Sep 29, 2009

Chinese name gender guesser

I had some fun with the Chinese Name Gender Guesser.

I started off seriously. I entered Mei Lan Fang, a famous Chinese opera singer that even had a movie made about him. I had always thought his name was kind of girly-sounding in Chinese. Sure enough, the gender guesser agreed with me:

Then I though of Garfield the cat, who is male as far as I know, but the computer guessed he has a girl's name:

After Garfield, I decided to try "asshole" in Chinese. (Note that this is the slang term for the body part, and not the slang term to call someone an asshole) Turns out that this is a female name:

The next two are authentic Beijing local swear-phrases that you can hear cabbies yelling from time-to-time. The computer says they're both female:

Sep 25, 2009

New Yorker article: "Zoo York"

This article in the New Yorker irritates me more than their articles typically do. The content of the article is alright; the writer mostly is complaining about a pedestrian zone recently constructed near Times Square. Here are the main two points that I find annoying.

Point number one

The author writes:
In 1933, the newspaperman Stanley Walker wrote, “There are chow-meineries, peep shows for men only, flea circuses, lectures on what killed Rudolf Valentino, jitney ballrooms and a farrago of other attractions which would have sickened the heart of the Broadwayite of even ten years ago.”
Who uses the word chow-meinerie? It's a pompous-sounding, ridiculous word. I'm going to start working that into conversations I have in Beijing:
"Where do you want to go for lunch today?"
"How about that greasy
chow-meinerie that just opened down the street?"
Using the word chow-meinerie should be grounds for a slap. I don't care if you're quoting someone from 1933. Find another quote.

Point number two

I think that this author, Lauren Collins, plagiarized the Diceman. She mentions:
The new plaza, in the past few months, has been a hot, smelly enclosure, filled with people sitting under patio umbrellas comparing their cell-phone screens, which is what humans do instead of picking ticks out of one another’s fur.
As regular readers of my blog will remember, I saw Dice's latest routine a few months ago, and I wrote about it on in this entry back in July. He has a bit that goes like this:

People today are assholes. They don't know how to have fun anymore.

I go to a party, all I see today: people standing around in a circle.

"Oh, look at my phone." Assholes. "Look at my phone. Look at the case my phone came in."

Asshole humans. This is what you do.

All you do today, is walk around, searching for a f*cking signal.

With buses coming at you. You're assholes.

"D-d-did ya get my email?"

And you look at the guy, "Just f*cking tell me, you're right in front of me. What the f*ck is wrong witch you today?"

"You wanna hear my ring?"

It's not going to stand up in a court of law, but I think this writer took Dice's act, cleaned it up and made it a bit more uppity for the New Yorker, and passed it off as her own. She uses the word "humans" in her observation the same way Dice does, and the overall content of the joke is the same.

Sep 23, 2009

Nationalism is a drug: part II

In my recent post "Nationalism is a drug" I showed a video of what I though was a bunch of college students that were preparing for the October 1 PRC National Day parade.

After listening more to the chanting and yelling of the students, it appears they might actually just be doing their daily exercises as part of phys ed class. I won't be sure until I see the broadcast of the parade. If these students are in the parade chanting the same lines, I'll know that they were preparing. If the students are not in the parade, I'll know that this was really their daily exercise routine.

For those of you that understand some Chinese, listen to my video again. I had initially thought that they were chanting:
"中华人民共和国! 中华人民共和国!"
Translation: "People's Republic of China! People's Republic of China!"
It turns out that the students are actually chanting about sports and exercise. They're yelling that exercise is good and it's good to be in shape.

We'll have to wait and see what turns up in the parade on October 1.

Sep 21, 2009

Stupid Korean shirts

I was surfing on Taobao, the Chinese eBay equivalent, and I came across some University of Michigan football gear. Problem is, these dumb dumbs used USC's colors:

On the Taobao page it says the shirt is "韩版" (hán bǎn, "Korean edition"). I guess Koreans get their school colors mixed up.

