Chairman Mao on working out

I’m on my third Chinese gym in three years. The first one got kicked out by the landlord (and didn’t refund the remainder of our membership fees). The second one operated with no electricity for over a month before the management suddenly locked the doors and disappeared (and didn’t refund the remainder of our membership fees).

But my third and current Chinese gym has Chairman Mao speaking English:
发展体育运动增强人民体质
I was sold.

It was also the cheapest by far of my remaining options.

But it turns out this quote from some calligraphy by Chairman Mao in 1952 is famous, and was used in propaganda posters:

发展体育运动,增强人民体质
fāzhǎn tǐyù yùndòng,zēngqiáng rénmín tǐzhì

Here’s a little collection of posters and images I scrounged from the internets (click one):

The mysterious Chinese colour “qing”

The colour qīng 青, which we’ve encountered once before, popped up again recently in a story book our daughter’s preschool teacher was reading to her class. It made characters out of each colour, and showed what new colours were created when they touched. All the usual suspects were there — red, yellow, blue, green, black, etc. — plus “qīng.” See if you can figure out how to describe it.

This is “Little Black” 小黑 xiǎo hēi

heise_black

And this is “Little Qīng” 小青 xiǎo qīngqingse_qing

You can see on Little Qing’s fingers, the shirt near the fingers and the water drops, that they’ve tinged black with green and blue.

Our dictionaries aren’t super helpful, with entries like, “nature’s colour,” “green or blue,” “greenish black.” I wonder if the iridescent green of some beetles, for example, would be called qīng by my students, rather than green 绿 .

It’s curious that our daughters are growing up with a slightly different colourscape than we did.

There’s more about qīng here: Language, perception and the Chinese colour “qīng”

Visceral Chinese restaurant advertising

We recently had an interesting experience for us, as former North American suburbanites, when Jessica bought a live chicken in the neighbourhood market instead of chicken meat, and had it butchered. She said it was still warm when she was preparing it in the kitchen. There’s also this unforgettable infomercial that used to play in the back of Qingdao taxis, where a chef pulls the shell off a live crab. Anecdotes like that (which are in endless supply), and this photo from two days ago, hit one of the trillion interesting-to-me cultural differences between China and North America. Turns out that meat actually comes from animal carcasses! Did you know? Dead animals! Who knew, eh?
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These skeletal remains are hanging outside a mutton restaurant that I passed by this week on my way home from work, basically as advertising: Hey! We have fresh mutton here! Aren’t these carcasses appetizing? Generally speaking (of course), in China there’s still much less of a disconnect between been food and its sources — in this case: meat and the fact that meat comes from the bodies of animals.

Contrast with North America, where meat is sold as far removed from its animal of origin as possible: skinless, boneless, sliced into plastic-wrapped rectangles — somehow it feels “cleaner” to us. But that’d be suspect for many our Chinese neighbours, who would instinctively question the freshness of plastic wrapped meat so far removed from its source.

The anecdotes are endless, like — and this is something that I keep forgetting — serving a fish with the head and tail not removed turns a lot of North Americans off. As if we prefer not being reminded that it was an actual fish before it became fish on our plates. Same with chicken heads. IMO, China’s approach to food makes more sense. North Americans don’t eat bugs, but they do eat crabs, lobsters and honey (seriously: do you know what honey is? Youtube it.). North Americans don’t eat dogs, but pigs and cows? — no problem.

North Americans have some weird cultural hangups when it comes to food. I suspect it has to do with cultural hangups East and West both have regarding bodies in general — though as anyone who’s spent significant time in China could tell you, those somatic hangups play out in different ways. Though I also suspect it just has to do with modern life in general; the century-old American worlds in many of our kids’ books (like Little House on the Prairie) seem much closer to China than today’s America when it comes to meat.

But whatever the reasons, when it comes to food, China is fearless.*

(*Unless you’re talking food safety and pollution, but that’s a different deal).

If you like dead animals and/or meat, there’s plenty to be found in the following posts:

Imagine this in the average North American family restaurant

Imagine this, from the front counter of a neighbourhood restaurant, suddenly appearing one night in an average North American restaurant:
Chinese_health_drink
Perhaps, you can’t believe your eyes. But it’s exactly what it looks like: a full set of some male animal’s genitalia (seal, I’m guessing) soaking with gǒuqǐ berries and some other, unidentified ingredients in báijiǔ, China’s infamously impression-leaving hard liquor.

These health tonics in glass barrels on restaurant counters are pretty common in our area. For a fuller description, see:

Curiosity + China = way more than I bargained for

Drink this for your yang

Fish heads

I remember as a kid being told how there were people on other countries who were so poor they had to eat fish heads and rice. The general point about how good we have it in the West compared to most of the rest of the world is more or less legit, but it never occurred to me then that people in other countries might actually like fish heads.fishheaddish
(From one of our neighbourhood restaurants.)

Conversations I’m guessing my North American female friends never have

yourfaceisfatFrom my Wexin (WeChat) the other day:

Woman 1: [shares photo]

Woman 2: “Hey, your face is fatter than it used to be, you should pay attention to control how much you eat so you can lose weight.”

Woman 1: “Haha, that’s because I’m the farthest in front. I sacrificed myself! You’re both behind me.”

Chinese (and other cultures) can be incredibly blunt by North American standards. Particularly when it comes to bodies and physical appearance. Or: North Americans are hyper-sensitive about their bodies (probably because we’re raised in a photoshop-saturated media culture, we’re taught to have very thin skin and feel entitled to society’s affirmation, and neo-platonic dualism is a major formative element in our general worldview). While Chinese may ultimately rate somewhere on the “insensitive” side of a global scale, they’re closer to the majority-world norm than we are when it comes to talk about appearance.

Jessica has an endless supply of funny-but-painful anecdotes like this.

Chinese characters vs. English sight words

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Our oldest daughter is loving the neighbourhood Chinese literacy class.
You don’t have to be like a Chinese immigrant we talked with this past summer in Louisiana. She said she tells Americans to not even bother trying to learn Chinese because “it’s just too hard.”

Chinese is not impossible. It’s not even all that hard. But it is slow. Without an alphabet, it’s tough on kids who grew up on phonics and spelling rules and “it’s good to colour outside the lines!” There’s just a ton of brute memorization. And memorization is not a highly valued skill in our Western education systems. But it’s an absolute necessity for a non-phonetic language.

For example, this is our 6-year-old’s box of Chinese reading curriculum, which she uses at a training centre in our neighbourhood for kindergarten and Grade 1 students (she’s the only 老外):
renzi
It says, “Primary students’ commonly used 1500 characters.” That’s FIFTEEN-HUNDRED Chinese characters. For five-year-olds. To memorize in 4.5 months. So that they won’t be left behind next fall by the speed and pressure of Grade 1.

And this is a non-traditional, less-pressure, relatively fun learning system.

By comparison, her English homeschooling curriculum has her memorizing maybe five sight words per week for Grade 1. I googled around, and current standards for 5-to-6-year-olds seem to aim for recognition of around 50 high-frequency words by the end of kindergarten, and familiarity with 300 total words (sight words and sounded-out words) by the end of Grade 1.

Thankfully, our oldest daughter is loving the class and the teacher, who’s competent and experienced, warm but firm in a ruthlessly efficient, no-nonsense Chinese Mary Poppins kind of way.
renzi2
For more about Learning Mandarin, see:

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