Chinglish jokes

Here are a couple more cold jokes for you all. These are great, because they are Chinglish jokes. I've only heard a couple of these, but I like them -- they're bad puns that mix the two languages together. Sorry that they're really only funny if you know a little Chinese (actually, they're not even funny then, so what the hell.) They are both riddles.

Q: Why don't vampires like spicy food?
A: Because they like blood (不辣的 bù là de, which means "not spicy").

Q: What is this? (hold up four fingers)
A: four
Q: What is this? (now hold up four fingers bent at the knuckles)
A: wonderful (弯的 four, wān de four, which means "bent four")

You should definitely be feeling pretty cold by now, eh?

Here's another random tidbit that I found on Danwei: Xinhua, a couple of days ago, had a serious news story about a scientific finding regarding genes associated with MS, and for some completely inexplicable reason, the picture they used to illustrate the story is an X-ray of Homer Simpson's brain.

Finally, one of the joys of living in China is reading the English on T-shirts that people wear around town. English is trendy, and many people buy and wear clothes that say things that are really wacky. Today I was walking down the street and passed by a young girl wearing a black T-shirt that said "When in doubt, whip it out". I couldn't help but burst out laughing. Of course, there's a lot of these (and much better ones) on, always worth a visit.

Cardboard baozi

A couple of weeks ago a big news story came out that there was a maker of steamed stuffed buns (called baozi) in Beijing, who was using cardboard as a substitute for meat in the filling. You can still watch the original report (in Mandarin) on Youtube.

Now, there's been a turn-around, and the Beijing media is saying that the story was faked, and that the freelance reporter, Zi Beijia, hired some migrant workers and staged the story from start to finish.

Hmmm... The thing is, I think the original story about the baozi being filled with cardboard is a lot easier to believe than that the freelance reporter faked the story. One telling clue, in my opinion, is this line from the China Daily story:

Zi allegedly offered to do a story about poor hygiene at meat bun stalls but failed to find any problems during two weeks of reporting.

How can we believe that he found no problems in two weeks! I find hygiene problems every time I walk down the street! If he was so inept that he couldn't find anything real to report on, then he damn sure couldn't have had the wherewithal to fake the story.

I'm not the only one who has this opinion. I found this amusing blog post .... My Chinese still isn't very good, so reading blogs in Chinese is pretty arduous, but it's good practice, so here's my attempt at a translation (I had some help):

"Paper baozi" was an item on Beijing TV's news a few days ago. The general idea was that Beijing has a lot of people using cardboard as the filling for baozi, the process it and then mix it with pork, in order to save cost, and the customers can't tell the difference. This afternoon we had our meeting to select stories, and it was suggested to use this as our cover story, I raised both hands in approval. Even though China's food product safety hasn't been an issue (there are too many problems, so it's not an issue), but when I saw this news I was surprised. If you think about this with the four great inventions, so far we have gunpowder mantou [馒头 mántou - steamed buns similar to baozi], paper baozi, we don't know how the compass and the printing press will be creatively harmonized with food products [he uses the word "和谐 héxié - harmony" here, which is amusing, because he's making fun of the government's recent push for a harmonious society]. During our meeting, the paper baozi suddenly made my colleagues have more confidence in our magazine's future -- since people can use corrugated cardboard to make baozi, a patent for food with magazine paper filling can't be far behind. When that happens, newsstands won't care if they can't find this magazine, when our magazine is printed, every day there will be lots of food vendors lining up to buy at a high price [I think this translation is good -- it also doesn't make sense in the original].

When I got home in the evening and saw that the news said the cardboard baozi was a fake story made by a freelance reporter of Beijing TV.


That's fine, let's have a Goldbach's conjecture-style exercise then.

A. Cardboard baozi is really fake news. According to this, that fake-news film used actors and scenes, and shot a file, then did post-production editing, and achieved a realistic result. Apparently, our criticisms of Chinese television is misplaced! In fact, Chinese television's production quality is comparable to high-tech Hollywood! As a Chinese person, today I really feel proud of Chinese TV.