It could have been worse, I guess, they could have used red and white — Ohio State's colors. Let me use this opportunity to share my favorite Ohio State joke:
How do you drive from Ann Arbor to Columbus?
You go south until you smell it, then east until you step in it.
Now back to the subject of Koreans and US universities and sports teams. I was in a Lotus Center in Beijing recently (like a Chinese Wal-Mart), and I seen a Korean dude wearing a Tigers cap with the old English D logo. He was coming up the escalator towards me as I was headed down on the other side. I shout out to the dude, "Yeah, Detroit", as I pass by, raising my fist up in a power salute. But there wasn't even a nod or glance of recognition from this cat. If you're going to wear the old English D, at least know what it means.

Here's another funny shirt from Taobao:

This time they got the colors right at least — green and white for Michigan State. Why is this ad funny? I can tell you, this girl is definitely not a State student, present or former. No offense to my friends that went to Michigan State, but I just can't picture this girl burning a couch at Cedar Village. She'd be much more at home in a Sanrio store than at football or basketball game. Could she even down twenty-one shots on her birthday?

There are, in fact, plenty of decent sports team hats and shirts on Taobo. It just irks me when they post stupid shirts and stupid models.

Sep 17, 2009

Nationalism is a drug

My apartment community sits next to a local university's athletic complex. Every morning and every evening for the past month, there's been a huge group of Chinese Jugendliche outside my window, yelling, chanting, and jeering as loud as they can. I can't really make out what they're shouting about, but it's pretty darn frightening to have a rambunctious crowd of that size hootin' and hollerin'. They look like they're getting pumped up to go invade Japan or maybe go lynch some Americans imperialists. Who knows.

All this hoopla is in the name of the upcoming sixtieth Chinese national anniversary on October first. From what I've heard, every single college student in Beijing is obligated to participate in the parade, and in preparation, and to go to practices like the one outside my window. Here's a view of one of the sub-groups of students doing laps around the track as they march and chant. All together there's around five or six groups of this size.

I put together a short video so you viewers at home can get the full idea. The clip is only about a minute. If you want to experience Beijing as I do, just keep looping that clip over and over again for two hours, once in the morning around seven, and once in the evening around five.

[Note: post title borrowed from this post]

Sep 15, 2009

A joke to play using a cigarette

I invented a funny joke recently, but I think I'm the only one that thinks it's funny. I thought of it while attending a Chinese wedding reception, the kind with the big round banquet tables with eight or so people each. At each table, the lazy Susan is decked out with bottles of beer, Sprite, Coke, Maotai liquor, and of course, there's also a cigarette lighter and a little white plate of individual cigarettes. The smokes are piled high in the shape of a pyramid. This is a pretty typical layout for Chinese weddings I've been to.

Having to look at the pyramid of cigarette thorough the meal gave me the great idea for a joke. It's a visual joke, by the way, so it can work well with both American and international listeners. Here's how you set up the joke:
You grab an unlit cigarette and dangle it from your lips. They you say, "Guess who I am." (If you're in China, you say, "猜我是谁")

You pause for a few seconds while people guess, and for comedic effect, and then you shout out, "I'm Obama!" (If you're in China, you say, "我是奥巴马!").

I think pretty much everyone will understand this joke because most people have seen the authentic Obama photo that was floating around the Internet prior to the election.

I've not gotten too much positive response from my Chinese friends so far on this joke. Maybe they've not see the photo, so it's not as funny for them. I'll need to try it out on some Americans and see how it goes.

Sep 10, 2009

Lee Kai-Fu totally looks like...

I had a few yuks recently from an email forward that came from this site, about celebrities that resemble animals, cartoons, and other stuff. Here are a couple good ones:

Lee Kai-Fu, a former exec at Google China, has been in the news this past week. I knew there was something that Kai-Fu really reminds me of, and I just couldn't pin it down until the other day. Finally, it hit me: he's Droopy dog.

I think it's the slacky, hanging cheeks and the big round cartoon eyes that seal the deal here. If someone on that web site wants to use my material, go for it, just give me the credit.

Sep 7, 2009

Something to do when you get asked unoriginal questions

As a Westerner in China, you get bombarded with the same set of questions over and over again, no matter how long you've lived here, and no matter how fluent your Mandarin is.

