Previous: New Millennium 2000 – 2001
2002 to 2004, featuring moving to California for a year, terrible Bush-era politics/war, then triumphant return to Cincinnati–in which we live in a party house and go to college and grow up. And I go to Japan!
As some may know, I recently went to Japan with my lovely partner during the New Year holiday. It was a great opportunity to check out one of my favorite countries (and proximity is better than ever now living in Taiwan). Not to knock any other of the fascinating Eastern lands out there, but for my inner geek Japan will always be my first love…
It was my third time visiting, and Bronwen’s very first! In the month beforehand I brushed up on my old collegiate 日本語 studies, listening to audio lessons and dusting off the old phrasebooks. It turned out I can still surprisingly get by in survival Japanese at least, and I’ll never forget hiragana/katakana. Nowadays my Chinese is obviously much better, but I do know a lot of kanji even if I pronounce it wrong. Hence, I like to think I make for a decent Nihon guide.
In our planning stages we decided to forego the overwhelmingness of Tokyo, and instead opted for the more traditional city of Kyoto in the Kansai region. Sure enough it was a great place to explore, low-key and relaxed, and with a temple or shrine on every corner. Nijo Castle in particular stood out. And the Gion District was a cool place full of geisha stylings, and look how good she looks in a rented kimono!
(Note these Instagram links below are albums to flip through, so scroll all)
Later we went to Nara, which proved to be the first of our ‘animal friends’ series of photo ops. Nara is famous for it’s roaming deer, as you can see! Hundreds of them everywhere, what a sight. They are quite tame for the most part, except for a few selfish ones harassing tourists with bags of oranges, but basically one buys crackers from street vendors and all day they will safely feed from the humans. Lucky beasts.
It’s even advertised that they are polite and bow, but later I looked it up and they only “bow” because they think humans are about the head-butt them. Interesting facts.
The other main animal friends adventure consisted of going to the central shopping district of Kyoto for an amazing time at the hedgehog cafe!! Yes, the latest of the cafe trends is to play with super-cute hedgehogs. It was very popular and we had to reserve to get a seat.
I felt a bit bad, because our hedgehog was rather not into it. The workers there explained well how to treat the animals right, and it wasn’t uncomfortably exploitative or anything. Just slightly problematic what with the way the little guy kept wanting to run away into corners.
There was also an owl cafe in the area, but I can only handle so much cuteness.
New Year’s Eve was had partying, as it should be, at the rocker nightclub known as Metro. It was an excellent showing rotating live bands and DJs, with an almost retro 80s vibe to it. One band blew us away, they were dressed like boy scouts and absolutely insane. Made for a long night of ringing in 2018, and I hope I can maintain some optimism for the year…
I shouted out many a times: “明けましておめでとうございます!”
After going to the famous and beautiful Inari Shrine, and then the Toei Studios Park–which was somewhat of a lame tourist attraction and the anime section was pitiful but the samurai village was kind of cool and had horses–on the last day we were off to the nation’s second-biggest city of Osaka to absorb the whole futuristic Japan thing. Which is what I ultimately love about it there the most, though it did get very crowded. A city I visited over ten years previous, so nostalgic.
The bathhouses, the pretty light snow and the cold weather, the majestic mountains in the distance, calculating yen, the bullet trains, the heated seats, the soba noodles, the tempura, the lux toilets, the manga figurines, and the epic video game arcades. Experienced so much on this all too brief eight-day trip. And, she seemed to like it.
Until next time, Rising Sun land…
Because I am currently in Japan, not China, this is technically an ‘Engrish’ post not a Chinglish post. That’s how it works.
More on my Japan trip in more detail next week, so please be patient…
Also, HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!! Wishing everyone a creative and productive and happy and wondrous 2018. Let us hope that things turn out a bit better for the world already, and not just hope but work at it 🙂
Without further ado, two brief pics:
(Hey, it is not exactly easy to find funny mistranslations in near-perfect Japan!)
While I do like to write reviews on occasion, I usually go for lesser-known books and movies particularly if there is a focus on China or Asia. Generally speaking, while I do have my fanboy side, I think enough has already been written about big Hollywood blockbusters and my point of view won’t add much.
However, with all the recent controversy surrounding the now-bombing remake of Ghost in the Shell, I feel it may be worth sharing my perspective as an American abroad in Asia. Hope I’m not too late to the game.
First of all, I am a longtime fan of the original manga and anime. I wrote about my manga habit here, about the brilliant mangaka Masamune Shirow creator of Ghost in the Shell. I find the source material even better than the acclaimed 1995 anime film directed by the great Mamoru Oshii, but suffice to say that is one perfect film. The explorations into the nature of sentience, cyberpunk critiques of tech in society, and the philosophical themes about identity are all amazingly ahead of their time. (Actually, just rewatched the original film for old time’s sake… And that only makes me loathe the remake more.)
