The Beauty of a Language

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Note: Due to limitations of our blog I can not display Chinese characters. I have placed a graphic at the end of the post to which you can refer to for the characters. Example: “A” in the post would be “A” in the graphic below. Thanks!

When you think of a beautiful language, French or Italian comes to mind. Flowing words, rolling r’s, and wonderful pronunciation all combine into a ocean of words. On the opposite side of the spectrum is Chinese. Crazy pictures, impossible sounds, and ridiculous combinations astound the mind into thinking quite the contrary of a language of love. Or is it?

Chinese characters can be found everywhere.

The Chinese language is made up of more than 40,000 individual characters. A character is simply a single picture with a given meaning behind it. According to the Chinese government, an educated adult will know between 6,000 and 7,000 characters in his or her lifetime. Knowledge of 3,000 characters is generally required to read a Chinese newspaper.

During the cultural revolution of China in the 1950s, the government realized the need to simplify the language forgoing the traditional complex characters and settling on Mandarin in a simplified form. This is the language you will see and hear today.

In general when you see a character it has one single meaning. For example the character “A”(hao) means good. If you study the character closely enough you can see the outline of a women on the left side and a man on the right. When a man a women are together things are always good. Thus “A”means good individually. If we place a “B” (ni), meaning “you,” next to it and create “BA”(ni hao) we would be saying hello. By combining individual characters together words and phrases can be formed. Literally translated “BA” (ni hao) would mean “You Good,” but in Chinese it means “hello.” Simple enough? It gets better!

It is next to impossible to memorize each and every character. Fear not! The language is comprised of little over 200 radicals. Radicals are simple elements of each character that generally mean something. If we look at the word “C” (re) or hot, we can see the fire radical contained in it, or the four lines on the bottom of the character. Picture a fire lit beneath the character. You would now know that anytime you see the fire radial on a different word that it will mean something similar.

Haibao, the 2010 Expo Mascot

Finally, lets look at the character “D”(ren) or people. You can easily tell how the character looks very similar to a person. In fact the 2010 World Expo used this character in creating the mascot Haibao. The spoken word itself actually means treasure of the sea. If you can learn these simple meanings behind the characters your Chinese learning will be leaps ahead.

The most fascinating aspect of the language is the tones. You can say the exact same thing, but with different tones allowing you to create four different words. By simply inflecting your voice sharper, softer, null, or sharp then soft, you can create such tones. Let’s again use the word hao as an example. “A”(hao) means good and is low falling and high rising. “E”(hào) means very grand water. “F”(háo) means roar or cry. Finally you might have a just a neutral hao meaning something completely different.

During my first attempts to speak the language I was extremely careful to try to pronounce everything clear and slow. It didn’t work. Ironically however when I mumble through words at a lower voice level the translation comes across with success. It seems most natives speak this way, and yet it is all understandable.

At first, I thought that using pictures as a language would be extremely primitive. In a way it is, but it has developed over thousands of years into a beautiful art. Communication at the highest level accords here. Schools here teach choreography classes using ink and brush. In English every word has a meaning. In Chinese every character has a story.

Please see post above for character references.

Up in the Clouds

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Pixar’s “Up” came true for our group last night as the seven of us truly were among the clouds.

Fresh fish in the wet market.

Our adventure started at 4 o’clock in our hotel lobby where we meet up with Thomas from Hong Kong Baptist University. Hopping on the MTR (the local subway system) we quickly dashed  away into the Hong Kong underground. We emerged at a stop shortly down the line where Thomas lead us inside the strange world called a wet mart.

The closet thing I can think to describing this self perpetuating marketplace is a bustling train station. Fresh fish swim in open tanks while their counterparts lay on ice waiting for a buyer to fry up at home. Vendors sell every type of fruit imaginable while farmers uncage chickens for a paying customer. Thomas tells us this is their version of a local Wal-Mart, that residents in Hong Kong venture to one of the thousand of these markets scattered across the city every night to get food for the next day. While this market feeds the appetite of Hong Kong other locations fuel the culture.

Bird for sale at Bird street.

Our next stop on the “tour” took us to the famous flower and bird streets of Hong Kong. In this wild market, birds of all types can be found. When a man emerges into retirement he typically purchases a bird of his liking. All over you can see these gentlemen walking around, playing checkers, and conversing, all with their birds in tiny cages. Right across the street is the Hong Kong flower market where flowers of all shapes and origins are put on the market. The Peak was just one more MTR ride away, or so we thought.

