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Archive for April, 2007

Blue Sky

A little while ago I mentioned that the sky in Shenzhen only becomes blue after a good rain. Well, here's proof. Tuesday night the heavens opened and down came the rain in the form of a small tropical storm. It was preceded by plenty of wind and there was a little thunder and lightning. The following morning when I awoke I was greeted by this delightfully blue sky, complete with a few fluffy white clouds. That's a huge improvement compared to this. It's just a shame that the blue will be gone again in a day.

No day out in Shenzhen would be complete without a few Engrish experiences. This seems to be a more common occurrence in the more tourist-oriented places. I think this is because these are the sorts of places where they try really hard to label things in English. Inevitably, the increase in the use of English also increases the opportunity for error. Here are some examples from our recent trip to Splendid China. They're all text-driven so you'll probably need to click on the images to make them nice and big so that you can read them clearly.

Fire hadrant Toilet sign

A Fire Hadrant? Spell check please! The next one doesn't contain any spelling errors but it was located on the side of the path. I'd like to know exactly where they want you to go to the toilet. Does one simply squat at the base of the sign, Chinese style?

Read the sign for Mazu's memorial temple closely. I'm not sure I even know what 'adoally' was supposed to be. A little later the word 'posthumously' is used, in a correct but nevertheless funny way. Look closely at the 'C' at the start of the sign under the golden horse. Do you recognise it from somewhere?

Chinese paper cut

This was my favourite from the day. I didn't realise Chinese paper could be so lethal! Get your Chinese paper from here at your own risk!

Welcome aboard

Dave and Tab on the Yangtze river

During our day at Splendid China we'd been having some SMS's with our other two soon-to-arrive friends, Tab and Dave (yes, a second Dave), who were due in that night, so we didn't want to eat out. To cut a long story short, we knew that their plane was due in at 11:45pm but we didn't know which terminal (Shenzhen airport has 2) or which city they were coming from and they weren't expecting to meet us at the airport. It seems that some of the SMS's sent by them became lost in the ether somewhere.

That night Gail & I decided to take the 1 hour trip out to the airport and take our chances. After checking both terminals, and not finding a matching plane arriving at 11:45pm, we decided to take 1 terminal each, calling the other person if/when they arrived. With much relief Tab and Dave emerged from the Terminal B arrivals hall (Gail was waiting) and we caught the bus back into the city and finally a taxi to our apartment, arriving at about 1:30am. Their relief at being met at the airport and the prospect of soon being able to sleep was palpable.

A splendid day out

Potala Palace

Friday saw the three of us heading out to Splendid China together. Let's face it, when you're only in China for a few days it pays to pack it in ) . We took the 30 minute bus ride, which gave Dave an opportunity to see a bit of the city, and paid the 120 RMB (AU$20) each to get into the park. Since we've blogged about Splendid China before I won't bore you with a blow-by-blow account of what's there to see, you can read about it here.

School kids Circular temple Temple

Once inside we found ourselves in a veritable sea of little Chinese school kids, each with a teacher trying to bring some order to the chaos. The instructions to the kids seemed universal - form a line and grab the loop on the top of the backpack of the kid in front. We saw these kids all over the place. Whilst we were watching a Tibetan performance they were standing up in the front to see, but we could see straight over the tops of their heads whilst we were still sitting down.

Some of the school kids were quite unruly, running back and forth through the scale models, causing some occasional damage as they went. At another point in the day we were beseeched by some older school kids, who obviously had English assignments to complete. Gail not-too-subtly looked at their book to see their list of questions and then proceeded to lead them on in getting the right answers as efficiently as possible. The whole morning was a continuous string of "Hello's" from all the school kids.

Pink stitls demonstration

When you first enter Splendid China you are actually in the China Cultural and Folk village part. We were greeted with people doing a musical dance with many drums and cymbals. This was followed by a cool display of brightly-coloured folks on stilts. If you click the picture above you should get a short video (10.7MB). There was this really short guy playing one of those Chinese kazoo-style instruments as well as other musicians. 

