Thursday, October 14, 2010
That year, I was living in China, working as a "foreign expert" (外国专家 wài guó zhuān jiā) at the magazine "China Today" (今日中国, jīn rì zhōng guó). I was also studying kungfu (功夫, gōng fu) with an informal class that met under a bridge in Beijing. One of my classmates there was a student at Beijing Film Institute, and mentioned that a film crew from Beijing Television was looking for a few foreigners to be in a TV show about the Long March (长征, cháng zhēng). It was the 60th anniversary of the end of the Long March, which was a massive military retreat across 10,000 km of Chinese countryside by the Red Army (红军, hóng jūn), as they were evading the Nationalists, aka KMT or Kuomintang (国民党, guó mín dǎng).
Never one to turn down weird opportunities, I agreed and went to check it out.
The result was a 40 day journey into the heart of rural China, complete with film crew drama, wacky drunken dinners, loads of propaganda and a cute panda named Didi.
This time visiting my mom, not only did we discover the tape of the show that finally aired on BTV, Mom found my journal from the trip, which I had assumed was lost with the rest of my stuff which I left at my friend's house when I left China in 1999. Needless to say I will try to write this up as an anecdote. Here is a teaser:
On the way to the chain bridge crossing (泸定桥 lú dìng qiáo), we decided to stop by the Wolong Nature Preserve (卧龙自然保护区, wò lóng zì rán bǎo hù qū). It wasn’t actually part of the Long March, but everyone was tired and we all needed to do something fun. The other option, actually more tempting, was to visit Jiuzhaigou (九寨沟, jiǔ zhài gōu) a truly wild place, with basically no people. Several tourists are lost there each year, it was said.
But Wolong turned out to be one of the most memorable places we visited. The cages and offices were not very upscale, and it was really a question of not having enough money. But you could tell that the guys who worked in the place really cared for the bears. They had their protein cookies and milk porridge, and they all had names.
The main caretaker warned us not to reach into the cages, because although the pandas look very cute, they can be violent. He said that a tourist came to Wolong a few years ago and tried to play with a panda—and got half his face ripped off by the big teddy bear.
But there was one panda on the premises who had been brought up in captivity so was fairly docile and familiar with people. Her name was Didi.
The most exciting part was when we were allowed into the cage with Didi. There she was, sitting on her concrete pedestal, holding a stalk of bamboo and munching to her heart’s content. She looked harmless enough. Actually she was the cutest thing I had ever seen. The keeper was very specific in his instructions about what we could and could not do.
“ONLY pet her on the back, and from top to bottom,” he said.
But the reality of the situation was much more difficult than that. When you are standing in a cage with a panda bear, you realize how unbelievably cute and cuddly they really are. Didi was about four feet high while sitting, and she sat just like a teddy bear, with pads facing out, sitting up, and front paws grasping the bamboo shoots.
I maneuvered around back of her, and the guy gave me the OK to begin petting. Her fur was a little oily. I noticed her ears, round furry medallions that needed a scratch, and would just fit in the round part of my hand. My hand drifted up toward her head…
“Don’t touch the ears!” the guy yelled into the cage.
All right, all right. I moved my hand down her back. But then her paws were so inviting, the scaly pads and furry toes called to my fingers. Surely, if I just …
“Don’t touch her paws!” he snapped.
Grinning like an idiot, I went back to her back, but then it was time for me to get out of the cage. I posed for one last picture with Didi, and then I had to say goodbye. She seemed completely unfazed and continued chewing her bamboo. I left the cage but I will never forget her and her beautiful, forbidden ears.
Thursday, August 5, 2010
FOUS: Fishes Of Unusual Size
Trixie is 25 feet long, weighs 2,000 kilograms, and doesn't like to go in the stretcher for her medical check-ups. She came from Taiwan in a giant 25,000-pound ziploc bag filled with water. (Not really, it was a high-tech UPS container). I learned about her and the Georgia Aquarium's three other whale sharks: Yu Shan, Taroko and Alice at a session called "Whale Shark Care."
