In China, math spells romance! (Secret Chinese love codes)

With 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:

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.

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).

#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…




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?”


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.


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:

China’s “leftover women” and the pressure to marry

China’s “leftover woman” (剩女) phenomenon is in the news again. It might seem counter-intuitive that a nation with a sharp and increasing gender imbalance could have leftover women, but being counter-intuitive to Westerners is a Chinese specialty. :)

‘Unwanted’ single women feel social pressure to marry
Links here, here and here.

traditionally the Chinese say one should ‘make do’ when marrying. Marriage has never been synonymous with happiness.

“The new generation of women don’t want to ‘make do’. Many live quite well alone and don’t see the point in lowering their standard or life in order to marry.”

Still, the pressure on women is huge.

Part of this is due to China’s one-child population control policy, which adds to the desperation of parents for their only offspring to marry and produce a grandson or granddaughter.

“The real reason for coming to this club is that I don’t want to disappoint my parents. I want to make them happy,” admitted Xu.

The Garden of Joy’s own slogan plays on this emotion in order to attract members. “Are you single? Think about the feelings of your father/mother. Don’t cause them more worry,” read a sign on the entrance.

And business is booming.

The article gets at some of it, but there are important details left out. We’ve written on “leftover women” in China before, and encountered the modern marriage problem in China in different ways, most curiously in the local “marriage market.” If you’re interested in the “leftover women” or “3rd gender” phenomenon in China, I suggest you take a look at the links and photos here: China’s “leftover women” [Updated]

China’s “leftover women” [Updated]

Male chauvinism, narrow and well-defined beauty ideals, and materialism converge in a single phenomenon in China called “leftover women” — urban, professional women in their late 20’s who still haven’t married, and, so conventional wisdom goes, might never. Despite a surplus of males due to China’s ongoing legacy of gendercide, these professionally successful women feel their chances for marriage at 30 are quite slim, and the pressure to settle can be intense.

China’s “Leftover” Women
26-year-old newlywed college graduate Li Fang (a pseudonym) explained to me over dinner why she had been in such a rush to marry:

If I hadn’t gotten married now, I would still have to date for at least one or two years. Then I would already have passed the best child-bearing age and I would be a leftover woman.

More than 90 percent of men surveyed said women should marry before 27 to avoid becoming unwanted. The message to women: If you want to stand a snowball’s chance in hell of ever getting married in this country, don’t demand too much from your man.

We’ve had our own encounters with this and related aspects of Chinese society:

  • China’s Third Gender
    “A”-class women are so far outside the traditional definition of “woman” and have such trouble finding husbands and realizing the female roles of wife and mother that our teachers joke that they’re like a third gender.
  • On Love and being ‘smart enough’ (by Jessica!)
    The guys also said that she should be “一般聪明” which means “smart enough” or “ordinarily smart.” There’s a definite thread in Chinese culture that says that smart, clever, and independent women are threatening or something to be feared, so the guys tend not to want a girlfriend that might be smarter than themselves.

This one is also worth a look:

  • The options of yuppie women in China: “strong woman”, housewife or “fox”
    “Should I be a ‘strong woman’ (女强人) and make money and have a career, maybe grow rich, but risk not finding a husband or having a child? Or should I marry and be a stay-at-home housewife (全职太太), support my husband and educate my child? Or, should I be a ‘fox’ (狐狸精) — the kind of woman who marries a rich man, drives around in a BMW but has to put up with his concubines (妾,二奶)?”

Finding a mate is difficult when young people are scrambling for a job in a crowded and competitive market, so “marriage markets” (our term) are not uncommon. Since they’re full of bored parents and grandparents, they make great locations for students of Chinese to practice conversational Mandarin. We visited the one in Tianjin several times:

Cross-cultural living and the desire to be intimately known

Guest post! Cindy is one of the very few 100% fully bi-cultural people I’ve ever known. She originally wrote this in Facebook, and after reading it I asked to repost it here. I think it connects powerfully with everyone, especially those of us who live far from home, and most especially with Third-Culture Kids who aren’t really sure where ‘home’ is.

Let’s get to know each other

by Cindy
I had a conversation with my girlfriend about the hypothetical situation of whether we should remarry if our husbands died. I know my married girlfriends have had this conversation too, don’t deny it people. Her response was how hard it would be to have to get to know another person as intimately all over again.

Truly one of the greatest gifts in relationships is to be understood by another person. And trusting you will be accepted and loved in spite of the intimate knowledge. However, the process from acquaintance to intimacy takes time. It takes time to tell stories, to react to circumstances in life, to laugh and cry together, to argue and disagree, and then to make up. These experiences build layers of trust and loyalty and compose the patches of material that make up friendship. Through time we weave our lives together and enter together into the depth of relationship that allow us to be known by one another. And we are created to long for that depth. To be deeply known.

The trouble is, then we move. We pick up and move to another town. Or in my case, across the freakin’ ocean. I grew up in a small school where my friends were like my brothers and sisters. We were that small and that close. At graduation we scattered literally all over the world. Our new communities didn’t know our collective history and we had to start over from scratch with the storytelling and the laughing and crying and all that relationship building stuff. Then we’d move again. And start all over again. It’s no wonder people who are forced to move around a lot, like military families, have intimacy issues. It’s simply too exhausting.

Each time we enter a new community, that new place shapes us, molding us into someone different. When I left Wheaton, I was starting to question some of the conservative elements of my beliefs. Fuller helped introduce a broader spectrum of theology and how to incorporate doubt and criticism into a vibrant faith. In a sense, there was a Morrison Cindy, a Wheaton Cindy, a Fuller Cindy, a China Cindy, and a back-to-Taiwan Cindy. As time went on, the world changed and so did I. In the moving river of life, people who stepped in along the way journeyed with me downstream without the knowledge of who I was before I became who I am. Like a diamond, we can only reflect light off of one surface at a time even though we are made out of many facets.

The potential for misunderstanding is alarming. In our limited perspective, it’s too easy to make judgments regarding a person’s comments without a fuller understanding of their background. Wheaton Cindy would be appalled at some of the theological slants of back-to-Taiwan Cindy, and Chinese Cindy cannot hardly stand American Cindy most of the time. The complexities of our biological, cultural, mental, and spiritual identities is what fuels the psycho-therapy economy. And yet there exists inside of me the desire to be wholly known. The impossibility of somebody understanding the nuances of every past experience, every hat I wear, every idea and action and word I exhibit, doesn’t stop me from trying.

So I tell stories. I share my reaction when stuff happens. I laugh and cry. I argue and disagree. And I make up. Then I listen, not only to stories but to the stories behind the stories. I try not to jump to conclusions about people because I don’t know where they’ve been upstream. I look for the other faces of the diamond that make up each person I encounter because seeing only one side is not satisfying. I lean deep into the relationships around me to know and be known. It’s what I was created for.

I’m Cindy. It’s nice to meet you. Let’s get to know each other, shall we?

Cross-cultural harmony, cross-cultural marriage: Can foreigners ever really “understand China”?

The question of mutual cross-cultural understanding — generally and in marriage — came up this week in two separate places. Cindy wrote about culture shock and cross-cultural understanding in marriage (as part of her on-going series about cross-cultural marriage — linked below). In a blogger interview we did for a China travel website they asked if we thought foreigners could ever really “understand China.” I love the way both articles tackle the same general theme from two very different angles.

First, here’s an excerpt from Cindy’s Our Unique Bond #4 (I really hope you’ll go read the whole thing on her blog; it’s fantastic and I cut out some of the best parts here):

Culture shock is the pruning process. It’s the Good Friday before Easter Sunday. It’s the dark night before the dawn. It’s the pain before the gain. But let me be clear on one thing: though culture shock is inevitably painful, it is not inevitable. We experience culture shock only if and when we actually desire to engage with another culture in a meaningful way. I personally know couples who marry cross culturally who don’t make an effort to engage in their spouse’s culture and I suspect they don’t have culture shock issues in their marriage. Just as an expat can live in another culture and exist purely in an expat bubble without engaging local culture, they too, won’t encounter culture shock issues.

And here I break the bad news to people considering cross culture marriages. Gulp. In my humble opinion, you WILL have to make sacrifices and be ready to lose aspects of your culture if you want to make your marriage work. […] There are parts of my Chinese self, that I can never fully share and relate, with J. Though I try with every effort throughout our marriage. I believe it is ultimately healthy for the relationship to recognize and come to accept this. If you find yourself in a cross cultural relationship, you will have to decide the things you value in your relationship is worth the cost. In my case, I saw a character I admired, a common vision for life, and a deep friendship that bonded us even despite cultural differences.
[…]
Easier said than done. But it is worth doing. Please don’t be the kind of couple who just is content with living life according to one spouse’s culture. You are robbing yourself of the gift of being in a cross cultural marriage. J and I have learned so much about each other, and it has provided us with the invaluable skill of being able to encounter people who are very different from us with respect. And we hope to pass this on to our children to help them navigate themselves in our increasingly diverse yet interconnected world.

Here’s one of my answers from the travel website (China Blogger Spotlight: Getting intercultural with Joel and Jessica from China Hope Live):

Do you think [China/Chinese culture] is something a foreigner can ever truly understand?
Yes and no — it depends what you mean by “truly understand.” I definitely think it’s possible for people from vastly different cultures, like East Asian and Euro-American cultures, to have a deep and satisfying mutual understanding. We can also learn lots about ourselves and our own cultures through the perspectives of people from other cultures. Chinese people have the opportunity, to see things about Canadian culture and society (for example) that Canadians can’t see because Canadians are in their own culture and therefore they are too close to see some things. And the same works in reverse: outsiders in China can see things about Chinese culture and society that Chinese people can’t see because Chinese people don’t have an outsider’s perspective on their own culture. So there’s lots we can learn from one another, not just about one another’s cultures, but also about our own cultures.

Sometimes when people say “understand China” what they really mean is “accept and agree with whatever ‘China’ says or does.” Sometimes when these people hear a foreigner express a “non-Chinese opinion” (especially about sensitive topics), they disregard the foreigner by saying “they just don’t understand China” or “they’re just using foreign thinking to understand China.” I think that kind of attitude and thinking is basically nonsense, and it doesn’t promote mutual understanding. “Understanding” and “thinking and feeling the same” are not the same thing.

The differences between Chinese and Euro-American cultures are very, very deep; often I think people don’t realize how different we really are. Cultural differences are fascinating. However, I think the things we have in common are even deeper, more profound, and more important that our differences. I really believe that it’s possible for Chinese and lǎowàis (老外s) to have solidarity that is stronger and more meaningful than our differences.