Harbin(gers) of Hacking (Coughs)

See what I did there? Eh? Eh?  Jokes aside, my heart goes out to everyone in California affected by the wildfires.  Stay safe, stay alert, and invest in a good smoke mask.  I found an article and was later sent it my my lovely grandfather about how apparently the AQI (air quality index) in the Bay Area is similar to Beijing. It’s funny timing, as Harbin has had smog two out of the last four days, which has slightly negatively impacted my mood.

I’ll be honest, my first and second reactions to the article were laughter, neither of them good.  The first, worse reaction, was one of schaudenfreude, as the numbers reported were under 200 ppm of PM 2.5 particles (which is a relatively good day for Beijing). So it was funny to see California freaking out over what’s an everyday occurrence (the air quality, not the fires) in Beijing and Harbin during the winter. Wood smoke is definitely more invasive than regular smog at that level I feel though, and this is in no way meant to invalidate what people are going through.

The second was laughing at myself as I remembered that something being commonplace doesn’t make it good or alright (see: most of the shit minorities in the States have to deal with), and while I’ve grown used to the smog here, it’s still taking months off my life. So a bit of dark humor at my own expense there.  The smog is actually one of the top reasons I’m looking forward to heading back to the States, although the Bay may feel just like Harbin.

Real talk though, this is serious and terrifying, here’s a link to resources and a go bag checklist.  http://www.7×7.com/how-to-help-north-bay-fires-2494885475.html

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That politics post I promised is still percolating for lack of a better term.  But in other news I submitted my Fulbright final report and am moving out of my apartment tomorrow! (At time of writing).  I’ll still be in Harbin for about a week before heading down to Shenzhen to do a visa run (I made plans a week later than I should have due to contradicting dates, ah well).  Then a bit more travel in China before returning to the U.S.  Can’t wait to see all you lovely people.

Spent most of this week at the library finishing their useful books, and I thought I’d share with you an interesting anecdote.  There was a family of Polish Karaites, the Lopatos, who came to Harbin in 1902.  They opened a tobacco workshop that later became a factory and were pretty much the only game in town until the 30’s.  In ’35 most of the family left for Paris, but a son of one the founders, Mikhail stayed on.  Somehow, through astounding business acumen and substantial bribes I’m sure, he wound up supplying cigarettes to the Japanese troops during the 40’s. This, of course, gave him a lot of contact with the Japanese military.  What they didn’t know was that at the same time he was using his private train to ship food and supplies (including cigarettes presumably) to the Soviet troops on the front, which seems like an amazing logistical feat.  In addition to material goods, he also told them all he could about the Japanese troop distributions.  Gotta love a little espionage.  He was eventually found out and captured by the Japanese, and told many times he would be executed.  For some reason though, they delayed and one day just unlocked the cage and left.  He found out from his wife after walking all the way home that an atomic bomb had just been dropped on Hiroshima, good timing for him I guess. When the Soviets got to Harbin, they didn’t execute him like a filthy capitalist, rather they bought his tobacco facilities at above market cost, the profit from which he used to retire like a king.  I don’t expect him to show up in the novel, besides perhaps a mention of Lopato tobacco, but I thought it was a really cool anecdote to share.

One word in the above paragraph may have stood out to you, that being “Karaite.  I had to look up what it was too, and apparently they’re a group of people who could be called a sect of Judaism, but sometimes prefer to be considered an entirely separate religion when advantageous (I’ll get to that below). According to the Chinese text I read, Karaite can either be interpreted to mean “readers of the scripture” in Hebrew, or “black/dark” in Arabic. They follow the Torah/Old Testament, but do not consider the Talmud and other Jewish law as divinely inspired and therefore invalid, which separates them from “Rabbinical Jews”.  They have separate synagogues and services, but in Czarist Russia they were victims of the same anti-semitism.  In the late 1700’s though, one of the Russian Karaites made the argument that since they allegedly settled in Crimea before the birth of Christ, they weren’t responsible for his death, and therefore shouldn’t be subject to the discriminatory laws levied on Jews.  Catherine II agreed (when presented with some doctored evidence), and the Karaites got a status boost.  According to wikipedia, there are about 4,000 Karaites in the U.S., and the only city with a dedicated Karaite synagogue is Daly City!  The more you know!

I suspect I’ll make a few more posts before I leave China, but I’m unsure if I’ll keep this blog up when I return to the States.  In any case, here’s a few more pictures.

