Jan 30, 2010

"Take a Look at San Francisco's Bad Kitchens"

If you have a typical apartment in Beijing, like I do, you'll get a rise out of this article on yumsugar.com:

It was depressing for me to look at those pictures and the commentary along with them. They all pretty much look like my little kitchen. Some day I'm sure I'll have a decent kitchen. I just need to keep working hard.

Here are the pictures that reminded me the most of my inadequate Beijing kitchen is:

Photo 1: "There's only one word to describe this kitchen: tiny. It's simply a stove with no place to prepare food." Pretty much describes my place.

Photo 3: "A kitchen should be the hub of a house where people gather to enjoy food and wine. But in this box-shaped kitchen, there's not much room for several people." Again, this perfectly describes my cramped kitchen. It is way too tiny for any type of socializing. You can only have one person at a time cooking in it.

Photo 7: "It's 2010, who remodels a kitchen and doesn't put in a dishwasher?" Same thoughts here about the kitchen in my apartment. What was my landlord thinking?

Jan 28, 2010

Inappropriate City Weekend column

Recently, during an especially smooth and productive morning dump, I was paging through my normal toilet reading material, City Weekend Beijing magazine. I was both surprised and a bit disturbed when I read this short article on the first page:

Here's a close-up of what I'm talking about:

I think the long-tongued fellow in that picture looks very cool. He reminds me of the lead singer of The Prodigy, Keith Flint. I dig the image he's going for.

Let me say that unless the article here is an inside joke among the editors at City Weekend, the picture and commentary they have there are very uncool. Nothing raises my blood pressure more than inappropriate discrimination. In this short paragraph, City Weekend has discriminated based on at least three things:
  • National origin (the column mentions "an ex-pat who has failed in their home country")
  • Marital status (the column mentions "single or divorced")
  • Age (the column mentions "well aged")
The intolerance is most uncool and inappropriate. I'm not saying this sarcastically. It is very uncool. Free speech and expression are rights that need to be upheld.

If two people of want to be together, I support their right to do so.
  • If a morbidly obese person and a person with a marathon runner's physique like each other, great.
  • Different races, I'm all for it.
  • Same sex, go for it.
  • Parading your consenting S&M partner around in a hood in broad daylight — more power to you.
  • Different income levels, mismatched ages, disparate looks — hey, if a couple wants to be together, leave them alone and mind your business.
I really can't figure out if that article is a joke or not. When I try to open the URL they've listed, I get an HTTP 404 error since the page doesn't exist any more.

That leads me to suspect that a junior writer at City Weekend had a bright idea late one night, immediately prior to the magazine going to press, and consequently he or she wrote this little paragraph. The following day the City Weekend editor had the good sense to yank this ridiculous content from the online edition, as well as the URL they had publicized. The print edition had already gone out, so they let it go.

If this City Weekend article is in fact something that was originally not a joke, can you imagine the kind of person that would put this sort of abusive thing together? She must have been ignored at the bar too many times. Instead of dropping ten pounds, like a normal woman would do, she wrote an inappropriate article.

This column is just so inappropriate and uncool. It was good foresight on the part of the author to not attach his or her name to their article.

On a parting note, since when did the word "douche" become acceptable to use in a magazine publication? They've been throwing that word around forever on the Howard Stern show, which is where they should leave it. The word fit right in with the rest of the vulgarity and inappropriateness there. It's disturbing and uncomfortable to see that word being used so casually now in a magazine publication, no matter how low the circulation of that magazine may be.

Jan 26, 2010

Illegal flower tribute

Check my post from a couple weeks ago about Chinese people laying flowers outside the Google China headquarters building to show their support. What did I tell ya'll?

I mentioned in the last part of my blog post:
For now, this small tribute to Google is being left undisturbed and there seems to be no interference from the authorities. I would imagine that if the situation becomes too wild, the PRC Gestapo (国家安全部) will direct the police to limit access to the Google sign under the guise of public harmony.
The police haven't set up a physical blockade, but they've done pretty much the same thing I've described in a less confrontational way.

