Friday, 7 December 2007

Sick :(

I guess it had to happen sooner or later. Just yesterday I was marveling at how long it'd been since I was last sick.. June, July? Not long after I first arrived in Shanghai I got sick 2 or 3 times in rapid succession. Now, I had survived all these months not getting sick, including not catching it off hubby when he was sick in Japan and now.. ARRGGHH!! I HATE BEING SICK!! It takes me an absolute minimum one week to feel normal again, usually two, and sometimes longer. It also sux cos I'm asthmatic. Jeepers, I'm pissed off. This darn cold weather aint helping things either. I either freeze in the apartment or have the heater on and it feels so stuffy and start to feel headachey from having no air in here. I am also annoyed cos hubby and I planned to have a nice romantic dinner in a restaurant which we really haven't done (with just the two of us) since... gosh... September? Hmm... hopefully I'll still be up for it tonight but right now my throat is absolutely burning and my face feels hot but my body feels cold (despite wearing 5 layers). DARN DIDDLY ARN DARN CRAP! (as Ned Flanders would say).

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Mandarin and Spanish

Well it's been almost a month since hubby started his Mandarin lessons and I'm astounded by the progress he's made. I said that in a few months time he'll probably be better than me! (and no, I'm not joking). My main problem is just learning new vocab, words I never used growing up but need to know now for my adult life. So while he is having his lessons I am secretly eavesdropping hoping to learn a thing or two ;) :)

Meanwhile, I realised I have fallen off my Spanish learning wagon and need to get back into it. For those who are learning it I really recommend Coffee Break Spanish. My friend was using it and I decided to try it too. For something that is free it's pretty good! They are podcast lessons. The only thing is if English is not your first language it may be a bit hard due to the hosts' Scottish accent and also they teach the Spanish Spanish, which is a little different to South American Spanish (which I was used to and found easier). But anyway, like I said, it's awesome for something that's free!

I just did a quick search about language learning blogs (to add to my Bloglines of course ;) ) and there are soooo many blogs written by people currently learning a 2nd, 3rd language. It's great to see so many people embracing learning another language because we all know how hard it can be the older you get and the excuses people come up with: "I am not good with languages", "I'm too old", "I won't ever get a chance to use it", "I don't need it" etc etc. Bah humbug! Languages are one of the most useful things to learn. So you can play tennis or piano - so what? They are great skills to have but not nearly as useful as another language. Not that I'm brilliant with languages myself. I struggle just like everyone else and I admit I procrastinate, forget, become lazy, etc etc. But I think it's one of those things you don't realise how rewarding it is until you have accomplished it and understand those around you. To me you don't even need to be fluent enough to write an essay or to pass IELTS, or HSK or whatever. As long you can have a decent adult conversation and read books, magazines and newspapers, the web (even if you don't know every single word) I think that is a big accomplishment.

I mean, when someone whose second language is English speaks English to me, I can immediately pick out their faults in their grammar, pronunciation or whatnot but really, it doesn't matter because I think to myself, geez, their English is still a heck of a lot better than my German/French/Italian/Spanish/Japanese or whatever!!

It's funny though. I find myself noticing people's mistakes and the same ones are made a lot of the time. Some mistakes I notice friends and family members making are:

* "There have" instead of "There are/is" or "There were/was" because in Chinese it's 有 (you).. it sounds strange in English but if I translate it back to Mandarin in my head it makes total sense.

* "A.M. 11:00" instead of "11:00 A.M." My stepmum writes me notes (when I used to live at home) and she would always put the AM or PM before the time. I pointed this out to her, and to my dad, but she just keeps doing it. I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

* Plurals where there shouldn't be any. eg Softwares, furnitures, jewelleries (jewelries),.. These words don't have s's on the end! (not that I know of anyway).

Anyway, I just found this blog commenting on this article about Mandarin being a 'fad'.

"...In a few decades China may indeed overtake America as the world's top economic power. Will Britons who make the effort to learn its language be rewarded with better careers? Barring some kind of sea change in global language learning, the answer will almost always be no.

With its tones and horribly complicated writing system, Mandarin is much harder to learn than most European languages. The Foreign Office, for example, gives its officers four times as long to get from beginner to operational level in Mandarin as it does in Italian, French or Spanish—and only those with the greatest aptitude for languages are selected for it. The vast majority of Westerners who travel to China to study Mandarin give up, go home and forget what they have learned. Undergraduates at British universities find it hard to adjust to a workload heavier than that for other subjects, and many drop out...."

