Mar 31, 2011

Ai Weiwei is a dude, with a beard!

I've frequently heard about this artist Ai Weiwei. I had always though it was a chick, though. Why would I think it's a guy?
  • "Ai" is the word for "love" in Mandarin, so I just assumed this was kind of a stage name, like "Prince".
  • "Wei" is often a transliteration for the English character "V". Sometimes, "Vivi" (short for Vivian), might be translated as "Weiwei" in Mandarin.
So in my mind, I had been thinking this person was like "Vivian Love". Obviously a girl, right? But in an article today, I noticed Ai Weiwei is actually a dude with a long stringy beard. Kind of like a younger, fatter version of Pai Mei from Kill Bill:

Upon consulting wikipedia, I see that his actual surname is "艾", not "爱" (love), as I had thought. I still think "Weiwei" is not a good name for him though. This is a dude that has the girth to call himself "Buster", "Bruser", or some other name you'd expect from a biker gang.

It really sucks that he has to flee his own country and work out of Germany to avoid being beaten by the police. Dissenting opinions and tough criticism should be thought of as good things.

Mar 24, 2011

Pound cake Chinglish

Had I been employed as the translator for this product, I would have translated it as "pound cake", since that's what it appears to be in the photo on the box.

Someone with a different opinion though it would best be called "SLICES THE CAKE".

This made me think of another Chinglish post I wrote about "It has some of Beijing's the cheapest mobile phones and SIM cards".

What is the obsession these translators have with doing everything in a bizarre present tense?
  • "It has some of Beijing's the cheapest mobile phones and SIM cards"
  • "[It] slices the cake"
  • "It puts the lotion in the basket"
  • and so on
The tenses in Mandarin are pretty basic. You add one extra character here and there, but it's way simple once you spend the required five minutes to learn it. It's nowhere near as difficult as in Slavic languages, for example, where you've got tenses, genders, and nominative/genitive/dative/accusative/instrumental/locative/vocative noun cases to remember.

I'm not impressed with Westerners that learn Chinese as a second language. On the other hand, show me someone that's learned perfect grammar in Polish or Czech as a second language, and I'll happily buy them a few beers, I'm so impressed.

Those Chinglish translations I've listed are puzzling to me because it seems they're going out of their way to use present tense, when you don't really need a complete sentence with tense at all.

Mar 22, 2011

Salon treatment or Chinese water torture?

In case this billboard for a Beijing spa is unclear, what you have is a reclining woman with a bowl, suspended above her, dripping liquid onto her forehead:

I thought that was called Chinese water torture! I remembered seeing that on Mythbusters a while back.

Mar 20, 2011

"5 Things to Know About China's 2nd- and 3rd-Tier Cities"

I've written about the tiers of Chinese cities before. I recently stumbled across this article, "5 Things to Know About China's 2nd- and 3rd-Tier Cities". There were too many big words in that article for me, so I only got half way through. Let me give you my much more concise version.

Here are five things to know about China's 2nd and 3rd tier cities:
  1. Your kids can squat down and take giant craps that could fill twelve toilet bowls right beside a busy street, and no one will mind.
  2. You can hack up greenish-yellow loogies whenever and wherever you want, and spit them everywhere on the street.
  3. When you unwrap your Snickers bar or a Popsicle, everywhere is your garbage can. Just throw your rubbish anywhere on the ground.
  4. "No Smoking" signs in restaurants are not for you to worry about. Those are just for decoration.
  5. Watch out for reckless drivers — if someone hits you by accident, they will drive in reverse and run you over and over again to make sure you're dead and can't file a complaint. It's just like that Sopranos episode where Richie Aprile runs over Beansie, but worse. This is seriously something that I've heard about, I'm not making it up.
You don't have to leave Beijing or Shanghai to find out what these lower tier cities are like. My advice is to wait until the two weeks of Lunar New Year, and then stay in Beijing or Shanghai. Beijing or Shanghai during those two weeks is normal.

The other fifty weeks of the year, the transplants from the second and third tier cities are there, engaging in activities one through five listed above, and Beijing becomes a gigantic third tier city.

Mar 18, 2011

Salt-buyin' frenzy!

Seriously, a mass run on salt at the supermarket? I guess their plan is that when the radiation from the Japanese reactor wafts over to China, they'll use the salt to preserve their bodies like a giant piece of beef jerky. Maybe they're expecting a scenario like the movie Alive. Other than that, what possible use could you have for this much salt?

If they were trying to ingest this much iodized salt as a way to reduce the risk of thryoid cancer, I think they'd melt like a slug that had salt poured on it before anything.