Great wall 1 Teracotta warriors The summer palace

The morning was spent looking around at all the miniature displays. It's still impressive the amount of effort that has been put into manufacturing all the replica models. There's just hundreds of miniatures and thousands upon thousands of details. In many cases they even use sculpted bonsai trees to keep the scale correct. Speaking of keeping scale, the actual scale that the models are built to seems to vary for every item. This messes with size perspectives somewhat. The accuracy and the detail of the natural formations impresses, too. There are gorges, the stone forest, waterfalls and mountains, all faithfully reproduced in miniature.

Lunch was the usual fare, where they still don't trust the shop owners with the money. The sequence is: 1) Choose your dish, 2) get a ticket from the store for that meal and take it to the money booth, 3) pay for your meal and get a meal voucher, 4) return the voucher to the store where you ordered your meal, and 5) sit down and wait for the food vendor to bring you your meal. 

 Pouring pot and water wheel Cool pogoda Water wheels

We spent the afternoon looking around through the Chinese Cultural and Folk Village half of the park. Here there are representations from most of the minority groups in China. There's also a few other models as well as the usual small entertainment spots. We made it back to the main arena just in time for the Mongolian war display, which included some very skilful horsemanship, along with some extremely loud PA and a good dose of pyrotechnics. Good fun. Happy and tired we took the Metro back home, where we had home-made pizzas for tea and put our feet up. Now to wait for the arrival of our next two guests!

Dave and his friend

Enter stage left - Dave

Out for dinner

Thursday last week saw the long-anticipated arrival of Dave, a friend from Australia. He's having a bit of an overseas friends-visiting holiday, going to such places as Singapore, China, Switzerland and the UK. We're the China bit ) .

Dave arrived midday on Thursday. Gail went and met him at the border. Unfortunately the absence of passports due to Visa issues roll meant that Gail couldn't go all the way to Hong Kong airport to meet him, so the border was the next best she could do. After an afternoon checking out the local park, and my early exit from work that day, we went out for a typical Chinese dinner of noodles, dumplings & lots of green tea.  

It's one of the most awesome feelings in the world, to have visitors. To think that someone has taken their annual leave, spent their money and gone through whatever efforts just to come and see you is quite an amazing and humbling thing.


It's my observation that when people are learning a language they start to get traction with it after learning a couple hundred words or so. This seems to equip people with the necessary basics with which they can start to use it and consequently start engaging people in elementary conversation. This then enables them to learn through use of the language - the more they use it the more they learn.

With Mandarin I'm not so sure this is the case. For starters, the language is not phonetic. That means that you can't learn how to say a word by reading the Chinese characters. There is the pinyin system, the writing of Chinese in Roman characters which is a huge help, but it makes learning Mandarin a 2-step process. One has to first learn the pinyin and then the Chinese characters.

In essence there's two things you need to be able to do; the first is to memorise all the words and the second is learning how to build the sentences. Apparently the point at which Mandarin starts to become really useful is when you can use about 2000 words fluently. Hmm. The sentence structure and grammar rules are actually fairly straightforward, they're just very different to those in English. What that means is that a word-for-word translation between English and Mandarin usually results in a meaningless sentence. This is why those Chinglish instruction manuals on some products are the way they are.

The language lessons that I've been having have been focussing on spoken Mandarin. That means that we're doing lots of learning of pinyin and only a brief look at the characters. I can remember the characters for 0-10 and a couple of others but that's about it. I can't even blame the teacher, because our teacher is very good. 

So far we've looked at about 450 words of so, of which I can remember a little over half, and I'm still completely useless at any attempt to engage in conversation in Mandarin! I don't mean that it's a bit difficult or I need to have a few goes at understanding what someone is saying, I mean completely and utterly useless! I can tell someone to take a seat, I can give a cordial greeting, I can ask someone where they live, I can tell a Taxi driver to go left, right and stop, and when a shop owner gives me the "foreigners mark-up" price on something I can say "You must be joking!", but that's about it.

Unless I'm talking with someone using elementary challenge-response style questions, I am still lost, even after a year in China. dizzy

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