Friday, February 27, 2015

Shanghai Skyline at Night (photos)

I took these pictures in downtown Shanghai. Beautiful.

This first one is at The Bund (外滩 wài tān). On the other side of the river, you can see the famous Shanghai skyline.

Here's another shot of those buildings:

Next I took the ferry to cross to the other side. Here's an Italian restaurant (lots of expensive, high-quality foreign food in this area), with the Oriental Pearl tower in the background:

And please, no striding here.

If you keep walking, you get to Lu Jia Zui (陆家嘴) and you can see this amazing view of the Oriental Pearl tower (东方明珠 dōng fāng míng zhū):

Right next to a McDonald's and a massive ad for the iPhone 6:

Shanghai is an amazing place, you guys. Happy Chinese New Year!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Jesus Takes the Bible Out of Context

Image source.

Chapter 5 of “The Bible Tells Me So” discusses how Jesus read and interpreted the bible. Turns out it’s way different than what modern American evangelical Christians think of as the right way to read the bible. I have no idea how I never noticed this.

As an example: in Luke 20:27-40, the Sadducees are asking Jesus a tricky question about if a woman got remarried like 7 times, whose wife would she be at the resurrection (ie in heaven)? And Jesus was like, “yeah that’s not really how it works” [slight paraphrase] and told them their real problem was they don’t believe in resurrection, but it’s totally a real thing, because of what God said to Moses: “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” According to Jesus, this means “he is not the God of the dead, but of the living.”

If you’re like “uh what?” then here’s what Jesus is saying: God uses the present tense when God says “I am the God of Abraham/Isaac/Jacob.” So, they are alive, you know, at the time when God is speaking to Moses, hundreds of years after Abraham/Isaac/Jacob lived. So, clearly, God makes dead people live again. Resurrection (or heaven, as some might interpret it) is totally a legit thing.

Wait, Jesus, you got all that out of the word “am”? I’m pretty sure God tells Moses “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” in order to identify Godself. God’s not making any kind of statement on the topic of resurrection at all. Jesus is reading way too much into this.

That’s what American evangelicals would say about this way of interpreting the bible. It’s wrong! You can’t just pick one word and build a whole idea around it, when nothing else from the passage supports it at all. (And I agree!)

But back then, in the Jewish culture that produced Jesus, that’s what they did. They came up with interpretations of the bible that “twisted Scripture” or “took it out of context,” as modern American Christians would say.

You can also see this style of interpretation when the New Testament writers talk about the prophecies that Jesus “fulfilled.” Have you ever looked up one of those prophecies in the Old Testament, and said “wait a minute... this doesn’t really seem like a prophecy at all”? Or worse, you find that when the New Testament quoted the supposed prophecy, some of the words were changed to make it fit better.

For example, when Judas tries to give back the money he got for betraying Jesus, and the chief priests end up using it to buy a field, Matthew says, "Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: 'They took the thirty pieces of silver, the price set on him by the people of Israel, and they used them to buy the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.'" Okay, let's flip back to Jeremiah... oh, uh, this is awkward, actually it's from Zechariah 11. Hmm, apparently, this one time, someone paid Zechariah 30 pieces of silver, and he ended up throwing them at the potter (whatever that means). Wait, how is this a prophecy? It's a thing that happened, and then later, in Matthew's opinion, a similar thing happened to Judas. Uh, so what?

Also, John tells us that when Jesus was on the cross, "so that Scripture would be fulfilled", he says "I am thirsty" and they offered him wine vinegar. What Scripture was fulfilled, exactly? Psalm 69:21, "They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst." But why would we think Psalm 69 is a prophecy about the messiah anyway? Only because it ended up being similar to what happened to Jesus. This is called confirmation bias, and it does not make for a good argument.

We have prophecies being misquoted or taken out of context or pulled from a passage that isn’t really a prophecy at all. This is a huge problem for the claim that Old Testament prophecies prove that Jesus is the Christ. So many Christians walk around proclaiming “God told them EXACTLY what would happen, hundreds of years before!!!” but that’s not really what’s going on at all.

When you imagine “Old Testament messianic prophecies” to be a clearly-defined list of things that Jesus then proceeded to do, and then claim this as PROOF!!!1 that Jesus is the messiah- some Christians even go so far as to calculate the probability of someone fulfilling all the “prophecies”- and then try to back up this claim using what the bible actually says, the whole thing starts to fall apart. It sort of looks like the New Testament writers just hunted for stuff that was kind of similar to what Jesus did, and then claimed “oh Jesus TOTALLY fulfilled this PROPHECY, you guys,” even twisting or changing the Old Testament’s words. And that’s a very dishonest way to go about presenting “evidence” and “proof”.