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Strange Things

I’m at a loss for real content , but I took so many strange pictures this week I had to share them.  It’s almost as if Harbin felt the pictures I’ve been sharing with you for the past year weren’t odd enough and needed to make up the difference.  Also, happy mid-Autumn Festival again!  I was still keeping this blog when it happened last year, so feel free to reread last year’s post if you need a refresher as to the holiday’s particulars.

Me?  I celebrated with a delicious mooncake and went out to Central Street for one of my final visits of this year (very sad, also where some of the odd photos happened incidentally.)  I ended up walking along the river back westward until I got to the “music park” which is this odd double hallway with no apparent purpose.

Exploring south from there, I found that Harbin still has ways to surprise me.  I ended up in a new neighborhood apparently called Wangfujing after the area in Beijing.  The money there couldn’t be more apparent if you painted dollar signs on all the buildings (or yuan signs 元 as it were, but you get my meaning). Porsches, Jaguars and BMW’s abounded, parked in front of super high end stores, all topped off with some super modern parks and plazas.  I left relatively quickly.

There’s something odd about these big spaces clearly designed for some purpose when left empty.  Firstly, sometimes it makes the purpose a bit mysterious, secondly it leaves a weird feeling of disuse with you that doesn’t quite sit right.  There’s a word in either Japanese or German I believe, that refers to the feeling up unease you get when in an empty place that is normally highly populated.  What I felt there was a bit of that, but also the mystery of the site’s nebulous purpose.  Somewhat similar to ancient ruins. Scary, isn’t it? That a modern place can evoke those same emotions.

Other weird photos: a cute kangaroo, a surprisingly good western breakfast served at *Pizza Hut* of all places (my first time going to one, and it comes with two lattes, super super good deal), and an alpaca and a pony, just chilling in front of a mall.  Go figure.

In somewhat more infuriating news, I’m still unable to access the Harbin history section of the city library.  I went a few times back in June and got a huge amount of info in a short amount of time.  Then I left for about two months (it was closed for the brief period I was here in August) and returned to find that the Library was undergoing renovations until early September.  I could have gone then, but I was distracted by such things as article drafting, grad school apps, and other various essays.  Last week I intended to go, only to find that it was closed until the 5th for more renovations, apparently the first round didn’t take.  Went again today (the 5th) only to find that the room I needed was closed until Monday.  Arg, /rant over.  The amount of times that I’ve been intending to go and arrive to find it shut are staggering and irritating to the utmost.

I’m coping by actually starting to write part of the novel and playing excessive amounts of videogames.  Gotta get em all in before I go back to a real life after all.  On that note, I’d like to introduce you to the game I’ve just picked up, Cuphead. It’s a beautiful game done in the style of 1930’s cartoons, some of my favorite things, and was actually all hand-drawn, a process that took over three years it seems.  It’s fiendishly difficult, but wonderful to look at, here’s a short review of it.

Also coping by taking cat pictures, and you thought I’d forgotten.

Down to Dalian

Fall is in the air as my Fulbright comes to a close, we’re in the final stretch here, three weeks exactly at time of writing.  How do I know it’s fall?  There’s a crispness to the air you could almost call a scent, and in true Dongbei fashion, Harbin’s cold as (frozen) Hell already.  Or at least to the point that I need two layers.  Sadly, my Chinese piece that I’ve been working on a whole lot, will not be getting published in the school journal.  Too short, kinda bad, oh well.  I’d be more broken up about this if I hadn’t pitched the articles to Yale.  It does suck to have sunk all that time into the project, but I think it was an important process in and of itself, and I learned a lot from all aspects of doing it.  And who knows, maybe I’ll still end up using it.  In more frustrating news, the library is closed for renovations AGAIN.  I think they didn’t do it well enough the first time. So that gives me more time to work on grad school apps, yay!

Anyway, after the book club, I took the opportunity to go to nearby Dalian, which down on a peninsula southwest of the China-North Korea border and was an important port city back in the day.  The Russian’s built it up from a fishing village around the same time as Harbin, and then lost it to the Japanese in 1905 who ruled it until the 50’s. All I knew about it before coming was that it supposedly had good seafood, so I felt it would be sad if I didn’t head out and give it a look.  A lot of wonderful architecture, including some incredibly opulent hotel castles.

