Marriage market, Eric Liddell, weekend slogan

oldchurch1small.JPGI biked around Tianjin for about 6 hours with some fellow foreigners today. One of them had been on a bike tour of the city before, and she led us to a lot of interesting places. Tianjin has some important modern history, oldchurch2small.JPGparticularly as it involved Western powers. My favourites were the former residence of Eric Liddell (the Chariots of Fire guy), and a public park where on Saturdays with good weather a couple hundred parents post their child’s stats on papers hung on lines between branches and shop around for potential spouses-in-law. There was also an old abandoned church building with a very old woman outside making bricks (we guess). We didn’t get much information from her, but she says the church was in use in the 1960’s.

Eric Liddell’s house
Liddellhouse2small.JPGIf you’ve seen Chariots of Fire, then you know that Eric Liddell was the Olympic athlete from Scotland who gave up competing in his best event (100m) at the Paris Games in 1924 because the heats were held on a Sunday, which was his Sabbath. What the movie doesn’t tell you is that he was born in Tianjin, returned to Tianjin four years after breaking the world record to win gold (400m) and bronze (200m) in Paris, and died in a Japanese concentration camp after they took over the station Liddellhouse1small.JPGwhere he was working among the poor. His story is worth a quick read, and a recent biography has been published about him in advance of the Beijing Olympics (you can read the forward here, provided by a site commemorating those who experienced the Weihsien Concentration Camp). Like many historical sites in Tianjin, this one is locked up and left to rot. There’s even some company’s giant (disused) neon advertising sign running down the front of the house. Still, for some reason visiting historical places like this matters to me. I’m not sure why.

Marriage Market
marriagemarket1small.JPGThis was amazing. We stopped at a park for lunch. There were crowds all over the park looking at pieces of paper hung from lines on trees, or on people’s bike baskets. The four of us went over to see what was up, and it turns out that each piece of paper was basically a description of an unmarried person’s health, education, etc. The place was crawling with parents and grandparents looking to find their child a spouse. The girls I was with have much better Chinese (one has three years of fulltime study), and a friendly crowd marriagemarket2small.JPGquickly formed when they started talking and asking questions. Someone asked me something about me looking for a wife, and I said (in Mandarin), “No, I still have a wife,” emphasis on the still. I meant to say, “I already have a wife,” but oh well! After a bit we excused ourselves to go have lunch in the shade under a tree, and had an interesting discussion trying to imagine how we’d feel if our parents tried that (I was the only married one of the bunch).
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We saw a lot of other stuff – the old drum tower in the centre of the city, former foreign concession areas (each with their own distinct architecture), a bunch of old men in speedos swimming in the river, among other things. Speedo picture by request. Click here to see more photos from today.

Weekend Slogan #6
The workers who’ve lived in the big green tent below our window are finished installing some new water pipes, so our water pressure is increased slightly, their tent is packed up, and there are at least three new red banners outside our gate. Here’s one:

迎奥运讲文明,树新风,让您满意在供水!
yíng ào yùn jiǎng wén míng, shù xīn fēng, ràng nín mǎn yì zài gòng shuǐ!

DSCN4770.JPG

“Welcome the Olympic Games, pay attention to good behaviour, build a new atmosphere, be satisfied with the water (that the government gave you)!”

My teacher says the part about the government is implied, and the “good behaviour” part means no spitting or littering, etc.

Unfortunately, the work crew who posted these new banners (and their tent) was replaced by another one the next morning, which probably means weeks or months more construction under our window. But who knows, maybe we’ll get enough water pressure to make the gas water heater work!

Streetcorner haircut & bigtime bonus weekend slogans

Confession time. When we were at Tianjin University the other day, some students had a big white banner with something written on it, and student signatures were scrawled all over it. When we walked by one of them approached us: “Excuse me. We now are having this activity. Can we have your autograph?” They were celebrating the 30th anniversary of the re-opening of the university (the restarting of the national entrance exams I think) after the Cultural Revolution. Since we’re big fans of education we said OK, but I signed it Wayne Gretzky.

