Friday, October 26, 2007

Saint Che

I've made plenty of comments in the past on the skill with which Japanese people manage to include western ideas and customs in their daily lives without having any idea of the cultural significance behind them. Today's wonderful example of this comes from the women sitting next to me on the train, or more specifically her cell phone's background picture.

The picture was that more than slightly over used poster art picture of Che Guevara, but with the addition of a few love hearts floating around his head. Ok, cute, nice and Japanese. The surprising thing though was the subtitle of the image "Jesus loves you". Umm, ok its hard to be sure what jesus looks like, but I am reasonably sure he didn't have a nice communist star on his hat.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Endangered Curry

Japan often receives a lot of criticism internationally for its whaling program, but Japanese people here normally completely fail to notice any of it as the Japanese media never mentions it. Of course when it does its to explain the fallacy of all there ridiculous reasons the nasty foreigners are trying to use to deprive the Japanese people of there traditional (diesel powered, explosive harpoon) whaling culture.

A lot of this sort of propaganda makes its way into Japanese language text books to educate all those poor misinformed foreigners who end up living here. One such text book had a lovely article summing up the Japanese peoples views and international views, and then asking the reader to decide what they thought and discuss it with the class. Surprisingly it managed to do this without using the words extinction, endangered, threatened or overfishing. Strangely I still don't know the Japanese word for "biased".

But to be honest, perhaps a little to much attention is given to scientific whaling. The Japanese aren't particularly hung up about which threaten animal they eat. The photos are of a range of canned curry products I found at a shop not far from where I live, amongst the different flavours I found whale, bear, and fur seal. So in case you were wondering what the Japanese were studying with their scientific whaling, its quite possibly part of a much larger study of the correlation between how endangered a species is and how good it tastes in a curry.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Loose change

Just a two random things that I have discovered recently.

In Japanese Green peas and Greenpeace are written and pronounced exactly the same. Realising this I couldn't help recalling with more than a trace of irony the green pea and whale soup that I saw for sale at a festival several months ago.

People often wonder why Japanese people struggle to learn English, whereas most Europeans seem to get on quite well. One problem I have seen is the quality of dictionaries here, mine is full of mistakes, outdated words, and misleading examples. It is also the most popular dictionary in Japan. Today's discovery, what is it called when a marriage ends? A divorcement (yes, my spell checker is underlining is in red)

apparently not an isolated example, a friend of mine today asked about a datement she thought I was going on.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Warm Welcome From Japan

Ok Japan is mostly a warm and welcoming place. Yes of course there are some arseholes, and a fair portion of the population do think foreigners are mostly criminals, but they are civil about it and don't normally bring it up. Well, except for the nationalist who hold rallies in front of some of the train stations on weekends and shout over the megaphones about how all the nasty "gaijin" should go home. But apart from that, Japan is quite welcoming.

Still seeing this friendly little sign on the door to a shop in Shinjuku was a bit of a surprise. "Japanese Only", somehow I doubt they are talking about the language. Luckily, as those of you who can read the Japanese in the picture probably realise, this is not really a shop I was likely to go into anyway, but still they could of been more polite, "Japanese only PLEASE"...

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The prize goes to...

More than occasionally I comment on the wonderfully inventive ways the English language is put to use in Japan, but so as not to appear biased I thought today I would share one particularly fine example from China.

Its not the most surprising, funny or ironic example I have ever seen, but I think it is the most efficient example of an English mistake I will ever come across. Normally in Japan they have to write an entire sentence, or at least a single word before they mess something up, at the Chinese hotel I stayed at they managed to do it in a single letter. More interesting than staying in room F.

Informative Advertising

Shopping in China is quite an experience for many different reasons. Firstly there is the fact that the shop keepers despite not speaking any English are quite willing to make a very valiant and wordy attempt to convince you to buy anything you show an interest in. They aren't picky in deciding what constitutes "showing an interest", in my experience walking past something is normally enough.

If you do decide to actually buy anything there is then the question of price. If you are lucky enough to be buying something that even has a price tag, the amount printed on it normally bears no relation to how much you will have to pay for it. 20%, 50%, 70% discounts from that price aren't just possible, they are normal. Of course if there isn't a price tag, you may face the natural disadvantage of being western in which you have no chance of getting a normal price.

