Secret Chinese love codes

yi Secret Chinese love codesWith only 409 syllables in the entire language, Chinese has too many homophones. That might sound judgmental but hear me out: Jessica’s Chinese name, for example, has in it. If I type “yi” on my phone, it’s the 90th (!!) yi in the list of yi characters to scroll through. It’s a good thing I love her so much, because inputting her name is serious 麻烦

So the Chinese totally go to town on homophone wordplays. They don’t even need to be true homophones; drunk language student pronunciation is apparently good enough to get the meaning across. In fact they don’t even need words; numbers work just fine. Turns out that in Mandarin you can say a lot with numbers. Like on the inside of our friends’ wedding rings:

ring1 Secret Chinese love codes

They inscribed “L.L. 14520” inside the bands. The “L”s are just for their last names: Liú and . But the numbers when spoken are yī sì wǔ èr líng, which to them sounds like yī shì wǒ ài nǐ一世我爱你),which means: “(For my) whole life I love you”. (“一世” is short for “一生一世”。)

I showed the picture to my preschool office coworkers and they all got it in under three seconds.

ring2 Secret Chinese love codes

One of their friends has 201314 on her ring: èr líng yī sān yī sì, which sounds like ài nǐ yī shēng yī shì (爱你一生一世: “love you (for my) whole life”).

There’s more language learning fun to be had in the Learning Mandarin topic. See also:

Things That Are Awesome (Fushan, Qingdao edition 青岛浮山)

Things That Are Awesome (in sharply descending degrees of awesomeness):

#2. The views on top of Qingdao’s Fushan mountain (浮山).

FushanviewQingdaoshibei Things That Are Awesome (Fushan, Qingdao edition 青岛浮山)

#3. Those portable personal fanny-pack radios popular in Mainland China.

#4. Those portable personal fanny-pack radios popular in Mainland China on top of Qingdao’s Fushan mountain.

#5. Those portable personal fanny-pack radios popular in Mainland China on top of Qingdao’s Fushan mountain playing We Are The World:

Aaaaand…. #1! Those portable personal fanny-pack radios popular in Mainland China on top of Qingdao’s Fushan mountain playing When a Man Loves a Woman when you’ve hiked up there to celebrate your 12th anniversary.

Snogging pics in

3…

2…

1…

Fushansnogging01 Things That Are Awesome (Fushan, Qingdao edition 青岛浮山)
Fushansnogging02 Things That Are Awesome (Fushan, Qingdao edition 青岛浮山)
fushansnogging03 Things That Are Awesome (Fushan, Qingdao edition 青岛浮山)
fushansnogging04 Things That Are Awesome (Fushan, Qingdao edition 青岛浮山)

Viral one-minute Chinese sex ed video — English translation

So there are these minute-long Chinese sex ed videos that’ve gone viral on the Chinese internet. I suspect they’re actually aimed at parents, but they’re funny and well done. Here’s a translation of the first one, which compares conception to getting a shot at the doctor’s and makes fun of the classic Chinese answer to, “Where did I come from?”

chinesesexed Viral one minute Chinese sex ed video    English translation
Your mom says you were brought back from the garbage pile?

We’ve had an interest in Chinese sex ed ever since we first arrived as language students and got involved with Bright Future, a sex ed project run by an American at Tianjin University. The traditional taboo against talking about sex is still strongly felt in China, so sex ed is a special challenge. And the not-talking-about-it enables copious amounts of risky sexual behaviours and their damaging consequences (see links at the bottom), so we’re fans of creative efforts like Bright Future.

DSCN5810Chuck Viral one minute Chinese sex ed video    English translation
A hands-on Bright Future birth control class at Tianjin University

Here I’ve embedded the video from YouTube, but if you’re in China without a VPN you can also see it on Youku and Tudou. Embedded from Youku at the bottom.

(If you want to mouseover the Chinese and get instant pop-up pronunciation/translation, install this in your web browser.)

一分钟性教育(1):小孩从哪儿来?

One-minute Sex Ed #1: Where Did You Come From?

