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Random thoughts from random learning

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女婿 is a male

Just a warning, in case all of the "女" confuses you into thinking that a "女婿" is female. I assumed it was, and boy did I get the wrong impression of that relationship!

"姪女婿" is male too. Just saying.



Came across a new-to-me name for a toilet during last month's trip: 盥洗室 I don't recall ever seeing that name before, but it's quite possible I have seen it many times and just didn't know what it was.

How common is 盥洗室? Be honest, feel free to tell me that it's everywhere and I'm just an idiot.


Random thoughts on my China trip

I don't think I want to live in China. No insult at all to native Chinese, nor to any ex-pat enjoying life there. But for me personally, it's just too much activity, and too much effort. Likely if I did live there I'd get more used to the flow and find it less effort and more pleasant, but I fear I've gotten too soft living in Suburbia to handle a major city, let alone a major city in China.

I take back every good thing I've ever said about taxi drivers in China and how honest they are. At least in Chengdu. Out of 5 taxi rides, they tried to cheat us twice. And I don't mean just go a couple extra blocks longer for an extra yuan or two (used to that), I mean try to charge us 2x-3x the proper fare. And these are in licensed, metered taxis.

It's too difficult to find diet soda in China. On the plus side, when I do find it, it's usually Coke Zero.

Things are still cheap in China. I was concerned that between the USD-RMB exchange rate going from 8.4:1 to 6.2:1 since I was there last, and the high inflation rate in China, things would feel expensive. Nope, still not. Especially in 3rd tier cities like Pingxiang. One morning took my daughter to a neighborhood square to run around; we bought three rides on those kiddie coin-op rides, two bottled drinks (water and "iced" tea), and two "ice cream" snacks; total cost, 14 yuan (!). Compare that to, say, the cheapest bottle water I found in terminal D of the Shanghai airport was 34 yuan (but it was Evian).

Mixed kids still gets a lot of attention in China. I'm used to be stared at when out and about, but with her, it was a lot more attention. People even came up and wanted to have their picture taken with her!

I was more impressed with Shanghai than I was last time I was there (2005). Not sure what the difference is, but it feels like it's advanced a lot in the last 7 years.

Chengdu is backwards. I don't mean the infrastructure -- it's quite developed. I mean the peoples' thinking. I can't believe in 2012, in the central business district of a major city, one still has kids yelling "hello!" to all the random 老外. Yes, I'm white, not Chinese, get over it. I really felt the difference between Chengdu and Shanghai.

In addition, I was less impressed with the food in Chengdu than I expected. I've heard great things about Sichuan food, but we didn't see it. This is certainly due in part to our choice of food -- we didn't have Sichuan hot pot (too spicy), for example. But we did go to what was told were decent restaurants and tried Sichuan dishes. Not bad, but not great, and everything was much too oily.

On the plus side, I think Chengdu woman are more attractive. To me, Beijing and Shanghai woman are too skinny, Chengdu woman are much curvier. They also dress skimpier, but less fashionable.

I don't like jiaozi as much as I thought I did. Last trip (in Beijing), I ate jiaozi at every opportunity, and loved every one, down to the 1 yuan street vendor ones. This trip, had a couple of them, not so impressed. Only decent one was at the Nanxiang 1900 (at the Super Brand Mall). I even encountered ones I actually didn't like, first time ever.

I no longer feel the need to speak in Chinese just to show them that I can speak Chinese. On past trips, I've had a bit of a chip on my shoulder about it; this trip, well, not only did I not mind switching to English if they replied in English to my Chinese, but I would often just start in English. The only exception to that was passing by a book store in Shanghai airport, a woman calls out to me (in English) "Do you want to learn Chinese?" I had to reply in Chinese to that!

The second best part of the Oriental Pearl is the History of Shanghai Museum (at the end). "Interestingly" enough, there are no signs in English saying what it is, nor saying that it's free (with ticket to visit the tower). It's a really well done museum, very interesting, with signage in English and Chinese (and Japanese).