Instead, I see it as discovering themes and ideas that recur throughout the bible. Making interesting connections between the story of Jesus and the story of the whole bible. Pretty cool, but definitely not evidence or proof of anything.

(Speaking of creative interpretations of the bible: this reminds me of the idea I heard floating around on the internet that Jesus was intersex or maybe transgender. Because, virgin birth... there’s no way for him to actually be biologically male. Personally I don’t believe this is actually true, but I think it’s good and useful to have biblical interpretations like this. It can help intersex/transgender people to believe that Jesus truly loves and understands them, which is definitely true. And for cis people, it challenges the idea that Jesus would be just like us and hold the same prejudices we do. If you’re not okay with Jesus being intersex/transgender, what does that say about the way you view intersex/transgender people? You know, people who are created in God’s image and fully loved by God.)

Image source.

And let’s get back to “The Bible Tells Me So.”

Basically, we spent the first four chapters of this book talking about how and why the bible came together, and how the writers didn’t mean it in the way that modern Americans would usually interpret it. How it’s so important that we keep in mind the author’s original intention. And now, in chapter 5, we find that Jesus didn’t do any of that when he interpreted the bible. He took stuff totally out of context and made it mean something that the writer never would have thought of.

Well, this is awkward. What are we supposed to do? Are we supposed to interpret the bible like Jesus? So, uh, how? Was there some method to what he did, or was he just making up random stuff? Because it really looks to me like he was just making up random stuff.

No, I don’t think we should take Jesus’ method of biblical interpretation as “the right” one. “The Bible Tells Me So” emphasizes that if Christians really believe that Jesus was fully God and fully human, then we must accept that he was a fully human first-century Jewish man, a full member of the Jewish culture of that time, and his approach toward interpreting the bible was right in line with that culture. He used the same methods and assumptions that they did, but came up with some new and controversial interpretations, mainly about how he himself was the focus of Scripture, and how “I and the Father are one” and all that. And that’s what made people mad.

Similarly, if Jesus came to a culture like that of 21st-century American evangelical Christianity, with its insistence on the bible being inerrant and carefully studying and proving one’s interpretations based on context, etc, Jesus would have used those methods. And still, he would have come up with dangerous and controversial ideas.

It seems that nowadays, evangelical Christian culture starts with the claim that the bible is the perfect, inerrant word of God and every word is totally right and from God and should be taken seriously and has something to teach us, and then they mostly just draw conclusions about policing other people’s sex lives. But other evangelicals discover passage after passage where God commands radical self-sacrifice to help the poor, and they take those passages just as literally, and dedicate their lives to it. Still others, like Matthew Vines, start with those same assumptions about the bible, and make strong biblically-based arguments calling for Christians to fully support LGB rights.

My point is, the same method can produce vastly different conclusions. I don’t think any particular biblical interpretation scheme is “right” or “wrong”- no, each can be used to do good or do evil, to save life or to destroy it. It’s not about information and arguments; it’s about your heart. Do you believe in loving your neighbor as yourself, or not?

In other words, we can’t necessarily know the “correct” interpretation based on logic. We need to have actual human compassion, like Jesus did when he rejected the bible and healed on the Sabbath. We are made in the image of God; we have a conscience and know, on some level, that it’s wrong to make someone suffer just because “that’s what God said.”

And now it seems we’ve come back around to what I said in my post about chapter 4. In that post, I said you need to use your brain. You need to trust your own brain when determining which specific parts of the bible would be meaningful for a particular situation in your life. In this post, I want to say use your heart. Everyone may have different perspectives and different ways to view the bible, but I think if you focus on love above everything else, you’ll be interpreting in the right direction.

Again, just like when I said you have to use your brain, this idea of following one’s heart is SO not okay in evangelical Christianity. Apparently, we are all absurdly sinful and depraved, so we need to do EXACTLY what the bible says; if we try to change or soften any of the rules, well obviously it’s just because we want to sin. That’s a common criticism whenever a Christian makes an argument that disagrees with what everyone else knows the bible clearly says. “You’re just following your emotions instead of the truth!!!”

Yeah, just like Jesus did when he healed on the Sabbath. Just like Jesus did when he let “unclean” people touch him. Disregarding the CLEAR TEACHING OF SCRIPTURE just because of his silly feelings of compassion or whatever.

