This is topic 5000 vs 1.3 billion (A Landmark) in forum Landmark Threads at Hatrack River Forum.

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Posted by BlackBlade (Member # 8376) on :
The Chinese have an immoveable place in my concious thought. Be it dreaming in Chinese, randomly translating words into their Chinese equivalent, studying them in international relations classes, or talking to my father about a recent business trip there, the Chinese do not stray far from my thoughts.

I was four years of age when I first moved to South East Asia, and besides a 4 year stint in Malaysia I grew up in Hong Kong. It's the place I say I am from, even if its not the place I was born in.

I'm not sure how to do justice to the Chinese people in something as insignificant as a landmark, but I've decided to try and convey what the Chinese people mean to me personally, by just writing out thoughts/experiences I've had about them. I will say in advance that not all of what I will say will please or praise, but be assured, the Chinese are a wonderful group of people who I would be honored to live amongst again.

As usual, I am not responsible for how long this post will in likelihood be.

My earliest memories of the Chinese were the kids I played with at school who liked me, and our gardener at our house who did not. I never did figure out why he did not like us but this old Chinese man simply did not want us around. He belonged to the house so he couldn't be fired. So he often gleefully called the police to ticket our car for being parked on the curb by our house illegally or even in our own driveway, claiming the car was not the owners. My pregnant mother made the mistake of once asking him to help her carry groceries into the house. My mother cannot speak Chinese beyond hello and goodbye, but even she could detect some sort of expletive in the diatribe he threw in her face.

But we eventually moved to another house, this one had a gardener who liked us [Smile] . The security guard in the complex across the street helped me learn to ride a bicycle, and he talked to me while I waited for the school bus, he was a very sweet old man.

My father speaks Chinese quite frankly, better then the average Chinese person. When we'd visit China proper, it was always so interesting to see him strike up a conversation with a random Chinese person. A small crowd would almost always congregate as people listen to him joke and tell stories, the expression of their faces was a mix of surprise at my father's command of their language and excitement that he would talk to the likes of them. A sense of self worth is often just not there when you encounter the poor in China. They are as a general rule VERY impressed when a foreigner has even a cursory understanding of their language. They are generally pleased if you take the time to talk to them even about mundane things. The weather, business, social going ons, family events, all are of great interest to them.

It is still very common to find a park where everday, old friends meet together to play chess/cards and discuss those very things. Women young and old might gather together to practice Tai Chi every morning. They are not exclusive either (one simply needs to know the nuances of Chinese conversation/interactions). I once walked by a group of old gentlemen to observe their chess game and within seconds I was invited to sit with them. Of course there were was not a seat for me so an elderly man offered me his. So of course I refused, in fact I stated that it was insulting that he would even suggest that I might shame myself in taking his seat. I then informed them that at my age it was of extreme importance that I stand in order to preserve my posture so that at an old age I would not be bent over. They all laughed, some dismissing my statement for the joke it was while some agreed that this was a good philosophy, I had a very enjoyable time with them. I honestly try to be friendly and talk to those I encounter, even the socially ackward because I think a society where people are so down to earth is a good thing.

Respect for elders is of the utmost importance. In high school I fell in love for the first time. She was Chinese and we are friends to this day. We talked about marriage because we were idealistic teenagers. I asked her what she would do if she was in love with a man but her parents did not want her to marry them. She said that of course she would break up with him and respect her parents. She might as well have side kicked me in the gut through a wall, I was completely shocked by how willing she was to let her parents decide such important things for her. Somebody who seeks to declare war on the tight nit structure of the Chinese family has their work cut out for them. As a missionary if I was having a wonderful discussion and grandma came home and merely said, "We are Budhists, thank the missionaries for their time but we are not interested" that was often the end of the matter.

