Sakura Cuisine’s Saliva Chicken

I posted a photo of this restaurant before because the name seemingly advertised so many kinds of food. They’ve simplified the name—presumably not because they saw my blog post, but who knows?

Now they are promoting a dish they call “Saliva Chicken”.

The Chinese name of the dish is three characters (that’s the traditional one for chicken, not the simplified one):

口水雞
mouth water chicken

Note that there is no sure-fire way to determine how many characters in Chinese correspond to a “word” in English. If you take the first two characters together, they mean “saliva”, because that’s what “mouth water” is.

口水
saliva

The restaurant seems to be offering a chicken dish cooked with saliva (?!), but actually it just wants you to order the chicken dish that makes you salivate. If they’d named it “mouth-watering chicken” in English, the name would have been perfectly unobjectionable.

In my opinion, the problem is not that the Chinese language is hard, or that English is hard, just that translation is hard. All languages assign meanings in arbitrary ways. Why, after all, should we English speakers think that “saliva chicken” sounds gross, but “mouth-watering chicken” sounds delicious? This distinction is not meaningful in Chinese, any more than the distinction between “cow meat” (eew) and “beef” (yum).

MYE: Meiyuer Cables

The trademarked name on this “High-speed USB 2.0 extension cable” is “MYE Meiyuer Cables”.

Students of Romance languages might be forgiven for thinking ‘Meiyuer’ is a kreative spelling of the word ‘meilleur’ meaning ‘better’ in French, because that double ‘ll’ sounds like a ‘y’ and it’s a plausible positive-connotation company name.

  • French: meilleur
  • Spanish: mejor
  • Italian: meglio
  • German: besser
  • Dutch: beter
  • Danish: bedre
  • English: better (ameliorate means ‘to make better’—further proof that English is schizophrenic)

Okay, so probably this Chinese company did not choose a Romance language name. What does it mean? I dunno, let’s ask Line Dict.

meiyuer-cables-translation

This tool, which I love, by the way, is coming up with the name of an opera composer named Étienne Nicolas Méhul, because ‘Meiyuer’ is presumably as close a transliteration as is possible. But I guess I didn’t really expect the dictionary to tell me the meaning of a brand name.

Probably the company name uses ‘měiyù’ meaning ‘good reputation’? But it could also be using the characters for ‘beautiful jade’… Hang on, why don’t I just look up Meiyuer, the company, online?

Ohhhh, now I’m getting flashbacks of the editing/fact-checking job I had that involved looking at a lot of Chinese companies’ websites. They’re practically all red and clunky looking with ugly fonts, bad punctuation and English that ranges from unintelligible to unintentionally poetic…

meiyuer-cables-logo

Anyway, this company’s name in characters is 美鱼儿, which is pronounced ‘měiyúér’, and in English apparently means ‘beautiful fish child’. (I’m still mystified.)

‘(Little) Mermaid’ is close (but no cigar).

(小)美人鱼
(xiǎo)mĕirényú

Interestingly, it seems the company uses both the traditional and simplified versions of the characters… maybe because Guangdong borders Hong Kong, where traditional characters are the norm.

The point of all this was to say that in Singapore, I’ve noticed a tendency to make acronyms using one letter for each syllable rather than each word, because in Chinese, all the syllables are (more or less) considered separate words.

For example, if you look at the word Meiyuer, you probably wouldn’t split it into MYE, right? Unless you knew pinyin, in which case it’s obviously Mei Yu Er, even though they didn’t write it that way.

Oh, you thought I had something to say about the cable itself?

Nope.

The Origins of Chinese Characters by Wang Hongyuan

Ever wondered what etymology is like in the Chinese language?

It’s like this.

origins-of-chinese-characters-interior

So, is Chinese ‘pictographic’?

Well, does the ‘zhōng’ in ‘Zhōngguó’ (‘China’) look like part of a sundial? Because that’s what it is.

Drawing of a pole with some decorative streamers. The pole was placed in the center of a circle or dial so that a shadow cast by the sun on a calibrated dial could measure solar time—much like the gnomon or style of a sundial.

So yeah, ‘zhōng’ means ‘middle’ (as in ‘middle kingdom’), but it’s not because the line passes through the middle of the box. Rather, it’s because the whole stick thing (which has lost its notably asymmetrical streamers) is in the middle of a sundial.

I don’t know enough Chinese to benefit much from this book, but here and there I found something interesting, and the whole things reinforces the idea that the Chinese writing system is old, old, old. Examining how the characters evolved is like looking back in time. Reading the book made me feel like an archaeologist holding up a burning torch to peer at mysterious lines scrawled on the walls of a cave. The oldest characters embody the basic concepts of the society in which they were invented: food and shelter, war, birth and life and death…

When and Why I Read It

It was a gift to me from my husband’s parents years ago (sometime between 2003 and 2005). At the time, it was even more over my head than it is now, so it just sat there.

Frankly, I’m shocked that it’s still in print. It’s even got three reviews on Amazon. And since it’s selling at at a moderate price and a 15% discount, it’s not one of those print-on-demand inventory items.

Genre: Non-fiction (language, Chinese)
Date started / date finished:  22-Mar-16 to 11-May-16
Length: 200 pages
ISBN: 7800522431 (paperback)
Originally published in: 1993
Amazon link: The Origins of Chinese Characters

Kimberly Clark

Okay, so I know that logo is a K and a backwards C. But it looks a bit like a Chinese character. Okay, not exactly like a Chinese character, but enough like one that my brain has to struggle to interpret the shape. It could even be a five-pointed leaf, like a maple leaf, though it would have to be a more leaf-like color. Or it could even be a snowflake, since it’s blue.