Someone on the blog commented:

I do think a lot of the current craze around Mandarin is similar to that which surrounded Japanese during the 1980s, where Japanese was considered ‘the’ language to learn due to Japan’s booming economy and their increasing presence in foreign markets.

I can definitely relate to this as this was one of the reason's I learnt Japanese (well it was the 1990s but still...) and it's funny how this focus has shifted onto learning Mandarin. I don't regret learning Japanese for a second. I still shocked myself that when I went there recently I could actually understand a lot of what people were saying, despite not attaining a very high level (only crappy high school level) and not using it for 12 years. I really wonder if Mandarin is a 'fad' and in 10 or so years it'll be another language we are told we 'must' learn?

I do have a lot of respect and admiration for anyone who can master Mandarin, especially someone with no prior knowledge of any language apart from their mother tongue. It really is a very hard language to learn but in saying that, I think the reading/writing is a lot easier than Japanese and the grammar is easier than English!

When I go to coffee shops and cafes here I often see 'foreigners' with laptops and a whole stack of text books studying Mandarin. Not just any beginner type of Mandarin but bl00dy hard HSK level type stuff and I think to myself - How the heck did they get that far? Wow, I'm really impressed, amazed, jealous even.

On another topic, hubby and had a debate about which was easier to learn out of Mandarin and Japanese. On that same blog is an interesting discussion. Another thing about Japanese though is that if you learn Katakana (48 characters) and you know English you can read a lot of the signs because they are just English words written in Japanese characters (and read funnily).

Actually I have a funny story to tell. I love reading Katakana and I find that reading it regularly (on food packets for example) helps me remember it and never forget it. Anyway, many years ago I was at home with my sister watching "The Simpsons" on TV (or 'terebi') and it was the "Mr Sparkle" episode (one of my favourites!) When I saw the packet (written in Katakana) I put on my big sister all-knowing show-off voice and said, "Hey I can read that!... Mi-su-taa Su-paa-ku-ru... Mister Super Cool!" But it turns out it was actually "Mister Sparkle" and I felt a bit stupid so sometimes you can 'translate' Katakana incorrectly but most of the time it is pretty easy. :)

OK, back to studying for me...

Shanghai Disneyland

OK so according to this article building of Disneyland won't commence till AFTER the Expo in 2010.

SHANGHAI, China (AP) — Shanghai is awaiting approval of mainland China's first Disneyland, and the theme park could be built on an island in the Yangtze River, according to reports in the mainland and Hong Kong media....
The park would be built after 2010, when the city is due to host the World Expo, it said.
Chongming, first settled for farming during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution, is slated for development as a non-industrial region. A Disney park would provide employment on the jobs scarce island, which has long relied on work schemes that put residents to work driving taxis in the city.
The island, which sits right at the mouth of the Yangtze, will soon be connected to the city via tunnels and a bridge.....

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

My life as an Amy Tan novel... Taiwan continued...

I can't believe I'm writing such personal stuff but I feel it's very cathartic and cleansing to get it all out...

My parents being typically Chinese don't talk about the past that much, or about 'taboo' subjects. I have to pry and pry and sometimes they will open up. During his time here, my dad and I had a heart to heart over Xi yang shen (or American Ginseng). We were both stuffing Xiyanshen powder into clear gelatine capsules whilst having a big 'heart to heart' chat. After two hours it still looked like we had hardly done anything. I can't believe it took so long!

Anyway for some reason or another we got talking about his parents (my paternal grandparents) and he was telling me stories of their lives when he was only a small child. So small that he cannot even remember the story and only knows from what they told him. He tells me that first of all, they were set up by a matchmaker. They were both living in Fujian province at the time. As in Chinese tradition, my grandmother moved in with my in-laws. Apparently my great uncle (grandfather's older brother) and great grandfather were horrible and mean to her. In 1947 at the age of 18 my grandmother gave birth to my father. In 1949, during the Nationalist-Communist Civil War the family moved to Taiwan. They had a reasonable life in China but now had practically nothing and were dirt poor. My poor grandmother... My father tells me she had to walk at least 2km each way on some crappy little dirt path, wearing shoes that were falling apart, whilst carrying 4 young children, to buy the food. Then she'd have to come back carrying the 4 children as well as the food. For those that don't know the summers in Taiwan are stifling and oppressive - not only hot but intensely humid (much more so than Shanghai - afterall, it is an island in the tropics).

