Saturday, December 27, 2008


I went to use Adsotrans recently and was surprised to find something entirely new, something entirely awesome.

Popup Chinese.

That post I wrote about Adsotrans is still valid- the website has that sweet web 2.0 dictionary. But they're also now producing podcasts. These podcasts have a real personality to them and they're totally Beijing-centric. They have a brilliant, eclectic range of content up so far, ranging from KTV to literature. I don't really listen to language-podcasts for Chinese much anymore, I've been sticking to the Chinese news podcasts from the ABC and BBC recently. But this is definitely the most impressive podcast I've ever heard. It's often really hard to strike a balance between practical and fun. These guys have found it.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Peaceful Night

Well then, Merry Christmas!

I'm off to Taiwan next week which should be exciting. I'm not really sure what to expect; Mum bought me the Lonely Planet, but I don't really have any faith in those, and this one is pretty underwhelming. I mean it sounds good in the guide, but the guide doesn't really paint a vivid picture. But I'm going with a good friend of mine who was born in Taiwan, and I'm also planning on taking a week to visit my friends in Beijing. I'm really, really looking forward to it.

Christmas last year, in Beijing, was the best I've had. Funny thing that, because it's not really much of a big deal there. But that's just the thing: instead of hysteria, impossible-bookings and last-minute-rush, I just got together with my friends and ate turkey in Guomao. It was brilliant.

This year it's a hot one. Of course, my parent's house in Cairns is totally air-conditioned, so if you're watching a Christmas film or listening to the music, it's easy to imagine that it's chilly outside. But it really, really isn't.

Cairns is weird at Christmas time. Our neighbour got egged this evening.
"With an egg?" is what my Mum asked. I don't think we've been egged.

Anyway I hope everyone has a lovely couple of days. I've been lucky in that I've already been on holidays for about 7 weeks now, but for those of you who work long hard hour jobs, enjoy the break. And thanks for not egging us.

Monday, November 03, 2008


The end of the semester has almost arrived, and I've only got one essay left (maybe more regular blogging will resume?)

I'll have just over 3 months off, and I don't plan on spending it all in Cairns, or Brisbane. I'm thinking of taking a holiday but I'm not exactly sure where to go. The Australian dollar is pretty awful at the moment so I'll be taking that into consideration. I don't really feel the need to go back to mainland China for the time being, but I'm considering Taiwan as an option. Also Vietnam, Thailand or Malaysia all sound nice. And I had a friend recently go to Argentina who raved about the place.

If anyone has any ideas, I'd appreciate some feedback.

In the meantime, I've finally got time (which I've probably had all along, but...) to get back to the East Asian section of the library so I might be able to do some write-ups on some Chinese novels I've been having a go at.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Eyebrow Reviews

My best friend Steven has a blog he only just told me about, and it's hilarious.

He reviews, um, eyebrows from various films. And he's a brilliant writer. I loved this sentence:

"Yes, you can probably do wonders with your eyebrows if you’ve had enough acid that you spend your afternoons chasing purple elephants with Commerce degrees and a summer homes in Malibu."

This thing will be huge soon, I feel, so get in before it gets too crowded.

This is his blog.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

有话好好说 - Keep Cool - Film Review

I've got a blurry view of Zhang Yimou.  I can't quite figure out what his style is, and I'm not sure whether he's a good director who occasionally makes crap films, or a crap director who occasionally makes good films.  The truth is probably just too complex for a simple view like either of those to hold.

I haven't seen his films in any chronological order, and that doesn't help.  I first saw Hero and 'Surrounded' (aka House of Flying Daggers); fun, anodyne f ilms lacking much substance.  Then I saw Happy Times, which I really liked.  It had a soul and a sense of humour.  Then I saw Raise the Red Lantern, which was burningly haunting.  

And then I saw 'City of Golden Armour', aka 'Curse of the Golden Flower', aka 'Curse of the Golden Breasts'.  

Keep Cool is probably closest to Happy Times, which is to say, it's one of Zhang's films which I really liked.  The pace and feel of the film is almost reminscent of early Wong Kar-Wai films like Chungking Express and Fallen Angels.  This is probably because of the on-location shooting, and the largely handheld, constantly dancing cinematography.  

And in the same way that Chungking Express seems, to me at least, to capture something of Hong Kong, Keep Cool is quite an accurate depiction of Beijing.  The dialogue is chock-full of Beijing dialect (or rather, they speak in Beijing dialect throughout the whole film), our main character played by Jiang Wen (from Green Tea) is somewhat of a hooligan, and it relies on the distinctly Beijing sense of humour, or at least North Eastern brand of humour.  The scene with Zhao Benshan (who was also in Happy Times) reading poetry outside the apartment is particularly hilarious.

With any luck, Zhang's next film will be more along these lines, and not some epic, craptacular.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Little Hong Kong

Last night my friend and I went to Sunnybank, as usual, and this time tried out a place called Little Hong Kong.  I had the BBQ Pork Rice, 叉燒飯,which as a dish is probably one of my favourites of all time.  It wasn't bad at Little Hong Kong, wasn't bad at all, and they also have an appropriate menu of drinks like Hong Kong style tea, 港式奶茶.  I recommend that one. 

There was no toilet humour this time, but something was a bit off.  My friend and I ordered in Mandarin, which was understood.  But when I tried to say thanks in Cantonese, (no idea how to input the characters but pronounced something like m'goi), I got a blank response.  Then I explain in Mandarin that I'm saying thanks in Cantonese, and the waitress replies "I don't speak Cantonese".

In a restaurant called Little Hong Kong?  Seriously?

Thankfully they are open until 1am so at least they got the opening times rather authentic.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Toilet Humour

On Wednesday a friend and I went to Sunnybank for some Chinese food. Our conversation (we catch up each week) usually goes something like this:

P: "So, where do you wanna go?"
C: "I'm easy, what did you have in mind?"
P: " about Sunnybank?"
C: "Sounds good"

We often go to Little Taipei, 小台北, but this time we went to a place called "Malaysian Corner", if I remember its English name correctly. It could be slightly different, but what stood out was the fact that it bore no resemblance to the Chinese name, 旺角餐廳, i.e The Mongkok Diner. The menu was partly Malaysian, but only partly. I'm guessing it's modeled on Chinese restaurants within Malaysia, making the assumption here that there is a large Cantonese population which settled a while ago in Malaysia (I'm pretty sure this is true).

Anyway, I got a dish of Kungpao Chicken, 宮保雞丁or 宮爆雞丁depending on where you go, which was tasty but had nothing on what I used to get at the cafeteria of my apartment in Beijing.

