Top Ten Most-Read Posts of 2015

It’s that time of year again — time to highlight the most popular posts on this blog during the past year.

when the smoke clears 1

State Names in Chinese — Literally

This was the most popular post on my blog during 2015. I guess everyone loves to read transliterated names!

When I began studying Chinese (years ago), one of the first things I wanted to learn how to do was answer the question about where I am from. That meant learning how to say Minnesota in Chinese.

It is simply a phonetic translation: ming ni su da (明尼苏达).

On top of that, there is Minneapolis: ming ni a po li si (明你阿婆里斯)

A Tribute to My Father 

For some reason this post consistently gets the most views week to week. I guess people are always looking for ideas on how to pay tribute to their father.

Fourteen years ago today, my father died. Below are the words that I spoke in farewell and tribute to my dad at his memorial service on January 25, 2001, in Roseville, Minnesota. Standing before a crowd of 600 people to deliver these remarks was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. The first part of this tribute was written at 30,000 feet above the North Pacific Ocean as I flew home from a vacation in Thailand.

Posting this on my blog is my annual tribute to him.

Words that Describe China

Posted in 2012, this one still gets a lot of hits. I take a look at the book “China in Ten Words” by Yu Hua.

Is it really possible to identify ten — and only ten — words that describe China today?  In a country so vast and diverse, probably not; but that didn’t stop Chinese author Yu Hua from taking a crack at it in his book “China in Ten Words.”

He uses these ten words as a backdrop to tell the story of his life growing up during the Cultural Revolution, and his subsequent journey from being a village dentist (all he did was pull teeth all day long) to a being a writer.

Imagine Having to Answer These Questions

In this post, I take a look at some of the bizarre questions on China’s annual college entrance examination.

In the days following the exam, the questions are usually published online and in local media, triggering a nationwide discussion on what in the world they mean and what the writers of the test are trying to measure and who in their right mind could answer them.

Here’s a sampling of essay questions from the exams given in various provinces this year. How would you do?

Those Strange Americans

A Chinese site published a list of the top ten strange habits of Americans. I re-posted it because it was just too good to pass up. The strangest habit is drinking cold water throughout the year.

Americans tend to drink only icy cold water all year round. On their water coolers, there are only two options: hot water, which is merely used to make instant coffee or tea, and cold water, which is for direct consumption. Americans do not really understand why people might drink warm water. Likewise, there are no exceptional circumstances where people are advised not to drink cold water. For instance, whereas most Chinese people think that women who are menstruating or who have recently given birth should drink only hot water to stay healthy, American women have no qualms about drinking ice water or eating ice cream at those times.

Cultural Values, Mapped

I ran across a fascinating map of differences in cultural values.

Crossing a cultural boundary inevitably leads to cultural clashes. Sometimes the clashes occur at the point of behaviors and customs, such as eating, drinking, or even how to cross a street. More often, however, the clashes occur at the deeper level of cultural values — beliefs about what is right and wrong or how the world ought to be ordered.

10 Things to Know About the 10-Year China Visa

I’m a huge fan of the new ten-year tourist visa that China began issuing in November of 2014, so I wrote a blog post about it’s awesomeness!

Since writing with joy about obtaining a 10-year tourist visa to China last November, I’ve fielded a steady stream of question from friends (and strangers) about the new visa and how to get it. So I decided to put a post together about some things you need to know about the visa. They are in no particular order.

If you’re planning a trip to China, may I suggest contacting the good folks at Allied Passport in Washington, DC. If you reference me or my blog on your application, you will get a discount and I will get a referral fee!

How Long Does it Take to Learn Chinese?

This is another popular post from 2012 in which I highlight some interesting charts that show how long it typically takes for English language speakers to learn various languages.

Since I’ve been in China for 28 years, and speak Chinese reasonably well, I am often asked 2 questions (by foreigners), neither of which have easy answers.

One is “are you fluent?”

My response is usually “fluent enough to get myself into and out of trouble.”

Minnesota Ten Commandments

Just a fun list of Ten Commandments, Minnesota-style. My favorite: “Keep yer mind off yer neighbor’s hot dish.”

 A Ten-Year Visa!

Doing my happy dance upon obtaining my 10-year multiple-entry tourist visa in 2014.

This afternoon the good folks at FEDEX delivered a small package to my house, and it wasn’t even a Christmas present. In fact, it was something better — my passport, with a brand-spanking-new TEN-YEAR, MULTIPLE ENTRY TOURIST VISA to China.

