Saturday, June 26, 2010

Aunt Ant

Two days ago I went for a run on the track here at the school. I brought my phone and my keys with me to the track and set them on the ground while I ran. Afterward, I headed back home, and I went to check one of my text messages when I noticed some curious movement on the screen.

Turns out an ant had somehow crawled its way into my phone and was now stuck in between the LCD display and the plastic outer layer, with seemingly no way to get out. This was quite an interesting turn of events in an otherwise ordinary day, so Jean and I took some pictures of the little critter:

Over the next couple hours she remained in my phone until she somehow finally made her way out.

Mmmm... Thousand Island Dressing...

A couple weeks ago, Web International English (a school I work out part-time) was having some sort of promotion with BMW where some students and staff would take a weekend and go to a place called Qian Dao Hu, or "Thousand Island Lake." They wanted a foreign teacher to come along, and they asked me if I'd like to go, saying that all the expenses (travel, hotel, admissions, etc) would be covered. Since Jean had only just returned from a week visiting her best friend in Beijing, and having been gone for a month with her parents in Harbin before that, I wasn't really sure I wanted to spend a weekend without her. So, I asked them if it would be alright if Jean came along. It might not have been totally appropriate to ask that, but I figured, the worst they could say is "No," in which case I wouldn't go, and instead spend my time more happily with Jean.

To my surprise they said yes, and so we went. When leaving the group of us crammed into 4 BMW vehicles and began the three-hour drive to Chun An, the town that Qian Dao Hu belongs to. We arrived on a Friday night (I guess that would've been June 11, because the first game of the World Cup was that night), went out to dinner, and then went back to the hotel, as we'd be getting up early the next day to sight-see.

There's not a lot to say about the trip, but there was a lot to see so I'll put some pictures up here.

There are literally 1023 little islands or "islets" on this lake, and some of them are specialized. For example, there is a Snake Island:

(In these two pictures above, if you look closely you'll see there are a lot more snakes than at first glance.)

There is a Bird Island as well:

Also during the tour, on the snake island, we saw a show of some women dancing and singing, but they weren't exactly "women"... they were Thai lady-boys. It was a little weird (no photos allowed, unless you paid) and at one point one of them was singing a song, performing both the alto female part, and the tenor male part... disturbing.

In all, though, Qian Dao Hu was one of the more beautiful places I'd seen in China, and I'm glad we had the chance to go.

I did though come across a couple interesting instances of "Chinglish."

This was in front of the elevator in our hotel. Just a little incorrect grammar, but it still gets the message across.

This was taken on the boat on Qian Dao Hu. This one is not technically wrong. I looked it up in a dictionary, and "to speel" means "to climb, ascend, or mount." But I'd never heard it before and it sounds really funny.

(I came across a similar situation to the one above when I visited a Dinosaur Theme Park last year. There was a notice that said "Burgling is Forbidden Here." Not wrong, just sounds funny.)

This was in the bathroom in our hotel. Consume the Green!

This one we saw in the downtown area of Chun An. Many western stores' names becomes "Chinese-ified" in China. For example Adidas becomes "A Di Da Si" and Armani becomes "A Ma Ni." The store is supposed to be Manhattan (which in Chinese "should" be "Man Ha Dun") but as you can see here, its a far more hilarious transliteration.

This was not taken at Qian Dao Hu, rather in Huzhou. This is the name of a chain of stores that sells leather bags. I will make no comments.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Sing It!

So, about a month and a half ago I got a call from one of my Chinese friends named Annie. Annie is woman in her 40s and is married to a Canadian man named Paul. She has an 18 year old daughter named Susan. Anyhow she called me telling me (in Chinese first, because her English is so-so) that there was going to be a singing contest the next day at the TV station, and wanted to know if I'd like to participate together with her daughter. I wasn't exactly sure what this contest was about, but I said sure.

The next day Susan contacted me at about noon saying that the contest would be at the local TV station at 2. At least we needed to be there at 2 that is. I met Susan at the Huzhou Teacher's College (about a mile from my school) at 1:30 and from there we walked the remaining half a mile to the TV station. On the way I asked her what exactly this competition was about. She explained to me that they would play part of a song, perhaps 30 seconds or so, and then they would stop the music and you would have to sing the next couple of lines. You didn't have to sing on key, only the lyrics mattered. I asked her if we'd be competing together and she said she thought so. She had a list of the 30 or so songs that they might give to the contestants to sing (about half English songs, half Chinese songs), but unfortunately I didn't have enough time to really study it. I only had even heard of maybe 4 or 5 of the songs, and beyond that only knew the words to 2 of them (Poker Face by Lady Gaga and Venus by some-band-in-the-80s-that-I-don't-know). I wasn't very concerned, however, because Susan knew the songs fairly well.