Plane ticket to China for my daughter: $1400. Look on her face the first time she sees (and needs to use) a squat toilet: priceless!

Addition 5/22/12:

What's up with the meaningless use of pinyin? As an example, I saw a road/traffic working with a sign on his back saying 交通 -- with "jiao tong" written on the back. How can that ever be helpful?

Addition 6/16/12:

A much smaller percent of the people smoked than I remember. I remember last trip it seemed like freeking EVERYONE smoked. This trip, very few people smoked. On the downside, those that smoked did so freeking EVERYWHERE: hotel lobbies, next to non-smoking signs, even in elevators! And in bathrooms -- it seems a common way to smoke in non-smoking buildings (hotels, airports) is to go into a bathroom stall, lock the door, and puff away.


Seeing 扣

I'm sure we've all had this happen to us: you see a character "for the first time ever!" -- and you know it must be very obscure, because you've never seen it before. Then you see it again soon.

Just happened to me with 扣. Saw it on an airplane (context was something like "请坐后扣好安全带"), and I was surprised that I've never seen as simple a character as 扣 before. Five minutes later, saw it on a headline on a paper someone was reading (something about US-China discussions, being 扣解, IIRC).



Another example of total failure of guessing the pronunciation based on radical / phonetic part. The radical at least makes sense -- what else do you use for a bribe if not 贝?

But the phonetic part? 有 != hui4, and 各 != lu4.

I guess if I think of 路, which also has nothing to do with 各/ge4, but at least is pronounced the same as 赂, that helps.


Why I hate Chinese (the language, not the people!)

屋 and 室.

They both have the same phonetic part, 至, but yet are pronounced nothing alike, and not like 至 either. [shì and zhì are spelled quite similarly to each other in pinyin, but to me they sound nothing alike..... the dangers of pinyin!]

They have more-or-less the same meaning, but their usage is different and often can't be interchanged.

They have different radicals, and 尸 is very weird here, I assume it used to be 戶, which would mean the radials are similar.

I just can't tell them apart.


匪 and 罪

匪 and 罪 are the latest pair of characters I'm unable to keep separate. Anyone care to help me out and come up with a mnemonic to help me remember which one has which meaning and pronunciation?


Measure word 片

Chinese measure words are starting to really crack me up. I keep coming across "ordinary" characters that turn out to be measure words as well.

Just now, for example, 片.

"What?", you all cry, "we all know 片 is a measure word. For DVDs, etc."

But yes, look at this clause: "有一片密密麻麻的枣树林".

According to MDBG, 片 is also a measure word for "scenario, scene, feeling, atmosphere, sound etc" -- but only for the number 一.


忙 and 忘

This is embarrassing. I just realized why, after so many years of studying Chinese, I still get 忙 and 忘 confused.

It's because they are the same character.

At least they are the same character to me: 心 radical and 亡 as the mnemonic. That makes them the same to my brain.

Now that I realize this I still won't be able to keep them separate, but at least I'll understand why I keep getting this hash collision.

Oddly enough, other characters with this property (e.g 景 vs 晾) doesn't confuse me at all. Maybe 晾 is rare enough and I managed to internalize 景 before I saw 晾. Neither does 裏 vs 裡; maybe because I think 裏 is a very awkward-looking character, too tall for its own good.


螞 vs 螞 vs 螞

Found this gem the other day. According to MDBG, 螞 has three different meanings:

  1. mā​ : dragonfly
  2. mǎ​: ant
  3. mà​: grasshopper

One character, three different tones, three different meanings.

I assume the way this character is usually used is as part of words: 螞蟻 vs 螞蚱 (oh look, and there's 螞蟥!). I also assume native speakers get this wrong too, so I'm not going to worry too much.


屆(届) and 糾(纠)


I just can't keep these characters straight. Even in words (e.g. 纠缠 vs 届时) I can't keep them straight. Just right now, for example, I was wondering why "jiushi" was not showing up as a word.

In the past I rant here when something confuses me, and in the process of publicly ranting it becomes more clear. This time, I can just feel it, I'm still going to get them wrong the next time they come up in ZDT.


