, it will automatically load with Unicode encoding and characters should display fine.

IMPORTANT NOTE: When you input Chinese into your blog entry through Blogger, you must be sure your browser is in Unicode encoding already. Otherwise it’ll all turn out as garbage. If you remember to switch over halfway through your entry, post first, then change the encoding, because changing the encoding will make you lose everything you’ve written in Blogger’s “Edit Post” window. If some of what you’ve written is in Chinese, then you’ll want to copy and paste it into a text file, switch over to Unicode encoding, then copy and paste back in. Nothing lost.

IMPORTANT NOTE 2: If you’ve written in Chinese in the past and it can be viewed successfully in your archives simply by switching to Chinese encoding, it will nevertheless become garbage after you switch over to Unicode. You’ll have to decide if you think it’s worth it to switch. I do.


09

Sep 2003

<gulp!>

I finally officially registered for my Chinese classes at Zhejiang University of Technology today. That means I forked over about 6500rmb (almost $800 USD), I got my textbooks, I got my schedule, and I got my new student ID.

I got a little nervous looking at my new schedule and my new textbooks. First, my week is now completely filled. Every morning, every afternoon (with very few gaps), plus two evenings. I know, most people work 40 hour weeks, but teaching can be pretty tiring, and I’m not sure how great of a student I’ll be. For one thing, I haven’t been a real student for over 3 years, and for another, these classes look really challenging. I’ve described my Chinese level as “high intermediate” before, but these classes are definitely high, not intermediate. These are the textbooks:

– 高级汉语口语—话题交际 (北京语言文化大学出版社)- Advanced Speaking

– 桥染—实用汉语中级教程(下) (北京语言文化大学出版社)- Intensive Reading

– 高级汉语读写教程 (北京语言文化大学出版社)- Reading and Writing

– 中国社会概览(三年级教材,上) (北京语言文化大学出版社)- Survey of Chinese Society

– HSK中国汉语水平考试 (北京语言文化大学出版社)- HSK Training

Looking at the textbooks, I see a lot of characters I haven’t learned. I can’t be lazy this semester.

There are only 10 students in the high level. There’s another white guy (Russian or something — not sure), a Japanese student, and the rest are Koreans.

I’m looking forward to making friends with all the other international students, and I’m really ready for another big jump in my Chinese level, but I think it’s gonna be a hard semester. I have to relearn how to work hard!


07

Sep 2003

Asian Ear Cleaning

I found this link via Zod. It’s true in China too — Chinese people do pay a lot of attention to cleaning ears. In the USA common tools found on keyrings include bottle openers and penlights. In China the little metal “ear wax scoop” is quite a hit. It may seem dangerous to one’s hearing to use one of those things, but you see people using them around town (no, it’s not pretty), and I don’t think it’s causing widespread hearing problems.

The way this “culture of ear cleaning” affects me personally is that when I go to get my hair cut, that comes with a shampoo, and an upper body massage, and an ear cleaning, all for 25rmb (just over $3). They do use Q-tips. It’s a weird form of vulnerability, submitting to a stranger’s Q-tip.


04

Sep 2003

Back from Japan

2 of 3 Tazawa brosI’m back from Japan and busy once again. It was a great trip, allowing me to catch up with old friends and have lots of great food and great beer. Unfortunately I was feeling incredibly lazy and I hardly took any pictures. The one day I wanted to take pictures — the wedding day — I got up early and was too groggy and forgot to bring my camera! D’oh! Some digital pics of that are going to be sent my way soon, though.
The wedding was really cool, and struck me as almost entirely like a Western one (and unlike a Chinese one), except that instead of having the religious service in a church, we had it in a Shinto shrine.

The bride was in a beautiful kimono, as were both mothers. The groom wore a hakama (male version of a kimono). The fathers wore dark Western suits. All the rest of the men were in black or blackish suits and light ties (except for me), and all the rest of the women were in nice dresses.

The Shinto rituals were interesting. Fortunately there wasn’t too much of the “sitting on your heels” kind of kneel-sit thing going on, because that hurts me. There was some sake drinking in the ritual. Afterward Okaasan (my Japanese homestay mom) asked me if I had understood the ritual at all. I said no. “Neither did we” was her response.