Directed by Rupert Sanders, the new film is certainly interesting in the visual sense but so extremely dumbed down that it there is just no reason for the movie to exist. There’s already an excellent adaptation of the manga, not to mention plenty of episodes of the spinoff series and concurrent animations. Why do we need this live-action film?
I suppose that could start a discussion about the nature of any adaptations. Even if we were to go down that road and I’d grant that it’s worth rebooting these things for the sake of finding a new audience, I still feel the one currently out in theaters fails on its own merits.
The film doesn’t work. The streets of Hong Kong–or some ambiguous setting–full of holographic advertisement bombardment seems to be the only thing Sanders cares to add with any interest. There’s not even any nudity. The acting is stiff, pretentious, and not believable. Scarlett Johansson does not come across as well a reserved cyborg warrior with deeper notions of trying to understand herself. Batou, played by Pilou Asbæk, is inconsistent with his accent and not in the same league as the anime character whatsoever. Overall, it’s just like that other recent remake that was such a big deal, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Because ultimately the only thing these nostalgic movies succeed at is that they make you want to go watch the original classic animated versions.
But just being another lame Hollywood scifi action blockbuster isn’t the real reason why this film has been so controversial, and is failing so badly. Let us address the elephant. The whitewashing.
First of all, I was quite willing to give this universe’s version of the Major a chance. Fine, Scarlett Johansson is playing a character inspired by a Japanese character but named Mira Killian. She wouldn’t literally playing a person of another race in this version’s world, right? She even said so in interviews. I mean, after all the awareness of whitewashing the producers couldn’t be stupid enough to actually have her play an Asian?
I’d announce a spoiler alert, but in fact the trailer gave it away a long time ago. In more of the film’s stupid choices for originality, instead of the fascinating cybernetic lifeform Puppet Master as villain it turns out that the Hollywood plot is of course a complete Robocop ripoff. The evil corporation experimented on her and she has to try to get back her memories. The Section 9 team doesn’t do anything but get manipulated, and bring nothing constructive to the world of the film. So why root for them?
In any case, the trailer gave that away and it wasn’t a good storyline. But what’s worse, if you finally watch the movie the only surprise left s that the Major’s true self turns out to be.. wait for it… a Japanese girl named Motoko Kusanagi.
Oh, come on. Who on earth thought that would be a good idea? So there you have it, in your face whitewashing. Scarlett in yellowface. White privilege casting through and through, full of supremacist implications considering that cybernetic engineers “perfect” their experiments by turning them white, and with assumptions of whiteness as default thrown in.
That was just so much worse than it needed to be. Why Hollywood, why?
As a disclaimer I should probably say that I am a white person myself. Yet I do recognize the fact Hollywood clearly marginalizes minorities and that the idea of ‘white’ as the default is a supremacist trope which must be challenged. The media has a responsibility to be fair, and empathetic humans should care about these issues no matter what we look like or where we come from.
Tiger Tail Soup by Nicki Chen is a historical novel of the Pacific War, from the point of view of a Chinese woman. Author Nicki Chen is an American who gained a Chinese surname by way of marriage, and any reader will fully sense her fascination with China. She has done the proper research for such a novel. She takes the voice of An Lee, a strong-willed woman who gets left behind to raise children and live with her mother-in-law when her husband goes off to war.
The novel opens in 1946, then jumps back to 1938 and slowly goes through the war years until the epilogue rounds out back to the original year. Full of fanciful language and observations on gender roles in traditional societies – from the Qing Dynasty to the Republic era – and conflicts start off with simple things like getting a perm to look modern and soon grow to horrifying proportions.
Basically, the narrative takes place within the mind of the introspective narrator. Early on, darkness looms from afar. She carries a son in the Year of the Tiger, and is given fortunes of greatness. Then her engineer husband Yu-ming is conscripted as an officer, and most of the novel is about what happens to the war-weary women who are left behind.
At times, the narrator gets too lost in her own thoughts, endlessly reflecting and repeating herself as she dwells on her family and lot in life. The flow suffers for it, but that is the nature of this kind of story.
When the bombs begin to drop, the tone changes dramatically. The violence becomes very real, and that is of course the nature of war.
The chapters of the book are divided into seasons and year, and tales of pregnancy and childbirths and contrasted against the distant war. Themes of life and death. A son is born, a father seldom seen. There are attempts to let life go on, as schools remain open. An Lee’s husband’s letters are very important, describing being in the midst of the war. Yet overall it’s still a tale of women. And the emotions always outweigh any action. Time moves on and children age, with snippets of tragedy throughout. Some of the most powerful imagery in the novel concerns simply going to the beach and seeing Japanese battleships. And the suffering grows.
Tiger Tail Soup is not an objective overview of the war, but simply one deep character’s perspective. The hatred against the Japanese even seems one-sided, although in this context it is certainly well-deserved. The reader must remember that it is first-person narrated novel, not a textbook.