Thanks to a post on Lost Laowai, "Google and the Illegal Flower Tribute", I found out that the PRC Gestapo really is preventing any more tributes to Google. Here's the summary:

Jan 25, 2010

Bobby Flay recipe for Beijingers

Here's a great recipe for anyone that's living in Beijing to make, Bobby Flay's Bbq Duck-Filled Yellow Corn Pancakes with Habanero Sauce.

I say it's ideal for Beijingers because of the availability of roast duck. Follow the recipe as stated, except if you're in Beijing, use the following subtitutions to simplify things:

  • Ancho & pasilla chile powder: Use whatever chile powder you can find around
  • Worcestershire sauce: Dark soy sauce
  • 3 duck legs, skin removed: Get a pre-cooked duck from the supermarket, it should run around 40 yuan ($6), and scrape the meat off. Alternatively, next time you're at Quan Ju De or Da Dong, ask the chef to throw the duck carcass in a doggie bag for you to take home. There should be adequate scraps of meat left to make this recipe.
  • Duck or chicken stock: Again, get this from you favorite duck joint as a take out, or just whip up your own. I make my own stock with chicken meat, bones, and de-clawed chicken feet for extra flavor.
You'll be able to completely skip the 3-hour cooking of the duck as stated in the recipe. So rather than a 4 or 5 hour recipe, this is something you can throw together in 30-45 minutes.

My favorite part of this recipe is the cornmeal pancakes. You could probably put anything wrapped up in these things and it would taste great.

The photo above of the completed dish is from the Food Network web site. My concoction, although I think it tasted great, looked like something your third-grader would make. I need more practice on this one.

Jan 22, 2010

Pop culture lag time: Pants on the Ground

One of the challenges of living in China is that you might not keep up to date with American pop culture in real time.

When I was watching Jimmy Fallon from earlier in the week, and I appreciated the authenticity of his Neil Young impression, but I didn't quite get what was funny about the song. I forgot about the show until they mentioned the Jimmy Fallon impression on the Howard Stern show, and finally I had the context. Turns out, I should have watched stuff in this order:
So, if you're living in China and even farther behind than me, here's your chance to catch up.

Jan 19, 2010

The ubiquitous, amazing nongmin dai

Almost everyone living in China has either used or at the very least seen the nongmin dai (农民袋), or farmer's bag. You encounter this bag everywhere you travel, and frequently even just walking around each day. The red, white, and blue checkered pattern has become so iconic that trendy clothing stores in Beijing, like Plastered, started producing some high-end fashion items with it.

In case you're not familiar with the nongmin dai I'm referring to, here are some random photos of the bag that I grabbed from a quick image search:

The farmer's bag takes is named for those workers that first pioneered its use, primarily migrant peasants from the country side that traveled across China to work in the coastal cities in hopes of a better life for their families. They would pack all their earthly belongings into these large duffel bags, constructed of thick, plastic tarp material and a flimsy zipper, and schlep across the country.

Below: schleppin' it, Beijing Xi Zhan style

Although at first I was pretty skeptical about using this bag myself, I grew to admire them. These days, I'll throw an empty farmer's bag or two into my suitcase when I'm traveling, in case I want to back extra food or clothes with me. The bags add almost no weight at all, and they're quite strong, provided you use them properly.

Keep in mind that these bags are most effective for carrying a moderate weight. If you're going to use a farmer's bag as checked luggage for airline travel, keep these recommendations in mind:
  • Don't pack the farmer's bag so tightly that it's bursting at the seams
  • Limit the weight to at most 40 pounds, and you should be ok
  • If you're in doubt, double bag it just in case
  • Clothing and soft items are more suitable than boxes and things with pointy edges that can poke through the plastic
One side benefit of checking my farmer's bag on an airplane is that no one is going to mistakenly take my bag off the luggage conveyor belt at the destination. I've seldom seen people check farmer's bags on airplanes in either the US or China. There's definitely a slight stigma to being seen with one of these things, but I'm fine with it. This is part of my identity as an American nongmin.