你从哪儿来的?
Where did you come from?
当然是你爸妈生的啊!
Of course your dad and mom borned you!
老师跟你说是爱情的结晶?No, no, no,
Teacher told you it was love crystals? No no no…
我们是哺乳动物又不是晶体
We are mammals, not crystal
只有受精哪来的结晶
There’s just fertilization, where’s the crystallization?
你妈跟你讲,是从垃圾堆里捡回来的?
Your mom says you were brought back from the garbage pile?
也不是,你妈记错了
Nope, your mom remembers wrong
你是从小树林里捡回来的
You were brought back from a small grove of trees
哦,不
Uh, no
你是在小树林里受精的
You were conceived in a small grove of trees*
这个受精啊
This conception
就是你爸的精子钻到你妈的卵子里去
is your dad’s sperm making its way into your mom’s ovum
你问精子怎么进去的……
You ask how does the sperm go in…
呃,医院打针见过吧?
Um, you’ve seen an injection in the hospital, right?
针头戳一下,药水推进去
The needle pokes all of sudden, and the medicine is pushed in
过程差不多
That’s the process, more or less
哦,想知道你怎么长成这么大的呀?
Oh, so you want to know how you grew up this big?
刚开始受精卵比你的头发丝还细呢
At the very start the fertilized egg was thinner than your hair
用眼睛是看不到的
Couldn’t be seen with eyes
精子那么小,所以针管一定很小?
Since the sperm is that small, so the needle must be really small?
不不不!这和注射器大小没有关系!
No! No! No! This has nothing to do with the syringe’s size!
啊,你问会不会和打针一样疼?
Ah, you’re asking does it hurt as much as an injection?
嗯,多少会疼那么一下吧
Um, I guess it will hurt like that just a bit**
总之,你要孝顺你妈,知道了吗?
Basically, you need to show filial piety to your mother, understand?
然后受精卵会分裂
Afterwards the fertilized egg will divide
一分二、二分四、四分八……
One into two, two into four, four into eight, etc.
接着呢,会形成组织器官
After that, it will take shape and organize organs
慢慢分化
Slowly differentiating
这样你就有了心肝脾肺肾,眼耳鼻舌喉等等零碎儿了
This way you have a heart, liver, spleen, lungs, kidneys, eyes, ears, nose, tongue, throat, etc., odds and ends
什么?你妈说确定你是从垃圾堆里捡回来的?!
What? Your mom says she’s certain you were brought back from the garbage pile?!
我擦
Censored (“I erase”)
等等,我得去跟她聊聊……
Hold on, I need to have a chat with her…

(*P.S. — “…conceived in a small grove of trees” isn’t just some random joke. In memoirs we’ve read of China’s 1980′s, it was apparently not uncommon for couples to sneak out to public parks at night to fool around because they had nowhere else to go; living quarters were crowded and lacking privacy. I’m guessing that’s what they’re alluding to.)

(**P.P.S. — How would you translate this? 嗯,多少会疼那么一下吧)

More about Sex Ed (and the lack thereof) in China:

Abortion, AIDS, prostitution and gendercide:

Cross-cultural Incarnation — your identity across cultures

Some Christmastime thoughts on trying to live authentically and meaningfully in a culture not your own. Because the Incarnation (God being born human as baby Jesus), whether you think it’s true or not, is an interesting way to think about living cross-culturally.

chinesechristmasnativity 017 Cross cultural Incarnation    your identity across cultures
(Chinese shepherds visit Chinese baby Jesus)

It’s one thing to study the transmission and transformation of ideas and behaviours across cultural contexts. Those are issues that anyone working cross-culturally has to deal with no matter what field they’re in, whether they realize it or not. But what about how crossing cultures affects your personal identity?