I'm making different mistakes

And I think this is a good thing.

For example, just now I read 民, and read it as ren2 (人). The character itself doesn't have much in common, but the meaning does. So I think I'm internalizing Chinese enough that I read 民, and the part of my brain related to "people" lights up, where 人 lives as well, so I confuse the two.


Can't trust 言

Came across 誕生 the other day. Didn't know what 誕 means, but I think I can figure out the meaning of 誕生: something dealing with speech coming out or producing sound, and likely pronounced something like yán. Well, to the extent that dàn is similar to yán​, I'm half right.

It's also interesting that both 言 and 延 are pronounced yán​; any other characters come to mind in which both halves are pronounced the same? Characters like 囍 don't count!



Totally unrelated to learning Chinese, but perhaps related to China.....

I like drinking tea at work (cuts down on coffee and diet pepsi.....). I don't like tea bags: even the "good quality" ones (e.g. Peet's, Ten Ren) pale in quality to a decent loose leaf. But loose leaf teas are a pain to use at work, too hard to clean a teapot w/o a sink.

Enter the solution: ingenuiTEA.

It actually works amazingly well, and when done just open the top, wait a day for the leaves to dry (optional), and dump them out with a single shake of the wrist.

I now return you to your regularly scheduled topics.


太風 -- NOT!

All these years I always thought "typhoon" was written 太風 -- lit. "great wind". And now, 20 years later, I finally learn it's 颱風 (or 台風).

I still prefer my version.


寧, 宁, and 㝉. Oh yeah, and 甯

Another confusing simplification.

寧 starts out bad, with two different pronunciations, nìng​ (rather / to prefer) and

níng​ (peaceful), with the latter more common in place names.

The simplified form of 寧 is 宁. Not too bad, just drop a couple of strokes, and the new part (丁) doesn't sound that different from 宁 (dīng vs nìng/níng​), so you got that phonetic help going for you.

Weirdly enough, 宁 is also a traditional character, although I think very rare, pronounced zhù​. For whatever reason, according to MDBG, the simplified form is 㝉! As if 丁 isn't simple enough.....

And to round out the fun, there appears to be another character 甯, also pronounced níng​ and meaning peaceful, with the simplified form of 宁. I assumed 甯 was some obscure variant of 寧, but it actually gets over 15 million hits on google.....


Weird one: 奓

Just came across 奓. This struck me as weird, as it has the same meaning as, and seems to be a combination of, 奢侈.

Digging a bit deeper, it doesn't appear in the TW MOE dictionary.

Digging even a bit deeper, this dictionary says that 奓 has three meanings:

  1. 奓, pronounced as shē, means the same as 奢 (which is also pronounced shē)
  2. 奓, pronounced as chǐ, means the same as 侈(which is also pronounced chǐ)\
  3. 奓, pronounced as zhà , means "to open"

[Also, that dictionary lists 奓 as '古同“奢”', while it lists 奓 as '古通“侈”'. Why the 同 vs 通? Is that a type-o?]


toward and towards

I don't see why I think I can learn a foreign language. I can't even learn my native one correctly.

I've always thought that "towards" is correct, and "toward" is wrong. Until I was proof reading a short note, replaced the "toward" with "towards", and sent it back. When asked what's wrong with "toward", I replied that "toward" is wrong and one should always use "towards". "Really?" "Yes, really", so I brought out my Merriam-Webster English Usage as proof.

So imagine my horror to learn that both are equally correct.

And, even worse, "toward" is more common in American-English.


蒙, 濛, and 矇, oh my!

蒙 is second tone (méng​) in the common meaning of "to cover / ignorant / to suffer (misfortune) / to receive (a favor) / to cheat"

蒙 is third tone (měng​​) in the also common meaning of related to Mongolia / Mongol ethnic group.

That much I can handle.

The second meaning of 蒙 is also pronounced as second tone (méng​) in Taiwan, same as the first meaning. I like Taiwan's way more, having only one pronunciation, but since the mainland doesn't do that, I need to remember both.