My first 24 hours consisted of walking the city.  I started off with the main square which was build by the Russians, but now mostly features colonial Japanese architecture (and which I capped off with a delicious Korean rice bowl).  Got up the next morning to see the natural history museum, which was decidedly underwhelming, but it took me through a cool neighborhood and had awesome dinosaur skeletons on the ground floor, so well worth the twenty minutes I spent there.  Moving on, I walked the world’s longest boardwalk (Guiness certified) along the south coast.  The city kind of just built a board sidewalk along the coastal road, so while that might be considered fudging it by some, I was quite pleased with it.  Walked a long long way past some nice beaches (two of the three were actually stone beaches with ironic names like “Gold Sand Beach” and “Silver Sand Beach”).

Along the way were a lot of gated communities and what appeared to be wedding photo studios.

At the end of the boardwalk, I found myself at Tiger Beach, which was a big amusement park with a badass statue out front.

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Past there was Fisherman’s Wharf, a slightly tacky recreation of a New England seaside village, but it had real fishermen at least.

For day two, I went down to the tip of the peninsula to Lvshun, formerly known as Port Arthur, known now to me as Port Phallus. I’ll give you four guesses why.

It too was owned by the Russians, but they lost in the Russo-Japanese War, and the Japanese built up most of what was there.  My first visit was to Hill 203 which was the site of a pitched battle where 10,000 Japanese and 5,000 Russians died.  Once the Japanese took the hill though, the war was kind of finished since, as you can see below, the vantage point it gives allowed the Japanese to install artillery and absolutely destroy the Russian navy in and outside the bay.

From there I walked downtown (you can see it in the distance in these photos) to the museum area which was quite interesting.  Apparently Dalian has been inhabited for over 6,000 years, but it got gobbled up by the Bronze-age Han Dynasty in around 70 AD when its people were still in the Stone Age.  Beautiful museum with some great ice cream out front and beautiful Dragon Cypress trees, a strain I had never seen before.

From there I went to an old prison while failing to find lunch (ice cream and boba do not a meal make) which was pretty dope.  The Russians built it, the Japanese took it over and expanded it.  I mention it because apparently its where Ahn Jung-Geun was held and executed, which ties it into Harbin History.  Ahn was a Korean nationalist who led anti-Japanese activities in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, and is most famous for assassinating Ito Hirobumi (first PM of Japan) at the Harbin railway station in 1909.  Koreans still come to Harbin just to see the site.  Anyway, I learned a lot about him, so watch for it to be mentioned in the book.

Finished with a short hike up Mt. Baiyu which gave me some closer views of the bay, and damn if it isn’t incredibly defensible.  Check out that narrow entrance with hills on either side and the small atoll on the right where you could station even more troops.  My inner strategist kind of squealed when I noticed it.

Overall, I’m really glad I came down.  I walked a ridiculous amount and my feet hurt, but the walking was a lovely experience in and of itself, and it took me to some cool places to boot.  A parting thought that I want to share is that there should be more short-haired mermaids in popular media, look at how beautiful this one is. Or would be, she actually has legs, but I thought she was a mermaid at first and dammit I’m sticking by it.

Lastly, shoutout to my awesome hostel, which is named after one of my childhood heroes, the one, the only, Buzz Lightyear.  And they have cats!

Hidden Figures

Another post!  I was offered the chance to host the consulate’s book club in September, so I did!  At one of the officer’s suggestions we read Hidden Figures since they had screened the film in July.  For those who haven’t read or seen the story, the book focuses on the stories of the black computers who worked at NACA during World War Two and then contributed to the space missions when NACA became NASA.  In the author’s words, these women’s stories are worth telling not just because they are black and broke countless barriers with their bravery and mastery of mathematics, but because they are an integral part of the American space epic.

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The movie, by contrast, apparently focuses more on one woman, Katherine Johnson, and her contributions to the Mercury missions where NASA shot John Glenn into low Earth orbit.

The club was a bit sparsely attended. 28 people signed up, but only five showed, and I was a bit over prepared having read the book twice and looked up notes on anything I could imagine being asked about like McCarthyism, the Civil Rights Movement, John Henry, whatever.

I tried to lead a discussion on the book, having prepared to talk about American race relations and whatnot, but since only one person read the book we kept it more in the abstract and the participants brought it back to China a lot. Go with the flow as it were.  It was quite the educational experience.  There’s the line in the book that women, and black women in particular, had to work twice as hard to get half as much.  Still true today, and most of the attendants agreed, but another brought up the point that at least for kids in rural China, they don’t even get the chance to put in the work, they have to work three or four times as hard to even get the chance to work twice as hard. (if that makes sense).  I also picked up that Chinese people are quite aware of their inability to criticize the government in public.  I suppose it makes sense for regulars of American consulate events to be a bit fed up with the Chinese government.