My mother also told me some amazing tales of her mother's life before she was born. My mother's family are from Zhejiang province and my grandfather was in the army and the family was fairly wealthy. My grandmother didn't have to lift a finger and had multiple servants to serve her every need. After moving to Taiwan that all changed. They had nothing and had to start from scratch. My maternal grandmother ended up having 7 children, of which my mother was the youngest. She's told me stories like only having one pair of shoes per year and having chocolate once a year (usually Chinese New Year) and savouring every little tiny morsel.

Neither my father or mother had TVs or washing machines growing up. I am constantly being told how lucky I am to have these things. I was told when I was kid and didn't understand but of course now I understand and feel so grateful and lucky to be so spoilt and have such an easy life when they did not. I got driven to school every day, picked up from school or caught the school bus. My parents had to walk far distances - rain, hail or shine.

My mother had some big familiy secret that she didn't tell me till I was 12 years old. 12! I was angry she didn't tell me earlier and kept it from me for such a long time.

My father has told me things about my mother and what she was like before I was born and even before he met her (heard from other older relatives). My parents were also set up by matchmakers! They got married legally in Taiwan and soon after moved to the United States for the sole purpose of having children there, so that we would attain US citizenship. They had their wedding banquet in Los Angeles and I was born 1 year and 1 day after they were married, with my sister following 2 3/4 years later.

A few months after that they decided to move and were either going to choose Canada (Vancouver) or Australia (Melbourne). They crossed Vancouver off the list only because it was too cold and so we moved to Melbourne. My sister was only 7 months at the time and had a long haul international flight for the first time of her life. After a year or so in Melbourne it was concluded that the weather sucked (and it does!) and contributing way too much to my asthma, and they moved north to the biggest city of Sydney. This was in 1981 and we remained there ever since (where the weather was better/warmer/predictable but my asthma still remained).

Now I have family in China, Taiwan, the United States, Canada and Australia. I feel a bit sad that I grew up without any (none whatsoever) extended family around me but hey, you can't have everything! I guess I feel privileged to lead such an easy life and so amazed that my older relatives have gone through so much and come out so strong.

(oh my dad also told me he felt that first-borns were smarter, and of course I had to agree ;) I have big shoes to fill as the first born, of a first born, of a first born!)


Xi yang shen / American Ginseng

My dad's been making me take this stuff for years, my whole life probably and not once did I even think to find out the English name for it ... until now. It looks like a dried root and my dad grinds it up into a powder himself. To make it easier/convenient to take we put it in capsules.

For the quantity it is quite expensive. However, not as expensive as the ginseng we saw at Carrefour... almost 60,000 RMB for 160g! No, that is not a typo!!

So not only did I not know the English name for it, I didn't even know what it would do for me. I guess I just trusted him. Well, now that I've looked it up it is supposed to help with:

increasing resistance to environmental stresses, general tonic, stimulant, diuretic, digestive aid, anemia, diabetes, insomnia, neurasthenia, gastritis, impotence, fever, hangover, immune function, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), pseudomonas infections in cystic fibrosis, aging, stamina, blood and bleeding disorders, atherosclerosis, loss of appetite, vomiting, colitis, dysentery, cancer, insomnia, neuralgia, rheumatism, memory loss, dizziness, headaches, convulsions, and disorders of pregnancy and childbirth.

Wow! Sounds like a miracle herb! :D Go check it out if you are interested. I am mainly taking it now to help build up my immunity towards nasty colds and flu for this winter. (you cannot and should not take it if you are already sick though).

IQ Tests

Frankly, I think IQ tests are a load of codswallop. They don't really measure intelligence in my opinion. Because - What is intelligence? I'm sure there are plenty of people smarter than me with lower IQ scores than me.

I remember the first time I took one very clearly. I was 15 and my dad borrowed a book from his colleague and photocopied the entire thing at work, then brought it home. From memory it was a very lengthy test and took forever to do and at the end of it my score was 130.

I have done lots of IQ tests over the years (just for fun and interest) and my score has always been around the same, it really doesn't change much. I recently did the Facebook one and got 136. Yeah it was flattering for my ego to get a higher score than almost everyone on my friends list - but so what??