We emerged at an MTR near the harbor on the opposite side. Walking to the river front produced some spectacular views of the entire harbor. If you’ve ever seen a picture of Hong Kong, it was likely taken from this spot. Looking across the harbor it’s possible to see just about every name brand in

Victoria Harbor at night.

the corporate world. Each building lights up in their own light show in its bid to attract attention. At 8 PM the show starts. Titled, A Symphony of Lights, more than 44 buildings emit a synchronized laser light show illuminating the harbor and surrounding area. Truly a spectacle to witness should you ever land in Hong Kong. We soon found ourselves on a ferry going across the harbor to opposite side.

Debarking from the ferry though Victoria Harbor we landed in a high fashion shopping district.  Overlooking the harbor, Victoria Peak emerges out of the land on Hong Kong Island giving breathtaking views from the summit. Winding roads and staircases make their way to the top viewing point creating a long hike up a 27% incline. Thankfully we took the tram.

Arriving in yet another shopping center we ascended 10 escalators finally emerging on the viewing platform of the the

View from The Peak overlooking Victoria Harbor.

peak. Walking outside we were immediately inundated by clouds surrounding our bodies. Glancing up at a light post we witnessed just how fast the visible mass of water droplets were moving across the summit of the peak. Slowing walking to the edge of the platform the reason to come to the top soon became apparent. A city unlike any other in the world appeared. Still lit up it was here where we could see the entire harbor. Boats of all shapes and sizes moved back and forth in the water transporting people, imports and exports. Viewable was the Two International Finance Centre, the tallest building in Hong Kong, stood out to me as the building from the new Batman film, The Dark Knight.

Going back down the tram felt a little weird, I think we all wanted to stay up in the clouds a little bit longer.

“Miss, please come with me.” -Airport Security

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It all started with a suitcase.  We checked our luggage, which was a pain because of crazy overage charges for our XXXL bags.  I won the prize for heaviest luggage.  We were all frustrated, but everything was for the most part fine until we walked through security.  I made it through after struggling to balance my laptop, tea set, and backpack. 

As I was putting my laptop back into my bag, a uniformed man comes up to me and says, “Excuse me miss, can I see your passport?”  I agreed.  He looked at the passport, looked at me, looked at the passport again and said, “Okay, please come with me.”

With a puzzled look I told him that I needed to tell my group where I was going.  He said okay and that I would be better off leaving my bags with my friends.  I dropped my stuff off with the gang and followed this man through the airport.  He led me into an unfurnished hallway and looks at me and says, “We need to ask you a few questions.” 

A lot was going through my mind at this point.  “Will I miss my flight?  Did I make the do-not-fly-list in Asia?  What the hell am I doing here?”  And something along the lines of, “Oh my goodness.  I hope they don’t kill me!”  He then led me to a run-down looking metal door.  We entered this room that was just like you would see in the movies.  The walls were bright white and the lights were blinding. 

“Have a seat,” he said, “We’d like to ask you a few questions.” 

“Who’s we?”  I thought.

I waited for a few minutes for the others to arrive.  That few minutes felt like an hour.  I really was freaking out at this point.  Some other men soon arrived with one of my suitcases and asked me to stand up and open it.  I did and everything practically fell out since it was stuffed so full.   Then they asked me to start taking everything out.  Like I said, I won the prize for heaviest suitcase, so you can imagine what this was like.  Once I had completely ruined what little organization was in my suitcase to begin with, they found the culprit, a set of faux old coins.  They took them out, examined them and started asking me the most random questions ever.  I basically gave a rundown of my whole life story.  It was hard to concentrate because the lights were so bright and this huge black bug kept buzzing in my ear.

“Why are you here?  Who are you here with?  How old are you?  Are you a student?  What school?  How many people are in your family?  Okay, you are here with school, but why are you traveling?  Where have you shopped?  How much did you spend?  Why do you have these coins?  Who are they for?  What was the reason for this purchase?  What do you intend to do with them?  Where did you grow up?  Have you traveled before?  Are you enjoying your trip?  Do you like Chinese food?”   Etc.  It was out of control.

After typing what seemed like pages and pages of material into a computer, they finally told me why they had brought me there.  The coins that I had purchased were knock-offs, but they thought I was trying to smuggle old coins out of the country, which is illegal.   They took my passport and boarding pass, stamped the hell out of it, took me back through a private area of security, and let me go on my way.

