2010 Archives

Stop sitting on the floor!

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I just saw a commercial on the local Liangshan TV channel that literally made my jaw drop. The overly dramatic announcer proclaims: 一个小板凳,一个大工程 "One Little Stool, One Big Project". I can't find the commercial itself, but here's the first google hit for "凉山 一个小板凳".

News report on the Big Stool Project

Apparently, distributing free stools to Nuosu (Yi) people will stop their backwards practice (陋习) of sitting <gasp> on the floor(!), and move them closer to being healthy (健康) and civilized (文明) people.

If they want to get rid of backwards practices, how about getting people to (1) stop burning their trash, and (2) stop throwing the rest of their trash on the ground (including plastic, batteries, etc.)?

Tibetan chopstick fonts

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tibetan_chopstick_font.jpg

In China it seems de rigueur to use Tibetan-looking fontified Chinese characters to make posters and book titles, etc., about things related to Tibet. I've always found this practice to be vaguely offensive, perhaps because of the "chopstick" font that you see sometimes on Chinese restaurant menus. (You know, the kind that's supposed to be vaguely reminiscent of brush strokes in Chinese characters, but if you ever opened your own Chinese restaurant you would only ever use such a font in an ironic sense.)

Take, for example, this monstrosity on a book cover (a travel book about Tibet, being sold at a Walmart in Kunming). For those who don't know Chinese, or can't recognize the mangled characters, it's supposed to say 西藏 'Tibet', in that horrible "Tibetan" font. The second character is especially bad: it's made up of various disembodied bits of Tibetan letters rotated in all sorts of awkward angles. Frankly, it's butt-ugly, and has none of the aesthetic of actual Tibetan script.

Perhaps why this disturbs me is that you typically never see actual Tibetan script in China unless it's meant for Tibetans to read. A book about Tibet will talk about all the pretty tourist places you can visit, and how the happy Tibetans just love drinking their butter tea, but will say next to nothing about actually understanding Tibetan history, culture, or language. This book, where the cover uses (badly-done) faux Tibetan script contains zero examples of actual Tibetan script.

I suppose it's all part of the whole Chinese cultural superiority complex. Remember, you're only counted as literate in China if you're literate in the Chinese script. You only "have culture" (有文化) if you've been educated—in Chinese. Places have names, but their "real" name is the one written in Chinese characters. Buy a map in China and all the place names in Vietnam will be in Chinese characters (good luck actually using it in Vietnam). The Korean girl who won the Olympics? Her name's not Kim, it's Jin.

But hey, if it doesn't conform to the phonotactic constraints of Mandarin, it's not real, right?

January 25. Getting off the train at Xichang (西昌) at 5am, I see a white girl. WTF? So I'm all, hey, where are you from? She says in Mandarin, Gélìxī. I think to myself, is that even a country? She must have read my mind, since the next thing she said was "it's in Europe," in Chinese. Oh, ok. I told her I was from San Francisco, also in Chinese, assuming it was her language of choice. She had a sort of blank look on her face, but it was 5am, so I let it go. In retrospect, I think I could have told her I was from the moon and she wouldn't have batted an eye.

I continued the conversation in Mandarin. Do you come here often? I asked. "I LIVE in Xichang," she replied, rather defensively. So then I left her alone, and thought nothing more of it, other than to wonder what foreigners living in Xichang might be doing.

March 9. I get to the bus station and have to go to the bathroom, so I go into the waiting hall. On the wall is a huge map of all the tourist destination in Liangshan. As I am taking in the map, lo and behold, who should come in but the girl from Gélìxī, wherever that is. She's wearing a red bicycle helmet, and she takes out her digital camera and snaps a photo of the map. She runs over to the other end of the hall and takes some photos of the screen showing upcoming bus departure times. She looks very serious and very busy, so I'm afraid to interrupt her. Then she leaves and rides away on her bike.

Who is that girl???

March 24. I am riding a bus along Hangtian Avenue, Section 1, on the way to visit a friend at Xichang College (north campus). I look out the window, and lo and behold, who should be riding along on a bicycle next to the bus but that girl from Gélìxī! But since I was on a bus and she was on a bike, I couldn't very well stop and have a conversation with her. I couldn't very well ask her what she was doing in Xichang, or if when she said Gélìxī she really meant Greece, and isn't that funny but the Chinese word for Greece is actually Xīlà. And I couldn't very well tell her that I was impressed that she was biking everywhere, and by the way I'm a card-carrying member of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. I couldn't do any of those things. So I just sat on the bus helplessly while we passed her going twice her speed.

White girl in Xichang, who are you? The three times I've been to Xichang this year, why has fate had us cross paths -- every time -- only to rip us cruelly apart?

White girl in Xichang, if you see this... I really want to know what you're doing in Xichang! And no, I'm not some random mainland dude trying to 攀關係, and I have the passport to prove it! Fate, spurn me no longer!

New Sun Baiyun Airport

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Baiyun airport is the worst airport ever. To get to the bathroom you have to navigate through the designated smoking area, and the bathroom itself is even smokier. I literally had to run out of there after having barely stepped in. I spent maybe 15 seconds in the smoking area/bathroom (they were really one and the same) and half an hour later I still smell like smoke.

But wait, that's not all! To even get to the bathroom, you have to jump over multiple lines of people waiting at their gates for their flight, and even if you manage to avoid all that, at YOUR OWN GATE there are people clogging the gate entrance waiting for their OTHER flight which happens to leave from the same place.

People sometimes wonder about my disdain for China. Well, what's not to dislike about a country where you can't even go to THE BATHROOM at the friggin AIRPORT?!! I mean this isn't Joe-the-plumber hard-seat train facilities, this is the airport in the city that's refacing ("Don't replace, reface!") Beijing-style in anticipation of the 2010 Pan-Asian games. "New" Baiyun Airport my a$$.

solar eclipse

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eclipse-20100115.jpg

first day in hong kong, i'm lazing around surfing the internet thinking "why am i lazing around surfing the internet when i should be wandering around outside?" when i come across the news that there's totally A SOLAR ECLIPSE visible from Hong Kong AT THAT VERY MOMENT. It's only a partial eclipse here, but still... "So that's why it's not so bright outside," I thought, and I rushed outside to check it out. (The other thing I thought was, "Good thing I was surfing the internet instead of wandering around outside"). I took this picture of the sun's image (look in the lower left quadrant) as projected through a pinhole of a leaf.*

Apparently the Space Museum in Tsim Sha Tsui was having a public viewing, which probably would have been more exciting, but I wasn't sure how long it was going to last. I took this picture at 4:30pm local time, about half an hour before the maximum. According to the Hong Kong Observatory, the eclipse started at 3.33pm, maxed at 4.54pm, and ended for HK viewers when the sun set at 6pm. Pretty cool, huh?

  • and yes, people were like, why is he taking a picture of the wall?

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This page is an archive of entries from January 2010 listed from newest to oldest.

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