When we arrived at the TV station we discovered that it was in fact NOT a team competition, but an individual one. Further we found that it would only be me competing and not Susan. Then I started to get worried because I had no idea about the vast majority of these songs and further I still wasn't clear on what exactly the format of this competition was. I did, however, learn that this would be broadcast on local Huzhou television that Saturday evening (this was a Tuesday), and that it would be posted for viewing online the following week.

Then we entered the studio and I realized this was not some low-production, one-off competition. This was a real TV game show, with a full set and live studio audience and everything. This upped the ante a bit as now if I embarrassed myself, it would be in a more formal setting. There we learned there'd be a total of 8 contestants. As it turned out one of the planned contestants didn't show up, so they let Susan compete after all. When the show began we went back stage and they called out each of the contestants one-by-one to do a short introduction with him or her and the hosts. On a side note, I wasn't the only foreigner competing. There was a Filipino man also competing. I learned that he was a musician and had been living and working in China for about 5 years. He was currently working (with his fellow Filipino group) as the entertainment of a Southeast Asian style restaurant here in Huzhou. His English was great, but even more surprising, his Chinese was unbelievably good. Not only fluent, but really authentic sounding as well. My Chinese is alright, Ellis's Chinese is much better than mine, but in either case we still sound like foreigners speaking Chinese. This guy didn't.

Anyway I was contestant #5 and Susan was contestant #6 and when I went up for my introduction Susan went out with me. There was a brief back and forth with the hosts and us, and... normally my Chinese is not bad, or when listening maybe I need a moment or two to process what was said to me. But in this on-the-spot situation, needing a moment to process instead looks like I didn't understand, and so Susan did a brief spot of translating for me (this ended up getting cut, thank goodness).

When the competition began they had all the competitors standing in a row at about mid-stage, and whoever's turn it was would come up stage. At this time, standing there, I became increasingly aware of my hands, realizing I didn't know exactly what to do with them. This in turn reminded me of a scene from a movie called “Talladega Nights” where a character wins a race and is being interviewed and he keeps raising his hands to his face because he doesn't know what to do with them.

When my turn came, I had an English song, but I'd never heard it before and thus had no prayer of being able to finish singing it. On my 2nd turn, it was a Chinese song, and I do know a select few Chinese songs, but this was not among them, so strike 2. On my final turn I again was given an English song which I'd never heard and thus failed again. After telling them I didn't know, the host asked me in Chinese “You really don't know?” to which I was thinking, “No, I've been holding out on you,” but actually replied, “I really don't know.” That was that and I was done. The most face-losing part of it was not that I didn't make it to the 2nd round or that I got all the songs wrong. In fact there were 3 other contestants who didn't make it to the 2nd round. The difference is that when the other contestants would answer incorrectly, at least they had a decent guess, something very close, but was perhaps off by a word or two. I was the only one who was completely ignorant on every try.

Anyhow, I was done and off and my friend Susan actually ended up winning the whole thing, for which she was given a 2000 yuan prize. I received a stuffed “Haibao” as a parting gift. (For those that don't know, “Haibao”, literally “Sea baby”, is the mascot of the Shanghai 2010 World Expo. If you haven't heard of the Shanghai Expo, it's basically a World's Fair, except modern and the most expensive one by far in the history of World Fairs. In fact, setting up this expo in Shanghai was more expensive than the Olympics in Beijing.)

Now I intended to post about this outing shortly after it happened but I was hoping to be able to provide a link to watch it. In fact, I didn't bother watching on TV, because I figured I'd watch it online a few days. Unfortunately, I couldn't figure out how to watch it, and then ended up procrastinating on getting this post done. I'd asked some Chinese friends to help me find it to watch it, but to no avail. Finally today I asked Susan if she knew how to watch it. Turns out I had found the right link, but you can ONLY view it with Internet Explorer. So without further ado, here is my not-so-spectacular television debut:

Remember you can only use Internet Explorer to view this. Also, to play it, there is an image that shows a hand pointing to a play button and it says "PLAY" next to it. You don't click that, you click the Chinese words next to it, “我爱红歌汇 (十七)” to play it. The whole thing is in Chinese, and its kind of long, but I made my first appearance at 17:20, so if you want to skip forward to that, feel free to. Furthermore, I have no idea how fast or slow this will stream out of China, so if it's unplayable stateside, sorry.