I noticed that friends I considered more successful than me all had lower scores than me. Friends that had done PhDs, were doctors, lawyers, accountants, etc.. ALL scored lower than me. And I'm a mere housewife! Why? This is crazy. I have a feeling that intelligence and 'studying ability' have no relationship whatsoever. I am willing to bet that my sister (currently doing a PhD and tutoring at university) would also score lower than me. I hated studying and was pretty bad at it. It was a miracle I that I did fairly well in high school and finished my degree. Yes I'm proud of the fact that I score relatively high but to me it doesn't mean anything because it doesn't guarantee a great life, great career and wealth, great health, great relationships, etc. Now if there was a test like that and I scored highly on THAT then I'd be a very happy camper indeed. :)

I think I'll go and do some EQ tests now... ;)

Monday, 3 December 2007

Taiwan vs China, Taiwan vs Japan

Ever since I was kid I was brainwashed into thinking "Taiwan good, China bad." "China communist, Taiwan not." Of course I was also told "Australia - safe to cross the road, clean. Taiwan - crazy drivers, dirty." etc, but that's another story...

OK so up until my late teens this is what I always believed. Now, when I had the opportunity to go to China for the first time (in 1997) and make up my own mind I didn't think it was that bad, but of course I could see the differences between China and Taiwan straight away, or China and Hong Kong.

In 2005, my sister was living in Shanghai... Mike and I flew from Sydney to Taipei and my sister flew from Shanghai to Hong Kong to Taipei and met us there. The first time the three of us took the MRT (subway) there, she commented that she couldn't believe that people were actually queuing in an orderly fashion to wait for the train, and that that would not happen in Shanghai. Throughout the trip she made similar comments about the differences between Shanghai and Taipei - not so much the city itself but the behaviour of the locals.

Likewise, when my father recently visited he was making similar comments. But it was much much worse. OMG. He was China-bashing 24/7. I don't even know how I could take it! "The air pollution is so bad" "The plants/trees are not that green." "The people are so rude." "That person must be Taiwanese because they said 'Excuse me' when they pushed their trolley close to us." etc etc. Oh did I mention we went to Carrefour after he told me I should throw out all our rice and condiments because anything made in China was 'bad' and 'crap' and made me buy Thai and Japanese rice, and Taiwanese soy sauce? hahaha.

Despite the fact that he was born in China himself he still (unfortunately) hates China and will probably continue to do so. :( He feels that China is what Taiwan was 40 years ago. Yes time will change everything but who knows how long it'll take?

On the other hand, my mother loves China. She loves the rapid progress it's made in recent years, the buzz, the nightlife, the shopping, the food, etc.

I wouldn't say I 'love' Shanghai but there are certainly good points to it. Just like any other city. There are good and bad points to everything.

It's just a bit much when guests come to visit you and start bashing the place you live in. I feel quite 'weirded out' by it. I just don't know what to say or how to react. Yes the air pollution is bad. So bad it's one of the very few things I can't stand here (along with the incessant smoking everywhere and anywhere), the footpaths are uneven, the drivers are all psycho, pedestrians have no right of way (EVER), etc etc. But frankly, I feel a bit offended. How would you feel if I visited you and pointed out every single negative thing about your city or country?

Now, getting back to the topic, hopefully I'll get to visit Taiwan real soon and make my own comparisons once again now that I've actually lived here (in Shanghai).

I just read here that the Taipei-Kaohsiung high speed rail is in operation. The trip takes a mere 1.5 hours instead of the 4 hours it used to take. Awesome!

When I was in Japan I started making a lot of mental notes and noticed so many similarities between Japan and Taiwan. The breakfasts. The breakfasts I was brought up to eat and my parents are still eat - are very similar to what the Japanese typically eat - rice with pickled vegetables, radish, eggs, fish, and bits and pieces. Also the love of tofu and soybeans and soy milk. (Still am surprised that soy milk isn't that popular in China. It is even more popular in Australia).

Also the delicious tidbits known as 'mochi' or 'moji'... The snacks in Taiwan are amazingly delicious. My relatives that live here in Shanghai are always bringing back suitcases full of food and snacks whenever they visit Taiwan. So many things that floated about in my childhood - I was suddenly brought back in time when I saw the same delicious things in Japan. My eyes glazed over and my stomach yearned to be filled. I wondered if Taiwan 'copied' them or that they were so similar simply because of their geographical closeness. Anyway mochi are (according to Wikipedia) "a Japanese rice cake made of glutinous rice pounded into paste and molded into shape." They are usually filled with delicious creamy sweet fillings like green tea, green bean and red bean. One of the ones I had in Osaka was peach flavoured - makes my mouth water just thinking about it!