I was very flustered at this point.  The man who had picked me up brought me back to the BSU gang.  Everyone could tell that I was a little shook-up and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t.  This was quite the experience.  I picked up my carry-ons and we continued on to our terminal.  We got lunch and boarded the plane and that was the end of it.

Wait… this isn’t… Pizza Hut?

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China is seen by the modern industries of the world as the land of opportunity. They see it as a place where they can take their industry and carve a niche for them to contribute and grow. These industries not only see China in this way, they are helping China make it that way.

Food is one of those industries and food franchises from the United States have one of the largest presences of anyone. Whether it’s been Shanghai, Beijing, or Hong Kong, all of us on the Ball State team have been just a quick stroll down the street from something that is very familiar. But sometimes what seems familiar on the outside, is really different on the inside.

It’s our first night in Hong Kong. All of us walk down the dense streets of a city that has a Times Square on every corner. It seems impossible for any one neon billboard to stand out among the Festival of Lights that is Hong Kong, but one actually did… Pizza Hut.

We haven’t had pizza for the longest time, so we jumped at the opportunity. When we arrive at the front door we only see a podium and a host. We then walk up several flights of stairs to arrive at what seems to be a mistake. Looking around the restaurant we feel as if we took the wrong set of stairs, or maybe this is the restaurant people go through to get to Pizza Hut. Nope. The host sits us at our table and we are still in this seemingly Bizarro Pizza Hut. Mirrors cover the walls and are engraved with beautiful cursive words that say “Delightful,” “Togetherness,” and “Delicious.” The carpet on the floor has a design that gives the impression of walking on rocks. The lights give orange glows from both lamps and beams on the wall. Sitting in this seemingly chic Tuscan villa, I’m thinking to myself “When did Armani and Pizza Hut get together and make a restaurant?”

The design isn’t all that is new. Pizza feels like an afterthought in the back of the menu at this place. I didn’t even make it to the pizza section until someone put another menu in my face. Spaghetti, salad, and lasagna seem to go on forever on these menus, and everything seems so (to quote the mirror) “delicious.” Dishes such as the Seafood Spaghetti in Sicilian Soup look absolutely amazing, especially after you read that it is “an alluring combination of seafood and Sicilian soup together with Al Dente spaghetti, a perfect match to bring out the freshness.” Dishes in America such as the “Cheese Lover’s Pizza” just don’t have the same ring. I’m not saying it’s not delicious, because everyone on this trip can testify that I will eat just about anything on a plate; I’m simply stating that Pizza Hut has really raised the bar when it comes to making Italian food.

With that said, I suggest we all burn down the Pizza Huts in Muncie so we can get one of these chic ones. You don’t want to do that? It’s against the law? Ok fine. I guess we’ll have to just wait until they rot and fall over (it should only take about 50 years). I’m willing to wait.

In the meantime, check out what these Pizza Huts look like at pizzahut.com.hk. You’ll feel like your reserving a suite at the Bellagio Casino Resort.

Chinglish

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One of our favorite sources of entertainment while out and about in all three of the cities we have been to has been signs everywhere written in Chinglish. Chinglish is a failed Chinese attempt at English. Often, it is the kind of direct translation that comes from an online translator, the kind that makes automatic translations between languages that usually come out woefully incorrect. These kinds of mistakes can be seen on signs everywhere in China, even in culturally diverse areas where better English might be expected. In some situations the mistakes aren’t so bad that the intended meaning of a sign can’t be deciphered, but there have been a few times when we have been left with no idea of what a sign is trying to say. For example, at the gate leading into the parking lot at the section of the Great Wall of China we walked, one sign read “The Tourist Gets Out the Bill Enrollment in Preschool.” I can only assume that the sign probably meant to say something like, “Have Your Ticket Ready Before Entering the Gate,” but who knows. Since getting to Hong Kong, because of the British influence, the English seen and spoken in public has been noticeably better, but not perfect. Being able to better understand different signs has been great, but I do enjoy a good laugh at an incomprehensible attempt at English. Below are a few of the better signs we have seen during our journey.

This one we spotted at The Great Wall

This one was on the revolving door in our hotel in Beijing

This one was found at the 2008 Olympics site to apparently stop visitors from walking in the flowers

An afternoon with ESPN

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Everyone in the U.S. knows about the vast resources and reach of ESPN as a leader in sports programming.  What they may not know is that in Asia, ESPN and its partnership with NewsCorp (the Rupert Murdoch owned media company) makes it the sports programming king of Asia and Australia, as well.  From China to Hong Kong to Singapore to India to Taiwan to Australia, ESPNStar carries sports of a variety unmatched even in the U.S. with cricket, Australian rules football, rugby, motor sports as well as all of the traditional American sports.