Another guy drew parallels between the women of the book: Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughn to name the main three, and Mulan, which I found interesting.  In response to my question of whether or not they could think of any stories in recent Chinese history that were similar and deserved to be told, the guy said that since until the 1980’s everything was planned to the last detail by the government, there was no chance for similarly revolutionary women to make their mark on Chinese history.  He, and the others, displayed that kind of apathy towards life that I’ve mentioned seeing all over China.

The other opinion that was brought up was that Chinese people feel that China’s getting stronger economically, but the “spirit” of the Chinese people hasn’t seen equal growth, meaning, in their eyes, Chinese people lack confidence in their country and are still stuck with a bit of an inferiority complex.  I see this too, and I’m quite happy when I see Chinese people proud of their country, but worryingly the government seems to be trying to counteract it with over the top propaganda and manufactured soft power.  (I read this great article a while ago about how soft power can’t come from the government and has to be made by a country’s people for it to have real meaning.  Worth your time if you have it.)

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I think I’ll end this post here with some shots from Harbin before I left.

 

An Elegy for an Effigy

Before we get to the meat of this post, an update on my goings on.  I had two great athletic accomplishments last week!  The first was that I did a press-up handstand for the first time in my life (and second, and third etc.) which is a move I’ve been wanted to get since senior year of college.  For reference, that’s going from a crane position, leaning forward, and then pressing up to your handstand.  I have yet to hold it for an extended period of time, but it seems I’ve finally got the relevant muscles adequately developed.  Secondly, I swam a continuous mile in under 30 minutes (28:12 to be exact) which was way faster than I would have expected. Woohoo!  Also submitted the rough drafts of my two articles.  Woohoo! And a fellowship app. Woohoo! I have another post that should be up in a few days, but apart from that I’m winding down so expect more random stuff that I just want to talk about.

Now that that little self-congratulatory ego boost is done with, this is a piece I’ve been wanting to write for about a year now, but have been saving til the eve of my departure to allow myself full perspective on the matter.  I also am reticent to post it, because I’m unsure of my ability to instill in you, the reader, the emotions that I feel as I write it.  To quote an awkward yet insightful rap line though, “the greats weren’t great because at birth they could paint; the greats were great cus they paint a lot.”  And if I want to do Harbin justice in the book, I’ve got to put in the practice.  So please, enjoy my Elegy for Daowai.

Daowai, outside the tracks that breathed life and new purpose into Harbin, a Chinese enclave already a century old, wrapped in trappings imported from across the iron road.  To me it represents the soul of Harbin, its residents and buildings enduring the ravages of time and weather together. Flourishing, in spite of the corruption, drugs, gangs, and general debauchery that first the Qing, then the Republicans, then the Japanese allowed to run rampant, Daowai played host to countless divine performances, and gave birth to some of Harbin’s greatest minds.

One might mistake it for a Russian neighborhood, with two-story yellow and white pseudo- (or sino-) baroque buildings lining the length of Zhengyang Street, were it not for the thick coating of Chinese signs below the green-trimmed windows and the red new year’s decorations flanking each doorway.  Only these betrayed the local flavor and racial homogeny of the neighborhood.

The baroque facades grow decadent where streets meet, putting on their best attire to impress the next block down, rising to meet each other like opposing waves before crashing sharply downwards to create a flat no man’s land.  Unlike the stretches of hell between trenches in the First World War however, here the name implies no stillness, as carts, cars, and animals, human and other, bustled east to west and back again with the sun.

Behind the European exterior, down the side streets where the red brick becomes more prevalent and the buildings shorter, lie the entrances to the courtyards.  An odd adaptation of the octagonal courtyard homes down south, these buildings housed twice as many families with half as many walls.  These were also a far removal from the opulent courtyard homes of Beijing, so diligent in observing the tenets of fengshui. No, in these courtyards, with brick matching the pasted decorations in spots not blackened by coal smoke and contrasting with the pearly snow, the poor Chinese of Harbin made their homes.