The historical aspect stays interesting as the book goes on, with references that range from the Gone With the Wind film to the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Halfway through the plot does thicken, and An Lee joins a resistance league which engages in street theater performances. There are arguments, politics, more conflict. When she does finally meet her husband again, and one son meets for the first time, war has changed and hardened the man. Hardened everyone.
Bringing another child into this war-torn world proves to be the greatest tragedy of all in the end. When the worst most possible violence happens near the end of the novel, it is very jarring.
The theme above all is survival, and is best summed up this quote: “It was my fate to live in a time of war, and I bloody well was going to be one of the survivors.”
Tiger Tail Soup comes recommended for readers interested in this period of China, and for anyone who might wish to learn about the human cost of war. Available on Amazon.
How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit? True Stories of Expat Women in Asia is a new book that explores the feminine side of expat life. Edited by Shannon Young, the anthology covers the stories of 26 women, mostly split between Hong Kong and Japan (from Tokyo to Fukushima), and differs from most travel memoirs by giving new perspectives to Westerners in Asia.
The first, “Forwarding Addresses,” concerns shopping for tropical fruit and coins the title of the entire book. Written in letters, Shannon Dunlap describes her time in Cambodia and the difficulties in learning to speak rudimentary Khmer. The author even recognizes her own privilege in being able to already speak English, and at least she tries to adapt to local customs.
“The Weight of Beauty” by Dorcas Cheng-Tozun takes place in Shenzhen. Again about language, but this time concerning the plight of being a Chinese-American fluent in Cantonese but not Mandarin. It’s not easy to look like everyone else and be judged for not speaking the common tongue, something white expats don’t have to deal with. Cheng-Tozun decides to take a language class, and finds an empathetic connection by discussing life’s tragedies with her teacher.
Stephanie Han is another displaced Asian (ethnically Korean) and authors “Happy Anniversary.” Taking place in the important year of 1997 in Hong Kong, Han is able to eavesdrop on racist rants from the British. A romance in the second-person, she eventually grows past the anxieties of being a nationless expatriate.
“Jewish in China” by Eva Cohen also explores various ethnic combinations. Jews in China are often told they are “so smart and so good at business”, as this writer can attest to. During a Passover sedar, Cohen meets a Chinese professor of Jewish studies with an incredible background. The professor has even published works about the Jews of Kaifeng.
“Huangshan Honeymoon” by blogger Jocelyn Eikenburg concerns interracial marriage and her disappointing honeymoon in Anhui, with a father-in-law and rainy weather interrupting the expected majestic scenery. Chinese husbands are big on filial piety. It’s a challenge, as Eikenburg reflects on the early days of the relationship back when her to-be husband’s father was against their dating, but in the end she feels closer than ever to her new family.
Susan Blumberg-Kason, author of the memoir Good Chinese Wife, lived in Hong Kong in the 90s, and recently returns in “Ninety Minutes in Tsim Sha Tsui” to reflect over some very personal memories, such as receiving news that her Chinese husband at the time had given her an STD. It continues with a one-time meeting of her then-husband’s ex-wife. Don’t we all all wish we could go back and give our younger selves advice?
“Cross” by Safron Marchant shows a deeper side to the themes of pregnancy and motherhood. Marchant tries to start her own family by way of fertility treatment in Hong Kong. The trials are very tough; hormones and clinic visits can be devastating. “Here Comes the Sun” by Leza Lowitz rounds out the theme of motherhood. It’s never easy, as Lowitz fails at pregnancy and goes through the complex process of adopting in Japan. It is heartwarming at the conclusion, with the new mother’s efforts finally rewarded.
Some stories are not as strong as others, which is part of the deal when it comes to anthologies. From getting pregnant in Vietnam to retiring in Malaysia, busing in Bangkok, and vacationing in Mongolia, the range of writing styles and scenes are very diverse.
How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit? is recommended for both men and women. Anyone interested in travel, immigration, women’s issues, and simply human stories will easily find something interesting within this anthology.
Now available at bookstores in Hong Kong and on Amazon.
Previous: Manga 漫画 マンガ!
When I wrote about my favorite manga growing up in the 90s and 2000s in the above, you may have noted a certain title concerning dragons and balls to be noticeably absent.
And when it comes to nowadays, you may have wondered where are the pirates and ninjas.
That’s because Shonen Jump deserves a post all it’s own
The most popular comics in the world are published by Shonen Jump anthology magazine in Japan. Although Shonen implies adolescent boys, males and females of all ages have enjoyed these tales.
The Japanese comic model is more sustainable than the American magazine system, with its color and ads, as in Japan you can buy these phone book-sized anthology books before the little tankōbon graphic novels.
In 2003, Viz published an American edition. I started from the beginning, reading my favorite titles over a decade a go. I believe it’s only digital now.
