Snow!

Ah Minnesota!  It’s the day after Thanksgiving and it’s snowing!!!  It’s been snowing all morning, and I think we’ve got about 3 inches on the ground this afternoon!  Its’ gorgeous—something I was hoping would happen during my 2 weeks at home.  I’d still prefer a "10-incher", but I’ll happily take this.  We get snow occasionally in Beijing, but in a city that doesn’t own a snow plow, snow is just a pain, and even an inch will bring the city to a standstill.  3 or 5 inches here and the locals barely notice! 

What a great way to start the Christmas season!  Let is snow, let it snow, let it snow!!

Somalia to Minneapolis

Hi folks.  I’m back in the Twin Cities now, and yesterday I had one of those "where am I?" experiences that I usually experience in China. I was downtown Minneapolis, stopping in at my church to visit some friends in the office there.  The offices are on the fourth floor, so I got on the elevator for the ride up.  Right there in downtown Minneapolis, inside of a church I found myself on the elevator with 3 elderly Somali women, all dressed up in their robes, head scarves, and of course, winter jackets.  Most likely they were in the building to attend English classes.  We chatted as the elevator went up, and when it stopped, the eldest woman said under her breath, "bismillah," which is an Arabic blessing.  I don’t know that I’ve ever heard that in a church before!  I couldn’t help thinking of what a different world they live in now, compared to Somalia.  I live cross-culturally, but the culture difference can’t be anything like what exists between the deserts of famine-ravaged Somalia and downtown Minneapolis! 

My hope, of course, is that they will be blessed as a result of the church reaching out to them.

I Hate Packing!

I know, that’s kind of an odd statement for someone with my lifestyle, which rarely sees me going more than a six-week stretch without travelling somewhere!  There are times when I feel like a spend a good deal of my time packing and unpacking (something I hate even more than packing).  And tonight I’m packing again, since I’m heading to Minnesota tomorrow to spend Thanksgiving with my family. 

I guess that means that posts to this site the next couple of weeks will have a little different flavor!  Did someone say turkey???

Amazing Grace

I was downtown this evening, and had one of those "what the…?" experiences as I was running across the street to hail a cab.  The street I was on is known for it’s plethora of wedding studios…places where couples go to get dolled up in multiple costumes and pose for wedding photos.  It’s a huge business here.  Think of it as Glamor Shots Run Amok.  There’s almost always music blaring out into the streets from these studios, mostly techno, or hip-hop, or dreamy romantic music.  They all seemed to be named after European capitols as well, for some reason.

Anyway, as I was running past one tonight, I heard a very lovely rendition of "Amazing Grace" wafting into the street from the studio.  It stopped me dead in my tracks.  Huh?  Where am I?

And what was even funnier was that I was on my way home from church!

November 15! Yay!

It’s November 15 in Beijing, and the reason I’m so happy is because this is the day that the heat in my building is turned on.  In fact, this is the day that the central government has decreed that the heat can be turned on all over the city.  That’s right, folks, the government decides the day the heat comes on.  And why today?  Well, because in the Chinese way of seasonal reckoning, today is the first day of winter, at least in this part of the country.  Anyway, sure enough, I got home earlier this evening, and for the first time there is a bit of heat (not too much yet) wafting from the radiators in each room of my apartment.  Mind you, it’s been on the cool side for some time, which means that my apartment has been quite cold as of late.  Cement towers, once they are cooled, don’t warm up easily or quickly! 

Cities further north in China are allowed to turn on the heat earlier, sometimes as early as November 1 or mid-October.   But we’re still only talking about northern China here, which means north of the Yellow River.  Basically that means that south of the Yellow River there is no such thing as central heating in homes.  Again, by government decree.  So while the real temperatures up here in the north are much colder in the south, the inside temperatures down south are much colder. 

Give me indoor heat anytime. Please.

A Minnesota Night

I have just returned from a banquet at the Great Hall of the People, jointly hosted by the Minnesota State Government and the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade.  As some of you may or may not know, the governor of Minnesota, Tim Pawlenty, is leading a MN Trade delegation to China this week.  With 200+ along, it is the largest trade delegation ever by a US state.   I was priveleged to receive an invitation to the dinner with the governor and his wife tonight (along with 400+ others, so don’t be too impressed….yet) because I have done some training lectures for the Minnesota Trade Office a number of times over the past few years.   It was a typical Chinese banquet with speeches and toasts and slippery food from the bottom of the sea.  What was not typical was the setting—the Great Hall of the People, which is the closest thing that China has to a parliament building.  I have been to events at the Hall many times before, but it always seems an honor to attend something there.  In the Middle Kingdom, this is the very center!