Rules and protocoles must be followed precisely, however prices are flexible. If you purchase admission to say a museum, one person takes your money, another issues a ticket, and another observes everything to make sure the transaction was done properly. On a trip to Gui Lin a government official was assigned to be our tour guide/observer, his name was Mr Shi, (Shi means stone) so we called him "Rocky". His job was to show us the sights as well as stop us from seeing the sights that might make the government look bad. He shadowed us wherever we went, and though he was friendly it got alittle tiresome. We decided to rock his world. Me, my father, my friend, and his father gathered in the middle of a Buddhist museum and on queue we all went off in 4 different directions. Mr. Shi looked like he had seen a ghost, his training had not prepared him for this. [Big Grin]

When you shop in China (with the exception of a mall in say Hong Kong) NOTHING actually costs what it says. As a general rule you should slice the price in half and offer that as the "lowest" you are willing to go. The shopkeeper will often act outraged or completely dismiss your price. They will offer you something in between, and from there its a dance to see who can lock in the best offer. Some of my favorite lines are, "If I buy your pottery for X amount I won't be able to eat dinner tonight!" or, "Your breaking my rice bowl!" Slang that more or less means the same thing. If you want to fight dirty, if they refuse your final offer, say you are taking your business elsewhere and about 50% of the time they will chase after you and give you the price you wanted.

Generosity in China is incredibly diverse.
If I was lost and asked directions from a passerby it was completely normal for them to drop what they were doing and offer to escort me to where I was going. They might even offer to drive me or call a friend who could drive me, and they meant it too.

On the flip side,

My mother, once again pregnant was being rushed to the hospital by taxi cab. The driver refused to go through the tunnel, so my father after arguing with him about his situation agreed to pay him and flag down another taxi. My mom climbed out and was on all fours in pain and my father handed the driver a $1000 bill instead of a $100 (Hong Kong currency its about 7.7 dollars to a US dollar) the driver grabbed it and drove off rather then give my father his change. I remember after my mother gave birth she wanted some water to drink. The hospital staff brought her piping hot water and she demanded cold water. There is a long hold Chinese tradition that cold fluids are bad for the body, as your body has to exert itself to regain its proper temperature when the fluid causes it to drop. My mother argued with the staff until she agreed to sign a waiver that she would not sue the hospital for any complications that might occur from her drinking the cold water. [Big Grin]

Chinese people are extremely gullible and though it can be horrible to do so, I occasionaly found myself seeing just how much I could strain that gullibility before it would snap. They always took it in good fun, so it never bothered me that I was lying to them. My father once while walking the great wall with a friend was approached by one of the MANY water vendors who hawk their goods there. The man stated that his water was of the finest quality and the best price. My father's friend told him, "Initialy we were going to purchase your water, but that woman (he then pointed to another random woman who was also hawking water) said that if we drink your water, even just one sip, that we would certainly get diarrhea." The man said, "WHAT!?!" and immedietly ran down to where the other woman was and started yelling at her while my father and his friend scampered away giggling.

People say the Chinese do not detect sarcasm, but I am convinced this is not the general case. At a Mcdonalds in Taiwan and I was amazed and indignant that they were charging me about $1 US for an additional syrup packet. I explained, "In Hong Kong which is also in China they NEVER do this!" The manager responded with a smirk, "Maybe my geography is fuzzy but are we in Hong Kong right now?" I had no choice but to accept defeat and eat my food which would not be as sugary and alittle less moist.

Chinese children are the cutest things that walk this earth, of this I am certain. I have commited myself to one day, when I have the money, adopt a Chinese girl. So many of them are aborted or dumped in orphanages by families who want sons instead, I want to make just ONE of their lives alittle better, well really ALOT better, I'm sure I will smother my children with affection.

One of the best movies ever made, was done by a Chinese studio. The movie is called, To Live (Huo Zhe) Perhaps only the initiated can truely grasp all that is powerful in that movie, but I still think somebody completely oblivious to Chinese culture will find much that is powerful in that movie. Its a very sad story though, so be warned.

I'm not entirely happy with how this landmark turned out, but perhaps it was good for at least me write our some of these things. I had many other more exciting stories concerning Chinese people but realized that some of them do not belong to the public scrutiny of a forum. Most of the mundane things I did growing up all involved Chinese people. Going to the book shop, paying my bus fare, eating out. There are so many memories that are important to me but probably not to anyone else. It would be impossible for me to completely state what effects being in close proximity to Chinese people almost all my life have had on me. But here are some ideas.

Families are extremely important. A parents role in their children's lives does not end so decisively when they leave the nest.

