Sunday, May 27, 2012


The last time I wrote about the weather I was complaining that it was raining for days or even weeks without a break. Now the weather in Guangzhou has changed a lot. It still rains, actually it may rain more than it did before, but it comes and goes in spurts. It will go from relatively clear, between the smog and humidity it's almost never perfectly clear, to raining in only an hour or two. The rains are also much more intense tropical affairs. The upside of this is that if the weather is bad I only have to wait a few hours for it to improve. What's harder to do is my laundry. If it's clear out with the heat everything will dry in one day. But if it rains hard and is overcast things may actually get wetter sitting out on the line. What I've taken to doing is handing things outside for a day or two then taking the inside to finish drying, with the air on it's relatively dry in my apartment. It also means that I carry my umbrella with me everywhere since even if it looks like a nice day I don't know what the weather will be like in a few hours. I guess the same could be said for China.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Everything's Harder in China (GRE Edition)

As I've mentioned briefly before I'm planning on taking the GRE late this summer. When I checked on registering for a time a few months ago nothing was available yet, but now the times are out and many have filled up. Because the available seats seem to be going fast I thought I'd just on one, but not so fast this is China we're talking about. The GRE is designed by an American company, but in China they farm it out to a Chinese company to actually run the test. The Chinese company sucks. The GRE costs about $200 and you can only register after you have deposited money into their website, but unlike every other website everywhere you can't just use a credit card. You have to use a card specifically issued by Bank of China, ICBC, or China Merchants Bank. OK I thought, well my dad will let me use his China Merchants Bank card to register and then I'll pay him back. But again there is an issue, the China Merchants Bank site where you pay is entirely in Chinese. Fine, I thought, my sister banks with ICBC, maybe she can help me out. But it turns out she has already been trying to do this for a while and can't get the ICBC website to work for her.

On top of all of this I discovered that they had my Social Security Number wrong, which could be a really big problem if I take the test but then don't have my results count. The regular GRE site has my SSN just fine it's the Chinese site which is problematic. This all leaves me thinking that I should just take the GRE in Hong Kong. I didn't see exactly how there payment process works, but there it doesn't send me to a Chinese website, the tests seems to be administered directly by the American company. And when it comes to that I have faith that the American company will actually be able to take my money. Unfortunately they haven't posted the dates I'm looking for yet, so I'm stuck waiting. There is a lot of waiting in China.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

My First Chinese Sentence

I've been making a bigger effort to learn Chinese this year, and that includes Chinese characters. While I still find learning most Chinese to be like pulling teeth, I've actually enjoyed learning characters. It's like learning some sort of secret code. A secret code that only some 1.4 billion people can break. The characters look so strange and are so odd to write that I feel like they are imbued with some sort of mystical power. I actually find myself practicing writing them when ever I have a free moment, as opposed to most of my Chinese study, which I usually try to avoid. Writing characters in Chinese is hard for a number of reasons. First, obviously, they don't really look like anything. They are each there own little odd hieroglyphic picture. Second, the characters are actually much more complicated then they first appear. I you look really closely at them you'll notice that many of the lines have little twists at the end, or that some of the lines bend in ways that feel unnatural to write. Third, the stroke order, the order in which each individual stroke of the pen is written matters a lot in Chinese. It doesn't really matter how you make letters in English as long as they look right in the end, but in Chinese the stroke order can be used for inputting characters into your phone, and people will explain which character they mean to each other by tracing it out on their hand in the correct order. Stroke order is considered an integral part of Chinese and everyone can tell immediately if you aren't doing it right.

The Chinese characters are also difficult in that they often have several parts and it's important to get the parts, and the different characters to be the right size in proportion to one another, which given that some characters are much harder to write than others is no easy task. Finally, while simple characters may involve only a few strokes there are some, even some fairly common ones, that take more then 10 strokes to write. But even with all this I've found it fairly engaging so far to write these. I have piece of paper after paper with characters written over and over in an attempt to make them look mostly correct.

For my first sentence, and someday my first paragraph, I decided to write the sort of essay a little child would write. Something like, "My name is Daniel. I come form America. I have a sister and my family lives in Beijing..." After working on it for a while I was finally able to write my first sentence in Chinese: 我的名字是元帅。 "My name is Daniel." Actually it says my name is 元帅 or Marshall, but since it's my name either way I'm translating it as Daniel. This actually raises an interesting question about translation. I think most people wouldn't translate 元帅 as Daniel, but I think it works. There is a good argument that words are essentially signs pointing to a meaning. When I say "chair" you don't consider the letters or the sound but conjure a picture of a chair. So by that logic since both "Daniel" and "元帅" point to me the translation works.

I also recently completed learning my second sentence: 我从美国来。 "I am from America." So that's just about 20 characters down 5000 to go.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Give and Take

I can't stand the way they do holidays in China. Today is May Day so we theoretically have three days off, but it doesn't really work out that way. First they count weekends as a day off so one day of this three day vacation was Sunday. Also while they are giving us Monday and Tuesday off we had to have classes on Saturday so it really only works out to one day off. I don't understand why they don't just use three day weekends in this case, which would accomplish the same thing without all the odd schedule switching. This was made even odder by the fact that I had to attend a translation contest on Saturday afternoon. When I first heard they needed someone I assumed it would be the same as the other 20 English contests I've been to. I would judge some speeches for about two hours and then go home. But this one was very different. First, since it was a translation competition I, obviously, couldn't judge, not speaking Chinese. What they wanted me to do instead was to read some lines from a little skit they had written.

The contest had three parts, and each team had three members. The first member would translate several short passages from English to Chinese, the passages seemed to have been taken from Voice of America. The second person would translate a couple of short passages from Chinese to English, these seemed to be tourist information about random Chinese cities. Finally another teacher and I would go up to the stage and read lines from this skit they had written. First I would read one in English, then the last participant would translate that to Chinese. Next the Chinese teacher would read a line in Chinese and the participant would translate that to English. This would continue for a couple of minutes. Basically, they were practicing translating for a business meeting. Every team and these three parts and there were 16 teams. I took nearly five hours. On top of that they asked me to wear a suit, and it was really hot in the auditorium since, while the room was probably air conditioned, they don't turn it on unless it's 8000 degrees outside, which by the way is the normal temperature in the summer around here. So that's how I started my "holiday" standing in for a tape recorder.