Given that the food was nothing to blog about by itself, and that I'm in need of interesting things to blog about since returning from China, at least the toilet didn't disappoint. There was a sign which read:

please do not squat on top of the toilet seat whilst using the toilet.

I found it particularly funny to find such a sign in Brisbane. I've never seen a sign like it in China before, and didn't see any in Hong Kong that I can remember. I have had annecdotal evidence from female friends which suggests that such a sign is certainly justified at certain McDonalds within China as people adjust to a seated toilet as opposed to a squatted toilet.

I guess that it's overseas Chinese (especially overseas Cantonese) condescension at their 'cousins from the country' which provokes them to put up such a sign in a Chinese restaurant in Brisbane.

Anyway, I'd only give The Mongkok Diner 2/5 for it's Kungpao Chicken, but the toilet adornments made the trip worthwhile.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Beijing, Hong Kong and Brisbane Days

I did leave my camera in my hotel room in Hong Kong, but thanks to the awesome staff of The Cosmopolitan (now officially the best hotel ever, as far as I'm concerned), I'm now back in possession of my camera. Thanks guys!

Finally I can put up the quick photo journey I've been wanting to do for a while.

The first view is that from my Beijing apartment. This was the morning of my last day in Beijing. It wasn't raining.

This, by contrast, is the view out of the hotel window, on my first morning in Hong Kong.

And this is the view out of the flat I'm staying at in Brisbane. It rained this afternoon.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Such Hospitality

I've just read a rather extreme example of 'hospitality' in the Three Kingdoms, and thought I'd give a quick, rough translation. There's actually an odd sort of moral ambiguity here (even, or especially, in the Chinese, I think), and I wonder about the significance of this little part of the story. The plight of women in the Han dynasty was certainly pretty horrid. As always any corrections are welcome.


One day, Liu Bei went to stay overnight at a house and was met by the young man living there, a hunter named Liu An. Upon learning that Liu Bei was governor of Yu, Liu An wanted to provide a meaty meal for all; unable to find any meat, he killed his wife and cooked her.

“What kind of meat is this?” asked Liu Bei.

“It’s wolf,” replied Liu An. Thus satisfied, Liu Bei went on to eat until he was full, and then stayed the night. At dawn, Liu Bei went behind the house to get his horse, when suddenly he saw the corpse of a woman inside the kitchen, with the flesh on her arms scraped away. Liu Bei, shocked, asked Liu An, and only then found out that last night’s meat had been that of his wife. Liu Bei was so moved he couldn’t help crying as he mounted his horse.

“I’d love to come along, but while Mum’s alive I don’t dare venture out far,” said Liu An.

Liu Bei thanked him and left…

Sunday, August 10, 2008


I must be building up a tolerance. 250 grams used to last days. Now I'm doing 500 grams in an evening yet still thirst for more.

My name's Cooper, and I'm a strawb addict. Perhaps it was not eating a single strawb for a whole year, or perhaps this winter has produced a particularly fine, juicy, succulent bunch of strawbs. Either way, I'm hooked. It's probably the best thing about being in Brisbane right now.

So the word for strawberry in Chinese, 草莓 caomei, is literally straw berry. This is a bit much to be sheer coincidence, so I figured that strawberries probably aren't native to China. Seeking a China-centric answer, I looked up Chinese Wikipedia. I found out in Cantonese it is 士多啤梨, which I found out is pronounced sih do be leih, a transliteration from the English without meaning, as such, but does finish with the character for pear.

It was a good way to learn a bunch of words I'd never learn otherwise (which I'll probably forget in a few hours, but if I look up enough entries on fruit after a while...I'll be fluent in er, fruity Apparently the part we eat is not actually strawberry fruit, but a part of the outer floral envelope created after the pollen has disseminated. The real strawberries are the little yellow things covering the surface of the strawberry. Or something like that.

I need another hit, but my supply is running low...

Monday, August 04, 2008

BBC Chinese Unblocked - Translated Comments

The BBC's Chinese website is, apparently, now unblocked in mainland China. I was browsing through the interactive section of the website and found a comments section with the title: BBC Chinese Unblocked - Your Experiences.

Anyway, I'm just taking a break from the reading I'm doing for university, and thought I'd give my shot at translating some of the comments- original post first, followed by translation. I might return and do some more later:

BBC 又在搞他那臭名昭著的小把戏了:花钱雇佣中国的小贱民(或称被雇佣的网上反华分子)来此污染中国人的大脑 了!西方搞数十年的对国民的洗脑很成功啊,倒是中国共产党半途而废啦,不过我们是中国人,不会听你继续骗人 和攻击中国,因为你BBC只有一个目的,就是让中国变得衰弱,你英国白人殖民者可心理平衡也可继续瓜分中国 !做梦吧你。


The BBC is up to it's notorious filthy tricks yet again: Hiring the underclass of China (or you might say 'the hired online Sinophobes') to come and pollute the brains of the Chinese! The West's decades long brainwashing of the citizens has really succeeded, whereas the Communist Party gave up half way through, but we're Chinese, we won't listen as you continue to deceive and attack China, because the BBC only has one goal, which is to weaken China, it doesn't bother you white British colonizers to keep carving up China! You're dreaming, you are.


中国什么时候才能文明? 才能理性?

80后 北京

When will China finally be civilized? Finally be rational? The ignorant boycotting of others will only lead to being isolated by the world.

Post-80's Beijing


PLA China

Freedom of speech and thought are the foundations of civilization. China doesn't just need economic development, it also needs political progress. I hope this kind of unblocking is long term, not temporary.

PLA China

开通BBC,实在太高兴了,不过这肯定是中共的应景之举,奥运一过,就不会如此。中共独裁专制政党什么丧心 病狂的事都能做得出来!不过“解封”一天也好啊!

求实  江苏

The BBC is opened up, I'm over the moon, but this tactic is definitely a temporary one from the CCP, after the Olympics, it won't be like this. No tactic is too depraved for that CCP dictatorship! But one day of 'unblockage' is still good!
Truth Seeker Jiangsu

能从中国国内浏览BBC网,网速很快!感觉很好。这种开放很有意义!看到你们让人马上想起你们的祖先来我国 贩卖鸦片烟,火烧圆明园的事了!但愿你们不要象你们父辈那样在网上放毒,来毒害我们!

林则徐 北京

Browing the BBC from inside China, the connection is really fast! Feels good. This type of easing of control is really significant! Seeing you lot reminds me of the fact that your ancestors came to our country peddling opium, and burned down the old Summer Palace! But I hope you lot aren't so like your forefathers that you'd spread poisonous ideas on the internet to harm us!