As the outsiders

Here’s a bit from God Spares Not the Branches, an insightful (understatement!) exploration of cross-cultural and development work issues via the story of an American post-grad who volunteers with a local anti-AIDS NGO in Ghana. Emphases mine:

“Bryce,” his father told him, “when you step into the world of other cultures and seek to be a part of that which is different, your difference will be who you are to them. No matter how well you seem to become part of the people and their ways, you are not them. No matter how well they receive you and befriend you, your distinction is your reason for being there. When it doesn’t fit what is expected, you will feel the pain of rejection. It’s always just beneath the surface. That’s life. It’s not fair, but that’s how it is. You have to know who you are and be confident in that and what you are about.”

As a lǎowài I automatically identify with Bryce; we’re the outsiders trying to fit in and the Chinese are “them”. Even when we’re feeling good about how well we’re fitting in, even if to the point that we could momentarily forget how different we are, they wouldn’t let us forget, because they remind us every single day. We’re routinely hit with a myriad of largely ignorant-but-understandable expectations of who we are and what we’re like. I wonder what receiving these “identity prescriptions” every day is like for expats who don’t have a strong understanding of who they are and what they’re about. I suspect I’ve maybe seen that show a couple times over our five years in Mainland China.

As the insiders

daochengleroushen Cross cultural Incarnation    your identity across culturesBut the Christmas holidays have made me re-read the above excerpt in light of the Incarnation. In Chinese Bibles it says, “The Dao became flesh and lived among us.” The idea being that the Creator, the Ultimate Being, became a human being. That’s a major living-standard downgrade, in what we could call the ultimate cross-cultural move:

He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges… [From Philippians 2:5-8]

This reverses the roles: God is the outsider and we are the “them”.

I’m not assuming Dan was thinking Incarnation when he wrote that section, but it’s an interesting angle to consider: Jesus as the ultimate model of cross-cultural identification and authenticity: leaving his home and completely taking on the language, culture and ethnicity of his host nation, while refusing to compromise who he is and what he’s about, even though he knows it will eventually result in rejection.

“…when you step into the world of other cultures and seek to be a part of that which is different, your difference will be who you are to them . . . When it doesn’t fit what is expected, you will feel the pain of rejection. It’s always just beneath the surface . . . You have to know who you are and be confident in that and what you are about.”

Maybe Dan was thinking Incarnation; so much of that paragraph relates to not just the Incarnation but also to how we treated Jesus when he refused to conform to our expectations of what he should be. But I’ll save that for a “Resurrection Festival” post (复活), because I like to keep the meanings of my historically re-appropriated holidays clearly sorted (no crosses at Christmas!). ;)

More about culture & personal identity:

More about Christmas:

P.S. — About God Spares Not the Branches

godsparesnotthebranchescover Cross cultural Incarnation    your identity across culturesGod Spares Not the Branches gives an intimate look at the complexities of post-colonial West Africa. The events, places and people are so realistically detailed you can’t help but believe this fictional story is actually a collection of real first-hand accounts — and that’s because it pretty much is. Author Dan McVey lived in Ghana for over 20 years, raised his family there, and still spends half of every year there, mostly on his farm. He applies an insight born of first-hand, long-term cultural intimacy to a deep exploration of several interrelated issues (many of which are relevant to China) by embodying them in his characters and their experiences. If you’re more than a little interested in any of the following, I think this book is worth your time:

  • The legacy of colonialism
  • African corruption
  • Problems with international aid and development (like priorities set not by need but by the politics of the donor nations, dependency, etc).
  • Drastic societal change affecting behaviour norms and values
  • The impact on sexuality of economic and gender inequality
  • The influence of the internet, media and Western culture — esp. entertainment and consumerism
  • The cultural hurdles in addressing HIV/AIDS
  • African identity and spirituality, Christianity, Evangelicalism, Islam
  • Muslim/Christian interaction

Two things in particular stand out to me:

  1. Intimate detail and nuance — Dan has lived into this culture and society and conveys a much richer and more empathetic picture of the people and challenges they face than what the best journalists can deliver.
  2. Challenging all around — This is not merely a liberal scolding of conservative Western worldviews, dragging a fictional character through a Western culture war conversion experience in a world of stereotyped stock characters (like in The Help). There’s plenty that will make Western political conservatives squirm, but Dan’s allegiances aren’t dictated by the Western culture wars. His compellingly detailed, uncompromising portrayal of African reality refuses to flinch in the face of events that Westerners, right or left, have difficulty processing. Like a shocking exorcism account, written in the same finely detailed, eye-witness-sounding delivery with which he describes farms. He doesn’t insist the reader accept the account at face value, but he also makes it difficult to casually brush off.