Being down to earth is far better then being stuck up. It feels less lonely too [Smile]

Sometimes things ought to be done because they need to be done, not because you gain anything by doing them.

Here is a political science/historical observation. The Chinese have been the most powerful empire for almost 4000 years. It is only in the last 100-200 years that they have fallen behind the West. Their economy is booming and their infracstructure and military are expanding rapidly. When it comes to technological advancement the Chinese being behind the West is truly the exception rather then the rule as far as long term history is concerned. I predict the Chinese will one day be extremely close to matching if not surpassing the US's might in all respects.

I love the Chinese as a people, truly I do. Though I have seen some of the best and worst specimens of humanity in that culture, they are worth experiencing. To me they have to be seen though in both lights. I've seen sinophiles and sinophobics, and frankly both bother me.

Lately I have seriously considered getting my degree and trying for a teaching position at my old High School in Hong Kong. I miss the place terribly and it was a wonderful place to grow up. I'd be thrilled if I could teach US history/Chinese history or even Christian history there. I'd love to teach Mandarin to elementary school students as well.

If you ever have a vacation fund setup and need to decide on a place to visit, China is a WONDERFUL option to consider.

It would probably be a mistake for anyone to simply buy into all I have said about China wholesale. Like Hobbits, you can spend years observing them and after a month they can still surprise you. Nobody truly knows the depths of the Chinese culture. You could devote your life to it and not even come close to seeing everything. But it has been an extraordinary experience for me to at least try [Smile]

Til my next landmark, thanks for being such a fun community!


I would be most pleased if any of you had any questions/comments about anything Chinese. I never tire of talking about them.

[ July 17, 2007, 03:37 PM: Message edited by: BlackBlade ]
Posted by Blayne Bradley (Member # 8565) on :
[Smile] Thanks BlackBlade.
Posted by Farmgirl (Member # 5567) on :
So many nuances to learn -- no wonder I am scared of world travel.

I could probably never haggle prices successfully without feeling terribly guilty.

Good post, Black Blade
Posted by TheGrimace (Member # 9178) on :
very nice post BB, it definately shows that you're being honest with your experiences, sharing the good, the bad and the grey, many of the little quirks that makes these people special to you.
Posted by brojack17 (Member # 9189) on :
Nice landmark. I have always wanted to visit China.
Posted by BandoCommando (Member # 7746) on :
I saw "To Live" several years ago and it has stuck with me as a very poignant film, even if I can remember only the barest scratchings of plot. The funny thing is, as I was reading your post, the details about the Chinese people reminded me strongly of that film, and then you went ahead and mentioned it!

A very enioyable landmark, by the way.
Posted by Tatiana (Member # 6776) on :
I enjoyed this landmark very much! Have you read a book called Iron and Silk by Mark Salzman? It's a wonderful account of his time in China. I think you would love it.

You should write a book about your experiences there. I love these stories like the chess players and the man in McDonalds. [Smile]
Posted by ClaudiaTherese (Member # 923) on :
Posted by Earendil18 (Member # 3180) on :
Jeesh, now I want to go visit China now!

What's the fastest/best way to gain a "command" of Mandarin? [Big Grin]
Posted by Blayne Bradley (Member # 8565) on :
get a Chinese girlfriend. Something tha I have been working on for quite a while now.
Posted by BandoCommando (Member # 7746) on :
Originally posted by Blayne Bradley:
get a Chinese girlfriend. Something tha I have been working on for quite a while now.

Let alone that you've been working on getting a girlfriend of ANY nationality... [Razz]
Posted by Blayne Bradley (Member # 8565) on :
Posted by anti_maven (Member # 9789) on :
Great post BlackBlade - I enjoyed reading it, and want ot go to China now...

Maybe I'll finish work first tho' [Wink]
Posted by BlackBlade (Member # 8376) on :
Originally posted by Tatiana:
I enjoyed this landmark very much! Have you read a book called Iron and Silk by Mark Salzman? It's a wonderful account of his time in China. I think you would love it.

I believe I've heard the title but I've yet to have a chance to read it. I'll give it a look see! In exchange you might find the book, "Life and Death in Shanghai" to be quite interesting. It is the story of a woman from the upper class of Shanghai who experiences the communist revolution and the horrors of Chairman Mao's purges.


