Tuesday, May 29, 2007

china blockage

Looks like the monthly blocking of blogpsot.com by the Giant China Internet Hammer is in effect.

Why is this such a routine thing? I think the government does as follows:

1. block the whole site for three days to a week
2. sweep through every single blog, looking for bad things
3. block the individual bad blogs
4. unblock everything else

Thank you so much, China. I'm sure it's all for a good cause.

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Monday, May 28, 2007

news from the wire--by a dog named osvaldo--"ow! i can breathe!"

BREATHABLE AIR SHUTS DOWN SMALL CHINESE TOWN

BY A DOG NAMED OSVALDO

GUZHOU, SICHUAN—A state of emergency was declared here and thousands of people remained locked inside their homes Friday after a large pocket of breathable air was seen hovering over the city.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Lao Wang, a thirty year old factory worker. “There was a part of the sky that was just empty. No strange colored haze. No coal dust. It was just . . . empty. You could even see this strange blue color. I ran into my house and cried.”

Widespread panic among the populace created an almost riot, until local police and army moved in and took control of the situation, ordering residents into their homes and issuing a curfew.

A crack crew of scientists was brought in to attempt to solve the problem, while military and police personnel were required to where blue-spectrum sun glasses to shield them from the blinding color.

Meteorologists remained puzzled. However Dr. Jin Huaren of the Sichuan Wind that Blows Study Institute has postulated that the strange atmospheric conditions may have been due to wind.

“It would seem” said Dr. Jin, “that areas south of here, with some of the worst breathable air in the country, have suddenly been benefited with some of Guzhou’s smog. This follows the present wind patterns of north to south. So, yeah, I think its wind. Definitely wind. Yeah definitely definitely wind.”

As of last night all factories have been ordered for maximum output, and as many diesel trucks as could be found have been turned on and left running. The hope is that the “smog hole” will be closed by the morning, and the residents of this small town can get back to living their normal lives.

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Saturday, May 26, 2007

四川话--In English is it Sichuanhua or Sichuanese? Or Sichuanian?

I usually just call it sichuanhua, but in sichuanhua it's pronounced more like "sicuahua," and, in case you don't know, it's just the coolest dialect in China. It's spoken by the 80 milllion people of Sichuan province (which is also quite probably the coolest province in China) and is also closely related to dialects spoken in Chongqing, Guizhou, and northern Yunnan.

Though at first sounding like the language of a musically-inclined, foul mouthed, and bitchy alien, it is quite similar to Mandarin. If your Mandarin is pretty good you can pick up the dialect just by listening to the people around you. It's still hard to learn it though, and it still has some special attributes that need to actually be studied if you aim to achieve some proficiency in the dialect.

There are also no good online study resources. If you search for sichuanhua in English on google, you find nothing. If you search for 四川话 you find things all in Chinese, which would be great, if I were fluent, but I'm not.

That being said, as soon as I get some recording equipment I'd like to begin posting some Sichuanhua primers on this website. If anyone has any recommendations on sound recording (software, hardware, etc) please let me know (I realize most of my readers are people searching for perverted animals on google but, you people can still give me suggestions).

I should also note that, going by chinesepod skill classifications, my Mandarin is at an upper-intermediate level, while my Sichuanhua is Elementary at best. If people are having simple, ordinary conversations, I can understand about 40-60% of what they say. Conversations on more complex topics are completely beyond me, and I can't actually speak Sichuanhua to save my life.

Therefore, the sichuanhua primer would be as much for me as for anyone else. My girlfriend would be the only person speaking sichuanhua in the recordings, because she's the only Sichuan person I know who I can swindle into doing this.

So let me know if you're interested, sichuanhua fans and random google porn searchers alike.

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news from the wire--by louis the plumber--"this is just not very funny"

GOVERNMENT INVESTIGATION UNCOVERS STUNNING INFORMATION: REST OF WORLD ALSO VERY OLD

BY LOUIS THE PLUMBER

BEIJING, CHINA—A government sponsored research initiative has discovered information that could radically change China’s perception of its place the world.

The Project for the Initiative of Learning about Various Matter for the Glorious Betterification of Primary School Text Books, or PILVMGBPSTB, was instituted to fact-check information in Chinese text books.

Prof Liu Xiang, a renowned historian at Beijing University, was chosen to head the world history research department. He claims his discoveries shocked him.

