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.