I love these stories like the chess players and the man in McDonalds. [Smile]

To be accurate, the manager at the McDonalds was a woman [Smile]

Blayne: Sinophiles, Sinophobics, avoid both extremes [Wink] If you find yourself digging an Asian girl, by all means court her. I would simply suggest you look around and notice that there are women worth noticing all around.

Earendil18: The fastest way? Throw yourself into a Chinese village with some books on learning Chinese and forsake the company of English speakers for a few years. People all want the fast way to learn Chinse, and truth be told there just isn't one. Sure there are those rare people who simply "get" language, and become semi fluent in mere weeks. The biggest obstacle to learning a language is finding opportunities to practice. I've seen MANY people work so hard listening to tapes, CDs, reading books, taking classes, etc. You can only go so far though with that, you MUST physically practice saying the words and writing the characters for any meaningful retention to take place. Learning a language is like learning a musical instrument, there's always more to learn and it starts off pretty slow. But again, the person who studies 10 minutes and practices talking to people for hours gets MORE then the person who studies for hours and speaks for a few minutes.

anti_maven: Plenty of demand for foreigners of many different vocations in China, who says work must preclude going to China? [Big Grin]
Posted by Olivet (Member # 1104) on :
Posted by Kwea (Member # 2199) on :
My wife speaks 5 languages other than English. Speaks them fairly well to excellent, not just a smattering. She is teaching herself Portuguese now, or she was while working at Disney.

She speaks Japanese, but wants to learn Mandarin next, I think. She really liked the Asian languages. [Smile]

She is amazing, one of those annoying people who just "get" it right away.

Thanks for the landmark, it was good reading. [Smile]
Posted by BlackBlade (Member # 8376) on :
Kwea: If she can write out kanji then she has a very good leg up on written Chinese, they share MANY characters. Some of their spoken words are distantly related, but overall Mandarin is an entirely different beast then Japanese. But if she can speak 6 languages thus far, then honestly I think she will probably absorb it just fine.

Mandarin for a person of whom English is their mother tongue is ranked 3rd hardest in terms of difficulty, Cantonese and then Japanese follow it if memory serves.
Posted by Earendil18 (Member # 3180) on :
What's 2nd hardest? O.o
Posted by Lyrhawn (Member # 7039) on :
I took a semester of Russian my first year in college, and it wasn't a picnic, but I imagine it's still easier than any of the Asian languages. At least some of the Cyrillic alphabet is the same, and it's not ridiculously hard to learn how to write.

Great post BB, it was an enjoyable and informative read.
Posted by imogen (Member # 5485) on :
BB, that was very interesting.

My Dad's partner is Chinese, from Hunan province. She moved to Australia with her daughter about 5 years ago, but she had been here as a student before then.

I have realised talking to her how little I know of Chinese culture (and, as a corollary, how little an extremely well-educated Chinese woman is taught of the Western world) and I find it fascinating.
Posted by BlackBlade (Member # 8376) on :
Originally posted by Earendil18:
What's 2nd hardest? O.o

I believe Finnish was the 2nd hardest. At the top of the list was Navajo.
Posted by theCrowsWife (Member # 8302) on :
I wonder how many Native American languages were taken into account in that list. I used to work on dictionaries for both Tohono O'odham (Papago) and Hiaki (Yaqui), and they were both very complicated languages. I imagine that most of the Native American languages would come in at the top of that list if they were counted at all.

Posted by Belle (Member # 2314) on :
Hmm, my linguistics professor actually said Vietnamese was hardest for a native English speaker and said Japanese was actually not that bad for a English speaker. Japanese and English share some strutural similarities.

Like anything else, I'm sure there are a lot of diverging opinions.
Posted by The Pixiest (Member # 1863) on :
belle wa wrong is.

japanese no structure wa very different is.

gomen nasai
Posted by BlackBlade (Member # 8376) on :
Belle: Absolutely, I wouldn't pass off the list I read as authoratative. Also remember that there could easily be a significant difference in difficulty between any of the ranks.