“Everywhere else in the world is also really old” said Prof. Liu. “We always learn that China has 5000 years of cultural heritage, and that therefore we are very special. It appears that other places also have some of this heritage stuff. And are also old. Like, really old.”

CHINA

How do you date Chinese civilization? The Chinese written language dates back to the Shang kings, around 1500BC, while the oldest dynasty dates back to the semi-mythical Xia dynasty, around 2070BC.

But, notes Prof. Liu, the foundation of Chinese political and cultural thought has for centuries been Confucius, whose analects were transcribed sometime between 479 BC and 222BC.

Everyone in China and the rest of the world agrees that that is very old. But the surprising thing is, other places are just as old, if not more so.

THE WEST

Judeo-Christian culture has been dominant in the Western world since at least the 4th century AD, but the investigation revealed that this heritage can be traced back to as far as 1800BC. The Old Testament itself dates to the fifth century BC or maybe even earlier.

Greek and Roman culture and philosophy are also quite ancient, and are arguably the foundation of current political and scientific thought not just in the West, but throughout the world.

Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey were probably transcribed sometime in the 8th century BC, after having been handed down orally, generation after generation, for some five centuries.

Socrates, arguably the most influential philosopher in Greek and Western history, was born in 469 AD, just ten years after the death of Confucius—“not a very big difference,” observes Mr. Liu.

OTHER OLD PLACES

Other places in the world are also very old. Indian civilization stretches back to 3300BC. Mesopotamian, Persian, and Egyptian history also goe back thousands and thousands of years, and may very well outdate Chinese civilization by nearly a thousand years.

“Zoroaster died in 551 BC.” notes Liu. “Despite the prevalence of Islam in modern Iran, there are still a quite few Zoroastrians. Kind of like how, despite the prevalence of Marxism/unfettered-capitalism in China, there are still a quite few confucianists.”

But that’s not all.

“Australian aborigines have a rich cultural heritage that goes back 40,000 years.” Mr. Liu explains. “That’s like the oldest, ever. But I guess nobody cares about them, because there aren’t very many of them, and they’re poor. Oh, and they’re also black.”

WRITING

And what about writing? As everyone knows, the Chinese writing system is very old. Do other systems come close? According to Prof. Liu, the answer is an emphatic “yes.”

The Greek, Latin, Arabic, and Hebrew systems of writing are all based on the Phoenician Alphabet, created around the 15th Century BC. Modern Chinese characters and the modern alphabets of many of the other world civilizations can therefore be traced back to roughly the same period in history.

“The only real differences” adds Prof. Liu, “are those of the geographic sort—that is, Western culture shifted its geographical focus throughout history But in these Western countries the heritage still remains quite similar and contiguous.

“In fact it could be said that highly religious areas of the United States, despite their geographic displacement from old Europe and Asia, remain closer to their cultural heritage than many places in mainland China, who for the past century have been following not Chinese, but Western political, economic, and ideological systems.”

As a response to the new information uncovered in the PILVMGBPSTB report, Beijing has already changed the text in standard high school textbooks from “China has five thousand years of cultural heritage” to “China has the longest history ever.”

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

news from the wire--by gilmore paddington--"i speak chinese"

GILMORE PADDINGTON KNOWS SOME WORDS IN CHINESE

BY GILMORE PADDINGTON

CHENGDU, CHINA--After three years living in China, Gilmore Paddington finally knows some words in Chinese, and he’s more than happy to let everyone know. “Basically, my Chinese has made a major progression in the past three years. You should hear me whip it out at social events. Everybody laughs, and just thinks it’s great. I’ve got my sights on fluency by the end of the week.”

Indeed, recently Mr. Paddington has found that he can “get” what people are saying to him. “Now whenever people speak to me I can always pick out a few words, and get a pretty good idea what they’re talking about. For instance, the other day, this guy was talking to me for a few minutes, and then I heard the words che and xiangjiao. So I knew exactly what he was talking about—cars and bananas. Maybe even a car with bananas, or a car that smelled like bananas, or like, he was happily eating a banana in his car, but was so happy he wasn't paying attention and got in an accident, and all his bananas flew all over the road. So there were bananas everywhere . . . Actually maybe he said rubber instead of banana. I'm not sure. They sound kind of similar. But I got the gist of it."