As if the above weren’t enough, before its twentieth birthday, Daowai played headquarters to a plague epidemic and its vanquisher, Wu Liande, who birthed modern Chinese medicine and turned back the rodent-born ravage with a blazing inferno.  The phrase goes, “for the people, food could just as well Heaven.” So when plague and poverty threatened earthly existence, Daowai’s people could always look to a slice of man-made, or man-baked, Heaven.  Today as before, countless delicacies from cakes to buns to expertly braised pork belly tantalize outsiders deep into Daowai’s many alleys.

The aromas wafting out of Lao Ding Feng, the dusty, moist, comforting smell of fresh bread, the sweet, seductive scent of endless varieties of cakes tug just inside the nostrils and at the base of the brains of passersby.  Rose, green plum, mandarin orange, red date, honey, dried berries, seeds and nuts, all these treasures are as valuable as the gems they resemble, hiding in crumbly crusts that easily fall away before eager mouths.  Lao Ding Feng holds all of these and more inside a building whose bright pink baroque exterior more than resembles a gaudy cake fit for Marie Antoinettex.

Next door, and inside many other doors in Daowai, are shaomai.  The dumplings, Halal to a one in this area of the city, sit in tray upon tray, emitting gentle steam from their crinkled tops, filled with tender dollops of lamb or beef that leave opaque circles of fat on the mustard and vinegar slurry when dipped. The succulent lamb paired with fiery mustard that clears your mind with a whiff, and scours your sinuses with a taste, ranks near the top of the list of reasons I return here.

Now though, as I walk its storied streets, the beautiful baroque edifices crumble behind walls of red brick and grey concrete, erected to expel the residents and hide these blotches on Harbin’s face, foreshadowing their eventual evaporation from the environment.  Streets once bustling with every type of food desirable lie empty save for a few survivalists.  Meanwhile verdant strands already gain ground as nature strives to reclaim its domain. When I visit, drawn by a masochistic compulsion to see the thing I love even as it withers away, I wonder how this dilapidated district evokes such a reaction in me.  I am not from here, I did not speak its language until six years prior, and I do not have to live here now, free to come and gawk as its residents remain in homes a century old.  A braver Jakob would ask Daowai’s people how they feel about the destruction and reconstruction that swallow up what makes their home unique, but I am not he.  Perhaps they are happy to herald the progress, and dream of modern conveniences.  Whether timidity or a reluctance to intrude is to blame, that question remains unanswered for me.

Daowai is not my home, so why does its disappearance evoke such melancholy in my chest? Perhaps my aversion to injustice that comes with growing up in the Bay Area flares at the sight of Chinese Daowai sitting so neglected, while Russian-made Central Street has become Harbin’s pride and joy.  Perhaps I’m overreacting, but I cannot help but feel that had the government shown the same love to Daowai it does to Central Street with its many stores that attract shoppers in droves, Harbin’s heritage would be more complete, and its people’s lives better.  It’s almost as if Harbin sees Daowai as a blemish to be hidden, whereas I love it and see it as just an integral a part of Harbin’s history.

Here’s some shots to accompany my musings. From this

To this

When it could be this

Triviaaaaaaa

Trivia round three!  We had a small turnout, but still a fun time, and that’s what matters, right?  As normal, I’ll list the questions, and then the questions with answers.
1. How many modern countries were formerly parts of British India? If you got it right, name all of them for a bonus point.

2. What does the “Dalai” in Dalai Lama mean, and  what language is it from? ½ point for each.

3. In which year was Harbin’s first brewery founded?

4. How many khanates did the Mongol empire separate into after Möngke Khan’s death? Bonus point for the names.

5. “Blood is thicker than water” What’s the full saying?

6. How many synagogues does Harbin have?

7. “The Great Game” refers to a spy war fought between which two empires during the 18th and 19th Centuries?

8. The Harbin Zionists sent a group of fifty “pioneers” to what was then British Palestine in what year? Closest answer wins.

9. How many beads are on a traditional Buddhist rosary or mala?

10. Is consuming alcohol inherently bad according to Buddhism?

11. Name the two major sects of Buddhism.

12. The Three Kingdoms period occurred between which two Chinese dynasties?

13. The capital of Shu, one of the Three Kingdoms, is today known by what name?

14. When was the earliest Buddhist temple in China built? Bonus point for the province.

15. What are the four steps of a traditional Chinese medicine diagnosis?

16. What country are Singer brand sewing machines from?

17. During WWII the Japanese army conducted chemical and biological weapons tests at unit 731 in Harbin on live subjects. What were these prisoners euphemistically referred to as? Bonus point for the original Japanese.