Pro-life in abortion-saturated China — What do you do?

(Before we begin…)

memorialforunbornchildren Pro life in abortion saturated China    What do you do?

  • If you or someone you’re close to has had an abortion, there is loving, compassionate help available here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
  • If you work in the abortion industry, there are former industry workers who will help you quit (quietly or as a whistle-blower), find a new job, and even provide legal help if needed.
  • If you’re pregnant and want help, you can find everything from a listening ear to a maternity home here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

(If you know of other crisis pregnancy or post-abortion resources, please let me know!)

* * * * *

Abortion-saturated China

If you don’t read Chinese, what would you assume this ad — with it’s heart-shaped-hand-enveloped unborn child — is for?

chineseforloveabortionadcrop Pro life in abortion saturated China    What do you do?
Painless Abortion Surgery 无痛人流术
Give love the safest guarantee 给爱最安全的保障
Because of love — for / give the unmet child 因为爱——给未谋面的孩子
Ultimately / in the end, the best gift 最后,最好的礼物

Chinese abortion rates are so high that Chinese temporary residents skew their host countries’ abortion stats. “Pro-life” encompasses more issues than abortion, issues for which China also provides plenty of fodder (China executes more people than pretty much everyone else, for example). But I’m betting abortion is the one that’s most in-your-face.

The reasons for this are many: a big, bold abortion industry + general aversions toward the Pill or condoms + zero support for unwed mothers + the One Child Policy + male chauvinism + collectivist identity that doesn’t recognize the inherent worth or intrinsic rights of the human individual + abortion as an enhancement of China’s ongoing legacy of infanticide + poor sex ed + casual attitudes toward abortion… Point being that the chances of personally encountering abortion-related situations in China are very, very high, whether your looking for them or not.

dismembermentiswrongextremists Pro life in abortion saturated China    What do you do?

For example, here’s a conversation a new coworker of mine had at her preschool branch just last week, on her 5th day in China:

Today the girls learned I had a huge family [she has 9 siblings]. One responded, “Your mother is very lucky, I dream of having many children in the next life.” Another responded that she already had her first child and needed to go have an abortion, do I have advice for her? Ahhh, what?!! I was like, “Oh, no! Are you sad?” She said, “Yes,” but remained totally expressionless, no big deal attitude and then kept on doing whatever she had been doing.

Imagine: it’s your 5th day in China, you’ve just learned “你好” and “谢谢“, you’re jet-lagged like anything, and a coworker asks you for advice on her impending One-Child Policy-mandated abortion.

Pro Life conscience, Abortion-saturated China

embryology textbook Pro life in abortion saturated China    What do you do?

For those of you who realize that the unborn are living human individuals and who believe in universal human rights, that denying basic human rights to an entire class of human beings for the purpose of legalizing their slaughter by the millions is a gross injustice; and that offering (for a fee) to dismember alive or chemically burn to death the babies of women in hardship enables, perpetuates and profits from systemic inequality and male chauvinism, here are some questions (others are welcome to comment, too):

How do you handle living in this abortion-saturated society? What do you do? If you’re semi-literate you’ve seen the “3-minute” “painless” abortion ads. If you have Chinese friends you’ve probably had or at least overheard deceptively casual “Oh I’ve gotta go get an abortion”-type conversations. How do you respond? How do you think you should respond? How do you wish you’d responded differently in the past? Do you know of resources or opportunities for people who want to help (pregnancy and maternity support charities, adoption route options, sex education projects, etc.)? Contact me personally if you don’t want the information out in public.

peopleandchoices275 Pro life in abortion saturated China    What do you do?womendeservebetter275 Pro life in abortion saturated China    What do you do?