Getting ready for a new year of blogging. Thanks for reading!

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Those Strange Americans!

I might as well join everyone else writing about and linking to this article that appeared in Chinese state media this week. Titled Top 10 Strange American Habits Incomprehensible to Chinese, it’s a quirky glimpse at a few American peculiarities. To be sure, some of them have a feeling of “I saw an American do this once, so this must be a typical habit of Americans,” but never mind; sometimes it’s good to see how others view us.

ice water

#1: Drinking cold water throughout the year

Americans tend to drink only icy cold water all year round. On their water coolers, there are only two options: hot water, which is merely used to make instant coffee or tea, and cold water, which is for direct consumption. Americans do not really understand why people might drink warm water. Likewise, there are no exceptional circumstances where people are advised not to drink cold water. For instance, whereas most Chinese people think that women who are menstruating or who have recently given birth should drink only hot water to stay healthy, American women have no qualms about drinking ice water or eating ice cream at those times.

#2: Eating hamburgers while drinking diet soda

For Americans, eating a hamburger while drinking a soda is as normal as the combination of soy milk and fried dough twists in China. Although tasty and convenient, the combination has a high calorie count. Amid growing obesity problems, many Americans have developed a habit of drinking reduced-sugar beverages referred to as “diet sodas,” which contain 99 percent less of the calories in regular sodas. Hamburgers and french fries already contain a huge amount of calories, so what is the point of only drinking diet soda?

#3: Hitting the hay with shoes on

Americans tend to think of bed sheets and sofas as expendable domestic items meant to be replaced sooner or later. Therefore, a lot of Americans see no reason to inconvenience themselves just for the sake of keeping things clean. Moreover, the United States is a relatively clean country, where there is less dust and dirt on the roads and in public places, meaning that shoe soles tend not to get very dirty.

#4: Wearing Ugg boots in the summer

Many Chinese viewers of “The Big Bang Theory” (which is popular in China) must have noticed that Penny, one of the TV show’s main characters, often wears T-shirts and shorts with a pair of snow boots. In fact, many Americans wear these fluffy boots in summer.What do you think? Personally, I take issue with #3 and #4. Sleeping with shoes on? Really?

#5: Wearing light clothing in winter

Americans tend to dress more casually than Chinese people. Many young people wear short-sleeve T-shirts in the winter, although they might put on an overcoat and long jeans when it becomes extremely cold. This is primarily because there is central heating everywhere — inside buildings and in subway and bus stations. Hence, it is normal to see corporate women dressed in professional shirts and skirts under a thin overcoat in New York streets in early winter.And as for tipping, it’s one of the things that I have had the hardest time adjusting to since moving back to the US 2 years ago.

#6: Tap water is safe, but not the warm water

In the United States., tap water is nominally safe to drinking straight from the faucet. Although some people may not like to drink tap water because of its slightly strange flavor, it is indeed safe for drinking. However, one has to remember that hot tap water from the faucet may not always be safe for drinking, because it comes from a different water source and the quality of hot water is often far lower than that of cold water.

#7: Tipping, even when you are already paying for a service

Tipping is a normal phenomenon in the United States. One gives tips when eating in a restaurant, taking a taxi or having a bellboy carry your luggage to your room. Tipping is usually 15 percent of the amount you spend on your entire bill, but it differs according to the quality of the restaurant or cab ride. Refusing to tip is impolite and will make you an unwelcome guest.

#8: Wearing pants lower than underwear

There is an actual saying used to describe this “baggy pants” style. It started in some African-American communities before a variety of other social groups adopted the trend. It is already part of American street culture throughout the country, and even celebrities like Justin Bieber can be seen sporting such pants.

#9: Taking showers in the morning

Americans differ from Chinese people in that many Americans take showers in the morning. Some Americans explain that showering in the evening is unnecessary if one works in an air-conditioned place. Those who have outdoor jobs also need to take evening showers.

#10: Pet culture

Americans are famous worldwide for loving their pets more than they love people. Some have explained that this is because there are more dogs than people in the United States. Although this is an exaggeration, the saying is not completely nonsense. The costs of raising pets like dogs — including providing for their daily well-being and even medical care — may be high, but Americans are just willing to spend that money.

Time for a big glass of ice water — I wouldn’t think of starting my day without one!

Photo Credit: “Ice Water,” by Pink Sherbet Photography (CC License)

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