I would think Finnish is considerably harder then Mandarin, yet Mandarin is only marginally harder then Cantonese.

I'm a big fan of Japanese, I think it sounds beautiful, unfortunately I am not a fan of their enourmous incorporation of English words rather then contriving some of their own. I feel like it dilutes the language.
Posted by BlackBlade (Member # 8376) on :
Originally posted by The Pixiest:
belle wa wrong is.

japanese no structure wa very different is.

gomen nasai


Pixiest the truth is speaking.
Posted by fugu13 (Member # 2859) on :
BB: it wouldn't be Japanese if they didn't take words from all over [Smile] . It is such an important part of the language that they developed an entire syllabary for foreign words, after all. Some foreign-derived words even become so normal over time that people start writing them with hiragana, and even Kanji. Tempura, for instance.
Posted by The Pixiest (Member # 1863) on :
Ya but when Milk gets translated as miruku is it REALLY borrowed from English at that point? Sueeto, Kurisumasu, biiru... Most of the words they borrow are unrecognizable. (You know, assuming I spelled those right. I haven't even attempted to speak Japanese in years.)

But then again, English has a gazillion borrowed words. Do you feel English is diluted?
Posted by fugu13 (Member # 2859) on :
Well, most of the modifications are because Japanese people generally can't pronounce those words the way we do. Those words are as unmodified as they can be in the mouths of most people who only speak Japanese.

The really fun words are the combinations and abbreviations they make from foreign words, or even both at once.

Such as 'lolicon', 'menchi katsu', and 'Bra Pi'.

Or then there're slang 'number spellings' of words in both Japanese and other languages. For instance, one way to write Thank You (in a very slang, extremely informal way) that people will actually understand is 39 (only with the Kanji for the numbers). San-Kyuu.
Posted by BlackBlade (Member # 8376) on :
No, but English has been a bastardized pseudo Latin/Germanic language from the get go. I love the English language as its so immense, but I don't think it sounds very unique. Japanese is thousands of years old and initially their spoken language was very unique.

I understand words like computer being com peu tah but even the Chinese have avoided for the most part taking the route the Japanese have taken.

When the concept of electricity came about they created a word for it and a new character. When the computer came they called it the Dian Nao or "Electric Brain." Even crazy technical words like circuit or switch board have their own words.

Sure they might call an MRI machine an, "MRI" but there probably is a full version of the word as well.

Its kinda ridiculous that instead of coming up for a word for "Boss" the Japanese frequently just says, "Bossu"
Posted by fugu13 (Member # 2859) on :
They already have at least one or two words for boss, a lot of Japanese people just like how bossu sounds. I think partly it appeals to the Japanese penchant for brevity. I love that a normal Japanese conversation can frequently consist of sentences a word or two long with the odd particle thrown in.
Posted by Mucus (Member # 9735) on :
I wonder why Cantonese is easier than Mandarin for English speakers. From my experience, it is very much easier for Cantonese speakers to learn Mandarin than vice versa.
Posted by BlackBlade (Member # 8376) on :
But see to me that's the equivalent of our ebonics. Or even Pigeon. Sure they are kinda fun, but really there should be an effort maintain the disctinctness of their own language.
Posted by BlackBlade (Member # 8376) on :
Originally posted by Mucus:
I wonder why Cantonese is easier than Mandarin for English speakers. From my experience, it is very much easier for Cantonese speakers to learn Mandarin than vice versa.

The sounds made in Cantonese are much easier to pronounce to an English speaker then Mandarin.

I think the Mandarin/Contonese deal is similar if not identical to Spanish/Portugese.
Posted by theCrowsWife (Member # 8302) on :
Coo coo burble.

Coooo-eeeeee coo.
Posted by fugu13 (Member # 2859) on :
Pidgin [Wink] .

I think the Japanese language has remained extremely unique for the past several hundred years, despite several periods of significant foreign word influx during that time. I feel that, if anything, the uniqueness of the Japanese language has been increased by the ways foreign words are incorporated, which tends to be different from how it happens in other languages. And mostly, I think it would be very un-Japanese to not incorporate and use foreign words. I imagine there were people making similar complaints about adopting Kanji for writing [Smile] .
Posted by BlackBlade (Member # 8376) on :
Right, I hate posting at work.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder I suppose, or in the ears of listener in this case.