B. The cardboard baozi story is real, and the story saying the cardboard baozi story is fake is fake. That's a little awkward-sounding, but really should make us even happier, because it confirms a truth, an harmonious society requires everybody to work to create it.

I have a suggestion to give the media: hire more freelance workers and trainees, in case of a rainy day.

I'm back; and cold jokes

I took a hiatus from writing on the blog, because I wasn't doing it very regularly anyway, and I was tired of feeling guilty about that, and also I just finished a very busy semester at school. In addition to the three main courses (intensive reading, listening, and speaking) I took three elective classes (newspaper reading, business speaking, and "China Survey" (中国概况, I'm not sure how to translate it, anyway, I call it the propaganda class, more about it later)). So I was busy. I think I got straight A's; I might have gotten a B in "intensive reading", and I haven't gotten my score back for the propaganda class. I'm trying for the merit scholarship for next semester -- I've never won any scholarship money in my life, so it would be a treat.

So now it's the summer vacation, and I have a long list of things I'd like to get done, including getting a website back up and running. I'm hoping to migrate this to a Wordpress blog. There are lots of reasons, not least of which, Livejournal is blocked in China at the moment, and I have lots of friends here who can't read this. Damn the GFW, sincerely!

Meanwhile I'll try to post more arcane and trivial things, more often.

Today's lesson is on "cold jokes". This is Chinglish -- a Mandarin idiom (冷笑话 lěng xiàohua) that has gotten translated into English, where it doesn't make any sense (yet, anyway). I like the idiom, so I'd like to see it spread. It's another one of those things that I don't think we have any good way to express in English. What it means, in short, is a joke that isn't funny. Actually, there's more to it than that. It's not only not funny, but it's a joke that makes you feel cold.... whatever that means. Okay, okay, I'll admit, I'm still not exactly sure what the idiom means, but I hope to get the hang of it eventually.

I've run across this a few times now, for example, when I'm teaching English corner. Chinese people will say, in English, "cold joke", and then I have to explain to them that that's not English. When I first heard it, I didn't know what it meant, and then they explained it by saying that it's a joke that makes you feel cold, and they would wrap their arms around their bodies and shiver, as if that helped the explanation (it didn't, I already knew the English word "cold").

This page has some fine examples. Here are the first few with some translations/explanations:


There was a stag (a male dear, 公鹿 gōnglù) who was going along. He went faster and faster, finally, he turned into a highway! [This is a pun, because the word for highway is 高速公路 gāosù gōnglù, which means "high-speed road", and the word for "road" here, 公路 gōnglù, is homophonous with the word for male deer.]


There was a match who was walking along, and suddenly felt his head itched. He scratched it really hard and caught on fire .... he went to the emergency room, when he came out, he had become a cotton swab ...


There was a penguin who was feeling very bored, and was pulling out his feathers. Finally, he pulled out his very last feather, when he suddenly said, "Aiya, it's cold!" [I guess this joke classifies as cold on many levels!]


There were two bananas walking down the road, one in front and one in back. Suddenly the one in front said, "Man, it's hot", and threw off his coat, then the one in back slipped and fell.

Feeling cold, are we?

New idiom: water shouldn't be let to flow into outsider's fields

I just learned a new idiom: 肥水不流外人田 Féishuǐ bù liú wàirén tián. It means you should let benefits flow to your family or your own people first, instead of outsiders. this page has a cute joke:




Meimei and her neighbor little Gege were good childhood friends.

One day, they were outside playing, and little Gege said, "When we grow up, let's get married, okay?

Meimei thought for a while, then shook her head and said, I'd like to be with you, but I can't marry you. My father often says 肥水不流外人田. You can see the women in my family always marry within the family. My mother married my father, my aunt married my uncle, my grandmother married my grandfather."

The PX Project

I got some text messages today. They are a little hard to understand, in part because the order seems to be messed up, and I think there must be a missing part. Anyway, they're in reference to the controversial Xiamen PX Project and the recent brew-haha about that. Here they are, with my lame-ass translations:

12:24: 充分表明了市委 / 市政府尊重科学 / 尊重民意, 重视环保。

Make abundantly clear that the municipal Party committee / the city government values science, values the will of the people, and cares about the environment.