Here's some real pictures I took outside a Beijing supermarket. Not Photoshopped, these are seriously real pictures of actual signs.

Before: guidelines on buying salt (maximum two bags per person):

After: "Really sorry, we're done sold out of salt!"
Maybe they can add a line underneath, "and sorry, you're a moron for being part of a salt run!"

Look at this wonderful, civilized behavior (article from Wall Street Journal)
3,000 years of culture and history? And this is what you get, I guess.

Mar 16, 2011

More Chinese tree choppin'

I found this blog posting very interesting: "Nanjing residents nostalgic for pre-Communist days as government uproots trees"

It seems that Beijing is the center of Chinese innovation when it comes to uprooting trees. Back in 2008, the local Communist Party Tree Chopping Committee was already way ahead of the pack.

Below is some of the Communist Party Neighborhood Committee boardroom discussion that I envisioned happening back then:

See my full post from 2008 for a good laugh (at the expense of some beautiful trees, unfortunately). You can just find-and-replace "Beijing" with "Nanjing". It seems like they've done the same stupid destruction there.

Mar 14, 2011

Sanlitun Chinglish of the day

This Chinglish translation, seen in Sanlitun, is quite interesting:

I would translate "美甲" as "manicure". In this case, they did a character-by-character translation, so they came up with "American nails." Here's how I'd guess this mistake happened:
  • 美: they translated this as "American", because "美国" (America) often gets shortened to the first character for things American, for example "美籍华人" (Chinese person with American citizenship) or "美式" (American-style something)
  • 甲: nails, obviously
Put the two together, and you get "American nails".

This is an unusual mistranslation because there are plenty of other words where the first character is "美", yet Chinese speakers understand that the word has nothing to do with America.

For example:
  • 美妞: this means "hot broad" or "hot chick" in Beijing slang, and would not be misunderstood to mean "American chick"
Learners of Chinese as a second language quickly figure out that characters must be interpreted in context. It was surprising to see a translation, presumably by a native speaker of Chinese, that didn't take into account the context of the characters, but rather did the translation character by character.

Mar 11, 2011

Pink Pringles

These are grilled shrimp Pringles we got in Malaysia. I was expecting them to be the normal golden Pringles-color, but what do you know, they are as pink as Paris Hilton's Bentley!

They mostly taste like Pringles, with just a light shrimp flavoring. I'd prefer if they weren't so pink. All I can think of is all the food dye that's in there.

Here's another interesting thing with these bizarro Pringles:

Halal certified! Kind of important in Malaysia. Folks don't want to mistakenly scarf down chicharróns.

The other weird thing is they call them "Potato Crisps". They're totally the same as potato chips, so I'm not quite sure why they're calling them "crisps" there. This is probably from using some Google Translate computerized translation or something.

Anyway, these chips taste good, but I will avoid them in the future to stay away from the Red Dye No. 2. I'm sticking with my always-reliable Cool Ranch flavor chicharróns.

Mar 8, 2011

Wu Bangguo in the house!

I now know why there was as military presence in the university district near my office in Beijing. Wu Bangguo, the number two guy in China, was cruising around. Here's a pictorial in Chinese, and here's a great article with a photo where he looks very paternal and leader-like. I'd love to get a shot of myself like that to use as my Facebook profile photo.

"Bangguo", in English, is a cool name — the first thing you think of is "bangin' chicks", right? — but he doesn't really have the pimp look that some of the other Politburo guys have.

If I had my pick, I'd want to see this one:

That's Jia Qinglin, the number four guy. Why meet him? Well, I can't figure out if he's the Paulie Walnuts of the Chinese Politburo, or the Silvio Dante of the Chinese Politburo. Not having met him in person, I'm leaning towards Silvio (below), for the obvious choice of having slicked back hair and a healthy tan.

Mar 7, 2011

Racial profiling, Chinese style!

This part of an article in today's New York Times, mentioning "racial profiling", caught my eye:
Security officers and volunteers were present every few feet on both sides of Wangfujing and on side streets. There were police officers in black uniforms; civilian volunteers wearing red armbands; men dressed as street sweepers and officers disguised in plain jackets with telltale black wires running from inside their jackets to earpieces. Many of these men had crew cuts and carried videocameras or small shoulder bags; those with videocameras would occasionally take shots of the crowds.

Security vehicles of every stripe — squad cars, vans, unmarked buses with few windows — were parked on all corners.