Today after a culture lecture in the morning I went for a haircut on a street corner. It was actually a lot of fun. The guy was really friendly and talkative, and the 7 or so people that gathered around to watch and chat were really friendly, too. It’s a good deal; language practice and a haircut for 39 cents! He had more English than the average Old Hundred Names, and claims he learned it
from the radio. He officially welcomed me to China in English — it was kind of cute. It got funny when he started replying to the Chinese speakers in English: “You are right.” “Three yuan.” “Excuse me.” It got even funnier when they started teaching me old slogans, like: “Study hard for the revolution!” and “The working class is the highest class!” The haircut itself got a mixed review from Jessica, but I gotta go back to that guy. The photos are of the people who stuck around to watch the 老外 get his hair cut. It felt kind of weird that they didn’t ask my name and so I didn’t ask any of theirs, especially with all the questions flying around in the conversation. I’ll make a point to ask him next time I go by.

This weekend’s slogan comes with a bonus Inspiration Thought, which I found on a fish tank in the lobby of our old apartment building:

Yearning for the ocean, sailing to the ocean and embracing the ocean, Enriched concentration shapes a wide expanse of Secret Ocean and forms a vast land of fortune

I think Koreans made the fish tank… here’s the photo.

And here’s this weekend’s slogan. This weekend would’ve been a twofer, but no one, including our teachers, knows what that last character is in yellow. These banners are right near the JHF office.

(Red)
遵守社会公德,维护公共卫生!
zūn shǒu shè huì gōng dé, wéi hù gōng gòng wèi shēng
“Observe social ethics, uphold public hygiene!”

The Curse of Da Shan

dashan.jpgDà Shān (大山) is a Canadian celebrity in China and easily the most well-known foreigner ever. He got his start doing Chinese comedy routines back when it was a big deal to have a foreigner on TV speaking Chinese. He’s still here doing all kinds of stuff, and he often appears in ads on buses and TV and stuff like that. He speaks Chinese better than most Chinese people do. And every single time I talk to someone, they bring him up. I have nothing against the guy, but I’m getting sick of hearing about him!

Usually the first or second question I get is, “What country are you from?” Then, 9 times out of 10, it goes something like this:

“Oh, you’re from Canada. Dà Shān is from Canada. Do you know who Dà Shān is?”

“Yes, I know who Dà Shān is.”

“His Chinese is great!”

“Right, not like mine.”

I can’t say I blame him. If I spoke Mandarin that good (instead of Chinglish) I’d probably be milking it for all it was worth, too. But the mixture of language envy and constantly being compared to the greatest foreign Mandarin speaker ever – in every conversation – has got to be one of the biggest curses for language students in China, especially Canadian ones!

Weekend Slogan #4
We see this one every day. It’s right outside our gate, obstructing the view of the kids playing ping-pong by the bicycle park.

实现创卫目标需要您的支持和参与
shí xiàn chuàng wèi mù biāo xū yào nín de zhī chí hé cān yù

“To realize the sanitation goal, we need your support and participation!”

This message brought to you by…

It’s the weekend, and that means it’s time to launch a new weekly bit of fun around here. These red banners are plastered all over China, and Tianjin is no exception. Many are advertisements. Many others are propaganda. Well, not really propaganda – more like free advice, or moral exhortation, or polite, soft warnings. Often they’re put up by a neighbourhood committee (they’re apparently not directly political). Some are boring, some are interesting, some are pretty funny. We’ve collected a bunch already but only translated two so far; they don’t put pinyin on them and sometimes they can be really idiomatic, so it takes time to track down the translations. But they are in every neighbourhood and school, and I was getting tired of seeing them every day but not knowing what they say. We’ll try to post a new one every weekend.

yōu huà chéng qū huán jìng tí gāo shēng huó zhì liàng
“Beautify the city’s environment; raise the quality of life.”