Keep in mind, however, that at Chinese train stations — everyone and his brother has a farmer's bag. When taking a train, I prefer to take a large backpack instead.

Get on the bandwagon now, grab yourself a farmer's bag. In the coming years, these things are going to be trendier than Feiyue shoes.

Jan 17, 2010

3 English words misused by Chinese people

There is plenty of commentary on the Internet detailing some of the common mistakes made by native Chinese speakers communicating in English (for example, see: [1], [2], [3]).

There are three particular English words that I've found to be frequently misused, which I haven't seen detailed by anyone so far. The words are:
  • poker (as in the card game)
  • hamburger (the food)
  • play (as an intransitive verb)
I'll run through a few examples of these words being used in an awkward way, and explain perhaps why I suspect Chinese people make mistakes when using these terms.

Misused word 1: poker

Chinese folks love to play cards. Take a train anywhere in China, and once you get moving you'll see half the passengers gathered around some kind of card game. Go to a park in Beijing on a summer weekend and you'll see plenty of old men playing chess and cards.

In Chinese, the term for a deck of 52 playing cards is "扑克", pronounced "pūkè", a transliteration of the English word poker. Many many Chinese people I've met have asked me in English, "Do you like playing poker?"

What they want to say in Chinese is "你喜欢 玩扑克吗?" (Do you like to play cards?) However, they translate "cards" as "poker", because that's how it gets translated in Chinese.

It used to be, I'd reply, "Well, sure, poker is fun. I like Five-card stud, and I've played Texas hold 'em a few times."

Subsequently my Chinese friends might want to start a card game. I'll start figuring out how much gambling cash I have in my money clip, and my Chinese friend will go off to round up other friends to play cards. Eventually, I'll realize that my friend didn't want to play poker at all, but some other Chinese card game that he groups under the term poker, because the game is played with a poker deck. This situation has happened enough that when I hear a Chinese friend use the word "poker", I mentally substitute the word "cards".

I would love to find a good poker game though, given the chance. It's just seems to not be popular in China.

Misused word 2: hamburger

The English word "hamburger" gets translated into Chinese as "汉堡", pronounced "hànbǎo". In Chinese, any type of sandwich made with a hamburger bun, as opposed to sliced bread, gets called "hànbǎo". This is another transliteration of English, the same as poker and pūkè.

Chinese people will often translate "hànbǎo" back into "hamburger" when talking to English speakers. More than once, a Chinese friend of mine has offered me a hamburger that later turns out to actually be a Fish-wich or a Chicken Sandwich.

The complex naming system of American fast food has a rich, five thousand year history, which would be difficult to explain to an outsider.

Misused word 3: play

My Chinese friends' most frequently used English words generally include delicious, hometown, and of course, the verb play. Overusing the verb "play" is funny because it makes the speaker sounds like a ten year-old.

If you live in China long enough, sooner or later one of your local friends will be practicing English on you, and ask you something like, "What did you play during your trip to Thailand?" Keep in mind that both you and your friend in this conversation are full-fledged adults.

To this question, you might be tempted to respond, "Well, on my trip, I played with my usual toys, you know, toy cars, dolls, blocks, things like that."

Chinese tend to misuse "play" because they've directly translated the word "" (wán), which can be used with no problem between adults talking in Mandarin about their leisure activities. When you directly translate it to English, however, it doesn't fit.

Jan 15, 2010

Chinese people showing support for Google

If you've not caught the story yet, Google is debating whether or not to pull out of China after some email accounts were breached by PRC government-sponsored hackers.

I took a spin by the Google China office in Beijing during my lunch to take some photos. Here's the Google China headquarters in Beijing, January 14, 2010.

This situation with Google in China is fascinating, because it is giving Chinese students and young professionals a unique chance to express their displeasure at government censorship. Many locals are taking the opportunity to show support for Google's decision to stand up to the bullying by the CPC. Lots of local Chinese are stopping by the Google headquarters building to leave notes, flowers, and even bottles of booze.