12:22: 6月2日下午, 中国科学院院士 / 厦门大学教授赵玉芬委托厦门大学新闻发言人潘世墨发表声明: 近日来, 赵院士本人从未接受过媒体记者的采访,

In the afternoon of June 2nd, the China Academy of Science official / Xiamen University professor Zhao Yu Fen entrusted Xiamen University news spokesperson Pan Shi Mo to issue the statement: in the last few days, Professor Zhao has not received an interview by any media reporter,

12:21: 也未授权媒体发表有关厦门 PX 项目的意见, 赵院士认为, 厦门市政府作出缓建 PX 项目并进行区域规划环评的决定是实事求是的,

also has never empowered the media to publish any of his opinions about the PX project, Professor Zhao believes that the Xiamen city government's [this next part, I'm not sure I've got right:] decision to delay construction of the PX Project carried out by the regional planning group is practical and realistic,

So, I thought they were interesting -- the government using text messages for propoganda / damage control. I don't know who this Professor Zhao is, I haven't been following the details that closely, so what follows is just a few things that I've heard, and may or may not be accurate.

I've talked about the demonstrations with several Chinese people. The demonstrations have been pretty intense, but peaceful. The police here seem to have learned that it makes more sense to be flexible, and relent a bit, in the face of an angry mob.

On the other hand, a little bit shocking for me to hear was that lots of people were told by their work and / or school that they were not allowed to attend the demonstrations, or else they'd be censured. Students were told they wouldn't be allowed to graduated. Some workers were told they'd be fired. My understanding is that this kind of thing only happened in government owned or operated institutions (which includes Xiamen University, by the way). The government didn't have any power to dictate this kind of prohibition to employees of private companies.

Add gas!

I just finished the marathon yesterday, and my time was 4:25, which I'm pretty happy with. I mentioned before here that I wanted to finish in under 4 hours, but as it got closer, it was clear that that wasn't going to happen. I never got my montage.

This marathon was big. According to the reports, there were over 25,000 entrants total (to all the events), and over 4000 for the full marathon. It was a real circus atmosphere all along the route, with both sides of the street packed with people, which made it pretty fun. In China, to cheer an athlete on, they yell "加油 jiāyóu", which literally means "add oil". The real meaning is to add petroleum or gasoline, to make the fire burn faster, not to add oil as a lubricant, although, I guess, that would also make sense. Anyway, this is one Chinese word that I'm not likely to forget for a long, long time -- I must have heard it thousands of times yesterday.

It's a great word, and it seems sad to me that there's no real English equivalent. A lot of the spectators, when they saw me, would yell out English phrases, like "c'mon", "go, go, go", "go on", or any of a hundred variations. (One guy even yelled out "hurry up", which I didn't really find that encouraging.) But even "c'mon" or whatever doesn't have the same feeling as "加油".

Random Pictures

I stumbled across an amazing website just now, which pulls out random pictures from Livejournal blogs and gives them to you on a page. It's a blast, I could look at them for hours. Some of them are just completely bizarre. Here are some of my favorites:


I need a montage

I'm planning on participating in the Xiamen International Marathon on March 30th, and I've been training (sort of) for a while now. My training hasn't been very systematic; it's just consisted of going on long runs as often as I can force myself, which has been about once every five days on average, more or less. I know you're supposed to intersperse the long runs with at least two or three shorter, faster runs, but I just haven't had the will to do that. So, five days will go by, and then I'll think, "I need to run", and since it's been so long since the last one, it seems like it would be a waste to just go for a short run, so I do my maximum distance again.

That maximum distance has been about 20 km for a long time. That might seem like a lot, but it's only half of a marathon. Every time I try to push myself to go farther, my body hits a wall after about two hours of running. It happens every time. Lately, I've been going farther, but I still hit this wall, and I end up having to walk back the last 5 km or so.