These creatures, the largest of the sharks, can grow to over 60 feet long and require 2,000 gallons of the anesthetic agent MS 222 delivered by a machine called Mega S.N.U.Z. in order to do anything to them. This includes gill slit checks; blood collection; and the all-important "vent flush." They can fully retract their eye to the point where it looks like they don't have one, and the four animals at the Georgia Aquarium are the only ones on display outside of Asia.
Acupuncture: Not just fluffy needles
Having recently embarked upon my own acupuncture (针灸, zhēn jiǔ) adventure for a knee problem, I was curious to see what the veterinary world had to say about the ancient technique. I admit I was expecting some vague, new-agey stuff about animal meridians, but I soon found myself scratching my head over a detailed scientific lecture.
I learned that this 4,000-year-old technique of stimulating points along the body reduces production of Substance P, which is a neuropeptide that plays a key role in the up-regulation of the inflammatory cascade and helps transmit pain signals to the brain. (I think P stands for Pain). Acupuncture also deactivates parts of the limbic system, which is linked to the emotional aspect of pain. Acupuncture reduces the presence of certain excitatory neurotransmitters (神经递质, shén jīng dì zhì ) in the dorsal horn of the spinal cord (part of the grey matter inside the spinal cord that helps transmit pain signals). And last but not least, when they stick the little needles in you (or your pup) it releases awesome things called endogenous opioids. Those make you feel good.
Like lots of things in science and medicine, nobody seems to know exactly how it works, but it does. This includes the process of "circling the dragon," which is placing the acupuncture needles around the wound or painful area and (optionally) electrifying the needles. I had this done to my knee as well, and while weird, it did help reduce swelling and pain for a while.
Let's get wild, dogs
Another session I went to was on the endangered species known as the African Wild Dog (非洲野狗, fēi zhōu yě gǒu). Like I mentioned in my post about the Asiatic Wild Ass, the "Wild" is said as if it were the first part of an adjective, "wild-dog." These are one of the only canids (dog-like) animals in Africa, and they have giant ears and they are super fast runners. (Hyenas are in their own category, they are not canids).
Wild Dogs mainly eat impala ("the hamburger of the Okavanga Delta"), and only about 3,000-5,000 Wild Dogs are still left in the wild. The Wild Dogs are one of the most efficient and successful hunters in Africa.
Finally, not to be too morbid, I went to a few sessions on animal hospice care. Yes, they have that. I just have to mention it because of one session: "creative euthanasia techniques." I imagined all kinds of crazy Rube Goldberg death apparatuses and lethal cocktails and stuff, but the presenter mostly talked about how to handle clients' grief and being accommodating about where they want to do it (like in their minivan in one case, since the dog loved the minivan.) The presenter was very cool and good and was all about doing the right thing in terms of euthanasia. She said: "The last thing I want is for the patient to have a bad experience with me before going to Heaven. Who knows who they're gonna talk to?"
Oh yeah, and there is a euthanasia drug marketed as "Fatal Plus." What would the advertising jingle be for that? The next conference is in January. We'll have to see what zany topics come up there. Stay tuned!
Thursday, June 10, 2010
This is considered a lucky character. I was going to say the reason why is because it is a pseudo-homonym with the word 发 (fā) as in 发财 (fācái), "to get rich." But I am going to do a little research to see if that is true or not. ... Okay, essentially that is the answer, but my research has jogged my memory and led me in another direction.
Many numbers in Chinese culture have significance, but nowhere is this more evident - and important - than in the Chinese drinking game of "Guessing Fingers" (划拳 huáquán or 猜拳 cāiquán).
Guessing Fingers is akin to Rock-Paper-Scissors, in that the players present some configuration of their hand to their opponent, and both players have to guess what the other player's hand configuration is going to be. In "Guessing Fingers," the hand configurations are basically 0-5 fingers extended. The goal is to guess what the total number of fingers extended will be: yours plus your opponent's. Both players have to call out their guess as they throw out their fingers.
For example, if you are going to throw 2 fingers, you might guess 6. So you both throw out your fingers, and as you do, you yell "6 obediences!" (it makes sense later*) and the other guy yells "5 greats!" If he extended 4 fingers, you win the round (4+2=6) and the other guy takes a drink. If he extended 3 fingers, he wins and you drink. If nobody won, you keep going.
Being a math whiz, I would often throw out 5 fingers and yell "4!" which is of course idiotic. This is known as "yellow hand" 黄拳 (huang2 quan2), and costs you a drink. Another penalty is if you change your throw after you see the opponent's hand.
*Now, calling out your guess is not just a simple matter of saying a number and sticking out your hand. You can play that way but it is slightly lame. In truth, each number has a saying or phrase that goes along with it. Below are a few of the sayings and what they mean (there are many variations), as well as the proper ways to display each number with your hand. Grab a drink and read on!
Each round starts with "the hat" (帽子 mào zi). The hat is a phrase that both players chant together so they have the same rhythm and cadence as they continue the game.
兄弟好, 好兄弟 (xiōng dì hǎo, hǎo xiōng dì)
The brothers are good, good are the brothers
全福寿啊, 福寿全 (quán fú shòu ah, fú shòu quán)
Everybody's lucky and lives long, Lucky long life everybody (doesn't flow as well in English does it?)
哥俩好啊 (gē'r liá hǎo ah)
Two brothers friendly (this is the one we always used in Beijing)
----OK, on to the numbers! ----
Zero (closed fist) -
不伸 (bu4 shen1) "Nothing extended." Pretty straightforward.
We usually just said 没有 (mei3 you3), "none."
One (thumb only) -
一条龙 (yī tiǎo lóng) "One dragon." Sounds cool.
一心敬 (yī xīn jìng) "We toast as one." Supposedly from a Du Fu poem.
Two (thumb and forefinger) -
两相好 (liǎng xiāng hǎo) "Both sides friendly." A sign of camaraderie while getting hammered together. I love you, man!
哥俩好 (gē'r liá hǎo) "Two brothers friendly." Also used in the "hat."
Three (the "OK" sign) -
三星照 (sān xīng zhào) "Three stars shining down." This refers to the three Taoist deities of Fortune (福 fú), Wealth (禄 lù) and Longevity (寿 shòu), which also correspond to ancient constellations in Chinese astronomy.
Four (hand flat out, but forefinger bent in half) -
四鸿喜 (si4 hong2 xi3) "Four great happinesses." For the ancients, the four great happinesses were: 久旱逢甘雨 (jiǔ hàn féng gān yǔ) Sweet rain after a long drought; 他乡遇故知 (tā xiāng yù gù zhī) Meeting an old friend in a faraway place; 洞房花烛夜 (dòng fáng huā zhú yè) One's wedding night (literally "night of lighting a candle in the secret bridal chamber"); and 金榜题名时 (jīn bǎng tí míng shí) Having your name appear on the list of successful imperial examinees for becoming an official. Not to be confused with the Five Great Happinesses of Being a Guy: 拉急尿; 屙急屎; 日屄; 搔痒; 掏耳屎. ("Taking an urgent #1, taking an urgent #2; having sex; scratching an itch; and picking your ear." I learned those at school in Nanjing. I should say I learned that saying at school in Nanjing.)
Five (all fingers extended) -
五魁首 (wǔ kuí shǒu) "Five greats." This probably refers to the Five Classics (五經 wǔ jīng) of Chinese literature: 诗经 (shī jīng, Book of Songs); 书经 (shū jīng, Book of History); 易经 (yì jīng, Book of Changes, aka I Ching); 礼记 (lǐ jì, Classic of Rites); and 春秋 (chūn qiū, Spring and Autumn Annals)
Six - 六大顺 (liù dà shùn) "Six obediences." According to the "左传" (zuǒ zhuàn, Zuo's Commentary on the Spring and Autumn Annals), the six obediences are: 君义, 臣行, 父慈, 子孝, 兄爱, 弟敬 (jūn yì, chén xíng, fù cí, zǐ xiào, xiōng ài, dì jìng): "The ruler is righteous; the minister acts appropriately; the father is gentle; the son is dutiful; the older brother is loving; the younger brother is respectful." Usually when I played, we would just say 六六六六 (liù liù liù liù "6,6,6,6!"). Slightly less literary.
Seven - 七个巧 (qī gè qiǎo) "Seven skills." This is a pun, and refers to 七夕节 (qī xī jié) Seventh Night Festival, or Qixi Festival. It falls on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month, and on this day, the literally star-crossed lovers 牛郎 (niú láng, Cow Boy, aka the star Altair) and 织女 (zhīnǚ, Weaver Girl, aka Vega) are allowed to see each other by crossing the magpie bridge over the Milky Way. Another name for the festival is 乞巧节 (qǐ qiǎo jié) "Beg for Skills Festival," since young girls are supposed to beg Weaver Girl for better sewing and other domestic skills. The words for "beg" and "seven" sound similar, hence the pun.
Or, 七仙女 (qī xiān nǚ) "Seven immortal maidens." This refers to the seven magical daughters of the Jade Emperor. They make an appearance in the classical novel "Journey to the West" (西游记 xī yóu jì). In the story, the Monkey King (孙悟空 sūn wù kōng) ruins the Great Immortal Peach Festival by eating all of the immortal peaches in the Jade Emperor's garden. The seven immortal maidens were supposed to gather said peaches but Monkey ate most of them so the festival is ruined! Bad Monkey!
Eight - 八匹马 (bā pī mǎ) "Eight horses." According to legend, during the Western Zhou Dynasty (c. 1100- 771 BC) King Mu (周穆王 Zhōu Mù Wáng) traveled in a chariot pulled by 8 horses far to the western reaches of his land, eventually reaching the Jade Lake (瑶池 yáo chí) on Mount Kunlun (昆仑山 kūn lún shān). This was the domain of a goddess, the Queen Mother of the West (西王母 xī wáng mǔ). She was also the keeper of the Peaches of Immortality mentioned above. They hung out and had a few feasts together then he returned to the kingdom with a promise to go back to her. However, he apparently never did, even though he lived to be 105. Typical.
Nine - 快喝酒 (kuài hē jiǔ) "Hurry up and drink!" The word for alcohol (酒 jiǔ) sounds exactly the same as the word for 9 (九 jiǔ).
Ten - 满堂红 (mǎn táng hóng) Expression meaning "complete success in everything."
全来 - (quán lái) - "All of 'em!"
十全十美 (shí quán shí měi) - Expression meaning "perfect in every way." Literally "10 complete and 10 beautiful." 10 means "totally" in this context.
Well, there you go. As my Grandma Liz would say, "that's more about penguins than you ever wanted to know about penguins." Now start playing!
Friday, June 4, 2010
Dr. Van is a semi-depressed, space-station based veterinarian who treats the companion alien animals that residents keep as pets. But a series of visions he has while treating his alien patients leads him on a search for the dark truth behind where the creatures came from.
"The Polar Ace"
A mysterious paleontological dig in Greenland, a ship plagued by a sinister shipment of cargo, and a desperate dude looking to pay off his debts with a Central Asian criminal consortium all come together in a futuristic action-packed romp through two oceans and multiple time zones.
"The Sky Stone of Tombouctou"
Waverly Yancy is almost a typical 13-year-old. He loves computer games, his parents can be annoying, and he doesn’t quite fit in. He lives in a ritzy suburban Connecticut suburb, but he’s one of the only non-white kids in his school. It doesn’t help that when he encounters a bully on the way home from school, a strange awareness awakens in him.
Then, his discovery of a peculiar amulet in the freezer, clues from his grandmomma about the family’s arcane past, and his parents’ decision to trace the family’s ancestry back to its African roots in the mystery-shrouded land of Timbuktu, all add up to a thrilling adventure of a lifetime for Waverly. But the journey into the heart of Africa is only the beginning...
The Sky Stone of Tombouctou is a completed 75,000-word young adult fantasy novel set in the present day, and is ready for representation.
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
On the site, you can click on a map of China (there is also an overseas section) to select the region where you want the tomb to be. Then a virtual graveyard complex pops up (shown in the picture above) and you can scroll around and select which part of the 'Net necropolis you want to set up the tomb in. Once you click in, you can see a bunch of graves that already have monuments in them, and other vacant spots. You can choose one of the vacant spots for your online ossuary, or you can visit a grave that has already been set up.
The layout looks like a game map, which adds to the overall strangeness. Then, once you are zoomed into a specific grave it looks even more like a game (second picture (names removed to protect the cyberdead)). There are multiple icons all over the screen, but instead of spells and weapons like in World of Warcraft, you can select different flower arrangements, incense, food offerings or other objects to place at the grave site. Some of these are free, and other gifts and offerings can be unlocked by paying real money for them.
At graveside, there is also a Facebook-like news feed with recent activity for that particular pixellated polyandrium. (Sorry.) Just for fun, I tried clicking on the button labeled "Quick Grave Set-up," (kuai4 su4 jian4 mu4 快速建墓) but it asked me to register or log in first.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
It's that time of year again, when another zany animal from the Chinese zodiac lopes into the scene. This time, it's the Year of the Tiger (hu3 nian2 虎年)! Rawwr!
Minor Digression: Tiger Woods' parents should have seen this coming. Tiger recently issued an emotional apology to all of his fans and sponsors and lady friends. If he had only paid attention to a few simple and obvious details, he probably could have avoided all of this trouble. You see, 2010 is the Year of the Tiger, but not just any tiger - the Metal Tiger. The Wood Tiger's year will not roll around until 2035, which is when Tiger Woods will really shine, probably on the Seniors Tour. See, Tiger was born in 1975, part of which was a Wood Tiger year. But our Tiges was born in December, a full 10 months after the year switched from tiger to rabbit. Although the phase of that rabbit year was still wood.
Major Digression: Wooden rabbit. 1975. Can anybody see the connection here? Okay, I admit. I had to Google what year "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" came out, but yes it was 1975, and the film features a wooden rabbit (No, not the killer rabbit of Caerbannog. What is wrong with you nerds?) that is created as a Trojan horse to sneak into the French Person's castle. Were the Monty Python crew taking a pot shot at traditional Chinese astrology? We don't know for sure. But the connection is intriguing.
Post Regression: Is anyone confused yet? Okay, so most people know about the Chinese animal years, Pig, Chicken, Rat, Ox, Sloth, Fruit Bat, etc. But the animals are merely the tip of the astrological iceberg. In addition to the 12-year animal merry-go-round, there is also a 60-year cycle in Chinese astrology, which is made up of 60 different combinations of the 10 Heavenly Stems (天干 tian1 gan1) and the 12 Earthly Branches (地支, di4 zhi1). These were created several thousand years ago as ways of simply keeping track of time, and as a way of fortune telling.
Each Earthly Branch corresponds to one of the animals (which have characteristics used in fortune telling), and the Heavenly Stems are associated with the negative and positive (yin and yang) aspects of each of the 5 Elements or Phases (wu3 xing2 五行): Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. So once you have gone through each permutation, a 60-year, or sexagenary, cycle is complete.
The more I read about this the more confusing it gets, so I will try to keep it simple for my own sake. This year in the cycle is the 庚寅年 (geng1 yin2 nian2), which is the 7th Heavenly Stem, 3rd Earthly Branch. It is the 27th year of the current 60-year cycle, and the 庚 represents Yang (positive) and metal, while the 寅 represents the Tiger and all of its characteristics.
According to the Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco, Tigers are suspicious, short-tempered, sensitive, have trouble with authority, indecisive, and unlike wooden rabbits, are generally bad at golf.
Tiger-related Note: I just read on the Language Log website that a popular saying this year for Valentine's Day (mostly in advertisements) was "I 老虎 you," where 老虎 (lao3 hu3), which means "tiger," sounds like a terribly pronounced version of the English word "love." And since Valentine's Day was the first day of the new year it was especially clever.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
The document was hand-scrawled on official government stationary from an area of Yi County (义县 yi4 xian4) in Liaoning Province (辽宁省 liao2 ning2 sheng3). Since it was written by hand, this thing was a little hard to decipher. There was a clue on the paper, though, where it said the name of the town, printed at the top of the page: Dizang Temple Manchu Village (地藏寺满族乡di4 zang4 si4 man3 zu2 xiang1). First I looked up Dizang Temple.
Turns out it is a Buddhist temple, and Dizang can also be translated as Ksitigarbha, a Sanskrit name. He is a bodhisattva (an enlightened person who tries to help others), and 地藏 (Dizang) is actually a translation of Ksitigarbha, which means Earth Store or Earth Treasure or Earth Womb (hence the witty titular pun of this post. Actually there is an even subtler connection there, to be described below!).
According to the Internet, the Dizang Temple in this village was founded by Manchurian chieftain Nurhachi (努尔哈赤 nu4 er3 ha1 chi4) in the 16th-17th century. He was famous for creating the written form of the Manchu script, and as the father of the Qing Dynasty.
Also, he is the same Nurhachi whose ashes appear in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, when Indy trades them for a large diamond in Shanghai!
As Hannibal used to say on the A-Team, I love it when a blog comes together.
Thursday, January 14, 2010
The result is that the company may be closing down their Chinese version of Google, which is google.cn, unless China allows them to put up uncensored search results. I can't see how that would happen.
Anyway, it would really suck for me because I use Chinese Google all the time for translation work. So in premature memoriam of google.cn, I now offer a little bit of Chinese googling trivia.
- Mystery! Today's (Jan. 14, 2010) Google doodle (where they change the logo into a picture) on google.cn is the Four Great Inventions (四大发明, si4 da4 fa1 ming2). Usually there is some holiday or birthday or something to warrant a doodle. But why is this here? The Four Great Inventions (in the Chinese context) are Paper (造纸术 zao4 zhi3 shu4), the Compass (指南针 zhi3 nan2 zhen4), Gunpowder (火药 huo3 yao4), and Movable Type Printing (活字印刷术, huo3 zi4 yin1 shua1 shu4). Yes, Gutenberg, the Chinese did that first, too. So the question is: Why? Theories as to what they are trying to say:
1) The Internet (or Google) is a great invention, too, so don't make us leave you, China.
2) The letters of the logo that are altered are "Go" and "le." This could be a very strange Chinglishy way of saying "we are going," ie, "go 了" (了 (le) is just a modifier of the verb). Or, it could be a phonetic way of saying "Enough!" (够了, gou4 le).
3) It is a way of saying "We love China! It is soo smart!" in a last ditch effort to bribe the Central Government with Google doodles.
- Google in Chinese is 谷歌 (gu3 ge1), which means "Valley Song." But mostly it is just phoeneticization of "Google."
- Censorship? I wanted to test how censored the Chinese Google is. So I plugged in the phrase 六四事件 (liu4 si4 shi4 jian4) into both the mainland and the Taiwanese version of Google. 六四事件 is literally the "6-4 Incident," or June 4 Incident, meaning the Tian'anmen Square massacre on June 4, 1989. The mainland version actually came back with about 3 million results. But the top hit is an interview with Premier Zhu Rongji, who says that "I think that China now has enough democracy, so something like (the June 4 Incident) could not happen again."
A Taiwan Google (google.com.tw) search of the same term, on the other hand, produces more than 11 million results. The top one? The Chinese Wikipedia entry for the Tian'anmen Incident. Talk about freedom of speech. Plus it shows YouTube videos and all kinds of stuff about the massacre. So yes, the mainland version is definitely censored. To be fair, the google.cn version of the results page does say at the bottom: "Due to local government laws and regulations, some search results are not displayed."