It might be one of the five question in this article , or it might be something slightly different, but one thing's for sure, there's not much originality in the variety of questions.

When I get asked boring generic questions, I like to take the conversation in a completely different direction. I'd recommend this to any readers out there as well. Just pick a topic that you're passionate about, make sure you know the Mandarin vocabulary so you can talk about it fluently, and go for it.

One conversational thread I like to start is about Pope John Paul II, and how great he was. Want to see a Chinese countryside dweller's eyes glaze over in confusion? Start talking about the former pope.

Someone will strike up a conversation with me out of the blue, and it'll go something like this:
Countryside person: "Where are you from?"
Me: "America." (I look away to show I'm not interested in continuing this thread)

Countryside person: "How long you been living in China?"
Me: (It's time to divert the course of this conversation) "Hey, how about that German Pope we've got now? What do you think about him?"

Countryside person: [blank stare]
Me: "Yeah, I was a huge fan of Pope John Paul II. Do you know how many languages he was fluent in?"

Countryside person: "Do you like Chinese food?"
Me: "I doubt if we'll ever see another Polish Pope in our lifetimes, or a Pope as great as he was."

[and on and on]
It's a fun game to play. Enjoy yourself and make a language-learning experience of it.

Sep 5, 2009

BBC The Incredible Human Journey

I highly recommend this five-episode documentary on BBC, The Incredible Human Journey. They give some really good theories and research on where humans originated and how everyone can look so different.

I especially enjoyed the episode focusing on Asia. The main hostess of the show spends a lot of time to cover one scientist's theory that modern Chinese are descended from Peking Man, after which she does her best to disprove it in support of the recent African origin of modern humans model. I thought it was kind of sneaky how the hostess was so nice and friendly to this well-respected Chinese scientist on camera, and then she waits until he's out of the picture to go on an try to disprove his theory. It would have been nicer to have him there as well responding to her points.

Sep 3, 2009

Light bulb sale

Over the weekend at my apartment community in Beijing, there was a special sale of energy efficient light bulbs — compact fluorescent bulbs like you can buy at the grocery store for one or two bucks a piece. In the morning, a crack team of a dozen people wheeled in an entire pallet of light bulbs. The group camped out at a folding card table the whole afternoon and distributed the discounted light bulbs to residents.

What a great idea, you might think, this is a something that helps the environment and mother earth. But think again. For some reason, they made it as difficult as possible to buy light bulbs. To start with, you could only buy your quota (five light bulbs, as I recall) if you had brought your Chinese ID card as well as your household registration book. In the US, this would be equivalent to requiring someone to show their driver's license and their birth certificate together. And remember, all this is just to purchase light bulbs, of all things.

Of course it makes sense to require lots of identification if you're buying dangerous construction materials — strong acids, chemicals, explosives — but what's the sense in doing this for light bulbs? Wouldn't you want to remove as many of the hurdles as possible so that more people can be energy efficient?

If 1% of the population are driving cute little electric vehicles, you won't see much of a difference in pollution. If 90% of people have switched over, however, you'd see big change. It has to be the same concept with energy efficient light bulbs.

By requiring Chinese ID cards, the light bulb sale people prevented any non-PRC citizens, such as myself, from buying light bulbs. By requiring people to bring their household registration book, they prevented any non-native Beijingers from participating. Beijing is a city of transplants. I'd reckon that 20% of people living in Beijing are actually from Beijing. The rest are out-of-towners (外地人) and migrants (外来工).

If anyone from the Beijing Ministry of Light Bulb Distribution is reading this post, I urge you to take note and make your subsequent light bulb distribution sales more accessible to others living in Beijing. Stop discriminating against us wai di ren.

Sep 1, 2009

Good advice

Seen at a beach side eatery in Qingdao:

I totally agree with this advice. One should certainly not go to sea after seventeen hundred and being drunk.

I can barely convert military time when I'm sober, so I'd have no chance at following these directions when I've been drinking. I'd be trying to figure it out in my head: Don't go to sea after what time? Do they mean seventeen hundred in the morning? Or is it seven at night? Whatever, let's have another drink.