Despite having been to Taiwan about 10 times now I always look forward to going 'back'. Every time I discover something new :) and every time, reality hits as I realise that everyone is getting older :(

Sunday, 2 December 2007


Thanks to the lovely 'Sognatrice' who befriended me and introduced me to Bloglines (I mean really, where have I been? Under a rock?)...

I tend to read blogs in a random fashion, I only really visit them when I think about visiting them - some once a day and some a few times a month. With Bloglines I now have all my favourite blogs listed there and they tell me when they have been updated. Too easy!! So what does one naturally do? Look for more blogs to put of the list of course! ;) My topics of interest are expat blogs (find them very fascinating and insightful), design/craft/photo related blogs, funny blogs, fashion blogs, all sorts, really.. with anything I can relate to or am interested in.

Here is a great site that guides you through it all with screenshots. (I don't even go looking for the RSS or XML URL. I just paste the actual URL (address) of the blog and it goes searching for the RSS or XML links for me).

So go on... what are you waiting for? Get an account with Bloglines :) (the amazing thing - for all you people in China - is that Blogspot blogs load up right in the Bloglines window - without a proxy!!)

Miss China crowned Miss World 2007

China cheers first Miss World title

December 2, 2007 - 5:11PM

China gave a cheer to its first Miss World on Sunday, with Internet chat rooms filled with praise for the 23-year-old beauty queen.

Zhang Zilin, a Beijing secretary who was born in the gritty northern industrial city of Shijiazhuang, scooped the title late on Saturday on the southern Chinese resort island of Hainan.

A blog by Zhang on the Web portal had over one million hits as of Sunday, with many fans posting their congratulations.

"You've brought honour to our country! We're all happy for you! We're proud for China!'' wrote a fan named "Tango''.

Long frowned upon by Beijing's Communist leadership, beauty pageants and other such contests have become hugely popular over the past several years. Many local television stations organise contests for everything from amateur TV anchors to models to American Idol-style singing contests.

Still, the government has tried to keep a check on them, banning television talent shows in prime time and telling anchors and contestants not to behave provocatively.

Newspapers ran only brief reports on Zhang's conquest.

The front page of the Beijing News, a popular daily in the capital, was dominated by a large photo of a migrant worker taking part in an HIV/AIDS awareness campaign, with a much smaller photo of Zhang at the bottom of the page.

Micaela Reis of Angola came second and Carolina Moran Gordillo of Mexico was third, according to the pageant's Web site.


and in other news, Macau is set to become bigger than Las Vegas

Macau a Sure Bet to Become the Next Vegas of China

A Reuters report cites the Portuguese colony of Macau as the "new" Las Vegas. A special administrative region at the mouth of the Pearl River, just an hour by ferry from Hong Kong, Macau soon could surpass the American gambling oasis as the model for future entertainment destinations. Many believe it already has.

From 9.1 million visitors in 2000, arrivals to Macau has grown to 18.7 million visitors in 2005, 21.98 million visitors in 2006 and is expected to receive between 24 and 25 million visitors in 2007, with over 50% of the arrivals coming from mainland China. This recent growth has been driven by gambling and related tourism.

Tourists from Hong Kong remain numerous, representing about 30% of arrivals. Since the 1999 return to Chinese rule, Triad underworld violence, a dark spot on the economy, has virtually disappeared, to the benefit of the tourism sector. Macau also received the Future Award 2007, for being regarded the most promising future tourism destination in Asia, voted by 26,000 German travel trade members of GoAsia; an association that includes tour operators, airline companies, among many others. Macau is currently rated as one of the world's top tourism destinations by the World Tourism Organisation.

"Before the handover of Macau from Portugal back to China (in 1999), Macau was already getting 5 million visitors a year," says Michael McCarty, sales director for the trade-show group of Venetian Macau, part of the Las Vegas Sands Corp. "Being a part of mainland China, but a little bit separate, is a powerful combination."

Indeed. Flashy new hotels with brands such as MGM, Galaxy, Melco PBL and Wynn have sprouted up. The warm climate has drawn top-tier musical acts such as the Black Eyed Peas and Beyonce, and sports powerhouses such as the NBA's Orlando Magic and Cleveland Cavaliers and the U.K. football club Manchester United. Tennis giants Pete Sampras and Roger Federer are expected soon.

That's all aside from the gambling. And the Chinese love to gamble.

"Unlike Las Vegas, which has competition from Atlantic City, N.J., and Biloxi, Miss., Macau is the only city in all of China in which gambling is legal," McCarty says. "There isn't a one-stop entertainment destination city in China like Las Vegas in America. That's what we're trying to do here."