Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Watching Chinese Movies to Learn Chinese

Throughout the years, many Chinese teachers have told me that Chinese movies help students learn the language. Based on this advice, I decided to carry some Chinese movies, yet not many teachers ordered them. I really don’t know if I responded to requests that may not appeal to most teachers or students in general, or if I got the wrong films or if the prices are not right. Can you let me know?

Drawing from my personal experience, when I ask my son, who is bilingual in Chinese and English, to watch Disney films, Chinese TV or DVDs in Chinese both here in the US and when we are back in China, it turns out that he either tries to switch the DVD into English or is not interested in watching them. When asked why, he said he didn’t understand most of them and it was not "fun"! So I gave up pressing him to watch Chinese movies.

The exception came last August, when we were in China and watching a TV program called “Jia You Er Nu” (Home with Kids). My son was glued to the television set and did not want to do anything else. He watched this series non-stop and even I began watching with him too. I found myself hooked on the show too. When I asked him why he liked the series, he said it was really fun and he could relate to the topics that the children on the show were talking about.

The question that I kept tossing around in my head was why he didn’t relate to Disney films, but understood Jia You Er Nu? It puzzled me, but then I realized the stories and the daily life around this family are current day situations and somehow relate to my son’s life. The moral of this story is simple: find a story that a child can relate to and you have a loyal audience for your show.

I set out to look for other films, cartoons and movies that children might relate to.

Although it is a website for designers who specialize in flash animation, the animations posted on that site are really fun and easy to understand. Each animation is not that long, so it is great for students who know limited Chinese or don’t have much time to finish longer films. (Chinese YouTube)
Another great site like YouTube where people can post all different kinds of videos that they make themselves. Short and fun, students learn Chinese but also get a great glimpse of what life in China is like.

Can you recommend any websites or movies that you think will help students learn Chinese?


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Days of Mourning

Now that I've been in Beijing for two full days, all the dramatic stories I've heard, read, and seen about earthquake victims and rescue efforts make me realize how great the Chinese are together and how small I am as an individual. Here are just a few stories I want to share:

Yesterday I heard many Beijing residents talk about adopting newly orphaned children from the earthquake region. They mentioned they really want to support and love these children because they know how much they need families. Orphans from the Tangshan earthquake 32 years ago also shared their memories of learning they'd lost their parents. On one hand, they were sad and lonely, but they also felt lucky to receive support from the government, schools, and relatives. One woman told about raising her four sisters and brothers (she was 17 at the time) and about all the difficulties they encountered as orphans. When the siblings heard about Sichuan earthquake, they immediately contacted each other. One sister wanted to rush to Sichuan to help the children—to feed them, tuck them into bed, and keep them warm and loved.

A father hadn't seen his son, a high school senior, for four years since leaving to work in another region. Upon hearing about the earthquake, he hurried back to the school and found soldiers searching for survivors under the collapsed building. He told them he desperately wanted to see his son, alive or not. Finally the soldiers found his son under a huge column, but it was too late to save him. Still, they spent five hours removing the column so the father could see his son! The man was so moved by the soldiers' efforts, he thanked them again and again.

One young woman, engaged to be married in June, was trapped in a collapsed building. Her fiance heard her voice and urged her to hold on while soldiers rescued her. He asked her if she wanted a Chinese-style or Western-style wedding, and what kind of clothes she'd wear at the ceremony. He told her she shouldn't give up and would make it out alive. After one day's effort, she did!

In a particularly poignant story, a 9-year-old boy was pulled from a collapsed building after people heard him crying. As a rescue worker carried the boy to another location, a man in the crowd suddenly shouted the child's name. "Dad!" the boy cried in response. Everyone was so moved; they asked the father why he was helping to rescue other people instead of only looking for his son. The man said he wanted to save everyone he could and if he did that for others, surely someone would save his boy in return. As they walked back home, they met the man's wife on the street. So this family of three was united even as they helped others around them!

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of touching stories, but all I can share now is this common attitude among the Chinese: If we have a 1% chance to save lives or even find victims, we will make a 100% effort and more. Every one of us is standing with the quake victims and making every effort to support, help, and be with them.