Lin Ze Xu Beijing (note: Wenlin has a listing for Lin Ze Xu 1785-1850, 'a Canton viceroy who tried to halt the opium trade')

PS: I couldn't figure out a good way of translating: 解封 unblock in the context as it was used here, thus we have 'unblockage'.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Cantonese and the Three Kingdoms

So I finally have a concrete example of a way in which Cantonese is more 'old school' than Mandarin. On my couple of trips to Hong Kong, I'd sort of figured out that shi (to be) in Cantonese was hai. I'd assumed it was their way of pronouncing the word written 是.

But it's not! They actually use the really old word 系 xi, which you can still find in old texts (like the Three Kingdoms). Can mean the same as shi in certain contexts. Like the phrase I just read:

融曰:“我系李相通家。” Rong said "I'm a relative of Minister Li"

This piece of the puzzle just clicked now when I found the Cantonese word in the Wenlin definition. So that's why it popped up all the time in those HK gangsters films I've been watching.

I've just started dipping my toe into Cantonese properly by the amazingly awesome website designed for mainland Mandarin speakers learning Cantonese, 520hai. Something tells me it may not be entirely legitimate, as there are expensively produced videos up there entirely for free...but hey, their lessons are really useful. I'm still at the stage where I'm gaping at the fact that there's 9 tones, and trying to get my ears and eyes linking up to the new pinyin system.

Well, you know that saying, I think it's something like 千里之行, 始于一步 (the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step- let me know if I have that wrong). Or maybe something like 九声之语, 始于阴平 in this case. (a language of nine tones begins with the first tone- my classical Chinese sucks do please point out if that's wrong, anyone- Jeremiah? Sunny? Laurie?)

Anyway, I hope someone finds the 520hai link useful- I'm amazed such a site exists.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Shanghai Gloaming

There was a really good documentary on SBS just now, called Shanghai Gloaming. It was made by FLY Films, and follows the photographer Greg Girad around the more interesting areas of Shanghai. My favourite thing to do in Shanghai is to stroll through the northern Bund area, and I was lucky enough on one of my trips to visit a friend's old home in the area. It was built in the shikumen style (石库门), and it was fascinating taking a look inside.

The documentary was made in 2005, and gives quite a gloomy outlook as to the future of these unique architectural styles, suggesting that they're going to be torn down in the near future. That's probably true, though there's still plenty standing today, so it's still worth exploring. I didn't have my camera then, but in any event there's better examples of it at Greg Girad's website. In particular, in the places section, see photo #3 "North Bund Rooftops".

I also saw that Girad has done some good work capturing the Walled City which used to exist in Kowloon.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Floating Along

I was in the library this evening, and at 7.30 decided that I'd best be off soon. I'd just read a few more minutes and then head to the bus station. By the time I put the book down, an hour and a half had past. I had to run to the bus station, otherwise it'd be another half hour until the next bus. I just made it, but by that stage it was packed and I had to stand at the front, by the driver.

I'd never ever had that view before. The road is presented in front like a wide-screen presentation, and the slow, rolling, bouncing motion of the bus makes it feel almost as though you're gliding along the road. Try it sometime.

On the way back home I heard a Taiwanese on her mobile discussing university matters, and she inserted the English phrase "international finance management". It made me think how people choose to use foreign expressions for things that they could say in their own language. In this case it seemed particularly odd, because it was actually harder to say in English than Chinese. In English you'd have 10-11 syllables, as opposed to six in Chinese (国际金融管理, guoji jinrong guanli).

As I counted out the syllables and realised this weirdness, I considered asking her why she said it. But I figured she wouldn't appreciate it.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

To Sinicize the Games

Before going to China, I'd never put much thought into what it meant to localize a video game. Now I see why this process would be costly and lengthy. It means, in this context, to subtitle or dub over all the text in a video game. English, German, Spanish, French, Japanese- these languages seem to be prime for localization teams, probably because of the video game playing populaces of nations speaking those languages.

In China, I found that many games were not localized. A game might have a Chinese package, and a Chinese name, but the game itself was entirely in English more often than not. I suspect this is why the majority of video game magazines at the newsagents were of the 'strategy guide' variety, which is fancy way of saying "how to beat this game step by step."

One game which is localized, or Sinicized rather, is World of Warcraft, and it's now a massive source of income for Blizzard (which should be Blizzard Activision now, for budding stock traders). It's probably not a coincidence that it's a game which can't be pirated. It can only be played with an account kept on official servers, so there seems to be no way of getting it for free. Apart from WoW, Chinese gamers are relatively ignored; I'm not even sure if games made within China, such as the recent Splinter Cell game by Ubisoft Shanghai, get Sinicized.

What's interesting though is that Chinese netizens have taken the matter into their own hands, and release 汉化 (han4 hua4, 'Sinicized') versions of the games for free on the internet. It's probably the case that because of the rampant media piracy in China, the software developers/publishers/distributers don't feel it's worth the investment to Sinicize their products. But the lack of official Chinese language software is no doubt part of the problem now, and those in charge would be better off with a carrot rather than a stick approach to solving it.

And on top of that, I'd like to add, that playing video games in Chinese is one of my favourite ways of learning the language. There's nothing like having to solve an interactive puzzle in Chinese. Anyway, enough nerd-speak for now...

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Brisbane is a Taiwanese Mecca

My friend once told me that Brisbane has the largest Taiwanese population in Australia. I haven't bothered to veryify that, but it's plausible enough. The Chinese department at my university is almost entirely run by that rogue state. Some of the best Chinese restaurants in Brisbane are located in the suburb of Sunnybank, where lots of Taiwanese reside. And in my Three Kingdoms class, I've had my first taste of a truly 'dia' accented Chinese in a while(嗲, dia is third tone, for budding Sinophones out there).

If you haven't heard of this word, I'll offer now my understanding of it. Wenlin gives the translation 'childish, coy'. The 'dia' accent occurs when a young woman (or not so young) speaks as though imitating a four year old girl. Some people find it infuriating, but I just find it strange. Well, strange and maybe a bit annoying. And whilst it's sort of spreading throughout mainland China, Taiwan is apparently the place to get a fix of it. Or Brisbane, for that matter.

I was having a coffee with friends this evening in South Bank and there was a pair of girls behind us speaking some weird dialect, which at times sounded like Shanghainese, but I'm pretty sure wasn't. They certainly had that dia way of speaking though. Weirder still, was going to the bathroom and seeing a guy dressed up as Robin. As in, Batman and Robin. He was leaning on the sink bench, furiously scribbling down notes in a book. I left without saying a word. I guess that doesn't relate to Taiwan, but I had to mention it; it was just too strange not to.