But let me go back further than that, to Dragon Ball and its maturation into Dragon Ball Z (the distinction is only made in the anime series on television). It was certainly one that consumed my teenagehood. Akira Toriyama, already famous for Dr. Slump, created this Monkey King analogue about a certain Son Goku searching for dragon balls to make wishs and the adventures along the way. It soon became his most popular series, and he went on with it to ridiculous lengths
The fighting became more over the top, with cosmic escalations. Characters began to have the power to destroy the Earth — although the Earth always was this strange fantasy-land which is another trope of the Shonen Jump greats below. Further tropes were time skips and subsequent aging, villains from earlier arcs becoming heroes, and characters dying yet continuing on in an afterlife setting. Not to mention the slow pace of story-telling, waiting for our hero to save the day after training…
Power level over 5000! Remember when that was a big deal to Vegeta? Then Super Saiyans and 2s and 3s and androids and Majin Boo. The best villains were always the aliens, though I almost thought the story should’ve ended with Frieza.
Dragon Ball GT just sucked, only consider the canon. Only those based directly off the manga comics were canon, that goes for all anime series. Though the occasional film directed by the creator counts as well, such as Battle of the Gods and One Piece Z and the upcoming Naruto the Last.
Eventually, I read the entire manga; that’s 42 books at 519 chapters. And the current stories I like — Naruto and One Piece — run far longer than even that.
But I was first introduced to DBZ on television. In middle school, there were a few episodes of Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z on network television. That didn’t last long, but luckily Cartoon Network aired the whole series and it took off on American pop culture and we all remember it fondly. It was an era.
I also liked Yu Yu Hakusho/Poltergeist Report, back in the early days of Toonami. The story of bad boy ghost Yusuke contained similar themes of afterlife and demons and saving the world in increasingly-epic fights. Much shorter though; didn’t take all those years to go through series — manga nor anime.
Also, about another dead guy. Bleach I started out reading but never got too into it. More power to you if you happen to be a fan.
These days… Naruto!
Patriot that I am, I have always been a great fan of American comics — and by association that goes for various British authors as well. I grew up on superheroes primarily, though of course comics is a medium not a genre and there’s no reason I can’t read more literary and independent series along with the flying adolescent fantasies.
However, so far I admit to having been too Western-centric. There happens to be a whole other country with a tremendous comics tradition that dwarfs the whole of North America and Europe together. I speak of course, of that mysterious land of Japan.
Goodreads shelf: manga
The Eastern style is so different, and in many ways superior to the assembly-line system of writers, artists, inker and colorist . The cartoonist in Japan is almost always both author and illustrator, the he or she is helped by assistants. Black and white except for special occasions. Adaptations, usually made famous in anime productions, are word-for-word and shot-by-shot remakes extremely faithful to the source material. Comics being taken seriously by the literary world is fairly recent in the West, yet Japan embraced adult comics right after the post-war period as an efficient form of entertainment when they couldn’t afford to make films. They are produced quickly, read fast, and often stories come into hundreds of chapters (dozens of graphic novel volumes) for a story to be patiently completed by the auteur.
I recommend the brilliant essay/graphic novel Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud to delve deeply into the nature of East vs. West art forms, upon the subjects of minimalism and respect for words & pictures at once as well as studies on neurological effects of cartoons.
Let’s start with some history. Best place to begin is with Osamu Tezuka, the God of Manga. An insanely-prolific writer and artist, the mangaka drew over 100,000 pages in his lifetime! Originally inspired by Disney stylings, he soon found his own voice in the 1950s and 60s. Funny how Disney later ripped off his Kimba the White Lion with a certain lion king…
I came late to the party, but did all I could to read his best works in my late teens and early twenties in the 90s and 2000s.
You may know the character of Astro Boy.
Tezuka was originally trained as a doctor before he found his artistic calling, and his medical drama Black Jack comes highly recommended.
There was also Adolf, about World War II. Buddha, biography of the holy one. Phoenix, an epic tale that bounced from ancient Japanese history to the far future.
Here’s the Goodreads shelf for more:
Now, I wasn’t watching the Astro Boy cartoon in the 1960s. I got into anime in the 90s like everybody else starting with a VHS tape of Akira.
I was way too young to be watching a movie like that, and I was blown away. The most badass cyberpunk film ever made, still awesome today.
“Neo-Tokyo is about to explode.”
The comic was even better. While the film had the title character — the government pscychic test subject Akira — only as brain tissue in jars, the comic had the super child reborn. And, when Neo-Tokyo was nuked the film ended. That was only half of the comics series. Then it continued twice as long with in the post-apocalyptic wasteland of World War IV. With incredibly detailed art work by Katsuhiro Otomo, who also directed the film.
There were higher standards back then. When manga really blew up in the 2000s, we learned that Japan produces a lot of crap as well. But in the 90s only the best of the best was worth translating into English. Dark Horse Comics in particular was the quality publishing company of record.
Ghost in the Shell, by Masamune Shirow, took hard science fiction to a whole other level.
Masamune Shirow was never very prolific, but his books had a level of intricacy and know-how never before seen. Appleseed was more his opus, but Ghost in the Shell became his main franchise still going strong today. I enjoyed Black Magic and Orion equally.