(Question: If we use our own conscience, our own God-given understanding of right and wrong to interpret the bible and its teaching on right and wrong, then why do we even need the bible? Hmm I’ll have to think about that.)

Image source.

The bible says a lot of different things. We need to realize that there is no obvious “right way” to interpret it. The way Jesus read it was so different from the way modern Americans read it, and that’s okay. The important thing is to base everything on love. The bible is clear about that. 


My other posts about The Bible Tells Me So:

The Worst Bible Story
Blaming the Biblical Victim (And More Horrifying Implications of Scripture) 

The Bible's Contradictions Matter, And It's Not a Logic Problem 
The Bible is a Model, So Use Your Brain 
Jesus Takes the Bible Out of Context 
The Old Testament Does Not Predict Jesus 
Peter Enns Makes Me Want to Actually Read the Bible Again

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The only thing purity culture can say about "Seinfeld"

This show is so funny. Image source.

This post at Love, Joy, Feminism, Fifty Shades of Disagreement: Evangelicals and Feminists on Fifty Shades of Grey, does a good job of summing up the stark difference between evangelicals’ opposition to “50 Shades of Grey” and feminists’ opposition to “50 Shades of Grey.”

Both groups think “50 Shades” is horrifically awful. But, as Libby Anne writes, “Both feminists and evangelical Christians have had a problem with the books as a whole, too, feminists because they glamorize an abusive relationship and evangelical Christians because they glamorize premarital sex.”

This is a big problem with evangelical Christianity/ purity culture: it only focuses on sex, so it’s completely unable to actually say what is healthy and unhealthy in a relationship. You see a movie, and it’s “oh dear goodness, there is SEX in this movie, hide the children!” The sex is such a huge focal point that it leaves us incapable of noticing and evaluating any other aspects of the relationship.

Which was exactly the case for me when I watched “Seinfeld” as a child.

It’s a funny show, with a lot of humor based on the ridiculously dysfunctional dating relationships that the four main characters have. And of course, I knew they were unhealthy and dysfunctional, and that it wasn’t what dating is supposed to be like.

And how did I know that? Because they were having sex.

Yes, clearly, Jerry, Elaine, George, and Kramer were not modelling healthy dating relationships for us, because they were having sex.

But, I imagined, if you removed the sex part, everything else was pretty much what normal relationships are.

Yeah, so you meet someone, and date for a few days, and break up for superficial silly reasons. Just a string of relationships, each only lasting for one episode, and with no end in sight, no hope for a true commitment that could lead to a happy marriage.

All the characters were selfish. They didn’t respect whatever girlfriend or boyfriend they had for that particular episode. There was no interest in building a relationship based on trust and honesty. Instead, they complained to their friends about their love interest’s odd habits or quirks. (Which was really funny. It’s a good show, as long as you recognize that real life is not supposed to be anything like that.)

And yes, of course I recognized that real life was not supposed to be like that. Because they were having sex. 

Image source.
In purity culture, “don’t have sex” overshadows all other guidelines for healthy relationships. Oh yeah, also, probably don’t kiss either. Those are the most important rules. Sure, occasionally they’ll talk about the importance of respecting each other, but that’s just a small side concern, hard to even notice beside the flashing neon sign that says “SEX IS THE WORST THING YOU CAN DO AND IT WILL RUIN YOUR LIFE.”

There are few guidelines given for what a relationship is supposed to look like. Just don't have sex. And I just filled in the rest from what I saw on tv, minus the sex part.

So when we see Jerry in bed with some woman, OH NO this is bad! But when he later lies to her, tells his friends how grossed out he is because “she has man hands!” and sneaks around in her purse to try and steal a photo so George can take it and claim she was his ex-fiancée and thus manipulate other women, yeah, I didn’t notice anything wrong.

When George didn’t want to get married, but was too afraid to just honestly communicate with his fiancée, Susan, and then she died and he felt relieved, yes, that was immoral. Because George and Susan were having sex.

When Elaine continually got annoyed with her boyfriend Puddy, when she yelled at him for being so stupid, and they kept breaking up and getting together again, yeah that was an unhealthy relationship. Because they were having sex. 

Elaine and Puddy. Image source.

In purity culture, everything is about sex. Are you having sex or not? That’s the most important question. That’s the measure of a relationship.

And it’s completely useless at actually seeing the healthy or unhealthy dynamics in a real relationship.

Monday, February 23, 2015


Image source.
1. For Chinese New Year a Celebration of the World’s Largest Sheep (posted February 18) Cool!

2. I Dated Christian Grey: How Women Are Groomed For Abuse (posted February 14) "I’ve been swept off of my feet by what I desperately believed to be—but were not—grand romantic gestures."