Anyway, I haven't been to Taiwan before, but sometimes feel like I might be living in Taiwan-town. More investigation is needed.

Friday, July 18, 2008

In The Deep End (And A Request)

It's about 2 am and I'm taking a break from some reading I need to get done for university. Stuff I need to get done before the first lecture begins. Not light reading, I'm afraid; more like, the hardest reading I've ever put myself through. I'm only doing one Chinese course this semester but I think it's more than enough: Reading the Three Kingdoms. You may know this as a really long historical novel, and the basis for many martial arts films, including that one recently with Andy Lau and Sammo Hung. And you'd be right. Other than that I've got some philosophy of science courses, but that's another flavour of quark.

It's hard reading for a few reasons, the first being the language used. Sure, I've read (and I'm reading) sections from The Art of War, The Dao De Jing, and the Zhuangzi, which show Classical Chinese in varying difficulties. But they all come with a modern Chinese translation, so an English example would be that it's kind of like reading Shakespeare with each paragraph paraphrased by Hemingway. Because of that modern translation, I'm able to get through relatively painlessly in those otherwise difficult works.

However, whilst the language in The Romance of the Three Kingdoms is more...colloquial?... (people with proper knowledge of Chinese linguistics will hate me for my ignorance!)..the problem is the version I'm reading has no modern translation. Oh sure, it has an English translation, but it sucks. There's been a few times when I've gone to the English to try and check my understanding, only to find that very section hasn't even found its way into the translation. Nice. I put the lack of a modern translation down to the fact that it almost is modern in some ways, it just uses a totally different set of words (no doubt I'll sound like a twit when I start using these archaic words in conversation). I'm reading it online -for free, at the recommendation of our lecturer- so I can use Wenlin to help me read it.

This is a double edged sword. There are times when Wenlin (or the ABC dictionary, I guess) will recognize as a phrase something which isn't supposed to be a phrase, or will try to translate something which would be better given as a Chinese synonym (like 就是 for 乃). It can be quite confusing, though it's not really the fault of the software, just a limitation. The result is I sort of alternate between reading on my laptop and checking the English definitions for the unknown words, then consulting my portable electronic Chinese-Chinese dictionary for stuff that makes no sense in Wenlin.

So my request is thus: Some smart software engineer should design an addon for Wenlin which adds in a Chinese-Chinese dictionary (but keeping the pinyin). Or, if anyone knows of software like that, let me know.

I've calculated I'll have to read something like 2 chapters a day if I'm to finish on time. The novel is very enjoyable and I'd be lying to say I'm not drawn in, which is quite a feat given the amount of frigging about I have to do with said dictionaries.

The other life-jacket in this deep end is that we're allowed to do the assessment for the subject in English. The lectures though, I'm told, are in Chinese. I'm not sure if it's irony, but I'm sure there's something odd about taking on harder Chinese courses in Australia than in China.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Being Back

I've been back exactly a week now. It's both good and bad, and strange and familiar. I was right about appreciating the weather: Cairns in winter is like a Romantic poet's realization of the ideal summer. This was really pronounced when my family and I went up to the tablelands (Yungaburra, specifically) for an overnight at a bed and breakfast (Eden House, specifically) last week. It was a Great Leap away from Beijing, in the best way. Eden House may do the best hot chocolate in the world; a slight tipple of cognac and lots of melted, really good chocolate, it's worth taking the trip up just to taste it, and see chocolate congeal on the edge of your glass whilst you're drinking. Just superb. I've never had a more peaceful night's sleep, nor had thicker slices of bacon for breakfast.

Then on the weekend we went up to Palm Cove, which, along with Yungaburra, is just about the best place to cure 'China Syndrome' that I can think of (nod to Paul). Without sounding like a singles advertisement, I enjoyed long walks on the beach, good wines, delectable cuisine (Nunu's may be the best restaurant I've ever been to, hot chocolates aside), and lying around reading Spence's "To Change China" (more on that another time) it was all just what I needed. These things make it good to be back.

"Pretty soon it'll feel like you never left" said one of Mum's friends.

I dunno about that. My last few days in China were quite memorable. Everyone in the apartment left a few days before my flight to Hong Kong, and I wasn't quite ready. So for a few lonesome days I had the city (and the apartment) to myself. I had the farewell dinners, looked at some places for the last time, even visited Stone Boat for the first time, which I loved. Then I had to get the apartment ready for the landlord and bond collection, which was a whole lot easier than I'd thought, thankfully. I was afraid she'd get annoyed about things like massive scratches along her wall (my bad, with a stray suitcase), or massive amounts of dust (that's the crappy air), or food stains (two males of university student age, ok?), but it turned out she was just concerned that we might have tried to steal her television sets or her air conditioners. Right.

That bond collection was at 8am of the 4th of July, the same day as my graduation ceremony, at 9am, and my flight to Hong Kong at 1.30pm. So I arrived at the ceremony hall (the literal Chinese name for which is the "Study Dilligently Hall"), with my luggage and a giants helping of anxiety. After an hour of pleasantries and official-babble on behalf of the various heads of department, I was able to get my certificate, say all the goodbyes, and then grab a cab to the airport.

After what seems now to be an obligatory delay at the Beijing airport of 2 hours, at terminal 3 (very impressive terminal that one), I was off and out of the smog. And I arrived into a Hong Kong clearer than I'd ever remembered seeing it.
I'd put up photos but I can't find my camera; I think I left it in the hotel room in Hong Kong. It's a shame because I took two great photos contrasting the difference in pollution between the two cities.

Anyway, the best way I can describe it is as follows:
It was like all of Beijing had been some drawn as a sketchy background in an early black and white cartoon, whilst in Hong Kong the sky, the grass, the mountains and the ocean were all rendered in stunning 3D colour, like Toy Story or Finding Nemo. It actually seemed too colourful at first.

I had the best time in Hong Kong, as I always do, caught up with some very good friends, and then all-too-soon had to take the train back to the airport for an 18 hour hell-haul back to Cairns, via Brisbane, via Singapore.

And now I'm happy to be comfortable for the time being, though university begins exactly one week from now.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

What I'll Miss and What I Won't

I'm leaving Beijing on Friday, and going back to Australia on Monday. I thought now would be a good time to explain what's going through my mind. Most importantly, what will I miss, and won't I miss?

I'll miss my friends most of all. Some of my friends are Australians studying in China, and they're returning back too, so that's not so bad. On the other hand, some of my friends are Chinese uni students, and it's doubtful that they'll be heading to Australia any time soon. So it'll probably be a while till I get to see them again. It's a good thing we have email.

I'll miss walking into a bookstore and getting almost dizzy with all the books I haven't read, and want to read. Ditto for DVD shopping...

