February 10, 2008

Go Dong Bo Go!

  • I am kind of addicted to these rice crackers I bought at Carrefour. I'd tell you the brand name but, uh, I can't read it.
  • Emboldened by my success at ordering watermelon on Friday, I tried it yesterday also. Unfortunately I ended up with a straw. You know, like, a drinking straw. I guess I must have gotten the tones wrong there, haha. Again, judicious use of the word chi saved the day. (I also may -- may, I stress -- have mimed eating food by biting my hand.) Undeterred, I asked the waitress today if she had xigua, and she said no. Going on the assumption that they do have straws, I will interpret her response as pertaining to watermelon, which means she understood me :-)
  • On the subway back from Xintiandi I started talking to this Chinese guy who was headed to Guam for some diving. He spoke pretty good English. He asked if I was American and I was like yeah, I am. He then said he was going to America, and I was like oh really, where? He told me Guam, and I chuckled and was like uhh, that's almost America. (Best line from The Critic: "I don't even know what to call those people. Guamanians? The Guamish?") I know it's a territory of ours, but does that really count as "America"? I was about to say no, because they don't pay US taxes. But they are technically under Dubya (at least according to Wikipedia) and their currency is USD. I also found out that its people are US citizens. So OK, I concede my error. That guy is going to America :-)
  • Four days later, there are still crazy fireworks shows going on outside my apartment as I type this at 10:30 PM. I can't stress how bizarre it is to have fireworks exploding in midair literally 10 feet from your window. Bizarre and annoying. I guess I wouldn't mind so much except that I have to work tomorrow :-)
  • I just finished watching like 20 minutes of the 2007 CCTV Cup English Speaking Contest. A (Chinese) contestant comes onstage and gives a minute-and-a-half prepared speech. Then they are questioned by a panel of experts and commentators. They then pick a number at random that corresponds to a topic, such as urban sprawl or the necessity of doing work-study programs in college. They have 5 seconds (although the hosts say "15 seconds" which is strange) to prepare a response to the question, give a minute-long speech, and then defend their answer again for two minutes. The whole round is then scored like slam poetry (drop the high and low scores; add the rest) by a panel of judges.
I was really into the idea of judging and editing the English (yes, that's right, I was into it), but apparently it's more like a debate competition. However, the comments focused not so much on the English but on the debating skills. I wanted the commentators to be like "'Upward' is not a verb, kid! Stop saying that cities are 'going to upward'." I almost said that out loud during one speech, haha. But instead the commentators were like, you know, you should present more evidence, you should organize your points better, etc. So that program title seems like a misnomer.

You could easily tell when a candidate got flustered, which happened with all three of the candidates I saw. One poor kid was sweating his ass off -- I felt bad for him. They started slipping in their answers - making broad generalizations and logical fallacies and such. I dunno, I would have been way harder on these kids. They were scoring like 95/100, whereas I would have scored them maybe in the 70s. I guess I'm not sure to what standard they were being held, though.

The extemporaneous sections were tricky because they were set up in terms of absolutes. "Is x better than y? Is z necessary?" I would have called most of these questions false dichotomies. But I guess those force you into taking one extreme position or the other, which probably makes for better TV than a candidate advocating for balance. But as a judge I would have hoped at least one contestant might break from that mold. Granted I didn't watch all the contestants, but the three I saw didn't deviate from the yes/no standard.

One commentator asked a follow-up question in the form of "Is x better than y?" which he immediately followed up with "Or is it a balance between x and y?" And I was like no, that's a terrible question! If you set up a false dichotomy and then give them a way out of it, they're going to take it. They need to come up with the deviant path on their own.

Wow, look how riled up I got over 30 minutes of TV. I totally need to be a judge on that show :-) However, I got bored after the third contestant when I couldn't follow their speeches very well. This might disqualify me from judging if one of the commentators hadn't begun her response by saying "I kind of tuned out during the last part of your speech...." hahaha. At least they're honest.

Anyway this post's title references Dong Bo, the last contestant I watched. Her extemporaneous speech was on sprawl vs. density, and she chose to argue for density. The three commentators attacked her by arguing for sprawl. I couldn't tell if they seriously felt that way or if they were just trying to, you know, engage her a little bit by saying she was wrong. Probably some of both. Her arguments were mostly good. But I wanted to hand her a copy of The Austin Chronicle :-) After 5 minutes of reading that, she would have had like 60 arguments for choosing density over sprawl, haha. Either that or she would have wanted to move to Seattle.

I think it's funny that, while America and the UK and Australia are like "Hey, Chinese is going to be an essential business skill soon -- let's spend years learning it!" the Chinese are like "Let's give money to kids who can speak English the best and put them on national TV!" Which side would you say is using their time and energy more effectively? (Quick, you have 5 seconds to prepare your argument.)
  • I was pressing random buttons on my TV remote and *gasp* the color came back! I'm so excited. It's like 1954 all over again!
  • I've been asked several times about the US elections. Mostly it's British and Australian expats who are doing the asking. So I've been involved in a couple political discussions already. Very interesting. I love hearing outsiders' perspectives on the situation the US and how other countries perceive us. I realized I didn't know what was really going on because I've been concentrating so much on Shanghai. So I did some Googling and caught up with who's in and out of the race up to this point.

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