Posts Tagged 'Chinese'

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!

Time off work?

JM here.  We have been swimming through four days of two kids now, one of them refusing to sleep anytime between midnight and 6am.  Lucky for us we have so much help from some good local friends, as well as Leo’s ever cheerful nanny.

When Liz went into labor last Wednesday, I knew I wouldn’t be able to make it in for work on Thursday, our last day before a week off for Christmas.  I immediately called the staff member who coordinates things, and told her excitedly in Chinese, “My wife has contractions! I can’t come into work tomorrow.”

To my surprise she said, “I don’t know. The students have missed a lot of classes recently. Can you please come?”

Shocked, I said, “I’ll see what I can do,” fully intending NOT to come in, since it was likely I would be with Liz through a long labor like last time.

So I confirmed the next morning that I wouldn’t come in, and she sent a brief message: “I get it. Someone will cover for you.”

When I called the substitute teacher later on, he sounded nonplussed.  I told him how grateful I was so that I could be with the new baby.

“What? New baby??” 

“Yes! Isn’t that what they told you?”

“No! They said you couldn’t come into class because your wife had WORK to do!”

Ah! My bad Chinese pronunciation the culprit again! I must have been unclear on the original message.  ‘Work’ in Chinese is: “gong zuo”.  ‘Contraction’ in Chinese is: “gong suo”.  And how often do people in an office get calls with news that someone has “gong suo”?

So, with a few more messages back and forth, everyone at work began sending in their congratulations.  No hard feelings. I wasn’t playing hookey so that my nine months pregnant wife could go to work.

But if the excuse worked this time, maybe next time too…  🙂

Leo speaks!

LeoLeo has a few words to say

Leo has a few words to say

Our son now understands more Chinese than he does English. We feel like delinquent parents.

His Chinese words that he can speak include: light, no, it fell, thanks, nanny, carry me, food, yes, not okay, grandma(!), and of course, mama and dada.

As of late

We’ve been delinquent in keeping up our blog! This hasn’t been intentional, but is the result of our new load of school and work keeping us busy. Each of us has taken on some English teaching, which brings a whole new level of cultural exposure through our students’ conversation and writing. When a student writes openly about the effects of pollution on daily life (the stench of factories, toxicity of the water, and lung cancer), it reminds us that this isn’t the same picture of the Chinese people that comes through the American press. People here know that their country is far from perfect, and needs some real progress towards a better standard of life for all. But, it can be hard to push for some advancements like melamine-free milk, especially when the historical perspective is something like: “50 years ago millions of citizens died from starvation. Now you want every item on the food shelf to be certifiably sanitized?”

Life in a country with 1.3 billion residents brings some distinct challenges, and calls for a good measure of perspective and patience. In their defense, the Chinese like to point to America’s own period of development during the 19th century, where there were similar problems of disease, quality control, and living standards. In fact, we saw an article detailing the ‘Swill Milk’ scandal in New York that caused many infant deaths about a hundred years ago. The death toll then was even higher than the one here from the melamine. At least China has the benefit of modern medicine to ameliorate many problems that would have been life threatening just fifty years ago. Progress continues, but it will be awhile before it reaches every corner of this vast country.

Our Chinese speaking teacher continues to amuse. Her latest quip was about how female Chinese doctoral students don’t have a good chance of finding a husband. First, they are too old, nearly thirty. Second, they are not very pretty, because all they like to do is study. Third, women tend to marry up in status here, and it’s hard to find other men more accomplished than their own Ph.D’s. Not impossible, but definitely a challenge. This class has fast become our favorite since we get to discuss these issues and bring perspectives from the ten or so different countries represented in our class. It’s a mini world forum at times, and always promises some surprising perspectives on the ways of life we take for granted!

We’ll try to keep up the posts. Don’t abandon us!

Life without capitals

As I sat through Chinese class yesterday, I noticed how our teacher refused to write words like Nanjing, Zhongguo(China), and Wo(I) with capital letters in their non-character transcriptions. I found myself wondering, ‘Doesn’t she know those are proper names?’ It struck me then that this had been the norm all semester. How strange, I thought, that Chinese people don’t think of words in terms of capitalized versus non-capitalized ones.

This got me wondering about the English usage of capitals, and how this device adds a whole extra layer of thinking that is absent in a language like Chinese:
imagine a life where sally and spot visit washington d.c. to see the national mall.
I feel as though I’m in egregious error typing a sentence like this. But in a language like Chinese, how can you capitalize pictures that stand for words?
马丽住在北京。mali zhu zai beijing. (Mary lives in Beijing.)

I will have to fight my resistance to this new norm, trying to convince myself that life is still okay without having the comfort of capitals to mark all the ‘proper’ objects I think about. Who invented capitals anyway? And isn’t life easier with one less convention to follow? China has seemed to do fine without them for the past few millenia, so why start now?