3. Atheist lent, why it matters, and also what should I (and maybe you, if you’d like) give up? (posted February 18) "But religion evolved over literally thousands of years to solve a host of problems, satisfy a broad array of needs, and contribute intimately to living a better and more meaningful life."

4. 8 Things Some A$$#ole Says in Every Debate About Sexism (posted February 19) "How can you be complaining about this when there are starving children in Africa? Starving children I'm doing less than nothing to help, because merely nothing would be ignoring them. But I'm specifically pointing out that I know about them to use them as underfed weapons against things I actually care about."

5. Why are Christian movies so painfully bad? (posted February 15) "Perhaps the film's main selling point is that it's not Fifty Shades of Grey."

6. When some faction says they, and they alone, are the Real, True Christians, you shouldn’t take their word for it (posted February 20) "Real True Christians do not base their identity on their devotion to the Bible or to the Creeds, but on finding ways to elevate themselves above other Christians they can denounce as false, apostate, liberal and inauthentic. ... They may be the ones talking the loudest about 'authentic' Christianity/Islam/fandom, but they are bound to be the least reliable examples of what such 'authentic' belief might entail." Follow-up posts: The framework of fundamentalist propaganda distorts how we view every religion and Scholar clarifies, walks back his comments in Atlantic ISIS essay.

7. Photographer captures bizarre, intimate scenes of Chinese factory life (posted February 23) "The Lunar New Year is the only time of year China's army of migrant workers gets to go home. Known as 'chunyun,' the annual travel crush is the world's largest migration of humans."

8. Immodest Proposals: The Rules (posted February 4) "If you wear a tank-top, you must pin your undershirt or bra straps so they do not show. If boys see straps, they will imagine you in your bra, and then not in your bra, and then they will spontaneously combust from lust."

9. Biblical Sexting: A How-To Guide (posted February 14) "You really turn my wheel within a wheel."

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Actually, I wanted a husband who would be my spiritual leader

Image source.
This adorable post from Libby Anne, What I Love about My Feminist Husband, got me thinking. She writes that when she was young, she believed a wife is supposed to be submissive to her husband, but now she is very happy to instead have a partner who treats her as an equal, who supports and values her.

I, too, always assumed that I was supposed to be submissive to my hypothetical future husband. I was always taught that “the man is the spiritual leader” and it MUST be this way in order to have a healthy marriage.

And actually, I wanted to find a guy who could be my spiritual leader.

I wanted someone who would always be right. Always make good decisions, without ever needing me to challenge or question him. I wished for a man who would have all the answers, who could explain the stuff I didn’t understand about God and Christianity, and in a way that actually made sense and addressed my questions. I wanted someone who didn’t need me to help him. He would do everything right and I wouldn’t have to worry about anything. I’d never have to disagree or argue with him because he would be so obviously wise and right about everything.

Nobody ever gave me a clear answer on what “the man is the spiritual leader” would actually look like, but seriously, in my case it must look like that, like someone who is always right, always making good decisions without any need for input. He would need to be like that in order to be a spiritual leader for me specifically, because I know the bible so well already, and I’ve done evangelism and started bible study groups and everything. I can be a spiritual leader, so if a guy is going to lead me, he must be even more spiritual and knowledgeable. He must be perfect. He must be so religious and so amazing that he would never have any need to submit himself to my own deep insight and my knowledge of Christianity. If that were not the case, then “the man is the spiritual leader” would not work at all; it would be much much better to have both of us as equals who help each other.

I’m a feminist, but I have to tell you guys, I want to submit. Because the only way I would submit would be if I trusted that this person’s judgment was infallible, that he would never make a mistake, that he would never need me to double-check or challenge him. If that were the case, then wow, life would be so easy! That would be great!

But (do I even need to say this?) there is no human being who is like that. There is no one who can be a perfect spiritual leader. And honestly, it’s ridiculous to have this kind of expectations when considering a potential boyfriend, who’s a normal human being with faults and weaknesses.

For those of us who get married in the real world, we marry people who are people, who have good points and bad points, who sometimes feel strong and confident and sometimes feel like they’re just muddling through life in a state of confusion.

It does no one any good to say that every woman would be healthy in a relationship where she must always submit, where she can never be “the spiritual leader.” In my case, such a relationship would only be possible if the guy were perfect and knew everything.

Yeah, wouldn’t it be nice if I could find a man who was qualified to be my spiritual leader. But there are none. Men are just people.