Some of our own abortion-in-China stories (more are on the way), including a hospital experience and some translated conversations and advertising are here:

Abortion & China:

How to do cross-cultural transitions right: Build a “RAFT”

Moving cross-culturally is a lot of things, but one thing it isn’t is easy. You leave behind siblings, nephews and nieces, parents and grandparents, and friends, plus places and things infused with memories and meaning, like the house where you grew up and park where you proposed.

We did that once, the first time we moved to Asia. After three years we returned to Canada to have our first child, and then we did it again. After another two years in China we returned to Canada a second time for the birth of our second child. And now we’re back in China for the third time.

The return trips to China after each birth were harder than the first time we left. Taking your children away from their grandparents, uncles and aunts and cousins, Sunday school friends (never mind all the grass and trees and oceans and lakes and air) hurts.

You realize more what you’re doing when you’re also doing it to your kid.

20110629 02 How to do cross cultural transitions right: Build a RAFT

There’re others you leave behind, too: coworkers, people you don’t like, people you have a grudge against. And there’s the nasty bonus surprise: returning to your culture of origin (like our friend Rob) after a long time away is often harder than leaving your original home ever was in the first place. Not only are you leaving behind so many friends and places and memories, but “home” has changed since you left, and so have you, and it won’t feel the same. Much of the familiarity you’re expectantly anticipating never materializes. But this post isn’t about entry or re-entry; it’s about leaving.

Regardless of which direction you’re going, the experience of leaving so much behind is huge whether you take the time to acknowledge it or not. And how you leave it can have a big impact on you personal development, on the kind of people you and your lover and your kids are becoming. This experience impacts all of you, and some ways of intentionally navigating the experience are healthier than others.

We received some great advice about how to do cross-cultural transitions before our most recent move back to China, advice we tried out a little bit in the months before we left, and we think it’s worth sharing. I wish we’d put more of it into practice than we did. It’s called “building a R.A.F.T.” and comes from chapter 13 of Third Culture Kids by David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken (pages 200-204 in our 2001 edition). Below is my summary/paraphrase/riff of what they wrote.

Building a R.A.F.T.

tckcover How to do cross cultural transitions right: Build a RAFTYou’ll see quickly that this process takes some forethought and planning ahead; put it off ’til the last two weeks and you’ll likely not have enough opportunities. You’ll also notice that it’s something for every family member to do, not just the adults.

Reconciliation
Closure matters. Festering bitterness matters. Making peace matters. Emotional baggage matters. Guilt and regrets matter. Forgiving and being forgiven matter, and that’s what reconciliation is all about. Reconciliation means growing up. It means attempting to communicate hurts and forgiveness, and initiate apologies.

A cross-cultural move presents a tempting cop-out: to run away and ignore strained or broken relationships. But refusing to resolve interpersonal conflicts sabotages healthy closure, and this lack of reconciliation sabotages the rest of your “RAFT” — the rest of your transition and entry/re-entry experience. You can’t really move away from these kinds of difficulties anyway; you’ll carry the emotional baggage of unresolved problems with you. Bitterness is unhealthy, unresolved relational issues can interfere with new relationships, and if/when you eventually move back, those problems will still be there, and they’ll be even harder to resolve.

A cross-cultural move also provides a great excuse, if you need one, for attempting to make peace: “Hey, I’m leaving for China for who knows how long, and I don’t want to leave a mess between us…” or however you need to do it.

You can’t always achieve reconciliation, of course, because it takes two willing parties. But you can always attempt it, and at least own up to the part of the relationship you’re responsible for. In our recent personal experience we found that the attempt is worth it whether the other side engages or not.

Affirmation
Think through your list of friends, coworkers, supervisors, neighbours, classmates. Do more than just say goodbye. Affirm people; let them know you respect and appreciate them, acknowledge that they matter. This is good for them and for you: it strengthens your relationships into the future and makes you more aware of what you’ve gained from living in the place you’re leaving. Pollock and Van Reken illustrate with some examples:

  • Make time to tell coworkers that you enjoyed working with them.
  • Tell friends how their friendship has been important, and maybe leave them some sort of memento.
  • Send a note and small gift to neighbours, mentioning positive things about your interactions with them.
  • Reassure those close to you of your love for them and that you don’t leave them lightly. Order flowers for the day after you leave.