The highlight of my evening was being introduced to Governor Pawlenty by the Director of the Minnesota Trade Office.  I got to chat with him briefly, and had my photo taken (but unfortunately it didn’t turn out!!!)  It was both a delight and an honor.

A big thanks to my friends in the Minnesota Trade Office who made it possible for me to attend the dinner tonight.  You know who you are!!!

As I said, the photo didn’t turn out very well, but with a little doctoring, I’m going ahead and posting it!  Jo_and_governor_pawlenty_small Just pretend like you don’t have your glasses on!

Twinkling With Inheriting and Development Achievement

On Thursday night my landlady called and asked if she could come over to see me because she had some tranlation questions for me.  Anyone who’s been in China for awhile knows the fear and dread that well up inside at the sound of someone asking for help with translation work.  "Just read it over."  "It won’t take long."  Those words are always prelude to hours of painful and laborious mental gymnastics trying to translate phrases like the one in the title of this post from what we call "Chinglish" to English.

My landlady and her husband have their own business producing publicity and promotional materials for schools in China.  With English as popular as it is here, these materials (from DVD’s to brochures) must all be in English as well as Chinese, never mind the fact that very few native speakers will actually see or read them.  Iin the China of 2005, one simply cannot produce something like this without any English in it.  My landlady out-sources the translations to professionals; however, there are times when, for some reason, she doubts the accuracy of the transations, so asks me to look at them to see if the English makes sense and if it indeed accurately reflects the Chinese meaning.

Yesterday she had one such project for me.  That noise you heard eminating from the western side of Beijing on Friday was the sound of cultures and languages clashing!  An interesting feature of Chinese discourse is the use of poetic and flowery language in nearly every conceivable context, formal and informal.  A language that has been around for 3000 years has quite the collection of poetry, expressions, and idioms, and they are all to be used as much as possible. 

The sentence that is the title of this post is merely an extreme example.  The document we worked on had line after line after line of such sentences, and I was supposed to see if they were OK.  After awhile, one of two things happens.  Either I read a sentence and decide it makes perfect sense (a sure sign that I have been in China way too long) or I have to attempt to convince her that it is impossible to translate such a sentence.  In fact, after yesterday, I think there should be a law against translating such sentences.  When I read it in Chinese, it makes perfect sense, but there’s no way to get it into an English sentence that both maintains the poetry and has meaning.  Take your pick, Mrs. Li.  You can’t have it both ways!  Ah, but you see, in Chinese, they do have it both ways, because poetic language is not only permissible in formal writing, it is expected, for it is one of the main ways to demonstrate that one is a literate and cultured person. 

After my brain was fried trying to disentangle that mess of a sentence, we sat back and discussed the cultural differences.  I explained to her that it was so difficult because in English we have different sets of rules for business writing than for essay writing.  Poetic and creative language can be used in essays, but not in business writing.  Therefore, when translating such pieces I may be able to come up with some suitable English words that approximate the meaning, but their presence in such a formal setting is completely unacceptable.  Translating such a sentence is nearly impossible because it will never come out in a manner that suits both sides.  If the Chinese person insists that the emotional language remain, than it will be gibberish in English.  If the English speaker wins, then the Chinese will feel like the translation isn’t close enough to the original (and they’d be correct, of course).

In the course of the conversation, I learned the distinction between two Chinese words for written text:  wenzhang and wenjianWenzhang is the word for essays or articles of a literary nature.  Wenjian is the word for formal documents, like something a boss or leader might hand down to his/her underlings. Wenzhang demands emotional and flowery language.  Wenjian is cold and impersonal, and implies authority, command, and distance.  Poetic language is not used in wenjian.

Aha!  I said to her.  That’s the problem.  To Chinese, a brochure like this is considered a wenzhang.  In English, it would be considered a wenjian.  Finally a breakthrough in understanding (for both of us)….why the languages were clashing.  In her mind what we were translating was a wenzhang and in my mind it’s clearly a wenjian.  Finally she understood.

Wenzhang, Wenjian, …..let’s call the whole thing off!

Slippery Slope

While visiting a Beijing city park recently, I saw this sign beside a marble staircase leading to a pagoda on top of a hill. For some reason, it made me chuckle!  There’s something familiar about the phrasing, but it’s not quite right!

Anyway, I liked it, because some days just feel like that!