But it wasn’t all seriousness and mindfuck scifi. A lot of these comics were more fun. Take the comics published by Viz:
I remember me and my sister bonding over Ranma, the gender-bending comedy of a martial artist who turns into a girl, with bunches of supporting characters who turned to animals. Challenging cisgender heteronormalcy before it was cool.
I wasn’t as into Sailor Moon as my sister, and most Shōjo is frankly crap. It was the works by top female mangaka Rumiko Takahashi that were so funny and so creative. I went further back, and discovered old Urusei Yatsura stories from the 70s about an alien demoness named Lum and her pervert ‘boyfriend.’
I never did get into Inuyasha though.
I like to share. Over the course of this blog, I’ve shared my writings, some of my taste in music, and yes my love-life. However, one aspect that I consider very important to my identity has been rather neglected. I speak of my biggest hobby of all, my first love. Comics. There are many facets to the complexity that is me Ray, but if anyone is interested in truly knowing the core of my being then you must know that I am ultimately.. a bigass comic geek. I used to go to the comic shop every Wednesday. I used to scour for good deals at used bookstores and comic conventions. I collected thousands of periodicals across all genres, and filled my various bedrooms with dozens of boxes. At last count, I had about 40 boxes. They contain over a hundred issues each, do the math. I have less now, that’s another story, but still a ton of these back in my dad’s closet in Indiana of all places.
To introduce this series detailing my great interest in the sequential art form, let me begin with profile links from my extensive Goodreads:
According to my Goodreads shelves, I have read over 1000 graphic novels (I think it’s more, that’s just what I recalled to list)
There are all kinds, all genres. But I must admit mostly superhero- https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=superhero
Split into DC and Marvel (I’m more into DC, least I used to be) https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=dc https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=marvel
Also, quite a lot of Japanese manga
Such as the fun volumes of Shonen Jump https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=shonen-janpu
The “God of Manga” Osamu Tezuka
I do, of course, contend that comics are as literature as prose books Noting DC’s adult imprint Vertigo
Indie as well, all that which defies classification https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=indie
My favorite authors:
DATING IN CHINA
(Table of Contents)
Firstly, from 2008 on:
Prologue: How I came to China
Part 1: Burning Man
I go to a big trippy festival
Part 2: Doing LSD at Burning Man
I expand my mind and receive an invite abroad
Intro to Dating in China
First things first, let me explain how this thing will work
I arrive in China
The story officially begins, I get here
My first China-based girlfriend, and how that didn’t work out
The next level… Sigh, was it love?
A summer romance, a brief flight, all too innocent
Annie – Sky – Lulu – more
Singlehood, bachelor life, the learning process, playing the field…
Long-term relationship begins, a defining point in my life
An American intermission
You can’t go ‘home’, and I try and I fail and I drift
Finally, and sadly, nothing lasts forever
In the city… the city of Canton…
And now, 2011 to early 2012:
My Guangzhou Year 1
An intro to the new status quo, as I pack up move to the ancient land of Canton/
the modern megacity of Guangzhou
Dating GZ Edition – Kendra
First story, I meet a crazed American abroad and adventured therein
Public nudity and disrespect, among other themes
China to Thailand to Cambodia
I travel, I bring a certain Cynthia, I make mistakes
But hey, that’s life and at least I got to see a new place
Dating – visitors and friends, others
Some characters from previous entries reappear, old friends reunite, a funny story happened one day
This time it’s not just about me
Rejected in Guangzhou
The stories everyone seems to want to know. Rejected!
Featuring Josephine, Seline, and more
The End – my humble successes
On a final positive note, sometimes life works out rather fine
It was a good year, I experienced a lot
I really shouldn’t complain
Back to Shenzhen
In which I return to this town that somehow suits me
I begin the online game~
I have a girlfriend! I really did!
I must admit, things got a tad gross.
Hope this wasn’t the beginning of a certain pattern…
2013: Epic Clusterfuck Year
Not Dating in America (and Hong Kong, and Canada)
2012 comes and goes and the world doesn’t end,
Meanwhile a bad start as I embark upon a year of drama bullshit
In which I make a foul choice which ends up following me around all year.
Dark times. No fun.
I meet someone cool and travel to the Philippines
A brief positive note, albeit all too brief
Sonia – Jing – Amelia
POF, a site, met some peoples from differing lands, times are had,
and then I quit online dating forever more
The Very End
And I do mean it, the very very end.
I reflect and I consider and now it is time to move forward–
Interview With a Chinese Learner: Ray Hecht
Originally posted at EazyChinese.com
Hey everyone, how’s it going? Today I’m coming at you with another interview. Today’s victim is Chinese learner Ray Hecht. He”s been living in Mainland China for years, and has a lot of interesting things to say on his blog about China, dating in China and learning Chinese. Plus he shares some pretty sweet art and poetry as well, so hop on over to his site and check out his writing! Being a fellow comic geek, I can relate to a lot of what he has to say!