Among the other skills Mr. Paddington has developed in his three years in China is the ability to order certain dishes from restaurants. “When I first got to China, I could only point at characters and groan. Now I can order things like Kung Pow Chicken or Eggs and Tomato or . . . some other things that I can’t remember right now. If I order as loudly as possible, everyone looks at me, and I can tell they’re all just thinking, ‘now there is a laowai with some real mandarin skills.' ”

Now that’s he’s reached a higher level, Mr. Paddington likes to put himself in the center of attention at parties, acting as the liaison between foreigners and Chinese, and translating things as loudly as possible so everyone can hear clearly. “I may not know everything, but, you know, I can get the basic idea across—like “good,” “bad” that sort of thing. I also know the words for “beer” and “bathroom”—pretty useful stuff.”

His naturally gregarious personality also sees him imparting advice on those newly arrived in China. “One thing I like to do when newcomers arrive is tell them how important learning the language is to your experience here. It’s amazing how much everything changes once you can really communicate with people.”

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

oh, and also--local cuisine!--raging!

On a related note and of great interest to me recently--there’s a delicious snack you can buy in Chengdu called cold noodles (凉面,凉皮, or the green version, 片粉). They are unique in their slimy, spicy taste and also their ability to instantaneously give you raging diarrhea.

So, for those of you in Chengdu and looking for a quick fix, I strongly recommend having a try.

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Monday, May 21, 2007

chinese overdose

It had to happen eventually. My girlfriend only speaks in Chinese with me. We also watch lots of Chinese television shows together. When I sit down and watch my own English language TV shows I keep my laptop open with my flashcard program on, studying flash cards in five minute intervals. I listen to chinesepod about once or twice a day. I think a lot about Chinese, wondering how to express myself in certain ways, thinking about all the mistakes I make everyday, and so on and so forth.

And, the fact of the matter is, I'm still no where near fluency, so no communication or even passive studying is ever, ever easy. It's tiring. Exhausting. And I'm still at least a year away from being really, really comfortable with my level.

To put it simply, and scientifically, my brain has been packed with so much Chinese, it's starting to leak, and it's getting on everything. So I've decided to take a break, which will last until I get frustrated with myself again for not being good enough. That gives me about a week, I think.

I'm really looking forward to visiting the states this summer.

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Saturday, May 19, 2007

flying ninja soccer kicks--strange weapons!--one more life's goal completed

Back when I was a wee lass writing in my private pink diary, I wrote an entry that went like this:

"Dear Diary, someday I hope I reach a point in my life where I have seen not one, but two brawls near the tail end of a soccer match that have involved the introduction of strange objects employed as weapons, and in which people try and then fail miserably at flying ninja-kicks."

Of course, I never thought this would actually happen, like it did today, suddenly and totally unexpectedly, like a gift from god fallen from heaven, or rather a gift from two groups of middle aged Chinese teachers inexplicably and illogically assembled to play each other in a game soccer. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me tell you about the first time.

It was a special day, and a special moment that left my right foot with a tingling sensation. I was in high school and my JV team was playing Binghamton on their home field. Binghamton was known among everyone on my team--none of whom ever held biased opinions towards anything--as a team of talentless thugs, although still only second best in talentlessness and thuggery when compared to Susquehanna Valley.

One player on my team was named RK (I guess I best keep his full name private) who was one of those kids that just couldn't avoid trouble. I can't remember the specifics of the "trouble" who was involved in, other than that he got into some serious fights and shoplifted a bit and so on--he was just, you know, one of those kids. And I can't remember the specifics of the game, except that it occurred below a giant "JESUS SAVES" sign and my team was winning and at the end of the game something happened and in a sudden a flash there were flying feet and fists and RK was fighting two Vietnamese guys.

The benches cleared--but, I should point out, to stop the fight.

After everyone had calmed down RK walked off to the corner of the field, seething, and yanked out the flagpole.He sure did look scary, waving it around and screaming and yelling, but thankfully somebody somehow got it away from him. Not me. I remained a dispassionate observer throughout the whole affair.

Anyway, fast forward ten years to today, and my match with my new soccer team, the D-------- University Teacher's team. The game ended with a massive brawl instigated by a poor challenge and an even poorer elbow-to-the-head reaction. This time the benches also cleared, but it was more to take part in the fighting than to break it up. Flying kicks flew. They missed. Punches flew and did, in fact, hit. They looked painful, especially because they most were blows to the head. I didn't suffer any blows to the head, however. I stayed watching at a safe distance in the middle of the field, mesmerized and amazed.