蒙 as second tone (méng​) is the one used for surnames.

Still OK. Now things get even more complicated

蒙 is also the simplified form of 濛, which means "drizzle / mist". Fortunately, it is also pronounced as second tone (méng​).

蒙 is also the simplified form of 矇. 矇 itself also has two pronunciations, second tone (méng​) meaning "blind / dim sighted", and first tone (yes!) (mēng​) meaning "to deceive / to cheat / to hoodwink / to make a wild guess". From what I can tell (corrections anyone?), for this character the first tone (mēng​) is the more common one, and the second tone (méng​) is seen only/mostly in the word 矇矓. And as a surname.

Ouch, my head hurts.

MDBG also lists a first tone (mēng​) meaning for 蒙, meaning "(knocked) unconscious", but I don't see any words that use it, so I have to conclude it is obscure or an error, and I will ignore it. [Taiwan MOE dictionary confirms this, and has only a single pronunciation for 蒙.]

Speaking of errors, MDBG also lists the pronunciation of 蒙嘉慧's surname as third tone (Měng​​), even though the other entries only list a second tone pronunciation as a surname. Error? Or exception? How does one find out how people pronounce their name?



Decomposing 虜

Another one that stumped me. But, in retrospect, I must have just not really been paying attention.

I could pretty easily see the parts: 广匕 Several of which could be the radical.


It's not 广 on top.

In looking at it, this is somewhat of a confusing case. The pronunciation of the character (lu3) is quite close to the pronunciation of the radical (hu3), and dissimilar to the pronunciation of the "phonetic" part (nan2).

And the meaning really has nothing, as far as I can see, to do with a tiger.

In the simplified form, 虏, the phonetic part, 力, has a pronunciation (li4) closer to that of the character. Although, in my opinion, 力 is a much more meaningful radical for the character than 虍 is.


河 vs 湖

Am I the only one here that is totally unable to remember which one means "river" and which one means "lake"? All I can remember is that they both have something to do with water.

At least I can easily remember the pronunciation, due to 可 and 古 being in there, and each of these have the same vowel (e vs u) as those, and in both cases the initial is "h" and the tone is second.


Names for places

I realized recently that the last textbook I used was published around 1985, and that the names for things in China might have changed since then. [You think?]

So I asked my language mentor what are the current names for various places. Here's what I was told. Or, at least, I think I was told. This was all in Chinese, so I assume my understanding accuracy is around 50%.

饭店 -- restaurant (fancier, nicer environment, more expensive)

饭馆 -- restaurant (less fancy)

餐馆 -- restaurant (not used)

餐厅 -- restaurant (used only for "foreign" food, e.g. 西餐 (western food), 茶餐厅 (Hong Kong style food -- how foreign is that?))

食堂 -- cafeteria

大锅饭 -- type of cafeteria (no longer used to mean "communal eating", now used to refer to really big cafeteria where the food is served from large containers without much choice, e.g. employee sponsored companies)

小炒 -- type of cafeteria (smaller, pay as you eat type)

旅馆, 旅店, 旅(行)舍 -- cheap, typically not rated (no stars), similar to our "hostels"?

(大)饭店, 酒店, 宾馆 -- hotels. Has star rating (星级). May also (or only!) serve food (!).

小别墅 -- villas, bungalows (i.e. small individual places)

连锁 -- chain (as in hotel chain)

百货公司 -- department store (old name, no longer used except in names of old stores)

百货大楼, 百货商场 -- department store (modern name)

商场 -- mall or department store

商店 -- individual store

大悦城 -- destination shopping "city"

只逛不买 -- useful phrase


Why is 腮 so easy to learn?

For some reason, I found 腮 easy to learn. Saw it once, haven't gotten it wrong yet while SRS-ing. Even the pronunciation, which is a bit weird as the phonetic part, 思, is not that close to sāi​.

And yet, there are other characters I can see 50 times and still not remember their meaning or pronunciation -- or both!

Just one of those things about learning Chinese I don't understand.

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