Throngs of shoppers and tourists strolled the street, which is lined with luxury stores and includes a food alleyway with live scorpions squirming on a stick. The police seemed to be resorting to racial profiling to weed out foreign journalists. While Asians appeared to encounter little or no harassment, officers flanked by burly Chinese men pulled aside white foreigners to check their passports.
I guess I missed my chance to be racially profiled and harassed by burly Chinese men. Really though, any expat that's been in Beijing longer than a month knows that Wangfujing is a human stew of pushy shovey, garbage tossin', phlegm hawkin' waidi tourists, and there is really no reason to go there. Now there's yet another reason to avoid Wangfujing.

Of course China does plenty of racial profiling, it's essentially a mono-racial and mono-ethnic country, Uighurs and Kazakhs aside, of course. It's very efficient and easy to do racial profiling. One of the negatives you've got to accept if you visit or live in China is that you'll be racially discriminated against and racially profiled. Depending on your race, though, it can be positive racial discrimination, rather than negative. For example, folks will consider you to be wealthy, or well-traveled.

Before I make my next comment, let me say that I love freedom of the press and the First Amendment. This is one of the wonderful things about America. That being said, is there any possibility that the two reporters from the NYTimes article are not obnoxious and mouthy? I'd bet good money they're not American. Probably from somewhere in western Europe. I'm picturing a conversation like this:

"Vee are zee press! Vee have zee right to film here. You must not interfere wiss us."

I will say that I've been very entertained by this recent news-making in Beijing and Shanghai.

Mar 5, 2011

Mysterious death of Zhao Wei

Check out this article, "The tragedy of Zhao Wei ":
...there is one potentially great big story missing from everyone’s agenda — the mysterious death of Chinese college student Zhao Wei.

And yet, the chilling story of Zhao Wei, who was very possibly murdered by railway authorities on his way home to Inner Mongolia during the Spring Festival rush more than a month ago, goes to the very heart of the issues and anxieties that are of most immediate relevance to all Chinese, and could contribute to demands for change.
The story of this guy Zhao Wei sucks pretty bad. He was allegedly murdered by Chinese railway workers for mouthing off, and then all mention of his story got deleted from the Internet in China.

I wanted to point out that initially I thought that Zhao Wei the famous actress chick was the one who suffered the mysterious death. Who would have though that two Chinese people would have the exact same name. I think the headline should have been something like "The tragedy of Zhao Wei - a man with the same name as the actress".

You'll see below that the famous Zhao Wei is kinda cute, but her big problem is that she has a a square jaw like a kathoey:

Don't let those huge doe-like eyes distract you from that masculine, Schwarzenegger jaw. If you want to see a good movie with Zhao Wei, I recommend Painted Skin (画皮). It's a Hong Kong a movie about ghosts, where she is some kind of ghost that peels off her skin like those benevolent aliens in Cocoon.

Back to the news story, I hope the family of the male Zhao Wei can find some justice and not be swept under the rug by the Chinese authorities. You don't beat a college student on the train to death for mouthing off. I can't imagine the type of riot that would happen if this sort of thing were to have happened to some college student on Thanksgiving break taking Amtrak.

Mar 3, 2011

WSJ link: "Why Breakfast Matters for Chinese Tourists"

This was an insightful article in the Wall Street Journal, and is an experience I can relate to. I really enjoy normal Chinese food, but I just love to complain about my distaste for the traditional Chinese breakfast.

From the article:
Being able to get their own kind of food is one of the top concerns for outbound mainland Chinese travelers, a group that is estimated to reach 100 million in 2020 by the United Nations World Tourism Organization. And the issue seems to be an Asia-specific phenomenon. “This is not a concern amongst our American or European customers,” says Mr. Roche.

Taking the cue, top-end hotels such as the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park London, which boasts restaurants from celebrity chefs Daniel Boulud and Heston Blumenthal, offer a full Chinese breakfast of noodles. And guests can choose between chicken or fish congee at the Shangri-La Hotel Paris, should Western alternatives not appeal.
Note that the other sounds like a moron by saying "full Chinese breakfast of noodles". This part makes no sense. There are many components to a Chinese breakfast, as I describe below.

During my travels in China, I get cranky when I have to constantly eat Chinese rice-gruel and plain mantou for breakfast. I understand what the Chinese tourists in the US must be experiencing.

Here's a photo of a garden-variety Chinese breakfast from an old blog post of mine:

From left to right what you see is:
  • steamed mantou
  • cucumbers, I think
  • often-seen fermented red substance, which makes me gag
  • hastily cooked hardboiled eggs, where the shell sticks to the egg when you're trying to peel it
  • tofu-vegetable concoction
  • soft tofu
  • rice gruel
If there were at the very least a pot of coffee, maybe that would mask the taste of the things I'm not a fan of.

If you'd like to read more, breakfast-related comments have been an ongoing theme in my blog: