Saturday, April 26, 2008


I've always enjoyed hearing names that have been transliterated into Chinese. Generally, when trying to render an English name into Chinese, one Chinese character is assigned to each syllable in English trying to match the pronunciation as closely as possible. The result is a "Chinese-ified" sounding name which may or may not sound close enough to the English name to be recognizable, but is always Chinese enough to make you smile. This applies to names of famous people, brand names, geographical locations, foreign restaurant chains, Biblical words, and even the word Olympics among other things.

For example, one of my favorites is Arnold Schwarzenegger's name pronounced in Chinese:

阿诺德 施瓦辛格 Ānuòdé Shīwǎxīngé (ah-nuwah-duh-sh-wah-shing-guh)

Friday night I went to a piano recital on campus. Before the concert started, I flipped through the program which was all written in Chinese. As I glanced down the list of compositions that the students had selected to play, I started trying to sound out the names of the composers they were written by. I recognized probably 75% of the Chinese characters and it made for a fun game to try to see if I could get enough syllables to make a "Chinese-ified" name that I could then try to translate back into an English name.

Here are the composers' names in Chinese with the pinyin and my attempt at a phonetic transcription (which isn't meant to be accurate according to any dictionary or adhere to IPA).

The first composer I guessed was this one:

拉赫玛尼诺夫 lā hè mǎ ní nuò fū (lah-huh-mah-nee-nuwah-fooh) = Rachmaninoff

Then I figured these out:

肖邦 xiāo bāng (shee-ow bahng)

舒伯特 shū bó tè (shoo buah tuh)

贝多芬 bèi duō fēn (bay duah fen)

李斯特 lǐ sī tè (lee suh tuh)

门德尔松 mén dé ěr sōng (men duh ar sung)

So, if your "chinese-ified" decoding skills still need some development (or if you slept through Music Appreciation class in high school) here are the composers' names in English.


While I do have the necessary skills to figure out these names in Chinese, I have just discovered that I do not have the skills to spell these names in English. I had to look all of them up except Chopin.

I've had quite a few funny run-ins with transliterated names over the years. Once when I was in Beijing I tried to make up my own "Chinese-fied" rendering of the name for Schlotzsky's Deli. I completely made it up, but when I finally did find the Schlotzsky's and asked them how to say their name in Chinese, it was almost exactly what I had been saying.

I think my favorite transliteration story actually happened to Katie. The first year we taught in Yichang, Katie was teaching 7th grade students who had just begun to learn English. Katie also had just begun to learn Chinese. One day in class her students were trying to ask her about something that they didn't know how to say in English. They kept saying, "Bu shi. Bu shi. USA. We-aye-pea." Katie was baffled, as were the rest of us who had just arrived in China. We had just learned that in Chinese "bu" means "no" and "shi" is the verb "to be." Why were the students saying "am not" over and over? What did that have to do with the USA? Katie just had to tell the students she had no idea what they were talking about. Finally, after Katie told the rest of us about it, our friend Carma had a breakthrough. They weren't saying "bu shi" they were saying "Bu Shi" as in "Bush." George Bush. And "we-aye-pee" was "V.I.P."--the only way they knew to get across the idea of an important person since they didn't know the English word for "president". We laughed at the idea that Katie had told her students she didn't even know her own country's president.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Practical Fashion in Action

Last fall, I wrote about these funny umbrella hats that Katie and I finally managed to buy.

Since I featured the umbrella hats, I've been wanting to get a picture of somebody actually wearing one but never seemed to have a camera with me at the right time. A couple weeks ago, Katie and I were walking on Snack Street and we came across this fruit vendor who was putting his umbrella hat to good use to keep the sun off. He was more than happy to chat with us and pose for a picture.

As a side note, the fruit he's selling is called yòu zi 柚子. I'm told the English word for this fruit is pomelo but I'd never seen it or tried it before coming to China and I'm so used to calling it yòu zi now that pomelo seems strange. It's basically a cross between a grapefruit and an orange. I quite enjoy yòu zi now, especially the variety that's available in the fall. They're locally grown around Yichang so they're plentiful and cheap when they're in season. My mom did find yòu zi at Meijer at home. She bought one to try in my honor.

Thursday, April 24, 2008


Tonight I was at McDonalds getting some ice cream. I decided I wanted a cup of coffee too. Here's how the conversation went (in Chinese):

Kim: I'd like a cup of coffee, too.

McD worker: Hot coffee?

Kim: Oh, I didn't know you had iced coffee too.

McD worker: We don't have iced coffee. But we have iced tea.

Kim: Um, ok. I'd like my coffee to be hot then.

If you don't have iced coffee then it doesn't make much sense to ask me if I want my coffee hot, does it? I guess the minimum intelligence requirement for McDonalds workers is the same worldwide.

It did make me miss those iced coffees that McDonalds was giving away free on Mondays when I was in the States last summer. Here in China we have Mocha Sundaes though which are really good.

Also, our latest McDonalds promotion is Ma La McNuggets which translates to Numb and Spicy Nuggets. In China, "numb" is a taste, just like sour, salty, sweet, etc. Chinese people quite enjoy "ma" food . . . especially numb and spicy together. I guess this is a good marketing example of making your product locally adaptable. I don't think Numb and Spicy McNuggets would go over so well in the USA. "Numb Nuggets" . . . what a horrible sounding phrase.

The current pie selections are banana or red bean.

If you don't want fries with your value meal, you have the option of substituting a cup of corn.

Our McDonalds have just started serving Ham and Egg hotpockets for breakfast.

Oh, the title of this post is the McDonalds "I'm Lovin' It" slogan in Chinese. Right now, the posters in McDonalds all feature Chinese Olympic athletes with the words 我就喜欢中国赢 . . . "I'm Lovin' It, China Wins."

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The (not-so) Great Wall of Snack Street

About a 10 minute walk from my apartment is the West Gate of the University. Right outside the gate is a small lane affectionately termed "snack street". Dozens of little restaurants and shops line the street. The appeal of the food on this street is that it's cheap. A few yuan buys you more than you can eat. The students love it since it's a change from the cafeteria but still within their budgets. Noodles, friend rice, dumplings, fruit, wantons, milk tea, bbq, hot pot . . . there really is endless variety. The problem with Snack Street is that . . . how shall I put it . . . it's not up to OSHA or Health Departments standards, I guess. Ok, well OSHA wouldn't even have had to get within ten feet of the gate to know they would shut it down. It is dirty and a bit of an eye sore . . . but it's cheap and delicious!

About two weeks ago, a friend told me he'd seen a notice that Snack Street was going to be closed for two months so that they could "clean it up". Who made this decision was unclear but all of us Americans were lamenting the loss of our favorite restaurant--Up/Down Dining Hall. Up/Down really does have the best sweet and sour pork of any place I've ever eaten in China. Ok all of their food is pretty much the best Chinese food I've ever eaten in China (and it's cheap!). Katie and I and another friend were on our way to Snack Street to eat at Up/Down one last time before the forced closing and we stopped dead in our tracks when we got to the West Gate and saw that they hadn't just closed down the street . . . they built a BRICK WALL in front of it!!! In ONE AFTERNOON!!
A brick wall complete with uniformed guards appeared there in a matter of hours to keep all of the students out so that the shops would have to close!! You can technically still get to Snack Street but to get there you have to go out the North Gate and walk several blocks out of your way and then up the other end of Snack Street. I'm really tempted to launch into an opinionated, wordy diatribe about how that wall is a metaphor for larger social issues but I suppose I'll try to fly below the radar of potential censoring by keeping my more political comments to myself. My other thought was that the wall might be in need of some graffiti . . . something along the lines of "Free the Noodles" or "Wokkers of Snack Street Unite! . . . Tear down this wall!" Of course the irony would probably be lost on all but a very few and I wouldn't want jeopardize my work here by actually doing something like that (although I confess I do harbor some secret hope of getting a chance to graffiti something someday).

Thankfully a newer, cleaner more officially sanctioned Snack Street has opened in the opposite direction from my apartment so we're not going to starve. The new food street is called Mei Shi Jie which literally translates to "beautiful food street." A few of our friends from the original Snack Street were able to move up there.

Here are a few more photos of some of the food that is/was available on Snack Street and a few of our Snack Street friends.

Hot Pot Stands

I like to call this the "Fried Rice Salad Bar". Pick out all the fresh vegetables you like and get them stir-fried with rice.
My Korean friend Shin Hong (these are his pictures, by the way) at one of the Milk Tea drink stands. There really are literally hundreds of varieties of tea, instant coffees, milk teas, pearl tea, fruit drinks and jello concoctions available. Al l for just a few cents.These people make wonderful pita sandwiches with pork, lettuce, cilantro, and a kind of teriyaki sauce that is delicious. Thankfully these friends were able to move to the new Snack Street location.

Our wonderful friend Tian Guinan at Up/Down . . . so named because you can eat either Upstairs or Downstairs. We told them they were more than welcome to set up shop right below our apartment and we'd eat every meal there to keep them in business but Tian Guinan said she was just going enjoy her two month vacation. They'll reopen in late June (supposedly) but by then there will hardly be any time left in the semester to enjoy their food.

Solitary Saturday

For the last three weekends, I've found myself packing up with somewhere to go. First was to Wu Dang Mountain, then Beijing, and last weekend I was in Yidu for Saturday and Sunday. Combine those trips with my regular classes, part time job, school activities, several weekly Studies, Chinese class, along with spending time with friends and students and trying to help Katie get off to Ireland, I hadn't quite realized how little downtime I'd had for the last month. This weekend I found myself alone with (somewhat shockingly) . . . nothing to do.

Instructions for the Perfect Saturday morning:

*Ignore your alarm clock
*Lay in bed listening to the thunder and the rain, knowing you don't have to go out in it (I quite enjoy thunder . . . we don't get enough of it here).
*Take a long shower and use up all the hot water
*Make a huge pot of coffee
*Leisurely sip your coffee while catching up on emails and the news
*Turn on some relaxing music
*Light some scented candles
*Read a book on the couch

I hope this doesn't make me sound like a lazy bum, but it sure was nice to have a quiet morning all to myself. Now that it's afternoon, I'm still enjoying this rainy Saturday, but I think I will move on to some slightly more productive activities . . . while still enjoying my coffee, candles, music, and the rain.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Beijing Get-away

Here are a few pictures from my Beijing get-away.

Miriam and Sarah and their puppies, Bentley and Sweetie. Miriam and Sarah let me stay with them while I was in Beijing. They both used to live in Yichang and I've known them for several years now. They're always tons of fun and we have a good time laughing about China happenings when we're together. Their dogs are lots of fun too!
Bentley's my little buddy.
This place is called "The Place" (very creative of them) but I took a picture of it because that entire roof area is one giant screen. Talk about excessive! There's usually some news program being broadcast on the front part, but the the underneath area usually just has fish swimming around when you look up at it. The Place has a great all-English bookstore in the basement, reminds me of a mini Barnes and Nobles (a place dear to my heart).

My long time Pearl Market friend who gives me the "old friend price" sans bargaining making my Pearl Market shopping excursions much more enjoyable.
Recognize this logo? One of my new favorite American treats in Beijing.
Coldstone Creamery! Yum!

Friday, April 11, 2008

A Chinese Poem

One of my more outgoing sophomore students has been trying to challenge me in my Chinese study. This week she gave me a short Chinese poem to memorize. Here it is . . . with my rough English translation.

锄禾 Chú Hé

锄禾日当午 Chú hé rì dāng wǔ
汗滴和下土 Hàn dī hé xià tǔ
谁知盘中餐 Shúi zhī pán zhōng cān
粒粒皆辛苦 Lì lì jiē xīn kǔ

Hoeing the Fields

Hoeing the fields under the afternoon sun,
Drops of sweat fall gently to the ground.
We all know where our meals come from,
Every grain of rice is the result of much toiling.

My student said that all Chinese students have to memorize this poem and others like it when they're in primary school. She says that it's the sort of thing parents like to use to remind their child to not waste food and to appreciate and be thankful for what they're given. I really am going to memorize this. I figure it will be a fun conversation starter at Chinese meals.

When I first read this poem to Katie, I asked her to translate it just based on what she thought she heard. Some of these words are not words we know or say often but the words sound like other words that we do know. Katie's translation was much more entertaining . . . something to the effect of the sun coming up, a rabbit by the river was killed (the words xià tǔ really could sound like "kill a rabbit"), and a beautiful girl worked hard to eat it for lunch, which is probably exactly what I would have thought I heard if my student hadn't helped me translate it. Oh Chinese and its tones!!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Wu Dang Mountain

Some pictures from two weekends ago when the school took the foreign teachers and the Foreign Affairs staff on a weekend trip to Wu Dang Mountain in the north part of Hubei province. Wu Dang has a very long history and is an important place for Taoism and for Chinese martial arts. Also, several scenes from the Chinese movie "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" were filmed here.

We left on Saturday, took a train most of the day, explored the mountain on Sunday and then trained back Sunday night. It was a fast trip and the weather was a little chilly and rainy and not quite as clear as we would have liked, but we all had a good time. Since our time was limited we took the cable car up to the top of the mountain and then back down which was a good thing since it saved us a four hour hike in the mud!

Taking the cable car up the mountain.

Me and Katie at Wudang Shan.

Me and Katie with our Christy from the FAO office. Christy is a super cool, fun friend and we were glad she was on the trip with us.
Katie and I practice some of our tai chi moves. Sadly, we didn't quite master the flying through the trees or jumping over houses that I often see in the Kung Fu movies.
In case it's hard to read, this sign says, "No firemaking in the hardcore scenery area!" Haha, I find it quite humorous to be able to say I was in a hardcore scenery area :)

Group photo

At the top of Wudang Shan people attach padlocks to the rails, I guess for good luck.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Sweeping the Tombs in Beijing

Well, I'm off to Beijing. Friday is a Chinese holiday, translated as Tomb Sweeping Day. It's a sort of Chinese Memorial Day in which you're supposed to pay tribute to relatives that have already passed away by placing flowers on their graves or by "sweeping" their tombs. Since Friday classes are canceled and I usually have a free day on Thursday, I decided to make a personal get-away to Beijing. I want to do some shopping at the Pearl Market and the thought of having three days to just sit at Starbucks or an English bookstore, reading and sipping coffee sounds like heaven. I'm also going to see a few friends up in Beijing. I'm excited about my little retreat and having some alone time. While I don't actually plan on visiting any graves, I do plan to bury away several lattes, some Coldstone Creamery ice cream concoctions, and some really good pizza. I'm heading to the train station in about an hour.

Happy Tomb Sweeping Day to everyone!