Sunday, March 14, 2010

My new roommate

Click on photos to enlarge. More photos here.

His name is 點點 Diǎn-Diǎn. Dian means 'spot', which you can see in the second photo. He's about four years old and is a sweetie. He's curled up in my lap as I write this.

I'm amazed at the calming effect he has on me.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

This is why I love languages

Here's a Japanese girl and Nigerian guy speaking Yoruba. So cool.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

I hate this guy

Not really. He speaks amazing Cantonese and Mandarin.

Um, yeah, I guess I do hate him :-Þ

Friday, March 5, 2010

China's English bubble almost ready to pop

Here's the story:

Last December the employees and students of the Kai En chain of English training centers in Shanghai arrived to their schools to a very rude surprise: After 13 years of operation, one of the oldest and best known English training companies in Shanghai had suddenly gone out of business.

The directors had fled the country, leaving the employees of the five branches owed months of back-wages and customers without refunds for their expensive pre-paid courses.

When looking at this in the context of Chinese and international trends, it could be a preview of things to come for China's English language industry.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Earthquake and breakfast

So we had another earthquake this morning. I was sitting at the computer, actually not wasting my time but studying Chinese, when my apartment started swaying. It was a 6.4, centered about 180 miles south of me.

This is my first earthquake experience since I moved into this apartment last December. I had wondered what they would feel like, being ten floors above the ground. Now I know. The room swayed back and forth for a good 20-30 seconds, starting slowly then getting stronger, and gradually subsiding (Reminded me of how my wife described labor contractions). I've heard that the up-and-down shaking of a quake is more dangerous than side-to-side swaying; I'm relieved that we had the latter type. I don't have a TV, so I don't know the situation in southern Taiwan. Guess I'll have to wait to hear from students today.

Today's Chinese speaking practice included ordering some new dishes at the breakfast shop downstairs. I'll have to remember to post a photo of the place, and of the friendly shopkeeper. No matter how busy she is, she'll have a smile on her face as I'm deperately fumbling with her language.

I got 黑胡椒豬排 hēi hú jiāo zhū pái (Black pepper pork), just like what you see on the left. I also got 酥皮餅 sū pí bǐng (crispy skin cake), kinda sorta like a flaky quesadilla, to which I added cheese and bacon.

Khatzumoto is right; learning a language is much better when you're using it to do something fun and enjoyable. For me, eating certainly fits the bill :-Þ

I also enjoy silly cartoons, so I'm going to start watching 我們這一家 Wǒmen zhè yī jiā ("This family of ours"?) Check it out!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Chinese language learning update

OK, I'm back on track, actually studying--and enjoying learning--this crazy, wonderful language.

I've signed up with Chinese Pod ( I'm past the Basic stage and am listening to the Elementary level lessons. One of my favorite learning tools of theirs is Skritter (, which I guess you could call "e-practice" for reading and writing characters. The combination of listening, reading, and writing should help my old-man memory.

As far as speaking, my goal is to force myself to speak to someone, anyone, everyday. I've found a great motivator online who uses the handle Khatzumoto. He runs the site "All Japanese All The Time" (

Briefly, this young man was living and going to school in Utah, had an intense desire to learn Japanese, but had no classes nor native speakers where he lived. So he studied on his own, using Internet resources, movies, music--whatever he could get his hands on. He totally immersed himself in the language. By 2005, after only 18 months of study, he was fluent enough to read technical material, conduct business correspondence, and have job interviews in Japanese. He landed a job as a software engineer at a large Japanese company in Tokyo, where he still lives today.

This guy is amazing; yet, he'll be the first to tell you that what he did is not amazing, that anyone can learn any language with enough desire, motivation, and, most of all, fun. Not only is he a great motivator, but his writing is funny as hell!

So, most every morning I've been visiting the breakfast shop near by apartment, ordering a different menu item in order to 1)practice my Chinese, and 2) enlarge my repertoire of Taiwanese cuisine.

This morning I got 吉士豬排堡 Jí shì zhū pái bǎo. I already knew that 豬排 is a pork patty, and 堡 means it comes on a bun, but my handy dictionary translated 吉士 as "custard." Eww. So I took the plunge and ordered it, and was pleasantly surprised. Turns out that the pork patty is breaded and stuffed with a thin slice of ham and cheese. Delicious.

UPDATE: I found out that 吉士 can be pronounced almost like "cheese" in English, hence its use in this dish. This "ham-and-cheese-stuffed" dish is also known to as 藍帶 lán dài "blue ribbon", referring to the French style cordon bleu. I just love when pieces of language all come together!

Chinese....onward and upward! 加油!