I've always enjoyed walking down the street and feeling surrounded by historical archicture, down to the street itself, and walking down a Hutong to get a delicious meal. And I'm really going to miss those jiabingr, they are the breakfast of champions....

It'll be a shame not to be surrounded by the melodious and often slightly humourous banter of Beijingers, and I'll miss all the funny, peculiar phrases exclusive to the Beijing topolect. And joining with Beijingers in insulting the various non-Beijing speakers of Mandarin and their girly pronounciation.

And there is just a certain feeling you get in Beijing, of being in the midst of something great, exciting and important. That will be sorely missed; I suspect it'll make seem Brisbane seem positively dull.

However, I won't miss having to use a proxy browser to read the BBC news. I won't miss an hours commute necessary to go and buy some deoderent. I won't miss blowing my nose and leaving behind a black streak of coal dust. I won't miss the endless advertising for the Olympics, and 'staunch unity'.
I won't miss having the power cut in my apartment without warning, the internet cut without reason, or the hot water in the shower not working without turning on three other taps.

In fact, I'd go so far as to say I'm looking forward to being able to see clear, all the way to the horizon, every day. Hopefully that won't get old too soon, but in any event, I'll be back sooner rather than later, no doubt. That's the natural result of a degree in philosophy and Chinese; those philosophy jobs are just too hard to come by. The real question is, which city in China, or the Chinese diaspora, will I go to next?

Monday, June 23, 2008

A Problematic Education

It's almost exam time, and I'm in a bad mood about that, which is nothing new. What is new is that I know exactly what is wrong with this batch of exams, or more broadly, the system they're a part of. Perhaps if I recount what I'll be tested on, the reader may begin to deduce a pattern.

My exams are for newspaper reading (where we have yet to read an actual newspaper), focused reading (where we read about pandas and compassion and disabilities), oral Chinese (where we talk about repairing bikes, ordering food, and virus protection software), 'reading' reading (where we read selected opinion pieces from newspaper textbooks), listening (where we are tested on 5-10 second dialogue snippets filled with peculiar oddities from the Beijing topolect, and 5-10 minute vignettes about ordering virus protection software, repairing pandas, and compassionate disabilities), and audio-visual class (where we will be tested on 5-10 minute dialogues from films, with a focus on the Beijing topolect).

My biggest complaint is that preparing and passing the above exams is extremely time-consuming, and yet seems to produce very little advancement in language profiency. I think that's most likely because the context is so boring that it's rather forgettable, ba-doom-tish.
On the other hand when I'm just reading BBC articles, Lao She's Cat Country, The True Story of Ah Q, video game magazines, and so on, I find that I'm able to recall all the new stuff I learn without really having to review the stuff. Or maybe it's more accurate to say that the reviewing happens naturally.

My conclusion, reached at after a year studying in China, is that I'm never taking any more specialised 'language classes', be it in Australia or overseas. I was discussing all this with my friend Plato this evening and in the process, I showed him some of the articles I'd written for class. He checked them with great interest, and noted that many of the 'corrections' made by my teacher were in fact unnecessary; I'd written something in an idiomatic, natural way, only to have it simplified or made into something unnatural. Furthermore, I showed Plato our textbooks and he was disgusted with the fact that they were in fact full of grammatical errors or improper usage of words.

So I ask the question, what the hell is up with the 'Chinese for Foreigners' education system in China? Who writes these things, what are their qualifications, and what are their real goals? This is probably overly paranoid of me, but I partly suspect the more official programs (such as the universities) don't really want their foreign students to get too proficient, especially in the more political vocabulary. After all, an incisive critical essay can be quite effective.

Though, they shouldn't worry about that with me, not just yet anyway. I've got about all the literay finesse in Chinese of a steroid-raging lemur attempting the 8 legged essay in the midst of a mardi gras parade. Or something like that. And, as the comments in a recent philosophy essay I just recieved pointed out, my English writing skills aren't that good either.

Ah well, always good to be humbled and what not.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Fireworks Because...

There's been fireworks going all evening, and I'm not really sure why.

I was doing some leisurely browsing of China blogs, though, and came across something interesting at the Granite Studio.

According to the article (which is according to a report from Tianjin), this might be an attempt to scare away evil spirits. That's pretty likely, since fireworks are usually employed for that reason in China.

I'll hopefully remember to ask a Chinese friend about this in the coming days.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

New Sinology

There's a really good article which Laurie put me onto, called "On New Sinology", by Geremie Barme.

There are two parts that really stood out for me which I'd like to point out:

'New Sinology' can thus also be described as an unrelenting attentiveness to Sinophone ways of speaking, writing, and seeing, and to the different forces that have shaped the evolution of Sinophone texts and images, as well as Sinophone ways of sense-making. Textually, the interests of a New Sinology range from the specificities of canonical and authoritative formulations in both the classical language (or rather the languages of the pre-dynastic and dynastic eras) and the modern vernacular to the many inventive bylines that have emerged more recently in our media-saturated times.


Indeed, if we fail to insist on linguistic competence in Chinese as a necessary requirement for precise and rigorous engagement with Sinophone texts and images, our students may ultimately fail to make their own sense of what it means to be studying China.

That's so true. Without that competence, we're just restricted to whatever is available in translation, which by nature is going to be a bit behind the times.

In another sense, I suppose the New Sinology contrasts the 'Old' type insofar as there were guys who could read classical texts and produce scholarly translations- which is extremely impressive, especially given the resources of the times- but wouldn't be able to sit down and watch a film.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Ma Jiang

I saw another film by Edward Yang called Ma Jiang. On the DVD I have it also gives the English name as Couples, but I'm not sure if that's right.

The last film of his I saw was A One and a Two, which I really liked. Ma Jiang is quite a different film- certainly a much more disturbing film- but also well worth seeing.

One of the odd things about the film is the performances by the foreign actors. It's not that they're poorly acted roles, but rather just a bit odd. The easiest way to describe it might be as though they delivered the lines as though they were acting in a David Lynch or Peter Greenaway film; very deliberately, very slowly. I'm not sure if it was intentional on behalf of the director, but the result is the film takes on a sort of surreal quality.

It turns out to be a good mixture though, especially since the film starts off relatively innocently and slowly twists and descends.

I'll have to keep my eye out for more Edward Yang films, especially one he did with Christopher Doyle, That Day on the Beach.

My Dad Has a Blog

My Dad is starting a blog, about art and magic. There aren't any articles on there yet but I'm sure it'll be interesting. Dad is a really good writer, painter and getting pretty good at magic too, so I'm sure it'll be interesting.