18. What is the traditional instrumentation of a string quartet?

19. Why does Harbin’s Confucian temple not have a front gate?

20. Known for its ‘southwest trap’, which *province* of China is regarded as leading the country’s hiphop scene?

21. How many histories and tragedies combined did Shakespeare write? (Hint, he wrote the same number of each).

22. The new governor of the Moscow Region is currently rallying support to move the capital from Moscow to which city?

23. North Korea allegedly successfully tested a hydrogen bomb on Sunday bringing their total number of nuclear tests to how many?

24. Already predicted to hit the U.S. as a category 5 storm, name the hurricane that is currently growing over the Atlantic Ocean.

25. Which three countries in South Asia are currently experiencing extreme flooding?

26. A revolutionary uranium bank founded in part by Warren Buffet is set to open in which country?

27. A phlebotomist extracts what from the human body?

28. Who was the eldest of the Marx Brothers?

29. In the human body what is the hallux?

30. What arcade game released in 1981 featured a character Jumpman attempting to rescue a damsel in distress?

31. In the Fallout video game universe, which country does the United States annex in 2077 in response to China’s invasion of a U.S. State?

32. How much in Monopoly money would you have with four white bills, three green bills, two pink bills and one blue bill?

33. In Mikhail Bulgakov’s “The Master and Margarita” the narrative switches between 1930’s Moscow and the perspective of which historical figure in the year 33 AD?

34. Pb is the symbol for which element?

35. Which country was formerly known as Abyssinia?

36. In the sport of judo, which color follows an orange belt?

37. How many letters are in the German alphabet?

38. The average human body contains how many pints of blood?

39. By what name are the collected sayings of Confucius and his followers known?

40. What does a chef mean if they say, “86 the fish.”?

Answers!

1. How many modern countries were formerly parts of British India? If you got it right, name all of them for a bonus point.
Answer: Five: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar (those last two were separate before the Partition in 1947, but they still count.
2. What does the “Dalai” in Dalai Lama mean, and  what language is it from? ½ point for each.
Answer: It means “Ocean” in Mongolian
3. In which year was Harbin’s first brewery founded?
Answer: 1900
4. How many khanates did the Mongol empire separate into after Möngke Khan’s death? Bonus point for the names.
Answer: Four. The Ilkhanate, the Yuan dynasty, the Chagatai Khanate, and the Golden Horde
5. “Blood is thicker than water” What’s the full saying?
Answer: “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.”
6. How many synagogues does Harbin have?
Answer: Two
7. “The Great Game” refers to a spy war fought between which two empires during the 18th and 19th Centuries?
Answer: Russia and Great Britain
8. The Harbin Zionists sent a group of fifty “pioneers” to what was then British Palestine in what year? Closest answer wins.
Answer: 1921
9. How many beads are on a traditional Buddhist rosary or mala?
Answer: 108
10. Is consuming alcohol inherently bad according to Buddhism?
Answer: No, it’s forbidden because it makes committing real sins easier.  One player made the argument for “yes” though, by saying that Buddhism prohibits harming one’s body, which drinking alcohol definitely counts as.
11. Name the two major sects of Buddhism.
Answer: Mahayana and Theravada
12. The Three Kingdoms period occurred between which two Chinese dynasties?
Answer: The Han Dynasty and the Jin Dynasty
13. The capital of Shu, one of the Three Kingdoms, is today known by what name?
Answer: Chengdu
14. When was the earliest Buddhist temple in China built? Bonus point for the province.
Answer: 71 AD in present day Henan
15. What are the four steps of a traditional Chinese medicine diagnosis?
Answer:望闻问切 or “look, listen, ask, feel (the pulse)”
16. What country are Singer brand sewing machines from?
Answer: Germany
17. During WWII the Japanese army conducted chemical and biological weapons tests at unit 731 in Harbin on live subjects. What were these prisoners euphemistically referred to as? Bonus point for the original Japanese.
Answer: Wood, from the Japanese maruta.
18. What is the traditional instrumentation of a string quartet?
Answer: Two violins, one viola, and one cello
19. Why does Harbin’s Confucian temple not have a front gate?
Answer: Because no one from Heilongjiang ever placed first in the imperial examinations
20. Known for its ‘southwest trap’, which *province* of China is regarded as leading the country’s hiphop scene?
Answer: Sichuan
21. How many histories and tragedies combined did Shakespeare write? (Hint, he wrote the same number of each).
Answer: 20, 10 each
22. The new governor of the Moscow Region is currently rallying support to move the capital from Moscow to which city?
Answer: Novosibirsk
23. North Korea allegedly successfully tested a hydrogen bomb on Sunday bringing their total number of nuclear tests to how many?
Answer: Six
24. Already predicted to hit the U.S. as a category 5 storm, name the hurricane that is currently growing over the Atlantic Ocean.
Answer: Irma
25. Which three countries in South Asia are currently experiencing extreme flooding?Answer: India, Bangladesh, and Nepal
26. A revolutionary uranium bank founded in part by Warren Buffet is set to open in which country?
Answer: Kazakhstan
27. A phlebotomist extracts what from the human body?
Answer: Blood
28. Who was the eldest of the Marx Brothers?
Answer: Chico (Leonard) Marx
29. In the human body what is the hallux?
Answer: The big toe
30. What arcade game released in 1981 featured a character Jumpman attempting to rescue a damsel in distress?
Answer: Donkey Kong
31. In the Fallout video game universe, which country does the United States annex in 2077 in response to China’s invasion of a U.S. State?
Answer: Canada
32. How much in Monopoly money would you have with four white bills, three green bills, two pink bills and one blue bill?
Answer: $124
33. In Mikhail Bulgakov’s “The Master and Margarita” the narrative switches between 1930’s Moscow and the perspective of which historical figure in the year 33 AD?
Answer: Pontius Pilate
34. Pb is the symbol for which element?
Answer: Lead
35. Which country was formerly known as Abyssinia?
Answer: Ethiopia
36. In the sport of judo, which color follows an orange belt?
Answer: Green
37. How many letters are in the German alphabet?
Answer: 30
38. The average human body contains how many pints of blood?
Answer: Nine
39. By what name are the collected sayings of Confucius and his followers known?
Answer: The Analects
40. What does a chef mean if they say, “86 the fish.”?
Answer: “We’re out of fish.”