The three days of mourning are almost over. I am listening to the radio now, to sad and beautiful poems and songs dedicated to the victims. This is the first music I've heard on the radio during these days, and it is beautiful and profoundly moving. The familiar songs of my childhood have become the most suitable requiem and powerful voice for the victims. These songs will always be with them and with us, too.


Monday, May 19, 2008

Earthquake update from China

I just arrived in Beijing a few hours ago. Today is the first day of National Mourning for quake victims. The minute I got in the taxi, all I heard on the car radio was about the mourning across the country and how so many people want to donate and volunteer. A live program reported on Beijing residents donating medicine, food, and toiletry products to the Sichuan earthquake area. The program host spoke with the Red Cross director in Sichuan and asked what Sichuan needed most. Listeners were asked to donate those products, and people crowded one bus station where all the donated goods were gathered for delivery to Sichuan. Hundreds of volunteers there helped drivers load delivery trucks. Some parents even took their children to the site to help and experience this aid firsthand

I called my friends as soon as I got home. All we talk about is the quake and the mourning. One girlfriend told me she has been crying every day, but also volunteering every day. Another asked me how the Western media reports on this tragedy and what Westerners think of China's rescue efforts. I was totally moved by all these conversations. I'd have never imagined people in the whole country, even though they don't have friends or relatives in Sichuan, consider this their personal tragedy. I later heard on the radio that at 2:28 this afternoon (the earthquake happened on May 12, 2:28 p.m.), the whole country stopped doing everything for mourning for three minutes, even all the cars, trains and boats! The radio stations interview people across the country, and everyone tells their own emotional stories about how they mourn, how they consider this a personal loss and how they're helping, donating, volunteering, and supporting victims. All the poetry and talks dedicated to victims and survivors leave us all in tears. One live radio show even reported on the mourning in the Chinese consulate in New York. The Chinese in China and overseas are all united in mourning while continuing to pour support and donations to the quake region. This tragedy has really evoked amazing strength and unity in China, unlike anything I've ever seen! I'll keep you posted in the coming week.

To learn more about the mourning, please click here.


Thursday, May 15, 2008

My Own Earthquake Memories

When I first heard about the earthquake Monday morning from the radio, I immediately asked myself, “Is this the year of the dragon?” I can never forget the year of the dragon in 1976. So many things happened that year in China, and we all thought it was because the dragon shook the earth!

On a hot July night in 1976, we’d fallen into deep sleep when suddenly I awoke to the noise of rattling windows. I felt the apartment building shaking, too. I immediately thought it was an earthquake. By then, my whole family was up and we quickly ran outside. Luckily, none of buildings in our Beijing neighborhood collapsed. We were all safe but couldn’t go back inside. Many of our neighbors didn’t have much clothing on, but we were too scared to go back because of the aftershocks. We stayed outside all night.

The next morning we learned that the earthquake’s epicenter was in Tangshan, not far from Beijing. Many people were buried under collapsed buildings and all of Tangshan was almost gone! At that time, we didn’t have all these rescue teams and donations as we’ve seen this week. We felt so helpless. People in Beijing didn’t go to work that week. Since it was summer break, we didn’t go to school, either. We were told we shouldn’t sleep in the buildings. So we all moved out and set up temporary tents to sleep outside, just like you see in the pictures from Sichuan now. It also rained heavily the next night and following days, just like what happened in Sichuan!

After a few nights of sleeping in the tents with heavy rain, I got a very bad mosquito bite (we used to think it was from a poison mosquito) and my whole arm became swollen. I went to the hospital and received emergency treatment from the doctors. A few weeks passed, and we still slept outside under those tents. Having worried so much about an earthquake happening again, every family started building their own earthquake-resistant houses, of course, with support from local government. These one-room houses were simple: brick walls, a rubber roof and one door. We all built such houses and were prepared to live there if aftershocks came again. After that, many earthquake-resistant houses could be seen throughout Beijing, but in the 1980s all of them were ordered to be removed.