It's called The Tricks of Art and the Art of Tricks.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Reading versus Writing

John has a good post you should all read, called Pinyin VS Hard Work (yeah, all three of you who read this blog).

Don't run off yet, this isn't just a post linking to a post linking to a post; I'm going to actually give my view on something here. But a warning: remember that this is my blog, not an academic journal, and I'm not really that good at Chinese, so you should probably listen to the links here more than me, even when I disagree with them- they are real Tongs.

So basically John talks about a post where Victor Mair basically says how he basically learned to read and write Chinese, more or less, is about the gist of it. And his method is pretty straightfoward: he reckons it's a good idea to "learn like a baby", and without beating around the bush, he goes on to say that insofar as literacy is concerned, this means reading a Chinese newspaper annotated with pinyin (or bopomopho, or whatever).

Having seen lots of Beijing babies chilling with a coffee and reading the newspaper, I can attest to the efficacy of this method.

No, really, I actually think it's a really good idea, and considering how much of a pain it is when you just want to sit down and chill with the Nanfang Zhoumo but find yourself pulling out the e-dictionary just to read an oddball character in a would be a nice addition to any newsagent, to say the least. I didn't start learning characters properly until I started university, by which time I'd done about 2 years of night classes coupled with a month in China studying at an intensive short course. In the night classes we just did pinyin really, so I think Mair probably has a good point about not killing the fun of learning a language by forcing the characters on too soon.

But there's this line, "Slowly, with practice, I also became capable of writing in characters as well." That's a lot like what various Chinese professors (ethnic Chinese and not) whom I've met have told me, and I'm sure it's correct, but it's horribly vague.

Well, I guess his article is about reading after all, and not writing. But still, I have lots of friends, especially overseas Chinese, who can read Chinese really well, but can't write more than a handful of characters, so I think Mair owes a bit of an explanation for that aside.

Anyway, my real complaint with the article (which is not, really, a complaint after all, but just somethin I'd like to add) is that he misses an opportunity to inform everyone about a modern alternative, which I think is actually better than an annotated paper text.

Annotated texts are nice to some extent, but all that pinyin can be distracting; I think pinyin works best on a fleeting, need-to-know basis, not an omnipresent sort of thing. Friends, I give you.....ADSOTRANS!

Paste in the text with the hard characters, wait a minute or so, and then...well, I won't spoil it for you, but I assure you the result is awesome. Awesome to the max.

The best thing about something like it (and there are retail alternatives like Wenlin and Clavis Sinica, but a mass collaborative project like Adsotrans is so much cooler and will dominate those products before long, mark my words!) is that you can read whatever you want. Well, anything on the internetz, anyway, and that's a lot of choice. Much better choice than whatever a newspaper chooses to handout, as far as I'm concerned.

Oh, and by coincidence, Mair does talk about the sneeze thing in there too. But I repeat, there's nothing 'devilishy difficult' about those two characters, if you have a mnemonic method in place.

I'm going to write another entry soon about what I would actually think of as a better way to learn to write, namely the mnemonic method of Matteo Ricii and Heisig, so check back soon(ish). It'll be fun, and I've just found an article by J. Marshall Unger which looks like good reading...

Some more related reading, and quick word on each, in the meantime.

David "Whiner" Moser - Why Chinese is So Damn Hard
This guy apparently has awesome Chinese, and it's not really meant to be taken seriously- it's pretty damn funny. But anyway, it's an article where he complains about characters being hard to learn, and textbooks being boring. Big, big agreement from me on the second point. Almost all textbooks I've used suck more arse than some experimental Japanese bidet. But that is why we have....ADSOTRANS! And mnemonics...

Victor Mair -Illiteracy in China
This is another article where I think characters get a harder time than they deserve. He hazards some pretty wild guesses, which he readily admits. Like this one, having a swipe at the statement "College graduates are tested on 7,000 characters or more."
"A pipedream!!! I doubt whether even a hundredth of one percent of the Chinese population can write 7,000 characters; probably no more than 2-3% could recognize that many."

Now, I'm not a mathematician, or a genius. Far from it, I can assure you. But according to the always reliable *cough* Baidu, the total amount of Chinese university students as a percentage of the total population is 5 percent, so, I dunno, it doesn't seem that unlikely. Interesting question though.

Victor Mair -Awkward Sneeze
Ok, so maybe I should have attributed the sneeze thing to Mr Mair instead of John B? Anyway, it's a good article, and it's interesting that Singapore is allowing e-dictionaries in their Chinese exams. Would be nice if the HSK had a similar slackening of the rules...

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Revenge of the Sneeze

note: When I write something in italics, assume that it's said in Chinese (except this, obviously. Just trying to get some workable device going here, bear with me, I might use some pinyin as well, at least until we get the formula right)

"It's too hot!"
"It's stinking hot!"
"It's disgustingly hot!"
"It's like an oven in here!"
"I'm sweating like a pig!"

Such were the example sentences I wrote on the blackboard today to try and arm the kids with some vocabulary relevant to the day.

"Ok, can you read this out please?" I said.

"It's too hot! It means, the weather's too hot, right?" said Tammy.

"Yes, that's what it means. Now could you read the second one please?"

"Teacher, the t you wrote is missing the stroke through it. It's wrong! We're not reading it!"

"What? I didn't write it's just, handwriting."

"Teacher wrote it wrong!"

I pondered my options for a moment. Tammy is one of the better students but she's also really arrogant, stubborn and whiney. I could insist that I was right, being a native speaker of English and all- "Whatever I do is perfect, geddit? Just imitate me!"- but I'd tried that before and it didn't stop their criticism. And they'd use it against me in future.

"Hey, just wondering, do you guys know the word sneeze?"


"Sneeze. Penti."

"Oh, sneeze."

" is sneeze written again? Could someone come and write it please?"

I wrote the English word, and left space for the two characters to be written next to it.

There was first massive squealing over who would get to write it first, followed by a sudden silence of about 2 seconds as people realised that they in fact maybe didn't know how to write it. JJ came up and triumphantly wrote the first character, correctly,喷。 Then The Mental Blank hit her, like a rabbit caught in the headlights of a 3 wheeled truck speeding from Shunyi to Beijing.

"It's the 3 stroke water radical...then..." someone began to call out.

"WRONG!" I shouted in response, like an impatient businessman in a cheap restaurant.

JJ returned to her seat, struck by The Blank. By this stage the class was transfixed. Tammy swaggered her way up and wrote the second character: 涕 .

So it was her who had called out before. Fortunately, it was the wrong character; she had written the ti character forming the part of snot, not of sneeze.


I proceeded to write the correct character: 嚏

Silence. And then Tammy started up: "It's not that one! It's the one I wrote!"