Now on to the interview.
Q: What Made you decide to learn Chinese?
I was first interested in Asian culture by way of Japanese manga and anime, being a long-time comic geek in my youthful days (and still a geek in my older days). As I got older I became more interested in film, and after watching many classic Kurosawa I came upon Cantonese films of Wong Kar-wai in my teenage years. Eventually this led to watching the film Farewell my Concubine, directed by Chen Kaige, which is one of my favorite movies of all time. In addition to watching the 90s films of Chinese 5th generation filmmaker Zhang Yimou, I became fascinated by China. However, I studied Japanese in college. Learning kanji did give me me a head start in learning hanzi, although the languages are quite different. I never did end up moving to Japan, just visiting a few times (learning some of the language did help). I later got an opportunity to move to Shenzhen and I fully embraced it. Currently, Mandarin is the only other language besides English I speak with any fluency, though I always have more to learn.
Q:How long have you been a student of Chinese, and how long did it take you to become conversational?
I’ve been studying for six years, and in the first year I learned ‘survival Chinese.’ I’ve been getting better at being more conversational in the last 3 years I suppose, but on having deep conversations I know I still have ways to go. The problem is that most conversations are the same: “Where are you from?”, “Are you married?” “How many years have you been in China?” etc.
Q:What was your biggest challenge learning Chinese? And what came easiest to you?
My biggest challenge at first was definitely the tones. Then, the characters although I am always making progress even though it takes years. When it comes to characters, just be patient but make a little progress all the time. In speaking, the grammar of Chinese is easier and I was able to formulate simple sentences quite fast (even if not pronouncing it correctly). “I like…” “I’m from…” and that sort of thing.
Q:What advice would you give to our readers who are just embarking on their journey with Chinese?
I suppose the best advice is to be fully immersive, go to China — or Taiwan, or Singapore — and start speaking. If you are in a big city in China, be careful not to be in the bubble that is the expat scene in which you rarely even speak Mandarin. Push yourself to practice those phrases you studied in real-life, it’s the only way!
Q:Do you have a favorite Chinese phrase? If so, what is it and why?
Well, 多少錢 duoshaoqian (“How much money?”) would be the phrase I say the most often, in going out shopping everyday. Some vocabulary words are fun, when Chinese can be so literal. Technological words such as 電腦 diannao (electric brain: computer) and 電影 dianying (electric shadow: movie) and many more.
Q:What’s your one biggest “hack” for learning Chinese?
One trick is to not stress about tones too much, and just try wait you’re best until one day it becomes effortless. You can still communicate, don’t be afraid to make mistakes. With pronunciation, one can imitate another more advanced learner of Mandarin instead of imitating native speakers. After all, any fluent learner was once a beginner and can offer great advice.
Thanks for taking the time to share with us Ray! I hope everyone will learn from Ray’s experiences, and move forward in their own studies. I especially agree with his point on getting out there and SPEAKING. So what are you still doing here? Get out there and practice your Chinese!
I sincerely try not to judge people.
I really do. I try, and I don’t always succeed, but I try. Intellectually I know I shouldn’t be judgmental.
When it comes to sexually promiscuous women, I can be torn. On the one hand, we are all adults and we should be free to do whatever we want. Me included. Some people express themselves sexually and they are healthy about it, they want to give themselves pleasure and society shouldn’t force arbitrary rules causing unnecessary shame. It’s simple, really.
Yet, there is on the other hand: how some people seem to warrant further psychoanalyzing to see why they are having all that wild anonymous group sex. Certain peoples with issues and acting out. Can’t help but wonder what’s wrong. Or at least, can’t we be morbidly curious about why people are the way they are?
I still have some enlightening to do myself…
Honestly, I don’t even care that all that much. It’s not my business. Let me start over. This is all from a totally amoral standpoint.
I simply don’t want her to text me those pictures of her fucking multiple men, and often pictures of her fucking those multiple men at once. I’m just not into seeing that. And she kept sending them unsolicited again and again. Emails, text apps. Skanky invitations (for lack of a better term), I’d tell her to leave me alone, and she continuously pushed at me and pushed at me the most graphic sexual imagery possible.
That’s weird, right?
I don’t think it was a moment of desperation or anything like that. A mere moment of playfulness. Not particularly special or anything.
Well, after online dating for so long, the odds were in my favor that eventually I’d meet someone off and the drama would begin.
So. I was single now and feeling frisky one day, as single men tend to do, and I messaged some lady on POF and said I was doing a survey on hand jobs. Rate your skill 1 to 10. Funny much?
She was apparently intrigued and messaged me back.
Yuki was my age. She’d done some kind of trading business. I know she’d been to Vegas before and was internationally-minded enough. Her ‘name’ was a Japanese (Chinese people rarely use their real names when speaking English to foreigners, they usually choose a Western name but some people do like to be called something more exotic). She wasn’t all that hot. She was curvy for a Chinese woman. She was quite willing. How was I to know it would turn out bad?