For those of you who would like to leave a comment telling me “no no Perfect Number, you completely misunderstood what ‘the man is the spiritual leader’ means!” then by all means, go right ahead and define it clearly for me, because no one ever has. Here is what constitutes a clear definition:

1. Give an example of a possible situation in which the husband did XYZ because of reasons ABC, and how the wife submitted.

2. Now imagine that the roles were reversed: what if the wife did XYZ for reasons ABC? Should the husband submit? (Would you use a different word than “submit” because it’s a man? Wow that’s sexist [and illogical!], get out of my comment section.) Would some kind of contradiction arise such that this situation, where the roles are reversed, could never occur? If not, you have not given an example of why, in every heterosexual marriage, it should be the case that the husband is the leader and the wife submits.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Happy Year of the Sheep/Goat!

Image souce.

Happy Chinese New Year, everyone! It is now officially the year of the sheep. (Or goat. More on this later.) Last night (February 18) was the big night. China only has one timezone, even though it’s the size of like four timezones- so the whole country rang in the new year at the same moment.

This year, 2015, is the year of the 羊[yáng]. Now, what kind of animal is a 羊[yáng]? Sometimes you’ll see it translated as “year of the sheep”, sometimes it’s “year of the goat”, and sometimes, perhaps even less accurately, “year of the ram.”

Basically 羊[yáng] is a type of animal which includes sheep and goats. All of them are 羊[yáng]. 

See the little horns on top? Like a sheep or goat, right? (Though in this image, they're way curlier than the way we normally write it.) Image source.

Wait, so Chinese doesn’t have different words for “sheep” and “goat”?

No no no no, that’s not what I said. “Sheep” is 绵羊 [mián yáng], “goat” is 山羊 [shān yáng]. See, they are different types of 羊[yáng]. If you really want to specify if you’re talking about sheep or goats, you can use those words. But seriously, when you tell a story about something a sheep did, is it really that important that it was specifically a sheep, rather than a goat? Yeah, usually not very important. So just say 羊[yáng].

For more clarification on what a 羊[yáng] is, we can try an image search. Here are the results:

Baidu image search for 羊.
Yeah, some are sheep, some are goats.

However, in my opinion, most of the Chinese New Year decorations this year look more like goats than sheep. Like this stuffed animal hanging up in the mall:

(But I also saw some toy llamas in a display. Apparently they are also a kind of羊[yáng], or at least they have 羊[yáng] in their name. I don’t know what to tell you.)

Anyway, for more information about Chinese New Year, read my post from last year, the year of the horse. Right now, however, the most pressing question is: what kind of puns can we make about 羊[yáng]? Chinese culture loves puns.

This year the big pun is 三羊开泰 [sān yáng kāi tài]. It comes from an old saying 三阳开泰 [sān yáng kāi tài], whose pronunciation is the same, but look, we replaced the 阳[yáng] (sun) with 羊[yáng]. So clever. Seems that no one is able to give me a straight answer on what 三羊开泰 [sān yáng kāi tài] actually means, all we know is it’s about 羊[yáng] and it’s something about being prosperous. Think of it this way:

1. Get 3 sheep.

2. ????

3. Profit!

This painting helpfully illustrates the concept of 三羊开泰 [sān yáng kāi tài]. Image source.

And finally, I’ll leave you guys with some links to videos of the performances from last night’s 春晚[chūn wǎn] (the Chinese “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve”). There were songs, dances, skits, lots of fun stuff. Here are a few that don’t require you to understand any Chinese. (I'm including links to both youtube and iqiyi, a Chinese site. The Chinese site has way better video quality, but I don't know how well it will load outside of China.)

Crazy-skilled acrobats. iqiyi link. Youtube link.

Belly dancing, Russian dancing, and other styles from around the world. iqiyi link. Youtube link.
Kung fu routine which involved a lot of dancing with chairs. iqiyi link. Youtube link.

Happy new year, everyone! 新年快乐 [xīn nián kuài lè]! Best wishes for success and health in the new year! Now go eat some dumplings.

Monday, February 16, 2015


Image source.

1. IT HAPPENED TO ME: I Experienced Reproductive Coercion and Gave Myself an Abortion (posted January 21) "I thought this was normal life, because everything I had ever learned about interacting with the world outside of fundamentalist religious doctrine I learned from my own exploration and mistakes." Trigger warning: abuse

2. The Bible wasn’t written to provide source material for inspirational posters (posted February 8) "The Bible is not a collection of harmless, uplifting platitudes. It is not an almanac of pleasant sayings suitable for cross-stitching."