After everyone calmed down and cleared off the field, the offending party from the other team suddenly came back with an oddly shaped iron rod (I think he got it from the bathroom) in his right hand, screaming and yelling. Thankfully his teammates intercepted him and dispossessed him of the rod. No one was bludgeoned.

I went home and contemplated the fact that these are professors or teachers at one of the best universities in Sichuan province, playing other professors and teachers. That fight on my JV team was the only one I ever really experienced, and it was generally fairly civilized. I've seen more fights on a soccer field in my last year in China--and they all tend to be pretty vicious--than I have in all the years before combined, and I've been playing soccer since the age of nine.

What's the deal, China?

Well, whatever the deal is, in the end it doesn't really matter. I've never gotten in a fight. And today my wish, written when I was a wide-eyed wee lass all those years ago, finally came true.

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Friday, May 11, 2007

characters in history--educational service--"little ping"

It’s a little known fact that Mao Zedong’s nickname was actually “Pudgy McFatcheeks.” Whenever somebody would call him this he would pretend to get really mad and give them that famous "you’re about to get re-educated face," but after a little while he would always just smile and smack the offending person on the back and say “just joshing you, comrade!”

Sometimes, though, he really would send people to get re-educated in the countryside, not because he was angry, but just because it was fun. This is the real reason why Deng Xiaoping was sent to work in a tractor factory. In fact, when the announcement was made they both laughed about it for a long time, and later Mao even wrote a poem about it, called "Haha, Little Ping Ping build tractor now!"

Deng Xiaoping’s nickname, by the way, was “Little Ping Ping.”

Oh, and these are all things you should know, if you want to know everything about China.

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Saturday, May 05, 2007

news from the wire--by eleanor roosevelt--"holes in the ground fucking suck"

RESEARCHERS: HOLES IN THE GROUND SUCK

BY ELEANOR ROOSEVELT

BEIJING, CHINA—Researchers working as part of the Chinese Olympic Committee here have made a major research discovery on the value and long-term benefits of using Chinese hole-in-the-ground toilets versus Western sit-down toilets. The verdict? “Hole in the ground toilets suck,” says Prof. Liu Fei, head researcher, “it is our recommendation that all Beijing—and eventually, all of China—switch to the Western style toilets.”

The researches investigated thousands of bathrooms throughout China, comparing cleanliness and general sanitation standards. The results were shocking. “In bathrooms that used traditional holes there was, in fact, no sanitation whatsoever. Bathrooms using Western style toilets had sanitation levels varying from 40% to 90%.”

According to the study, holes in the ground generally do not function well as receptacles of any form of excretion. In regards to urination, it found that most male users are incapable of actually hitting the hole and instead spray their liquid waste material all over the surrounding foot rests and floor.

As for defecation, any toilet used during the day generally features a giant mound of feces that actually rises above the floor level and is left behind because either the toilet does not have an adequate flush mechanism or the user simply forgets to flush. Even worse, most holes in the ground can’t handle toilet paper, so there are generally baskets in the corners overflowing with defecation smeared paper.

The researchers did not pursue investigation of long-hole style bathrooms (bathrooms with one long, ditch style hole used communally by all bathroom users) because one researcher died after being exposed to the fumes for too long.

“As any visitor knows," adds Prof. Liu, "Chinese bathrooms generally look and smell like a septic pipe exploded—sorry, I mean like five or six septic pipes exploded. This is not an image we’d like the world to go away with after the Olympics.”

Western toilets, on the other hand, encourage users to do their business in the actual confines of the toilet, a feature of immense value considering the notorious sloppiness of the mainland Chinese.

There are of course already critics of the plan to introduce more Western style toilets into China. Most note that the need for skin contact when using them negates any significant sanitation benefits. Prof. Liu Fei, however, considers this a weak argument. “Yes, this is often an issue that is raised with Western style toilets but the fact of the matter is that butt-cheek infections are quite rare. Last year there was only one butt-cheek infection throughout the entire world, and this happened to Billy Buttersly of Owego, New York who, as everyone knows, always has butt-cheek infections.”

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