Thursday afternoon, we had the opportunity to visit the Hong Kong based ESPN International offices.  In fact, it wasn’t just the ESPN offices we saw, all of  Disney Corporations Asia offices (ESPN’s parent company) are located in Hong Kong.  It was an informal meeting set up through a friend and former colleague of mine that is an executive producer with ESPN in the U.S. And although informal, it was a meeting full of great information and insight into the business of sports programming and media in general.  Michael Morrison, VP and General Manager of ESPN Asia Pacific, along with Kelly Cooke, Director of Business Development for ESPN Asia Pacific, spent nearly an hour and a half talking with our group; offering information and insight into the future of the media business, including alternative platform delivery and describing to the students the type of skills they need to acquire now to be better prepared for a career in media.

Michael T. Morrison and Kelly Cooke of ESPN Asia Pacific talk with students about the future of the media industry.

It was an informative and enjoyable afternoon from the view out their office windows to the conversation.  Thanks for ESPN for everything.

Imagine this view everyday at work. The view from the conference room at Disney Corp. in Hong Kong.

Bye bye Beijing, Hello Hong Kong

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We said our goodbyes to Beijing on Wednesday, after a great week and a half.  Again, the trip out was full of drama.  If you thought flying in the United States could be challenging, it’s even tougher here.  Thank goodness we got to the airport three hours before the flight.  Even though we stayed in China, going to Hong Kong is like traveling to another country.  We had to go through customs, immigration and extra security checks (Sarah will have more on that).  We had a great flight on Dragonair.  It was a spacious plane with good food and it was quite smooth.

The arrival in Hong Kong was also really smooth.  Immigration was short and sweet.  The bags were waiting for us.  The ride to the hotel was quick and easy.

Then the shock set in.  Hong Kong is truly a different place than Shanghai and Beijing.  It’s hard to describe.  My first impressions… Hong Kong is Shanghai meets New York meets Los Angeles meets Miami. 

Here’s why I bring up that eclectic mix of places.  It feels like Chinatown in New York City.  While all of the signs are in Chinese, there is plenty of English too.  It also has the energy, bright lights and crowds of New York.  But wait, then there is a big difference – the mountains!  They’re everywhere.  Suzy compared it to Southern California.  It is beautiful.  But wait, there’s more.  It’s tropical, aka humid!  So, so humid.  Think Florida in the summer.  This is going to be a neat town to experience.  We’re going out to explore much more of Hong Kong today.  So more details are ahead.

The view from Terry's room at the Cityview Hotel in Hong Kong. It's the big city and the mountains all in one!

Video Blog 6

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Be sure to check out the full HD version at http://vimeo.com/12555155. Thanks everyone!

The Silk Street Market

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“Hey lady, buy a bag?” Words I’ve heard often while in Shanghai and Beijing.  Nowhere near as often as I did on Sunday afternoon when four of us headed to the Silk Market.  We experienced what can only be described as AMAZING.

The Silk Market is a seven-story mall of sorts with individual stalls selling all sorts of wonderful and fabulous goods.  Coats, underwear, silk scarves, luggage, jewelry, purses and custom made clothing; anything you might want or need.  The amazing part of the experience of the Silk Market is the negotiations that go on when buying an item.

It quickly became apparent to our group that Sarah Brannan is an expert negotiator, sometimes getting the sales girls to drop their prices to 20 percent of the original asking price, or getting them to sell two for the price of one.  Sarah moved from stall to stall haggling with the various sales girls, working her magic and buying a multitude of items for herself, her parents and her sister.

Terry, on the other hand, was a sales girl dream.  As Terry would pass each stall, he apparently looked like an easy target, as sales girls would grab him by the arm and pull him in before he realized what was happening.  While he would get away, it would sometimes take awhile.  And even though he got caught the most and for the longest time in the web of the sales girl, he in fact bought the least; leaving the Silk Market with only a suit and some small gifts for others.

We each left with several items and in the end we all felt good about our purchases, our haggling abilities and our experience!

Shots from around Shanghai and Beijing

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This are some shots from around Shanghai and Beijing over the course of our trip so far I took.

Apologizes everyone for not being able to embed but you can still check out this video by going here!

Please go to http://vimeo.com/12531700 to watch it in glorious HD, enjoy!

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