Shaolin Soccer (2001)

I was eager to see the Chinese fantasy sports comedy Shaolin Soccer because I’d already seen and enjoyed Steven Chow’s Kung Fu Hustle. I think I liked Kung Fu Hustle better, but this wasn’t bad.

Steven Chow (writer, director, star) is a poor boy named Sing who has five brothers and who wants to bring Shaolin martial arts to the masses by packaging it in a unique way. He tries kung fu singing, but that doesn’t really work, and gets him and one of his brothers into trouble with some local rabble-rousers. Luckily, a crippled ex-soccer star is interested in teaching him to combine his kung fu with the game of soccer. Half the movie is gone by the time our protagonist has successfully recruited his brothers, seemingly unsuited for soccer, to form a team. Will this strange team be able to defeat the Evil Team, owned and managed by the cripple’s former rival? Yeah, probably so. And will our protagonist also win the love of the woman who uses kung fu for baking? Yep, that’s kind of a given, too. How do those two goals come together? That’s worth seeing.

The seams between the live action filming and the special effects are generally obvious, but the CG effects are amazing for 2001 and still pretty enjoyable. The best is when the Puma soccer ball turns into a puma.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/shaolin-soccer/id669315509

SPOILERS BELOW, including a detailed plot summary in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Continue reading Shaolin Soccer (2001)

Chinese for Dummies

I feel like my 2005 copy of Chinese for Dummies is a bit out of date, though apparently the 2013 edition also has a CD inside. (If you ask me, CDs were rightly mocked as obsolete by Nick in Zootopia.)

I’m a fan of the “for Dummies” series published by Wiley. I have dummies books on several topics, and in every case, the information inside is characterized by its simplicity and clarity. The dummies books are an easy first step into any topic, saving readers from needing to understand and evaluate a wide range of available reference books in an unfamiliar niche. Wiley’s got you covered.

This book’s tagline is “Speak Mandarin Chinese the fun and easy way”. Now, no matter how much I like and respect the dummies brand, I do not believe there is any book, or teacher, or class that can make Mandarin Chinese easy for a native speaker of English. That being said, a useful feature of this particular book is the Englishy spelling approximations (e.g., nee how) that are shown alongside the pinyin (e.g., nĭ hăo) to aid pronunciation.

Note that this book teaches readers how to speak Mandarin, not how to read or write it. That’s a totally different thing. This book has no Chinese characters in it anywhere.

Some things it does have:

  • a fascinating list of the different names for Chinese in Chinese and where and why they are used
  • a list of some Chinese proverbs
  • a cartoon for each part of the book
  • a verb list separate from the glossary
  • practice exercises and answers to them
  • bits of cultural knowledge and etiquette advice

Overall the book is fine, but it’s really for absolute beginners, and I’m not one.

Still, I suppose I should learn to say this sentence from page 162:

Wǒ zhēn xūyào liànxí.
I really need [to] practice.

Genre: Non-fiction (foreign language)
Date started / date finished:  10-Nov-15 to 22-Mar-16
Length: 314
ISBN:  047178897X
Originally published in: 2005
Amazon link: Chinese for Dummies

Baekseju

When I spotted this Korean drink called baekseju (百歲酒) on the menu at the very excellent and formerly close to my house Jang Won Korean Restaurant, I thought it might be a version of the famous Chinese alcohol called báijiǔ (白酒), which is sometimes called ‘white wine’—though not by anybody who’s ever had any.

Nope. The Chinese word bái (白) is ‘white’ and the Chinese word bǎi () is ‘hundred’.

Silly ang moh, those are obviously two totally different words.

wikipedia-baijiu

wikipedia-baekseju

Wait, hang on, that text on the Korean menu looks, um, rather similar to what’s currently on Wikipedia…

I didn’t photograph the whole menu page, though, so it’s not clear whether those prices are subjected to service charge and tax.

‘There’ is a noun.

In English, ‘there’ is an adverb. In Chinese, ‘there’ can be a noun. Or at any rate, can be analyzed as one.

那儿很热吗?
Nàr hěn rè ma?
There very hot [question particle]?
Is it hot there?

Same with ‘here’.

是的。 这儿很热。
Shì de. Zhèr hěn rè.
Is [particle]. Here very hot.
Yes. It’s hot here.

If that isn’t proof enough, then observe that you can apply the possessive to ‘here’ and ‘there’.

这儿的菜很好吃。
Zhèr de cài hěn hǎo chī.
Here’s dishes very good eat.
The food here is delicious.

I am not sure whether ‘hǎo chī’ is considered a word or a phrase. I don’t think it matters.

If you translate zhè li and nà li as ‘this place’ and ‘that place’, they make perfect sense as nouns. Then you have to account for the fact that these phrases are used without prepositions as if they were adverbs and not nouns.

他在那里。
zài nà li.
He is [located] that place.
He’s there.

But in fact  is not a noun meaning ‘place’. It is a noun that means ‘in’ or ‘inside’, or it’s the preposition ‘in’. So ‘zhè li‘ is ‘this inside’ and ‘na li’ is ‘that inside’.

Genuine if totally opaque multiculturalism

Haq-Insaf's Eating House
Haq-Insaf’s Eating House

Haq-Insaf’s Eating House is a good place to get Indian food at West Coast. This is the back wall of the inside of the eating space in their shophouse unit.

Three things about it struck me.

  1. It’s really festive. You can’t visit this place and not feel cheerful. The whole place is always decorated for some reason or other.
  2. Those squiggles are all words, but I can’t read any of them. Wait, no, actually, I know two of the Chinese characters (‘spring’ and ‘fortune’). Yay.
  3. Hang on, why is there Chinese and Arabic? Oh, right. Because this is Singapore. Everyone celebrates Chinese New Year here. You don’t have to be Chinese, or East Asian, or Asian.

So yeah. This is multiculturalism at its best… and most opaque.