Now the 7.9 earthquake happened in Sichuan, bringing to mind the official announcement of 7.6 in Tangshan in 1976 (actually it was 8.3). I watch as scenes unfold similar to those I experienced in 1976, like setting up temporary tents, heavy rain, people afraid to go back in the buildings … but I also see many unfamiliar scenes that didn’t exist in 1976. Now you can learn about everything happening in the region from Chinese TV, newspapers and the Internet. People are donating money and volunteering to travel to the region to help. When I called my girlfriend in Beijing, she said she was going to donate blood. Yesterday’s New York Times also commented on how the Chinese government reacted so differently than other natural disasters.

Here’s a heartbreaking article in today’s New York Times. I have trouble even reading these stories and looking at images of those children. Messages from my friend describing scenes in Wenchun are almost unbearable. But I know there are lessons to be learned. My first reaction is to wonder why the buildings are so vulnerable even though the government issued building codes to prevent earthquake damage? Were these codes applied only in the Beijing area because what happened there in 1976? Why there was no forecast about the earthquake even though we learned from Tangshan how important it is? Maybe we’ve all forgotten what happened three decades ago or thought it would never happen to us again. I still remember hearing that lots of children became orphans and many parents lots their children in Tangshan. I thought that the area could never recover. But here is what you see now.

In response to this tragedy, I’m donating a portion of all ChinaSprout’s sales from now through May 31st to China Red Cross. Your purchases will help people in Sichuan recover from this disaster. If you’d like to make donations to be used for earthquake disaster relief, here is a list of organizations that will accept donations:

Red Cross Society of China
CITIC Bank Beijing, China
Account # 7112111482600000209
Hotline: (8610) 65139999
Online donations: Red Cross Society of China website:

Chinese Red Cross Foundation
Account Name: Chinese Red Cross Foundation
Beneficiary Bank: Bank of China
Account: 800100086608091014
Phone: 8610-65124154 8610-65129947 8610-65599176

Give to Asia

For updates about the earthquake, you can visit these websites:
XinHua News Agency
The New York Times


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

English and Chinese Grammar

Recently I've noticed my son makes lots of grammatical mistakes in his homework. While I corrected some of them, I remember his teacher told us that parents shouldn't correct students' homework. So, I left some mistakes for the teachers to correct.

But when I get the homework back, there are only check marks and no corrections. I'm puzzled. Should I correct the mistakes or should the teachers correct them? If nobody corrects these mistakes, how can students learn to write correctly? Is this the American way of teaching, free and creative? (Sorry, every time I see things like this, I compare American and Chinese education.) Or is it just that my son didn't learn grammar well and his teachers don't correct mistakes?

When I first came to the US and asked people about grammar, many of them said they hadn't learned grammar or didn't know much about it. But when I learned English in China, all we learned was grammar. We had so many grammar drills, just like Chinese character drills. We knew the ins and outs of English grammar; that's how it helps us speak, understand, read, and write English. I cannot imagine how I could communicate in English if I didn't learn grammar.

Why do we have to learn English grammar? Because the Chinese language doesn't have much grammar. (I am sure some Chinese professors disagree with me!) It's not the kind of complex grammar used in English and other Roman languages. For example, we don't have past tense, past perfect tense, and future tense. Everything is present tense. For example, we say word by word in Chinese "we go school," "we yesterday go school," "we tomorrow go school." Also, verbs stay the same with different pronouns, such as "I go school," "he go school," "she go school," "we go school." You notice we don't use "to" to connect verbs and nouns or two verbs. We just say "I want go school!" See how simple Chinese grammar is? If you know those basic words, you can easily make sentences.

So in dealing with my son's grammatical errors, I really don't know how much schools here teach grammar and how kids learn it. I also realize some people born and educated in the US really don't know how to write English well. I wonder if it's because of the overall education or simply because they didn't learn grammar. Do you think schools should teach grammar more thoroughly? How can I imrove my son's grammar?


Monday, May 12, 2008

Shop with me in Beijing (Continued)

Continuing with my last posting about my shopping trip in Beijing, here is one great moment captured at the antique market that I would like to share with you.