My Favorite Things (to do)

 

Crossed two more items off my Harbin bucket list this week!  The first one was finishing my set of 50 swimming workouts!  It felt great to complete, and I think I’m definitely seeing results, which feels even better!  Of course this doesn’t mean I’m stopping swimming, but it’s a nice little milestone.  I’m wondering if I’ll keep it up or not when I go back to the states.  The El Cerrito pool is outdoors, which will be no fun when I’m there in December, and after that I suppose it’ll depend on where I’m living.  It’ll also depend on my finances, as I have no idea how much a pool membership costs in the states.  (Here it’s less than $2 per swim if you were wondering.)  I’ve also been playing with the idea of starting a martial art, perhaps China’s rubbing off on me.  Won’t be kung fu though, we’ll see.

Anyway, back in May when I saw the string quartet, I saw on the opera house program that they would be putting on the Sound of Music in September.  That instantly went onto my to do list.  First of all it’s a great musical, but secondly how many times do you get to see it performed in Chinese!?  Tickets were a bit on the pricey side, but well worth it, and I’d like to share a bit about it with you.

WeChat Image_20170910103008

The show had a full Chinese cast, and a wonderful set that was layered to the backdrop (which was the house interior).  All the dialogue and songs were in Chinese, which worked really well actually.  The whole cast were great singers, Captain Von-Trapp especially, but I have to give it up for the translator(s). As I’ve mentioned before, when translating a work of art, the source material is really just your building blocks.  As the translator you get a lot of freedom to change words and meanings since your primary objective is not to reproduce the original, but to create an equally beautiful work of art for the audience, which in this case meant making the lyrics conform to the original music.

For instance, “How do you solve a problem like Maria? How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?” becomes, “You can’t solve a hard problem, you can’t solve Maria.  You can’t catch a cloud, you can’t catch Maria.”  Or, “Climb Every Mountain,” which was changed to, “Cross Those Mountains.”  I have to say, while everything flowed nicely and sounded great, I can’t help but feel that some of the Chinese versions lost a bit of the beauty and intricacy of the English.  A lot of sentences in the songs were fairly straightforward and used everyday vocabulary, compared to the more literary English lyrics.  Perhaps I’m right, or perhaps I still don’t have that feel for Chinese and can’t appreciate it fully.  I dunno.

