Beyond yogurt

July 31, 2011

I can finally move past yogurt. The speech competition was today!  The “beginner division” was mostly composed of people who had studied Chinese for at least a semester before coming to China and some who had even lived in China for a semester before.  So my ranting about yogurt couldn’t really compete with their legit Chinese speaking abilities…  no medallion for me.

Of course, I’ll never put Chinese yogurt entirely behind me.  I have the fridge fully stocked with my favorite red date flavor as well as some plain yogurt.  Life is looking especially bright because Kevin is now in China with me, so I don’t have to eat all 12 of the yogurt packets in the fridge by myself.   Oh, and Kevin being here also means that I now have a video of my yogurt speech on my computer thanks to his iPhone.  Here it is:



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A good bad influence

July 30, 2011
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I love my friend Lina.

On Thursday evening, I was not feeling great.  I had homework to finish, a written and oral test the next morning to study for, and lingering food poisoning pains and cramps.  But… it was “Ladies Night” at the Dao (道) Club, which happens to be right next door to our neighborhood grocery store.  Lina said we’d only go for half an hour.

So we went in a small group to the Dao Club, and it was awesome.  The place was small but super clean and excessively staffed.  The DJ took requests and played very danceable music.  After about an hour, we went back to the dorm.

Despite the fact that I didn’t start studying for my test until after 11pm, I actually did really well, and the teacher complemented me on how naturally I spoke for my oral test (during which I put on a skit I’d written at 6am about allergies and food poisoning using a pen as the “patient” and a coke bottle as the “doctor”).  Despite the fact that I got only 4 hours of sleep that night, I felt great and was completely cured of any residual symptoms of food poisoning.  Lesson learned: study and sleep can only do so much for you when you’re learning a language–happiness does the rest.

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Lord of the Rings

July 29, 2011

The Chinese word for “China” (which, I suppose, is the real word for China) is 中国, pronounced zhongguo, translating to “middle country.”

Today, I finally did the brief google research on something I’ve been wondering about for a long time.  In the Chinese version of the Lord of the Rings, is Middle-Earth just translated as “China?”

Internet searches always lead to semi-related interesting findings.  For example, now I know that the word for Earth (the planet) is something that translates to “ground ball.”  Two words which I happen to already know, so I’m feeling very accomplished at the moment.

My search on the web has been inconclusive.  While I found an image of a book cover from a Chinese LOTR translation, I didn’t see the character for “middle” anywhere on it.  I’m going to need to see the inside, which means a trip to a bookstore is in order.

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Comfort food

July 28, 2011

You know how, after a certain food makes you ill, you feel sick just thinking about that food even after you’re all better?  Well, this is kind of problematic when “that food” is Chinese food and you live in China.

Miraculously, though, I’m not starving.

This week, I started eating “American food.”  Fast food, to be exact.  It may be the cause of many health problems in the US, but it’s really helping my health at the moment.  Soon enough, I’ll work up the courage to walk back into a Chinese restaurant… but last night I ate at Pizza Hut and tonight, I ate at McDonalds.

The service at the Chinese Pizza Hut is sooo slow.  But then, I think that’s true in the US as well.  The biggest differences is Pizza Hut in China versus the US is the availability of pizzas with lots of random seafood piled on top, the availability of pizzas featuring what I think is mayonnaise as a topping, and the unavailability of pizzas with diameters over 12 inches.

Chinese McDonalds is almost exactly the same as American, though it has a taro pie in addition to the apple one.  The people at the counter didn’t understand my friend when she asked for ketchup, but she was clever enough to make some gestures and say “red.”  100% effective.


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July 27, 2011
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In China, umbrellas are not just for rain.  They’re also for sun.  So, on any given day, I see a lot of people with umbrellas.

I think the umbrellas here are especially attractive because most Chinese women would not want to carry a plain looking umbrella on a beautiful, sunny day.

One of the things I’ve come to love about rainy days is seeing the flowery, pastel umbrellas left to dry in the hallway in the evening after everyone’s come home.

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Mispronunciation rotation

July 26, 2011
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I can’t wait for Sunday morning to be over.  Then, I can FINALLY forget this yogurt speech.

The sad thing is, my pronunciation is still imperfect.  How is this possible?  Every time I fix my pronunciation of one word, I start mispronouncing another.  Alas…

Anyways, I’ve got a question for the Chinese speakers out there: does “很有意思” have translations other than “meaningful” or “interesting.”  Because every time I give my speech, the teachers tell me how “很有意思” it is (right before they give me a list of words to practice pronouncing), and I don’t understand why they say this.  I can see it being entertaining in the “wow, she’s hilariously enthusiastic about yogurt” sense, but honestly, I don’t say a single meaningful thing during those four minutes.

While my yogurt speech is apparently treadmilling in the way of pronunciation blunders, I’m progressing (进步进步!) with my reading of chapter books.  Just started a new one called “May I Have this Dance” (我可以请你跳舞吗?).  It promises romance, intrigue, and low-level vocabulary.