"Check your dictionaries," I said, my voice quivering with excitement, "in fact, I'll show you on my mobile phone right now. THERE, SEE!"

As people frantically flicked through dictionaries and shot back wide eyes, I showed Tammy the soul crushing truth.

"I WIN, YOU GUYS LOSE! I FINALLY HAVE MY REVENGE!" I bellowed, like a victorious Spartan (the latter being a phrase I picked up watching the animated Tin-Tin series). The kids erupted into a laughing frenzy.


I wish I could say I'd shown them once and for all, but things have a way of coming back and biting one on the arse.

In this case, I managed to sour the victory by a small, innocent mistake, in the worst possible context.

We were going through the pronunciation of stinking, thinking and sinking, and I had just tried to tell the semi-bi-lingual version of the whole "We're sinking!" "What are you sinking about?" joke of the English and German submarines (though I used ships, not knowing the word for submarine).

The th sound wasn't coming through with some of the kids, so I wanted to make a suggestion.

"Like, put the tongue under the teeth," I said. At least, that's what I thought I said. Teeth, yatou, right?

Wrong. Some of the kids started giggling.

" mean teeth, yachi."

"Oh...right..." What had I said? Oh, crap.

Yatou. Woman... put the tongue under the woman.

Oh. My. God.

I did find a way of saving a tiny little bit of face, by using a phrase I had just learned today.

"Well, I'm off to go sleep on brushwood and eat gall then." A way of saying you'll spend some serious time thinking about your mistakes, I think. This got a laugh out of them in any event.

In any event, I put it down to the confusion between tongue shetou and teeth, yachi, ending up in the yatou caffufle. But, seriously.

Thank Christ they aren't teenagers.


I should mention here, I owe the advice about sneeze to two awesome bloggers, which I'll update by blogroll to list since I've been reading them so much recently.

They are:

John B.



They know Chinese really well, they write really well and they write about China really well. They're frequently informative, and sometimes hilarious. What more do you want?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


HSK results came out yesterday, and I was actually quite interested to see how I'd go this time.

I got a 6 on listening, an 8 on grammar, an 8 on reading and a 7 on synthesis.

The overal score was a 7, which I'm pretty happy with. It means I can enroll for any course at a Chinese university (you know, with Chinese students and all). Too bad I didn't get that result last semester, because the current classes are dipping into new lows of boredom.

I found out why our conversation class sucks the most: the teacher the Communist Party Representative for our faculty. So thats why we never talk about current events critical of China! In fact we never talk about anything apart from the topics of the pathetic textbook.

I guess it also explains why she always seemed to laugh very uncomfortably at my jokes about the Dalai Lama, class struggle and class enemies.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Once a week we write an essay in class, and this weeks topic was the earthquake. I wrote about my experience of it, and then gave some of my thoughts on the Wanke scandal (the real estate group has been accused of not donating enough money). I might post it here later on.

In it I also noted that almost every single channel on television, and almost every frequency on radio, seems to be on 24 hour earthquake coverage. It's weird to flick through over 30 channels (even the cartoon channel) all broadcasting the same 3 or 4 different versions of coverage. There is, though, semi-regular programming on the children's channel 少儿.

There is a good account of a candlelight-vigil which John at Sinosplice attended, though it is getting criticised by some people.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Earthquake, and the Three Bigs of Chinese Speaking Foreigners.

My earthquake story is kind of bland; I was lying on my bed waking up from an afternoon nap and then started getting that feeling like the room was spinning. “Weird,” I thought, “haven’t had anything to drink for 2 days”. Then I realized that the room was not spinning, but my building was swaying. Then I went down to get some lunch and noticed everyone was standing outside in the courtyard, and I heard everyone speaking about an earthquake.

There is something else I’d like to mention though. I was in the elevator the other day, and just before the doors close I hear the pattering sound of someone in a hurry. I press the ‘open door’ button and a haggard woman approaches pushing a bicycle, which despite my efforts still gets crushed by the closing doors as she enters.

“Which floor?” I ask.

“Oh, thank you, 28th, thank you”

“It’s nothing”. There was a short pause here and I thought for a moment we’d just ride the elevator up like normal folk.

“Your Chinese is really good-“

“No, no-“ Really, I’m thinking, I’ve said all of four words, and she’s complimenting me?

“-you could be like Dashan if you stay in China a while. This is your talent.”

“No no no”

At this point I arrived, and most curiously of all she called out in an odd, mystic tone,

“Goodbye, baby!”


It’s been said lots elsewhere, and it’s true. Regardless of whether you speak a little or a lot of Chinese, get ready for the Dashan comparison. I went to Tianjin on the weekend, and on the train one of my mates made a good point.

“Chinese is so competitive man. Every new foreigner you meet, you rate their Chinese. It wouldn’t happen with Spanish or something, why Chinese?”

I reckon he has a very good point. People seem to bestow a massive amount of awesomeness on non-Chinese (especially non-Asian) Chinese-speakers. Now, I admit, I also admire people who have put in the large effort required to get good. But I actually don’t really admire Dashan, Daniu, or Zhulian that much*. That is, 大山 (big mountain) 大牛 (big cow) and 安, who for the consistency of this blog could be called 大朱(big red) or even 大猪 (big pig- homonym, you see). I don’t really admire them that much because I don’t think being a professional crosstalk performer is a particularly cool thing (I have had to perform a joke once for a competition; it was very painful). Ah, you say, but they’re smart, look at their ability to make witty jokes.

Look, Dave Chappelle is funny. And in Chinese, I think Stephen Chow is funny, as is the Chinese dub of GTO that I watch (those crazy Japanese). But Dashan merely has a few clever jokes, Daniu is just up himself and has perfected his 'audience gaze' (hard to explain but it's infuriating), and Dazhu is not really that funny nor witty- he just speaks with a flawless accent.

On the other hand, I have lots of respect for some guys who write their blogs in Chinese. Such as: Brendan O’Kane, Alaric, John, and so on. I think there's just something cooler or more authentic about writing essays than performing stand-up.

Oh, and if we include Kevin Rudd in the Bigs, then he’d be 大陆- the motherland.

*In my eyes, the three most famous Laowai in Beijing, though the last two are more recent additions.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Anti-protest Protesters?

So I was just proxy-browsing the BBC Chinese news, and the headline there was "Thousands of Chinese Hold Peaceful Protests in Sydney".

Funnily enough I hadn't read anything about this in the actual Australian online news-sources, and then in the end of that BBC story that actually point out that this has been under-reported in Australia (getting only 10 seconds airtime on a local tv station apparently).

The article says there was about 5000 protestors, more than the 1000 which were expected when they organised the gig with the police. So it seems pretty newsworthy.