Remember though that the Japanese at one time were simply Chinese folks who hoped across a pond to live on an island. Written Chinese and Japanese have always been VERY closely tied. The Japanese did not just decide one day to scrap their own written language for Chinese characters. Written Chinese is quite effective even though its quite ancient.

They DID borrow some characters for their sounds rather then their meanings, and simplified several characters to make katakana and hiragana symbols were also created by simplifying certain Chinese characters. Incidentally the Chinese did the exact same thing with bo po mo fo which they use to type at their computers. The Japanese written system does not bother me too much as they simply used the system that had been available for thousands of years.

Japanese borrowing language is certainly normal, their spoken language was originally borrowed from Chinese with some ancient connections with Ainu, perhaps old Korean as well. But part of I guess what makes it oriental and unique is the bits they came up with on their own and perhaps some of the Chinese words they share.

I'd just hate to see Japanese keep up this influx of English words and eventually find their children speaking mostly some sort of Japanese/English psuedo dialect rather then proper Japanese. Japanese Pidgin so to speak.
Posted by theCrowsWife (Member # 8302) on :
Actually, if the children grew up speaking it as their native language, it would no longer be a pidgin but a creole.


Posted by fugu13 (Member # 2859) on :
How the descent of the Japanese people happened is not entirely clear, but it is clear that they were never 'simply Chinese folks who hopped across a pond'. Korean ancestry is probably more influential than Chinese, for one thing, and the exact genetic relations with various other groups are unknown. If nothing else, the original Jomon inhabitants of Japan moved in (from who knows exactly where, probably a lot of places) before there was anything that could be called China (or Japan).

The spoken language of Japan was most definitely not borrowed from Chinese, though there are a huge number of kango in the modern language (not used as much as other words, and often for specialized circumstances). No one knows exactly how the language arose, but the prominent candidate sources are Korean/Altaic, Polynesian, or maybe even South Asian (Vietnamese, Burmese, perhaps Tamil), not Chinese at all.

As for proper Japanese, until very recently the only people who spoke what is now proper Japanese were upper-class people in Tokyo, and even they hadn't been speaking it that long. I'd just hate to see every Japanese person speaking an artificially constrained language like that instead of using the full range of expression available to them through their linguistic heritage and adopted expressions (including the thousands of English words along with the hundreds of Portuguese words and thousands of Chinese and Korean words that have all become or are becoming part of Japanese over the last several thousand years).
Posted by BlackBlade (Member # 8376) on :
How the descent of the Japanese people happened is not entirely clear, but it is clear that they were never 'simply Chinese folks who hopped across a pond'.
I didn't mean to oversplify, but what you said is indeed closer to the truth. I meant Chinese in terms of the geographical regions not so much ethnicity. Indeed China was not really a proper nation until well after people had settled in Japan. I am of course not considering the Ainu, who knows where they came from?

I am not familiar with the term "kango." I agree that Chinese is probably not the ROOT system that gave birth to Japanese, but incorporating about several thousand Chinese words and origins certainly makes Chinese a large influence in the product as it exists today.

I'd just hate to see every Japanese person speaking an artificially constrained language like that instead of using the full range of expression available to them through their linguistic heritage and adopted expressions (including the thousands of English words along with the hundreds of Portuguese words and thousands of Chinese and Korean words that have all become or are becoming part of Japanese over the last several thousand years).
Agreed, do we agree that both extremes are unfavorable?
Posted by fugu13 (Member # 2859) on :
Kango are, basically, Chinese words that have been borrowed. They're the majority of words in the dictionary, but something like a fifth of the words people use in daily conversation. They're separated out from another group of words that are considered to be derived from/part of old Japanese, and I forget what those are called. Western language loan words probably have an even higher dictionary/usage ratio than kango. It is important to keep in mind, though, that at one point Japanese was spoken with very few kango. The addition of large numbers of Chinese and Korean words into the language changed it considerably.

I'd certainly prefer the Japanese not start speaking English to the exclusion of Japanese, if that's what you're interpreting as one of the extremes [Smile] .

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