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Ironic timing of the inevitable

July 25, 2011

I’ve been told that when you go to China for an extended period, it’s not a question of whether you’ll get food poisoning.  It’s a question of when.

Well, today was my day.  It turns out that my stomach could not handle the Chinese Chinese take-out  I wrote about yesterday. What a shame.  And, unfortunately, since I shared that takeout with friends, they too had their first day of Chinese food poisoning.  Amusingly, the one Chinese student we ate with last night was totally fine.  Only us foreigners couldn’t handle whatever was in that food.

The ironic thing is, today we studied doctor vocabulary.  Oh man, did I learn that vocabulary thoroughly!  I even learned the supplementary words like “vomit.”  Though it may have been a little crazy, I went to four of my five classes today.  I knew I was going to feel terrible whether I was in a classroom or at home so I might as well attempt to make it through as many class hours as possible.  It wasn’t until I returned to the dorm at lunch time to take a nap that I lost my will to get back up and go back to class.

To make this coincidence of being sick on the day we studied sickness words even more intense, it turned out that my two friends and I weren’t the only sick ones.  Four other kids missed class today for various health-related reasons.  In a class of ten students, seven of us got very authentic practice using our new vocab.

Tomorrow we study dating words…

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July 24, 2011
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For the first time (in China) tonight, I ate Chinese food not in a restaurant or cafeteria but in the comfort of a friend’s room.  Four of us sat on the floor around four plastic containers (not the traditional Chinese take-out boxes) of delicious food.  We held plastic bins of rice in one hand and chopsticks in the other and ate until we were completely stuffed as rain hammered on the window.

Eating Chinese take-out at home with friends is just as comforting in China as it is in the US.  But it’s true that in China they don’t give you fortune cookies.

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Beijing haircut

July 23, 2011

For a mere 15 kuai (about $2.50), I got not just a haircut but the full Beijing foreigner haircut experience.  My roommate decided that her hair was too long, so I told her that I wanted to go with her and get a haircut too.  I didn’t particularly need one, but I’m making a hobby of getting haircuts in foreign countries, and I think it’s always nice to go along with somebody who speaks the language.

Arriving in the barber shop, a five minute walk from our dorm, we were immediately ushered to the back where we were seated at the two sinks.  As an Asian hair specialist gave my hair the most thorough shampooing it has ever had, he made comments that I think I kind of understood.  Something about my hair color and my eyes.  Beside him, the rotund Asian woman with extremely processed blonde and pink hair (who was washing my roommate’s hair) kept giggling at his comments.

Next, we were escorted to seats in front of mirrors and the cutting began.  With broken sentences and much gesturing, I communicated my desire to keep my hair long.  “Cut a little.  I like long!”  Indeed, the orange haired man with the scissors cut a very minimal length off my hair.  As he snipped away, any employee not working on another task at the moment was watching the show that was my haircut and choppy conversation.

“Do you like to cut hair?”

“It’s alright”

“Can you cut your own hair.”

“Yes, I can.”

“That is very difficult!”

The shop had lots of mirrors and also lots of transparent shelves.  It often took me a moment to figure out where exactly the people were watching me from: whether they were in front of me behind a clear shelf or behind me in front of a mirror.  But whenever I smiled at them they smiled back, so I didn’t mind.

“Your hair looks good.  It is a nice color.  Not dark.”

“Oh, I think dark hair looks good.  Your hair looks good, too.”

“No.  It is too dark.”

At the end of the day, my hair is not really noticeably shorter than it was at the beginning but it has less split ends, I suppose.  And now I know that if I’m ever bored, a haircut here is an affordable option for entertainment… and to provide entertainment for the hairdressers.

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My first Chinese chapter book

July 22, 2011

I can read!

It’s hard for me to say just how excited I am to be reading a story in Chinese.  And, it’s a chapter book, no less!  This book was written with a base set of 300 characters (the vast majority of which I recognize), and it occasionally uses more advanced vocabulary which it defines at the bottom of the page.  It’s a pretty ingenious language learning tool.

The plot is full of intrigue: a girl (who happens to be a twin) is found dead, and it looks like a suicide.  Although there’s a name on the suicide note, certain factors suggest that the dead girl might be the other twin, not the one whose name is on the note!  The supposedly dead twin’s boyfriend had recently been stolen away by her sister.  The plot consists of two police officers going around town and interviewing people who knew the twins to try to figure out what really happened.  Conveniently, these officers and their interviewees only use very simple vocabulary, and one officer takes out his notebook at the end of each chapter and writes a summary of what happened.  I’m pleased to say that I’m following this twisted plot line 100%.  Or, at least I think I am.

Also, the book cover features an oddly sexy image of the twins wearing yellow jackets and Santa hats along with the title, “Wrong, Wrong, Wrong!”  It has been pointed out to me that the title matches the image quite well.  Since a picture’s worth a thousand words:

(Just for the record, the pages of the book are only characters, no pinyin or English.  Feeling literate is fun.)

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