Then there were bride/groom photos and a group photo, and we all headed over to the hotel for the reception. We had a great meal which was an interesting mix of Japanese and Western food. Obaasan (my Japanese homestay grandma) didn’t want her steak so she gave it to me. Niiiiice.

Beer flowed and flowed, as everyone went around toasting each other. I got tons of omedetou (congratulations) practice in Japanese. Speeches were made intermittently throughout the meal. When mine came around I was already buzzing pretty hard, but I pulled it off pretty well. Everyone seemed to like it. It was kind of hard to write the speech because I couldn’t say anything bad about the groom at the formal reception, but the groom is kind of a crazy, gambling slacker kind of a guy. The content of my speech was basically:

Congratulations to both the bride and the groom, and all present. I lived with the Tazawas for a year and got to know the groom pretty well. When I first came to Japan I had only studied Japanese for one year, and I was completely unprepared for Kansai dialect. The groom helped me with Japanese (read: taught me bad words and funny sentences) and helped me learn about Japan in ways that you can’t learn about in books (He was in his fifth year of college when I met him, and was always skipping classes to drink, gamble, and play guitar in his rock band. His major was English, but he couldn’t speak more than a few words of it. He shattered all my preconceptions about Japanese people.). By fostering this mutual cultural understanding, he acted as a bridge (¼Ü¤±˜ò) between the USA and Japan. Today, in matrimony, another bridge is being forged between the two families. I’m really happy to be here to witness this, and I wish you both the best.

OK, I know the metaphor seems a bit forced, but the Japanese loved it. Shingo (homestay brother) helped me write it, so it wasn’t awkward in Japanese.

Somewhere amidst all the eating and speech-making and even karaoke (yes, in the middle of the reception, instead of a speech, some people sang), the cake was cut and the bride and groom switched into Western style formal wear. Masakazu wore a tux, and Yuki wore a red wedding dress and a nice tiara.

At the end the parents gave speeches. The bride’s father elected to sing a song to his daughter about the bittersweetness of “giving away” one’s daughter to her new husband. The bride was crying pretty hard, as was the bride’s mother. Then the groom’s parents gave speeches, and they were crying too. Obaasan (granny) was crying off and on for almost the whole reception. She was so cute. The groom didn’t cry at all, though.

After the reception there was a casual party for friends at a Chinese restuarant. The food was really good and not at all like real Chinese food. Unfortunately I was still so stuffed that I could hardly eat any of it. There were more speeches. Some of the groom’s friends’ speeches were hilarious.

Masakazu, the groomThe highlight was probably the massive paper-rock-scissors contest. Everyone paid 500 yen to enter, and just went through the brackets, single elimination. I was eliminated in my first match. When one guy won the pot (something like 6000 yen, around $50), the groom challenged him to one more match for all of it. The winner accepted. A big hush fell over the room, and friends of each participant whispered their psychological counsel. There was a big drum roll, and then the groom won it all, scissors over paper. He thought it was so hilarious.

One thing I definitely noticed at the party was the hot Japanese girls. The bride had some hot friends, and the groom’s friends’ girlfriends were pretty hot too. I keep trying to tell myself that Japanese girls only seem hotter than Chinese girls because of the makeup and fashionable clothes, but I have been forced to accept that Japanese girls are just hotter. I don’t think it’s because of genetics, although you definitely see some certain face types in Japan that you don’t see in China, and vice cersa. Oh well. The no make-up innocent look (China’s specialty) is cute too.

After that dinner the party moved on to a bar. It was owned by one of the groom’s friends. Definitely a cool place. The bar was a blast, but my memory of all the details is sketchy. All in all, a very fun day.

I had a great time in Japan with the Tazawas, but unfortunately I was kept busy the whole time and didn’t have time to see my other Japanese friends in the Kyoto area. Oh well… the wedding was the reason for my trip. I just hope my Japanese friends didn’t feel like I was snubbing them.

So that’s my account of the wedding. Classes start at ZUCC on September 8th, and my Chinese classes at ZUT start September 15th. This is gonna be a great semester.



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