After a latenight dinner we took a taxi to my house and so on. Whatever. We met a few times after that I guess. It wasn’t like that memorable. She wasn’t supposed to have turned out to be this big a deal still bothering me today.
Some time passed, there was no indication that we should become a serious couple, and one day she asked if she could stay at my place for several days. Um, what?
She had been telling me she was looking for a new place, looking to move. She was just in-between. It happens. Or, does it?
It was terrible. I can be such a sucker. I laid out some ground rules, and I let her bring over luggages and crash. She went out to work or something in the days, and then came over at nights and left many dirty dishes and crap lying around.
Worst of all, she was always around. My whole personal routine was interrupted. I like to be alone most of the time, to be honest.
I do invite people over from time to time. I’ve written about Couchsurfing, for example. Thing about those situations though, is that there is a plan beforehand. A specific date of when the guest leaves, an endpoint.
Yuki soon overstayed her welcome and I told her she needed to get out. This wasn’t cool. She needed to get the hell out of my house.
It was hard to read this person. I mean, she’d been abroad. A moderately middle-class Chinese woman, I’d suppose. Didn’t seem like she was broke. It’s not hard to find an apartment in Shenzhen, so why did she need to be in-between like this?
Was she actually homeless, drifting from man to man’s houses? Or, just desperate for human contact?
I don’t know. I don’t want to know too much. Just stop taking advantage of me.
Then, another day a month or so later, it came eerily close to stalking.
That time she came over without warning was unacceptable. I hate when women do that. I have a routine, I need to be alone to be productive. I don’t like surprises. Sure I let her stay over, but I told her in no uncertain terms that she could never ever come over unannounced again.
When I later moved, I made it a point to not forward her my new address.
And lest you think I’m some pig rejecting an innocent Chinese girl who only wanted to be my girlfriend… Then the explicitness began.
Now, I’m not necessarily opposed to sexting. I may indulge in such from time to time. But when the unsolicited nude pictures started, and were then followed up by pictures of sex with other men’s dicks, I had to politely ask her to stop. She can be exhibitionist all she wants, but don’t I get to inform consent?
And they kept on coming. Dick pics. Other men’s dicks. More dicks. Then two dicks at once. Then a video. Then more.
Dating in China, blah blah. More often than not it was Rejected in China. Especially during my Guangzhou Year.
Everyone seemed to be doing fine hooking up, yet I always found myself to be wrought with challenges in this game.
People all assume that it’s so easy to be an expat in China. There are advantages to be sure, I admit my privilege. However, honestly I get rejected by local girls all the time.
What can I say? I really put myself out there. That means taking risks. That sometimes means embarrassing yourself, falling on the hard dirt face-first, and somehow finding the strength to do it all over again next weekend. Did I learn anything?
There was the girl who made out with me while my friend was visiting and texted me all the time, yet she would never make the time to meet one-on-one for a date. There was the second date with the Sandy when she slept over at my place and we massaged each other in the morning and then she told me she’s seeing someone else. There was the girl I approached outside in the street who turned out to run a bar in Panyu, and we as per usual made out in a club and then I went to her bar and I could never get her alone again. There was my cute Italian friend, one ambiguous friendship with that flirting tension in the air and nothing ever came of it. The American (from guess where, Florida) who was really into graphic cybersex with me and then by the time we met in person she was constantly talking about her new boyfriend. The Japanese language teacher friend who rejected my advances multiple times. The girl I met while backpacking in Tokyo, who liked me when we were chatting and showed me around in person but wouldn’t let me stay at her place during my travels. I even met a girl who owned a manga shop in Yuefu and I thought she just might be my soulmate, but she evidently thought there were no sparks at all; this was when I began formulating my theory that too much in common is not good for attraction.
Off the top of my head, two girls especially come to mind, of whose rejections were particularly hurtful–
Josephine. I really liked her. Slim and glamorous. She knew her fashion. A French major, a Europhile. She was meant for greater things than me…
I met her at the big nightclub in Zhujiang New Town. She wore a sexy black dress. I used a great opening line about looking like a drug dealer and pretending people were asking me if I was holding, wondering what she thought of my looks. She laughed, we exchanged numbers.
We had pizza for dinner one day and I bought her a stuffed animal, and she started talking about her boyfriend.
“Isn’t this a date?” I forwardly asked, though trying not to come across as resentful.
I never did get a goodbye kiss from her.
I tried to stay friends with her.
Somehow, her number got lost as I upgraded phones throughout the seasons and I no longer have her contact info. It would be nice to know what she’s up to. Just to be friends on Wechat, see her posts occasionally, not bug her all the time or anything.
Josephine, are you out there?
Probably the most drama I had in my entire Guangzhou era was with Seline.
Now, I met her indirectly through Couchsurfing. But let me assure you that I never ever use the crucial travel-and-networking website as a hookup thing. That is strictly against my code. This was the only time I kinda-sorta broke that code.
