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Tuesday, March 29, 2005

From Easter weekend to Tomb Sweeping Festival

Long and nice Easter weekend is now over. If given the chance, I would vote for the more holidays the better!

As a Chinese person, I didn't grow up with celebrating Easter, not mentioning get four days off as public holidays. It was later in my life that I learned why there is a good Friday and then easter Sunday. And I realized the Chinese translation of this holiday is so close to the original event.

In Chinese, Easter is translated into "fu4 huo2 jie2" (the numbers here are symbols for tones). "fu4 huo2" means "bring back to life" or "resurrection", and "jie2" is "festival". In English, "Easter" doesn't convey all these meanings to people like me. I also learned that Easter is also a symbol that spring starts, and that's why it is associated with bunnies and eggs.

This get-clearer-in-translation also happened in translating Chinese customs. There's one coming next week. It is "qing1 ming2", literal meaning "pure brightness". Chinese people consider at the time of "qing1 ming2", chilly weather will be gone for good, in stead, wonderful warm spring weather comes together with blooming flowers, and a little rain sometimes. And also it is time to sweep the tombs of your ancesters. Some people translate it into "Tomb Sweeping", and since it's a public holiday, add a "Festival" at the end. It is therefore very clear on what Chinese people do on 5th of April.

It's good for most people that after a long weekend break, there is one more coming so quickly.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

So, what next?

The weather's getting warmer, the skies are blue again, and the sun has come out of hiding. This can only mean one thing. No, not that it's spring again, but that we should plan our next get-together.

Earlier we suggested a walk-about with stops for shopping at a street market, for eating at some local place, and maybe for drinking. I know from experience that the latter activity does wonders for foreign-language speaking and comprehension.

Can I have a show of hands?

Other suggestions are perfectly welcome too!

Not quite ready for primetime

Around the time that April first conceived of a students' social group, I took a visiting friend to the street market in Mongkok. My friend pointed at some trinkets he wanted to bring home, so we stopped at that stall. Armed with almost a year's worth of Mandarin lessons, I said "I'll handle this," and called out to the shopkeeper (fu wu yuan, I whispered to myself) in a loud voice.

"Duo shao qian?" I said confidently.

"Si wu," she replied. My brain translated this as four-five.

"Forty five," I told my friend

"Keyi er shi wu kuai?" I asked. Twenty dollars off the asking price seemed reasonable to me. I looked up. Fu wu yuan was giving me a strange look.

"The price is fifteen dollars," she told me in English.

"Ah. Sorry. Dui bu qi." My face was bright red as two things dawned on me. First, those 4 darn tones may be screwey, but accents are screwier. The Cantonese drop the h-sound, so the word for "ten" is "si," not "shi". Second, even accounting for that, I have no idea how my brain came up with "forty five". Best to bargain by punching numbers into a calculator. My friend did that and knocked 2 dollars off the price.

Did you know Chinese people don't say "please" and "thank you" to their mothers>

Topic: Did you know Chinese people don't say "please" and "thank you" to their mothers?

MSL presents a "Do you know..." series of seminars featuring Chinese culture, history and more!

Equipped with knowledge of both East and West, our teacher, Grace will take you on a fascinating ride through a diferent, unique, and sometimes shocking Chinese cultural landscape.
With her sense of humor, you will not only understand why "please" is not essential vocab in most Chinese people's language, but also appreciate why.

Location: MSL Learning Center
Date and Time: April 12, 2005, 2:30 - 3:30pm
Admissoin: $50 per MSL student, $100 per non-MSL student

Call 2854 3039 or e-mail to reserve your seat before Mar 31.
Limited number of seats available.