The third interesting point about shopping in China which I didn't realise until I got back to Japan is the problem of accurate advertising. I bought a bunch of cookies and snacks for my friends here as souvenirs (its a Japanese cultural thing), and shared them round while we were having dinner at the university. I had no idea of any of the brands or types of sweets so I just got a random selection of things that looked interesting from the super market.

One such was the box in the photo. Purple, heart shaped, with Chinese writing and fill of big pieces of almonds. Opened the box and found it was fill of the small brown dog biscuit looking things that I'm holding in the picture. Not only are they not purple, heart shaped, un-written on, and completely lacking in almonds, but they tasted like sand. I couldn't believe it, so I showed it to one of my Chinese friends here and she just shrugged as if it was normal.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Final Impressions

I am now back home in Tokyo, and before I forget I thought I should just write a few of my general impressions on China.

Judging from the prices of Chinese imports in NZ and Japan you would possibly expect China to be a reasonably cheap place to live. But in the places I went to at least, this isn't really the case. Guangzhou is a big city, and it has the sort of prices you would expect in a big city anywhere else in the world. Basic stuff is pretty cheap, trains, food stuffs, but anything that could be considered a luxury item in anyway is pricey. Still cheaper than NZ, but not much. Of course, I am sure it would be different if I went to one of the smaller cities, but that is an experience for my next trip.

The food is variable. It is one of the few things that are cheap, and even if you go to the particularly expensive restaurants, it is still less than half what I would normally pay on an average night out in Tokyo. As to the quality, depending on where you go it is either literally poisonous or some of the best tasting I have ever eaten. I say literally poisonous as I got food poisoning twice. But don't think its just my weak western stomach, my Chinese companion did as well, on both occasions.

Of course being China you do see the occasional surprising item on the menu. I saw the standard shark fin and birds nest soups of course. The more interesting fried beetles, stewed cows stomachs, chicken feet and hundred year eggs (which should probably be avoided due to the heavy metal content). But the winner for weird food item that I didn't eat was pigeon and pork spine soup.

ps. I would add photos of some of these dishes but someone dropped my camera into a hot spring.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Chinese Internet

I'm still in China, and ever since I got here I've only had sporadic internet access. Its partially to do with the fact that the hotel I am staying in hasn't updated their network since the early 90's, and partially to do with the fact that I am lost somewhere behind the Great Chinese Firewall.

As soon as your try to goto a blocked page you just get a "problem loading page" message, and thats it. I of course knew the government censored a lot of the web, but its surprising what they censor. For example I can goto where I goto post on this blog, but I can't goto where I go to read it!

I think the most annoying lack is that I can't goto wikipedia, or certain other news sites, but I think it would be worse if I lived here long term because of some of the specifically censored stuff. Just to give it a try I googled "tiananmen square" which is something the Chinese are particularly sensitive about, of the first 10 results that came up, I could load 2, neither of which mentioned the unpleasant events from 1989.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Made in China

Im currently sitting in an internet cafe in Sanya, China, and while they are still fresh and unperverted by too much rational thought, I thought I would share some of my first impressions. China is perhaps the oddest place I have ever been and I would reccomend the experience to everyone. I would also recommend they find someone to show them around because no one speaks English, which unfortunately doesn't stop them trying to rip you off or steal your wallet.

The first thing that really struct me was the view from the bus between Hong Kong and Guang Zhou. Lining the highway on both sides were hundreds of three to six story high, office block looking buildings. It was about nine in the evening and the lights were all still on, so I was able to see in through the windows. Row after Row after Row of sowing machines... I wonder what brand clothes they were working on...

The next thing that really struck me was getting on the plane in GuangZhou to come to Sanya. After having going through security, check-in, boarding and finally sitting down on the plane there was the standard welcome message in Chinese and English. Welcome aboard .... Thanks for flying with ... The flight time is.... the destination is.... please check your tickets and make sure you are on the right flight. The last comment was slightly disconcerting.

Other random things, the guy behind me at the internet cafe is watching SM porn with the volume turned to full. Everything in Sanya costs exactly three RMB, well almost everything, drinks, snacks, coconuts. People stare at me wherever I go, and I don't just mean people in the distance. I had one guy walking about a meter in front of me and just turn round to stare at me for about a minute...
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