Continuing with my geek out – see first post about casual gaming – I’d like to share my humble toy collection.
After a recent move, it was very important for me to get a new bookshelf to organize my toys. Not that I play with them, I’m a grownup, it’s just my version of decorations. To each their own, right?
Where to start: Classic nime characters, nostalgic transforming robots of our youth, cute stuffed-iness… I only wish I had more. One day I shall complete my collection, one day.
My review of Hayao Miyazaki’s final film, the Wind Rises
Written for Shenzhen Daily, screening in Hong Kong
WHEN legendary Japanese animation director Hayao Miyazaki announced his retirement earlier this year, his latest film “The Wind Rises” took on a new meaning and received scrutiny as his swan song.
It’s a beautiful, almost flawless film. But the realistic style is a bit of a departure for the director. Unlike the more fantastical films for which he is most famous, such as “Spirited Away,” there are no mythical creatures in “The Wind Rises.” It lacks the environmental messages of “Princess Mononoke” and “Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind,” and it’s very much a film geared towards adults, without the childish wonder of “My Neighbor Totoro” and “Kiki’s Delivery Service.”
On its own merits, it is an excellent film. A biopic of early Japanese airplane engineer Jiro Horikoshi, “The Wind Rises” may not always be historically accurate but never fails to make the audience care deeply about the lead character. If it was live-action it would surely be taken seriously by all critics. But as a Miyazaki film, it must be compared to his other masterpieces, and even if it’s not his best, it’s still a quality story with far more heart than the vast majority of animation coming out of Japan or America or anywhere else.
The tale opens within the childhood dreams of the young engineer, and the various dream sequences are among the loveliest animation visuals ever seen — and noticeably without the use of computer-generated effects. Dreams play an important role throughout the story, as Jiro Horikoshi repeatedly goes back to the same mystical land of not-yet-possible flying machines and even meets his idol, Italian engineer Giovanni Caproni. It is left unclear as to whether there is something supernatural going on or if it’s only in his imagination. The greater point is that everyone should embrace their dreams.
The boy soon becomes a man, and on a train ride to his university in Tokyo he experiences the devastating violence of the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923. The scene is powerful, sometimes beautiful and sometimes terrifying, as the landscape bends and curves into impossible shapes. The sound effects are all done by human voices and it’s very jarring to hear such a unique style rarely heard in film.
Eventually Horikoshi rises to the top of his engineering firm, falls into a tragic love as his wife slowly dies of tuberculosis, and designs planes for the military. The film has courted controversy in certain ways; there is ample smoking, which some critics have said is not appropriate for child viewers. More importantly, others question why Miyazaki has apparently made a film that seems to promote the era of Japanese militarism.
But it’s not that simple. Miyazaki is known to have a pacifist stance and has repeatedly promoted peace and cultural exchange with his Japan’s neighbors. In July, on the topic of the Abe Administration and nationalist politics, he was quoted as saying: “Changing the constitution is completely unthinkable.”
In fact, his entire film expresses a great sense of inner conflict over his nation’s evolving identity. There was a rush for development at the time as the recently opened-up country tried to catch up with the Western powers, by means of advancing their military technology. The engineers in the film constantly take note of this unfortunate state of affairs. Yet Horikoshi’s character is a peaceful man who stands up to bullying and always takes care of the weak.
In one scene, he meets a kind German man who insists that Hitler’s Germany is run by thugs and will “blow up,” and then Japan itself will “blow up.” In another scene, the main character must hide from the secret police as they arbitrarily arrest innocent citizens. Most poignant of all, during one meaningful dream sequence Caproni specifically states: “Airplanes are not tools for war. They are not for making money. Airplanes are beautiful dreams.”
“The Wind Rises” is not a story about a simpler time. Japanese fascism is an inescapable backdrop to the period and the horrors of World War II in the Pacific region are always looming. While the central character’s arc is most important, the setting cannot be forgotten. “The Wind Rises” is ultimately a complex story about tough choices, and about a man who has a dream but must make sacrifices, as he makes compromise after compromise with his ethics, his country and his loving wife.
Miyazaki has said he was inspired to make this film after reading a quote from the real-life Horikoshi: “All I wanted to do was to make something beautiful.”
As for the acting, Hideaki Anno — a much esteemed animator in his own right, mainly noted for the “Evangelion” franchise — voices the lead character. It’s an odd choice. Anno is not particularly known for his voice-acting. But Horikoshi is meant to be an awkward man and stands apart from the people around him, and Anno expresses that well.
Hayao Miyazaki has now retired. His own legacy will live on via Studio Ghibli, which will continue to produce the finest in animated storytelling. Some films will even be directed by Miyazaki’s own son, Gorõ. But Miyazaki himself will never be replaced, and fans shall always miss this master director, who has taken a memorable bow with this final film.
“The Wind Rises” is screening in Hong Kong with Chinese and English subtitles.