Weird. I trust the BBC to be accurate on this, as much as Chinese language reporting can be accurate (or media in any language, for that matter).

Oh, and as the title says, according to the BBC article they were protesting about what they perceive as unfair treatment that China has been getting over Tibet, and criticising the Tibetans for the violence in their protests.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Magic School

After a sort of hard hitting night at D22, I figured I'd take it easy today. I was planning to just grab some dumplings and some Beijing style noodles for brunch but at the last minute I changed path for the subway and went to the American Cafe. Anyway, after that I figured I was on a bit of a roll, and after chuckling over some of the stories from the Evening News (one in three high level Russian military officers are overweight- the West have nothing to fear) I headed down to Xidan to look for Chain Lightning after reading Joel Martinsen's review of it.

They didn't have it, and they didn't have the comic series GTO either. I didn't want to feel like I'd wasted my trip so I picked up Kevin Rudd's biography (in the best selling area), which I'll check out. It should give me something to blab on about on cab rides at least, when they ask about Rudd.

I was feeling (amazingly) a little hungry after my brunch only an hour or two ago, so I strolled around looking for a cinema (not sure why I did this, there doesn't seem to be a causal connection). I ended up in with the movie screen on the outside of it (大悦场 possibly...can't remember the name very well)

Not surprisingly there wasn't much on that interested me, so I headed downstairs to the food court on the 8F, to find...a magic school. I'm quite a sucker for magic- I've been watching the Chinese dub of The Prestige over and over lately in fact- and the guy wasn't bad. Seemed to be a pretty simple trick but the idea is that they teach them to you for a fee.

300 kuai gets you like 12 tricks I think. I didn't have that much on me (and I'm pretty poor in any event) but it seems like a pretty cool idea. I think I might head back there. After watching The Prestige so much, I at least have the vocabulary for it.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Rudd Speaks at Beijing University!

But I can't watch the Youtube video, because it's blocked.

Tried using a proxy to no avail.

Well, at least fast, reliable internet is something I can look forward to when I leave the P.R.C.

This is another thing I'd add to my reasoning for studying somewhere like Hong Kong, Taiwan or Singapore as opposed to Beijing (for the time being anyway).

Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Tomb Sweeping Long Weekend

It was the Tomb Sweeping Festival on Friday, and we had a day off university.

There was a friend I hadn't caught up with in a while, and he has encyclopaedic knoweldge of Chinese history, so I thought it'd be an apt time to go an visit Matteo Ricci's tomb.

Got off at Fuchengmen and asked directions for a while, and finally turned up at a governmental office which looked more like a university campus. It was quiet, and you wouldn't know that there was a graveyard there, hidden behind the drab main building. But there is; Ricci died about 400 years ago so it's quite amazing that it's still standing.

There was a small group of Chinese Christians there when we arrived, standing by Ricci's tomb snapping photos while doing peace symbols. I thought that was a bit odd, but then again there's something a bit odd about Christianity in China anyway*.

Anyway, I took a photo as well, though more for the sake of reading the inscription later on.

There a lot of other graves there as well, all missionaries.

Anyway, I got a message from my parents saying they were driving around St Vincents Gulf in South Australia, and had just lunched at the Star of Greece.

I suspect the weather there would be slightly better than that in Beijing today (taken from my balcony):

All part of the deal I guess, though it certainly makes one consider finding a prettier city to study in! I just saw an ad for Dalian on t.v. Looks very nice there.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Time, Flying

The new semester has started, and it's like last semester except slightly better with the computer class being replaced by a film/tv class (this is not as hard as it sounds, it's just watching films with a vocabulary list in front of you).

The worst is the Spoken Chinese class, as it's more of a Reciting Textbook class in actuality. This seems to be a method which is held in great esteem by my university, evidenced by the scores of students reciting their textbooks every morning in the campus gardens.

Fortunately we have some good classes, the Intensive Reading and Newspaper ones, where we talk about current events, and actually spend more time conversing than we do in the Spoken class.

The HSK is coming up next month, and as usual I'm refusing to do any specific preparation for it.
Perhaps it's laziness, but I just find the materials too boring to engage with for any useful length of time. I'd much rather just read Chinese books, magazines and newspapers, and watch films and tv shows.

We'll see how it goes. It's all flying by very fast.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

A Counter-Intuitive Chinese Language Environment

It's generally considered that it's best to study Chinese in-country. I see the logic, but I've come to realise there are some other considerations, and that there may be another proposition which is better. It depends to some extent on the level you have going in, and where you want to get.

My trip to Hong Kong recently motivated me to learn more Chinese than all of my time in Beijing. This goes against the grain.

There are two reasons that I can discern.

Firstly it was the information environment. I could walk into a bookstore and find volumes critical of Mao, find various violent or erotic novels, find cutting-edge science books, I could find all manner of books I have difficulty finding in Beijing.

And, what the language students learns at a certain point (or what I feel, anyway), is that advanced language profiency doesn't come through lots of speaking. It comes through lots of reading.

When I speak, I have my tones corrected, my grammar corrected, and occasionally learn a new word or two. That's good and useful, but when you stop making grammar mistakes and stop making tone errors, you're only left with learning a new word or two.

Much better to spend an hour reading a book and come away with a list of 20 or 30 or however many words you've learned.

I'm reading two books in Chinese at the moment:
Brothers, by Yu Hua, and The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell.

I did in fact buy these books in Beijing, but I saw many more books I'd rather be reading in Hong Kong.

Brothers was recommended to me by a good Chinese friend, and The Tipping Point is a book I should have read ages ago but have never gotten around to it. Of course I will want to test the usage of the words I learn from these books in a conversation. But to accumulate them in the first place, I'd say it'd be much faster to see them on a page rather than wait until the pop up in conversation.

Secondly, as we've established that you should converse to communicate, then if I wanted to communicate with my Hong Kong friends in Chinese, I'd better have a very good vocabulary to not come off like a moron. So in this counter-intuitive way it can be better being around people who speak good English- it should encourage you to get that good in Chinese.

If you only hang around mono-lingual friends, then I think the over-praise will get to your head, and you'll slow down.

The idea here is not to get good enough to have Chinese people praise you on your Chinese. The idea is to get good enough not to have them praise you.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Finding a New Blogspace?

I've been spending some of the university holidays here in Hong Kong, and it has been brilliant to get away from Beijing. The air quality here is so much better than Beijing- that's how bad the Beijing air is.

It's been a frustrating couple of months since I've been writing heaps but had no where to post it all. I might consider a new blog. We'll see.

But in any event, I've definitely come across lots of stuff which I hope to share at some stage in the near future.