3. Not a dick: a man’s perspective on modesty (posted February 8) "[It implies that] my hormones and sexual instincts control my life on a day-to-day basis and I am constantly resisting the urge to mate with anything that moves." THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT MODESTY CULTURE TEACHES ABOUT MEN. Eye-opening to see a man that's not happy about that portrayal.

4. Five Lies the Church Told Me About Sex (posted February 9) "LIE #1: The Bible is absolutely, fundamentally clear on the morality of sex outside of marriage."

5. NRA: Papa Don’t Preach 2 (a fanfic interlude) (posted February 10) "Hattie looked horrified and at a loss for words. She fumbled for her next line and glanced down at her script. 'I’m just a woman, so I don’t understand,' she recited flatly. 'Please mansplain further.'"

6. Someone Put Snape’s Scenes In Chronological Order And It Will Make You Feel Things (posted February 10)

7. The myth that there are more black men in prison than in college, debunked in one chart (posted February 12)

8. I Had an Ectopic Pregnancy, and Anti-Choice Laws Could Have Made My Experience Much Worse (posted February 4) "The ultrasound tech was allowed to be decent and compassionate toward us, instead of being forced to play us the sound of that doomed heartbeat and describe what few anatomical features she might have seen, even as my husband and I were both crying over what we’d suddenly realized was our loss."

9. One year later, has Michael Sam been frozen out of the NFL? (posted February 8) "Slicing the pie another way, of the 31 rookies since 2010 with two or more sacks and 10 or more tackles in the preseason (again, Sam exceeded those numbers), Sam is one of only three (10%) to not make at least a season-long practice squad."

10. 5 Reasons Why Many American Christians Wouldn’t Like The First Ones (posted February 12) "If Americanized Christians were to see how the first Christians lived, it would be denounced as some sort of communist cult being led by folks who distorted the Gospel." Amen.

11. Love Is Not Being A Jerk to Your Friends (posted February 13) "One thing that these experiences taught me is that it’s very dangerous to ever operate as though you have the entire world figured out."

Friday, February 13, 2015

Image Search as a Tool for Language Learning

Sometimes, when learning a foreign language, you run into words that don't have an exact counterpart in English/ your first language. For example, some nouns which refer to a whole category of things, and you're not sure what all gets included in that category.

I hear a lot of mistakes from my students (Chinese people studying English) in terms of what a T-shirt is. When they talk to me in English, they totally refer to any shirt I'm wearing as "your t-shirt", even though, dude, this is my job, I'm wearing nice professional-looking clothes, I am not wearing a t-shirt. Clearly, whatever Chinese word they are translating as "t-shirt" doesn't mean that at all.

I had the same problem when, in Chinese class, I was taught that 衬衫 [chèn shān] means "shirt." I then proceeded to use it in daily conversations when I was referring to shirts, and I was ALWAYS wrong. It does not mean "shirt"; it means like a nice, professional, button-up dress shirt.

Anyway, I've got a tip for dealing with this kind of situation: image searches. Go to a search engine- preferably one made by the native speakers of your target language- and search whatever unclear word you want to understand. The results should give you an idea of the range of things that count as that word.


(I used Baidu, the Chinese equivalent to Google.)

Let's have a look at these 衬衫 [chèn shān] shirts and see what they really are, shall we?

衬衫 [chèn shān]

Image search results. Click image to view large version.

Another example: When I got my cat and showed pictures of him to everyone, my Chinese friends kept saying he was a cute little 花猫 [huā māo], whatever that means. 花[huā] means "flower" and 猫[māo] means "cat", so... what?

Turns out 花[huā] can also be used to describe something with a pattern, or an animal with multiple colors. A 花猫 [huā māo] is a multicolored cat.

花猫 [huā māo]

Image search results. Click image to view large version.

Same deal with dogs.

花狗 [huā gǒu] 

Image search results. Click image to view large version.

This is also very good for when you have some western thing and you look up the Chinese name for it in a dictionary. Once you have the name, though, you don't know if the average Chinese person would understand that term to mean whatever foreign thing you mean it as, or at least as an equivalent Chinese item which is the same in all the important ways.

Perhaps you read my post about pancake syrup and how hard it is to find in China. Let's take a look at the supposed Chinese translation of "syrup" and find out if it's really the same thing:

糖浆 [táng jiāng]

Ohhh. Check out the pictures. It generally means liquid medicine. Chinese culture has no pancake syrup.

Image search results. Click image to view large version.