In the antique market, you see lots of young children with their parents, playing, eating, and sleeping at the market (actually the market opens only on Saturdays and Sundays from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m.). Here a little boy from Yuannan province plays alongside his mother, who is selling embroidered blankets, tablecloths, and bags! Which do you like best?

You'll also find puppets at the antique market. Can you find ones we sell?

I found this dragon puppet and do hope you like it too. But I'm not sure if I should get all the colors. Here are the ones we sell, let me know if we should carry the other two colors, too.

These are all porcelain, and I'm hesitant to carry those vases because I worry they are too fragile and too big to ship. What do you think?

Do you see anything we sell here?

Here are more brushes. So far we carry only non-professional brushes. Do you need professional ones?

Look at these jade bracelets. Chinese love jade, but I'm not sure if Westerners do. That's why we don't carry very many jade products. Do you wish our jade selection was bigger?

I don't think we'll all learn to play these instruments, but they'd make great home decor pieces. Unfortunately, they're too fragile to ship around, so let's just enjoy this photo!

That's all the photos and highlights I have to share from my latest shopping adventure. Next time, I promise to bring back more. I've enjoyed sharing my experiences with you, and would love to hear your feedback!


Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Shop with me in Beijing!

My first surprise when I arrived in Beijing for a weeklong shopping trip in April was the massive new Beijing Airport Terminal 3. I’ve traveled around the world and seen many big airports, but I really have not seen any single terminal as big as this one. I was also impressed with the combination of Western contemporary architecture (glass and columns) with traditional Chinese elements (a red roof and golden colors). This New York Times article explains just how I felt about this architectural wonder.

I usually don’t like to go to Beijing in April because it is a very windy season (we don’t call it “wind,” we call it “blowing sand”) and it is cold at home (all heat is automatically turned off March 15th every year in the whole city, except for hotels). But surprisingly this year, it didn’t “blow sand” and was very warm. I could go out every day, come home clean, and stay warm!

My shopping trips in Beijing are always hectic and productive, but my assistants there find them stressful and unbearable because I shop from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day. After that, I either go to the book stores to look for new books until 9 p.m. or meet my family members and friends until 11 p.m. Then I start working with my ChinaSprout colleagues in New York until 1 or 2 a.m. So for sure, these shopping trips can be stressful for me too.

Since I was a little too productive while shopping, I didn’t get a chance to take photos in all the markets I visited, but at least I did remember in some places. Here are some I want to share with you:

Tea Market
All the tea we sell at ChinaSprout is from this vendor in Beijing’s enormous tea market. The first time I went there, I couldn’t decide which one to buy from because there are hundreds, if not thousands, of vendors selling tea. Each of them asked me to try their tea. Finally I sat down in this little tea house and started chatting with this lady and her husband. Not only did they have good tea, they are very nice people. I felt I could trust them! So since then, I only buy tea from them. Hope you enjoy their tea too.

In the tea market, I also saw this little girl on the trolley drawing and writing Chinese characters. I asked her which grade she is in. She said she is not in school yet, but she just loves to practice writing! I wish my son did the same!

Fabric Market
Have you noticed most of our children’s clothes are designed by ChinaSprout? How? Let me show you! First, I visit the market to select the fabrics.

Then I meet with our tailor, and together we design the dresses or jackets. We’ve made many samples but select only a few to offer our customers. See the fabric I selected this time?

Here are the dresses . How do you like them?

Antique Market
It is called Antique Market, but most products there are not antiques. I buy many craft items there. You see our ink and brush vendor and painting vendors? Find anything that we sell?

I saw these cute clay figures, but I’m not sure if we will carry them. What do you think?

Anyway, I shopped all these markets in about two-thirds of a day. I’ll show you more shopping spree photos in my next posting. Now that you’ve seen these photos and learned that I shop ‘til I drop, would you want to shop with me in Beijing?


Monday, May 05, 2008

New York Rally to support the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games

Nearly 10,000 Chinese students, scholars and Chinese Americans held a peaceful rally May 4 in New York to support the Beijing Olympics and denounce attempts to sabotage the sporting event. You can listen to the speech from the City Councilman John Liu.

Take a look at pictures and watch the video clip about the rally in New York City. Here’s a variety of media coverage about this rally!