Now, today, I pushed myself as hard as I could, and went about 18 miles (29 km) in a little less than three hours. I still hit this wall at two hours, but I forced myself, by every effort of will I could muster (and every way I could think of to trick/bribe/cajole myself), to keep jogging, and not slow to a walk. Now, I'm completely wiped out. I've set a goal of finishing this marathon in four hours, but I'm going to need a little more speed, and a lot more distance, and I only have three weeks to get there.

The two times I "ran" marathons in the past, my time was pathetic (around six hours each time). The problem was that I just wasn't in good enough shape either time, and I couldn't keep running the whole way, and ended up walking most of the last half. I guess it probably didn't help that during both those marathons, I bummed cigarettes from onlookers, and was smoking while "running". I'm hopeful that this will be my first cigarette-free marathon!

The pain I've gone through in this effort really humbles me when I consider how fast and how far "real" athletes go. So, I need a montage right about now!

The Good Earth

Tonight I watched the first half of the movie The Good Earth, based on a book by the same name, written by Pearl S. Buck in 1931. The movie came out just six years after the book, in 1937. I'm not a huge fan of classic movies, but I'm finding that I'm really enjoying this one.

It's the story of a peasant Chinese farmer named Wang Lung and his family during the early 20th century. About halfway through the story, the revolution overthrowing the Qing Dynasty occurs (1911). I was taken aback at first because the leading actors are not Chinese. In fact, the lead female actor, Luise Rainer, has a thick German accent. But, actually, one can get used to that pretty fast, and as for the rest of it, the things relating to China and Chinese culture are all pretty convincing. Altogether I have a much better impression, in this respect, than I did, for example, when watching The Flower Drum Song (which is dreck, and should be avoided at all cost). Especially impressive (and especially considering that this movie was made in 1937) are the scenes of the city (not sure which one) during the revolution, with societal upheavals, mobs, and looting.

I was thinking maybe I should read the book, but then I found this site, so I don't have to!

Why humans believe in God

I've started subscribing to a few science blogs lately, and one that I'm getting a real kick out of is Gene Expression, which is all about genetics and evolution. A recent post talked about the topic of why humans are so prone to believe in God and religion, and it linked to this excellent article in the New York Times titled "Darwin's God".

The article talks about an anthropologist named Scott Atran, who has explored the evolutionary basis for these types of belief -- i.e. a search for what survival advantage these kinds of belief might impart to those that have them. The explanation presented is intriguing enough, and I'll do my best to summarize it very briefly here. In the interest of brevity, I'll skip the usual caveats like "Atran says ...", or "It's possible that ...", and just describe the explanations as fact.

It turns out that there is no survival advantage inherent with these beliefs. Rather, they are a side-effect of other adaptations, in short, of our large brains. This type of side-effect is refered to as a "spandrel" (see the article for an explanation). There are basically three primitive cognitive functions that combine to produce the spandrel of religious belief:

Hardships of early human life favored the evolution of certain cognitive tools, among them the ability to infer the presence of organisms that might do harm, to come up with causal narratives for natural events and to recognize that other people have minds of their own with their own beliefs, desires and intentions. Psychologists call these tools, respectively, agent detection, causal reasoning and theory of mind.

The article then goes on to describe each of these three traits, how each imparts its own survival advantage to primitive humans, and how each contributes to the formation of beliefs in God and the supernatural.

Here are a couple more quotes. Related to the "theory of mind":

If you can posit minds in other people that you cannot verify empirically, suggests Paul Bloom, a psychologist and the author of “Descartes’ Baby,” published in 2004, it is a short step to positing minds that do not have to be anchored to a body. And from there, he said, it is another short step to positing an immaterial soul and a transcendent God.

This next quote is mind-numbingly obvious, but I'm putting it in here, because it seems to me that if you accept what it says, then you can't possibly accept as true any of the specific dogmas or doctrines of a given religion, on the basis of "faith" alone.

We are born with an innate facility for language but the specific language we learn depends on the environment in which we are raised. In much the same way, he says, we are born with an innate tendency for belief, but the specifics of what we grow up believing — whether there is one God or many, whether the soul goes to heaven or occupies another animal after death — are culturally shaped.

Good stuff, I'd say.