This display of support for Google is the closest thing you'll see to a protest by young people against the CPC within China. Everyone remembers the message the CPC sent loud and clear twenty years ago: protest too much, and we'll kill you. Not only that, but we'll harass your family if they decide to talk about what we've done.

Here's the famed Google China sign at their headquarters, as previously seen in the Wall Street Journal and other publications of note:

Some notes of support on top of the sign. There are some close-ups farther down the page:

A note that reads "再高的墙也无法隔开人心的距离google,bye 我们在墙外相见." (My translation: Higher walls can't divide popular feeling. Google, bye. We'll meet outside the wall.)

Close up of another note. The second line is the author's on line name.

This one says "Google freedom!". Chinese people are well aware that opposition to the CPC is dealt with swiftly and harshly, which would explain a preference to use a language other than Chinese to express their sentiments.

A handful of supporters and gawkers:

Some flowers, as well as that much-enjoyed alcohol from Beijing, Red Star brand erguotou. The bottle is empty, of course.

For now, this small tribute to Google is being left undisturbed and there seems to be no interference from the authorities. I would imagine that if the situation becomes too wild, the PRC Gestapo (国家安全部) will direct the police to limit access to the Google sign under the guise of public harmony.

Jan 13, 2010

Vocabulary building in Narita

Outside a men's room in Narita airport was this sign, noting that there were diaper changing facilities and ostomate facilities inside:

I didn't know what ostomate meant, so I took a picture so I could remember to look it up later.

According to Webster's dictionary:
ostomate (noun): an individual who has undergone an ostomy
Ok, great, another word to look up:
ostomy (noun): an operation (as a colostomy) to create an artificial passage for bodily elimination
So what we have here is a diaper-changing room and a colostomy bag-emptying room. I suppose both of those functions fit together.

The graphic on the sign alludes to the colostomy bag:

I think the "+" sign is supposed to indicate where the colostomy bag attaches to the output port.

I can't say that I've seen this particular sign in US. I'll have to pay more attention and see if they're around.

I've read that Japan has a higher than average stomach cancer rate. One website says:
Stomach cancer is very common in Japan and the Japanese have developed an intensive and effective approach to screening for stomach cancer.
Maybe this would explain why signs like this would be more common in Japan?

Jan 11, 2010

Fun Japanese stuff: humping USB dog toy

Transiting the airport in Japan may be kind of a hassle since you have to do another security check, but one of the benefits of going through Japan is that you can see some of the electronic toys that they have there.

Where else in the world could you find a little plastic dog that plugs into a USB port and then humps your computer?

A close up:

A little video I made, see what the thing looks and sounds like in action:

This humping dog toy has been around for a few years. I found plenty of other pictures and videos on the Internet already, but I was highly amused, this being my first exposure to it.

It costs about $12 to buy it in Japan, $4 to buy it on Taobao.com in China, and $10 to get one on eBay.

Jan 9, 2010

One small problem when transiting Narita airport

There's one small problem when transiting Narita airport: you get off your first flight, walk over to the connections board, only to find...

...everything's written in gibberish!

I actually said this word, gibberish, for comedic effect when I was there. There were about twenty people looking at the board, and I walked over from behind, and proclaimed in a booming voice, "What's going on here, I need to figure out my connecting gate information, but everything's written in gibberish!"

Turns out, you can just wait thirty seconds and the board will redisplay in English, but I just had to make a joke that only would be funny to me. One other American passenger gave me a chuckle. But really, no one else recognized the situational comedic genius taking place before them. Oh well.

Language students may be interested to learn that although Japanese borrows many characters from Chinese, they don't make use of Chinese characters to spell out the city names on this flight screen. I believe that what they're using in the leftmost column is a Japanese phonetic alphabetization of the cities.

Jan 6, 2010

Is this dog happy to see you?

That photo caught my attention recently when I was passing through Narita airport. They had all sorts of random health and safety fliers, written in Japanese, that I couldn't read. I could read the word for "rabies" on this flier since it's written in Chinese, but everything else is incomprehensible. Here's the full thing:

I suppose it says something to the effect, "Please properly stow rabid dogs while in transit. Thank you for your cooperation."