Affirmation helps with closure by acknowledging the blessings you have in the form of relationships, and mourning their passing.

Farewells
Making farewells to people, places, and possessions helps avoid deep regrets later. Schedule ahead so that you won’t end up missing anyone or anywhere or any thing that was in any way significant, and make a real ‘official’ farewell to each. It’s a time to acknowledge all the positive things and feelings, and acknowledge that it’s sad to leave each person and thing behind.

People - this is crucial, even more so for children, who will need guidance. You want to say and do something, make some sort of gesture like baking cookies or writing a note, that acknowledges the importance of that person to you, expresses thanks, and lets them know they will be missed.

Some sort of “rite of passage” ritual often accompanies major life transitions like graduation or retirement parties. Taking the time to do something similar in spirit creates a significant memory acknowledging the importance of a person or place, and helps face and process the fact that you’re leaving them.

Places - Visit emotionally significant sites to reminisce and say goodbye. Everything from the tree you loved climbing to the park where you got engaged. Some people plant a tree, or hide some little treasure that they could dig up later if they ever return. The point is to openly acknowledge the time as a true goodbye, admitting that the stage of life these places represent will soon be in the past.

Possessions - You have to leave a lot of stuff behind in international moves. Certainly, adults and kids have to learn about letting go, and we all have too much stuff anyway, but everyone should talk over what to take and what to leave behind. It’s also important to deliberately choose and take what become “sacred objects”, a slowly growing collection of physical objects that connect the different places and stages of your life. When important objects must be left behind, try giving them as gifts to a friend and taking photographs. Jessica and I have a Christmas tree ornament (or something we use as one) from most of the significant places in our life together. Every year we can remember.

In addition to all her teachers and ‘aunties’ and ‘uncles’, we had our three-year-old say good-bye to her classrooms, playground, the lake where she swam all summer, places we visited regularly, her bedrooms, toys she was leaving behind, parks we often walked in, and a bunch of other stuff. And we took pictures of it all. This gave us plenty of opportunity to verbalize what was happening then and later after we’d returned to China. It helped all of us put words to the experience and mourn all that we were losing in a healthy way.

Think Destination
During the goodbye process, start shifting gears mentally, reorienting your thinking to the near future: you’re arrival and adjustment in a new place. Think realistically: identify positives and negatives and differences about your destination. List problems you’ll likely encounter. Make a list of your coping resources, both external (finances, support people you can lean on) and internal (your ability and methods of dealing with the stress of change).

Thinking ahead and identifying these things helps make the transition much less rockier than it could be. Forming realistic expectations helps avoid disappointment (from too high expectations) and makes sure you don’t miss out on available resources (due to too low expectations). You aren’t mentally and emotionally leaving so much behind in order to go nowhere; every step away from what you’re leaving can be a step toward what you’re gaining.

20110629 101 How to do cross cultural transitions right: Build a RAFT

Related stuff:

Chinese displays of affection: criticism

Chinese mothers (and teachers) are infamous for using harsh and constant negative reinforcement in the form of criticism, comparison, and shaming to motivate their children. One of the most truly bi-cultural people we know has a recent blog post where she considers the loaded question: “Is criticism from Chinese mothers a display of genuine love?” You can read it here: Criticism.

“This is a personal topic for me to tackle because I have my own Christian convictions as well as Western influences (not to mention a bit of a badass personality) which makes it VERY difficult for me to handle criticism from my elders. I especially believe as a follower of Jesus, I am responsible to fight against the injustice of a patriarchal society and stand up for my own value as a Chinese woman, rejecting harmful words for myself, for my daughter, and for all the beautiful girls of this culture. However, outsiders to this culture must be hesitant to judge before listening and understanding the vast commitments Chinese families have towards each other.”

For more about family in China, explore Cindy’s blog or browse our related topics: