Archive for the 'chinese' Category

Air China

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

Singapore, Hong Kong, and Taiwan trips are coming up, and Li LiYan has been helping with the bookings, so most of the flights are on Air China. Here’s the logo:


I can tell that it’s a phoenix, but what I needed Wikipedia to point out is that the curves spell VIP. What Wikipedia didn’t mention, but what must be true nevertheless, is that this phoenix is also a stylized version of the character fēi 飞, which means to fly.


North by Northeast

Friday, June 12th, 2009

Today I am traveling to Heilongjiang and Jilin provinces, near the Russian and North Korean borders. Chinese people say that the outline of China on a map looks like a chicken; I am going to visit the comb and the beak.



Friday, May 29th, 2009

Got a 96 or better on all my exams, which I suppose shows they weren’t that hard. Some students took them too seriously — I caught a glimpse of a classmate’s palm as we were discussing the grammar exam afterward:


Soon after exams were finished, I woke up to a flooded living room. A pipe under the floor had burst and flooded my apartment and the downstairs neighbor’s. It took three or four days to fix, during which I had no water in my apartment (I showered at the gym). When the crew were finished, there was an inch-thick layer of concrete dust over everything in my place. It took a week to clean completely. I was glad I had done the intensive studying early.

The day after everything was finally patched and cleaned, I went out to get my hair cut. When I got back, the lock was broken. The key turned, but the deadbolt wouldn’t retract. Four hours and $80 later I had a new deadbolt and three new keys.

Further progress

Friday, May 15th, 2009

The month-long silence between my return from the Philippines and now was the sound of me studying. As I mentioned before I went on the trip, I had memorized 500 characters — including pinyin, tones, and hànzì — in a little over six weeks in class. It seemed like I could do better, so when I got back, I started drilling even more. A month later, I’ve completed the first-year textbooks and now know 875 characters. At this pace it will only take…two years before I can read a newspaper.

Studying so much every day really had an effect on my perception of characters. I had a few interesting epiphanies, for example that the logos for China Telecom


and Bank of China


are both stylized versions of zhōng,


the character that represents the Middle Kingdom. I had seen that The Bank of China symbol is a version of the old Chinese coins with a square hole, but the resemblance to zhōng was something I hadn’t noticed. The China Telecom character is supposed to look like a globe, and also like the characters C and T (borrowed from Toyota’s logo?).

I had a bizarre experience while waiting for the elevator. I was subconsciously counting along with the digital display as the elevator approached my floor: 15, 16, 17… I only noticed I was doing it because when the display changed to 18, I mentally read it as jiù, the character meaning old.


The Great Firewall

Friday, April 17th, 2009

I got back from visiting Manny in the Philippines yesterday to find I couldn’t access this site. It had been blocked by the Great Firewall of China. I got my host’s support team to change the IP address, so let’s hope it was just a mistake and not criticism from the censors.

Here’s a relevant article from The Atlantic on “The Golden Shield”. I’ve met a lot of people here who don’t know what a proxy server is or where to find one and just stop reading various sites they can’t access from China.

Progress update

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

I’m flying to Manila tomorrow to visit Manny for a week (and missing four days of class). The following two weeks give us time to prepare for and take the mid-term exams. So I’m half done with this semester.

I just finished reviewing all the characters we have learned so far in jMemorize, and noticed that they total exactly 500 (after removing duplicates). Since I’ve been in class for 6.5 weeks, and am studying 5 days/week, that means I am learning a little over 15 words/day on average. After another month I’ll be able to read and write more Chinese characters than Japanese characters, so that’s progress, but 15 words/day doesn’t seem like a lot.

Background talk

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Today for the first time I understood part of a third-party conversation. I walked in to the barber shop to get my hair cut, and one of the staff members said to another in Chinese: “Foreigners have big heads [外国人的头很大].”

Memorizing the Chinese character for “beer”

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

I think most people who are studying Japanese or Chinese are already familiar with Heisig’s system for memorizing characters. We got to the chapter in Boya Chinese where Dàwèi goes to the store to buy alcohol, and the Chinese word for beer seemed to lend itself especially well to this system.

The second character means “alcohol” and I already know it from Japanese. The first character is composed of a mouth 口, a drop ‘, a rice field 田 with an abnormally crooked centerline, and the number ten 十. It took just a second to come up with, “If I open my mouth and take one drop of beer, I will plow a crooked furrow ten times”.

Flashcard programs for learning Chinese

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

The reading, speaking, and listening courses at Jiao Tong all have their own textbooks. The word total for all three is over 2400, but the set intersection is just 1163. I compiled the word lists using CC-CEDICT and loaded them into jMemorize to run flashcards every morning and night for half an hour. I’m in the (otherwise) segregated “Asian” class at Jiao Tong, and this is helping me keep up with the Japanese and Korean students who already know how to read and write fluently.

I study using the English definition as my prompt. I write out the pīnyīn and hànzì, then check what I’ve written against the result. This way I test character recognition, pronunciation, tones and meaning in a single run. A thirty minutes session is way more tiring than going to the gym.

I ended up using jMemorize for three reasons: importing my own word lists is relatively easy, I like the progress feedback you get when you promote or fail a word, and I like the built-in keyboard shortcuts for cycling through the cards.

Other useful flashcard systems I looked at include the Anki and ZDT. I also tried Flash My Brain, but the import function deletes all the UTF-8 Chinese characters in my word lists, so it was useless for me.

While I was looking around, I found Skritter, a new site with a very cool interface to help test that you actually know how to write the words you are reviewing. It even pronounces the words for you after you get them right. The only problem for me is that it tests from pīnyīn rather than from English, and that it doesn’t have the word sets for my books (yet).

Chinese colors

Saturday, March 21st, 2009