Also all the German and French were removed from “So Long, Farewell,” which both makes sense and doesn’t.  The original goes, “So long, farewell, auf wiedersen goodbye. Adieu, adieu, to you and you and you.” The original song is English, and the syllables match, so why not leave the French and German in? I think it’s because Chinese people have less familiarity with European languages than Americans.

The translation that impressed me the most though was definitely this one.

This song had the lyrics changed quite a bit, simply because the subjects of each line had to be homophones with the soulfege notes in Chinese rather than English. I don’t actually remember all the Chinese lyrics to the chorus, but I think I remember enough to show you what I mean.

Original:

(Do!) doe, a deer, a female deer
(Re!) ray, a drop of golden sun
(Mi!) me, a name I call myself
(Fa!) far, a long, long way to run
(So!) sew, a needle pulling thread
(La!) la, a note to follow so
(Ti!) tea, a drink with jam and bread
That will bring us back to do oh oh oh

Do 是都来一起唱
Do is all sing together. (都-dou indicates “all” )
re I think it had to do with flowers
mi是猫儿咪咪叫 mi is for cats that meow (mi is onopatopoeia for meow in Chinese)

fa 是头发黑又长 fa is for hair that’s long and black (fa is the second half of 头发 (hair) which sometimes means hair on its own.)  Here’s where the cultural context comes in.  You’ll remember the original cast is blonde and super Aryan to a member, but this cast, being all Chinese, does have long black hair.  Cool!

so 是把门给锁上 so is for the lock on the door. (锁, lock, is actually pronounced suo, but close enough)
la 是拉手儿… (la is for holding hands (la as the verb))
ti (xi) Had to do with water. I forget

I have to say, I’m really curious how the Chinese audience responded to the Nazi part of the plot.  The captain refers to Austrians who capitulate to the Nazi regime as something like 叛国狗 (country-traitor dogs) which is what mainland Chinese with nationalistic hate-ons for Taiwan (you know the type, we have them in the states too) sometimes use to refer to Taiwanese government officials.  Mainland Chinese are also super sensitive to the Taiwanese flag.  So between the above and Captain Von-Trapp’s hatred of the Nazi flag, I’m wondering if mainland Chinese identified with the him. (The Chinese do love their morally-upright patriots. )  That’s be pretty stupid in my opinion, as to do so  would equate Taiwan with some evil empire that’s trying to infringe on the Mainland’s freedom and values (lol, no).

A bit of cool trivia as well that I would include in a trivia night, but I don’t plan to host again before I leave Harbin so I’ll share it with you now.  The symbol for the Austrian resistance during WWII (mostly people who wanted to restore the Hapsburg Dynasty, but also leftists, Catholics, and other people who didn’t like Nazi’s) was “O5.”  E, being the fifth letter of the German alphabet, makes that OE or Ö which stands for Österreich (Austria in Austrian German).  The Germans used a different word than Österreich for Austria, so by reaffirming their own name for the country it served as a rallying point for patriots.

Anyway, besides that I’ve had some damn tasty food this week.  A new restaurant opened up downstairs which has a nice set meal, of honey beef, beef soup, rice, and salted veggies for 20 RMB, which is on the pricey side, but real tasty and a good meal for a workout day.  Also had a great jianbing which was different from others in that the guy layered the batter thick, let it cook much longer than normal, and added a second egg, which made it deliciously hearty.  It had also been a while since I’d had one, so I was kind of feenin’.  This month is also “military training” month, which is something I don’t think I’ve mentioned before.  Compulsory for all Chinese college freshmen is 军训 (junxun, joonshoon) during which, for the first month of the school year, they all wear matching camo outfits and learn how to march, drill etc. like soldiers.  I think there are other activities, but to hear some of my friends tell it, they really just learn to march, make their beds etc. for a month.  Some people might view this as a stupid waste of time (my Chinese friends think it is to a point at least), or a scary sign that China is militarizing its youth (they don’t really do anything military besides march and sing songs so that’s not it), but apparently the nominal justification is to teach kids how to be part of a group, live on a schedule, and learn some skills they might not have had (like bedmaking), which isn’t all that bad.

Lastly, shoutout to my sister for finishing a half marathon!  An amazing athletic feat I could probably never accomplish.  So dope, so proud, have a big nice meal tonight, you deserve it.  Here’s some pictures of the opera house and surrounding wetlands, which are absolutely gorgeous this time of year, and in two months will be completely frozen and devoid of life.  Nature’s crazy.