Another example: I asked a friend how to say "cookie" in Chinese, and she said "饼干 [bǐng gān]." THIS IS WRONG.

饼干 [bǐng gān] 

Image search results. Click image to view large version.

Looks to me like 饼干 [bǐng gān] usually refers to crackers. Cookies would also be a type of 饼干 [bǐng gān] because they're not a super-important thing in Chinese culture so they just get lumped in with the crackers.

(And there's more confusion because for some reason, British people think cookies are "biscuits" and then the Chinese students get taught that. It's a mess, huh?)

I've also heard the term 曲奇 [qū qí] used for "cookie." Let's have a look at that one.

曲奇 [qū qí] 

Ah, yes, this is a WAY better translation for "cookie." But you'll notice most of the 曲奇 [qū qí] are those shortbread-type cookies, which are sweet enough that they definitely meet the minimum requirements to be a cookie, but not much else. You won't easily find delicious sugary cookies packed with sweet wonderful chocolately goodness (ie, what Americans usually think of when they hear the term "cookie") in China.

Image search results. Click image to view large version.

(Dang I miss American food.)

Here's a fun one. 面包 [miàn bāo] means bread (just the kind baked with yeast, not like a pita or flatbread). In America, if you say you're going to buy bread, most people assume you mean sliced bread to make sandwiches. But when you say it in China, they assume it means some kind of pastry-type bakery items, because sandwiches and sliced bread are not so popular in China.

Both the sliced bread and pastry-type bakery items can correctly be called "bread" or "面包 [miàn bāo]". But the assumptions people make about which type of bread you mean are very different in different cultures.

The image searches show you not just the range of things that can be referred to by that name, but also which are most common.

Bread (google search in English this time)

Image search results. Click image to view large version.

面包 [miàn bāo] 

Image search results. Click image to view large version.

I also use this method when I'm teaching English and a question comes up about some obscure color, like turquoise. It's a kind of blue, but it's... hard to describe, right? Go search it and the students can see what color it is.

Use search engines to help with your studying. You'll get a ton of examples, and have a much better idea of what you've actually talking about.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Chinese Seeing-Eye Dogs are the Cutest Things

I'm writing this post because, you guys, look how cute and smart these dogs are. But actually, turns out it's more serious than that: in China, a country with 1.3 billion people, millions of whom are blind, there are only around 50 or 60 seeing-eye dogs. There's a huge need- for more people to get dogs and for society to accept the rights of blind people to walk around with their dogs in public places.

The Chinese word for "seeing-eye dog" is 导盲犬 [dǎo máng quǎn]. 导[dǎo] means "guide", 盲[máng] means "blind", 犬[quǎn] means "dog". (In your Chinese 101 class, you may have learned that 狗[gǒu] means dog. You're right! Good job paying attention in your class! Usually we use 狗[gǒu]. For example, if you want to say "I have a dog" or any everyday sentence about something a dog did, you say 狗[gǒu]. 犬[quǎn] is a more official word which is used in the names of specific breeds of dogs, or in this case, the official name for seeing-eye dogs. Sort of like in English we have "dog" and "canine", where "canine" is way more official/scientific. To be clear, I am NOT saying that 犬[quǎn] means "canine"; usually it should be translated as "dog". 犬[quǎn] is more official than 狗[gǒu], just like "canine" is more official than "dog", but the cutoff between 犬[quǎn] and 狗[gǒu] is at a very different place than the cutoff between "canine" and "dog". Translation is hard.)

I found several videos showing guide dogs in China:

Video 1: China View: Clearer future for China's guide dogs

I put this one first on the list because it's in English. It's about the dog training center in Dalian, a city in northeast China. The center was founded in 2006 and seems to be the only training center for guide dogs in China.

Video 2: 导盲犬Candie [Candie the guide dog]

This is a nice video showing Candie, a yellow lab who works as a guide dog in Beijing. Candie was born in California and trained in the US; you can see her owner giving her commands in English. Other than that, the whole video is in Chinese. For y'all who can't understand Chinese, I still think this video is worth watching because it shows a lot of very normal everyday-life things in a big Chinese city like Beijing. You can see what it's like to ride the subway [5:35-11:00], walk on the street [4:00-5:35], go to a taichi class [11:00-14:30], etc.

"Turn right." Qin Lian gives commands to Candie in English. (Click image to see larger version.)
People on the subway sneakily take pictures of Candie. (Click image to see larger version.)

Beijing subway. (Click image to see larger version.)

Candie waits while her person is at tai chi class. (Click image to see larger version.)
Random people pet Candie and tell her she's a good dog. (Click image to see larger version.)

