Archive for January, 2011


I (Liz) have finished up my first semester at my new job – I work in administration at an American/Chinese joint-venture graduate educational institute here in Nanjing. We are now on Winter Break, in anticipation of the upcoming Chinese New Year. We worked through the Christmas holidays, but we promise that we duly celebrated that wonderful holiday! We are much more ‘seasoned’ now, pardon the pun, at making our holidays seem much more holidayish, albeit far from home. Our first Christmas was tough but blessed, as I worked teaching on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day – and it was hard to feel much like we were celebrating amidst the bitter cold of our first apartment and the sheer lack of family and Christmas in the culture around us. This third time around, we also felt blessed, and very much surrounded by our community here – although we will always miss our family during that time of year especially.

As we passed through the Christmas season at work, I hit a major milestone. When I began work, I was advised to address everyone on the administrative staff as "Teacher" (Laoshi) – it’s a term of respect, and it indicates that those who have been working there longer than I have superior status. It’s deferential, and it is necessary here where status and titles are especially important. I was also told who I should further refer to as "Director" (Zhuren). It felt really formal to me, as a much more casual American – I am used to expressing status in different ways and for different reasons, but I certainly followed that guidance. I was also told not to discontinue using those titles until I was told otherwise by individuals.

Well, after 8 months on the job, as what I will consider a Christmas present to me, a wonderful administrative assistant who has been with the organization forever (and still looks like she’s 30, darn it), laughed when I called her "Teacher" for the 1000th time, and said, "Oh geez, that’s a little embarrassing! You don’t need to call me teacher! Please just call me Sarah." (We’ll use her pseudonym here to protect identities.) I wanted to hug her. It’s been a long 8 months of formal titles.

I was thrilled – and surprised! I had been waiting and waiting, assuming that perhaps the younger folks would chime up rather quickly to have me call them by a less formal title – being in a younger generation of Chinese. What I have come to understand (and should have perhaps guessed), is that the younger folks are happy to be called Laoshi. Maybe it’s the first time they’ve been called teacher, and they are rather enjoying that feeling of respect after years of calling others Laoshi. Chinese culture continues to be rather traditional and formal, despite the casual clothing my colleagues wear to work. I sometimes have to remind myself of that when my colleague shows up in yoga pants and tennis shoes. That is just a ruse of informality – and I shall not be fooled.

So kudos to my awesome colleague Sarah! I relish it each time I call her and can just call her by her name. I hope that this trend continues, but for now, I stand ready with Laoshi and Zhuren at my lips.


Getting schooled

Every parent must dread the point in their lives when their children start to outpace them in some way. Maybe in an athletic sport, or in an understanding of some new technology. JM remembers setting up the VCR for his parents as a teenager, because he was the only one who understood where all the cables went in and out.

For us, this moment has already arrived with our three year old.

Sometimes we speak Chinese to him at home, just to reinforce the language he spends the rest of the time speaking outside. But at this point, he’s started being the one to reinforce OUR Chinese.

JM in Chinese: "Leo, don’t eat too much candy. Your stomach will pain."

Leo in Chinese right back: "My stomach will hurt."

How does it feel to know that you have to watch what you say to your own three year old, lest you be corrected? We now know how it feels. Ouch.

Seeking New Editwr

The DVD industry is huge in China. Nearly as soon as a new movie is released in theaters, a street copy will show up in a slick plastic sleeve complete with an official looking insert. On closer look, that insert tends to make wild assertions and errors that make it quite comical. (Did you know Julia Roberts starred in "The Sound of Music"?)

But the synopsis descriptions on the back of the sleeve are sometimes hilariously mistyped, as if the person copying them has never used English in their life! Here is the one for the Disney/Pixar movie called "Cars."

Disney/POCAR Cars. The high-cotame adwerture comedy from the croalors of Tey Story, The Cocredioles ["The Incredibles"] and Finding Dietro, new looks and sound beter then ever in the Blu-ray Disc Crested from the original Digitd souce the. Hoeshol race car Ligtring McOueen (Oween Wison) is Fring Life in the Fast lans – line he lits a detour and gels sorarced in Fadictr Springs, ["gets stranded in Radiator Springs"]. A torrxitten town in House EE. There he meets Sally. Liater, Doe Hudson (Paul Newiten) and a heap of Vilrious ["hilarious"] characters who help him discover theres more is mie than bophies and lame.

If anyone has the latest edition of the Chinglish dictionary, let us know if you can decipher any of this- but we suspect this may be a dialect!

True or not?

We get a lot of hearsay from the foreign community. We band together, after a fashion, united by the common purpose of navigating a strange and sometimes unintelligible society. Sometimes the rumors are baseless, others turn out to be true.

For example: Shakira will play a New Year’s Eve concert in Nanjing. That one turned out to be true! Wish we had heard in time.

But a disturbing new rumor, substantiated with online news reports: Skype may be banned in China!

If this one turns out to be true, we’re going to meet a whole new level of hassle trying to stay connected with family and friends back home. Or at least, a whole new level of expense. China wants to protect its own telecom business, and with the authority of the government behind all business regulations, there can be an executive decision to shut down a global website like Skype if they feel it will benefit their interests.

Skype was working fine today. It may not be tomorrow! If we don’t answer, don’t take it personally.

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January 2011
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