Qin Lian and Candie. (Click image to see larger version.)

Playing. (Click image to see larger version.)

Grocery shopping. (Click image to see larger version.)
Customers at the grocery store pet Candie. Candie's owner tells them not to pet her when she's working. (Click image to see larger version.)

The video mainly focuses on the dog, rather than the owner. However, near the end of the video [23:10-27:40] we see that the owner, Qin Lian, is involved in programs to educate the public about guide dogs.

Qin Lian lets people pet Candie, and teaches them about guide dogs. (Click image to see larger version.)

Video 3: 你是我的眼 [You are my eyes]

This video focuses on Chen Yan, a 19-year-old blind girl who has a guide dog named Jenny. Again, it's entirely in Chinese, but again, it's nice because you can see pretty typical everyday scenes in China.

This video is a lot of talking- Chen Yan talks about her dreams, sometimes sounding hopeful and sometimes not. (At one point, she mentions that some people think the only job blind people can do is give massages. THIS IS A THING IN CHINA. There are special massage places which advertise that their masseuses are blind. Supposedly blind people are really good at it.) She feels a big responsibility: because she is lucky enough to have a guide dog, she believes she should travel and take the dog to as many places as possible, and also work to advocate for acceptance of guide dogs in Chinese culture.

Chen Yan talks about her dreams- including playing the piano. Actually she plays very well. (Click image to see larger version.)

Chen Yan and Jenny. (Click image to see larger version.)

Chen Yan and Jenny eating ice cream together. (Click image to see larger version.)

Jenny. So cute and so hardworking. (Click image to see larger version.)
Chen Yan helps to educate people about guide dogs. Here she is having Jenny lead this boy around. (Click image to see larger version.)
A volunteer stands outside a store, holding a sign that says, "我愿意与导盲犬一起买酸奶。 [I am willing to buy yogurt with a guide dog.]" Advocating for the right to bring guide dogs into stores and other public places. (Click image to see larger version.)

Video 4: 自然密码 [Natural Code]

自然密码 [zìrán mìmǎ] ("Natural Code") is a nature documentary show, and this episode is about seeing-eye dogs. (Again, it's all in Chinese.) There is a bunch of footage of the training school in Dalian, and it also discusses the need for more education and advocacy for the rights of blind people in Chinese society.

A group of dogs playing together at the training school. All of them are labs or golden retrievers. (Click image to see larger version.)
Trainer and dog. (Click image to see larger version.)

This dog is named Sherry. (Click image to see larger version.)
Sherry and her person at the subway station. (Click image to see larger version.)

This video is fun because you see a lot of how the dogs are trained. My ABSOLUTE FAVORITE PART [10:05-11:15] is when the dog and trainer are walking on the sidewalk, and the trainer pretends to run into a post and fall down. He then gives this entire monologue to the dog, in Chinese, about how you need to pay attention to stuff like that, blocking the sidewalk, and when you're with your blind owner you better not let them run into stuff. Meanwhile the dog is just wagging its tail and jumping around so happily.

As the trainer gives a speech about how you can't let your person run into stuff, the dog jumps on him happily. (Click image to see larger version.)

Trainer: "Come look at what this is."
Dog: "This is the happiest day of my life." (Click image to see larger version.)
Trainer: "Get it? In the future you'll remember, right?" (Click image to see larger version.)
Training the dogs to not be distracted by anything. Like, for example, a chicken leg dangling in front of them. (Click image to see larger version.)
Massive group of dogs playing. (Click image to see larger version.)
Sherry and her person. (Click image to see larger version.)
There were a few points in the videos where the dogs' owners got into arguments over their right to bring the dog into a public place. In video 3, at the 9:30 mark, Chen Yan is yelling at a grocery store employee who won't let her bring the dog into the store. In video 4, at the 25:05 mark, Sherry's person (sorry, I didn't catch her name) argues with a taxi driver who won't let the dog in the taxi. (A lot of yelling about "she doesn't bite!") Before he drives away, she tells him she's going to make a note of his taxi ID number and report him. As far as I can tell, legally, people have the right to bring a guide dog to all these public places, but in reality, they often get stopped and not allowed in.

Overall, though, the videos showed that most people in public who saw the dogs were curious about them. There were a lot of people taking cell phone photos, lots of comments about how well trained the dogs are, and lots of petting the dogs (which they're totally not supposed to do).

Several of the dogs' blind owners talked about how much their dogs changed their lives and helped them become more independent. Hopefully, in China's future, even more people will have that opportunity.