Maria Holland

O Come, All Ye Faithful

In Uncategorized on December 23, 2009 at 1:01 am

Listening class was really interesting today.  Read my translation of this passage on “The Men of China’s North, South, East, and West”:

There are a lot of differences between the men and women of each place in China . . . First off, men from Beijing love to talk the most and even like to chat with strangers, which isn’t often seen in other cities in China.  It is the custom of most taxi drivers in Beijing to talk to their passengers about what they’ve seen and heard.  “Beijing-speak” is pleasant to hear, and makes passengers forget about their worries.

Men from Shanghai are the most polite, but it’s hard to know what they really think.  In their homes, women are the most important.  Men are very kind to their wives, which is why people think Shanghai women are the most fortunate.

Men from the northeast are uninhibited.  They like to drink, but they usually don’t drink at home.  Western-style fast food really doesn’t do well because whether it’s McDonald’s or KFC, none of them allow customers to drink.  Towards women, they more often than not extremely friendly, and when couples are in public the husband usually plays the role of protector.

Men from Guangdong (Canton) are the easiest to recognize – short with strong bodies, relatively dark skin, big mouths, big noses, and big eyes.  They are thin but not weak, with a lot of energy.  They’re the most likely to drive a deal, but at the same time they are very generous, and finding sponsors for activities in Guangdong is very easy.

First of all, it seems broad to me to generalize not only entire provinces but entire regions, but I can accept that as a difference between the social geography of our countries.  In America, there’s east vs. west, north vs. south, coasts vs. ‘flyover territory’, cities vs. suburbs vs. rural areas – and that’s just for starters.  In China, there is Beijing (aka, ‘the North’), Shanghai (aka, ‘the South’), the northeast and Guangdong.  That whole HUGE part of China anywhere west of Hong Kong?  Don’t worry about it, it’s not important . . .

But, all that aside, I can kind of follow up until the last paragraph.  Then I just get totally lost because there’s no place like that in America.  Describing people physically based on their place of residence is such a non-sequitur in America that it just about blows my mind.

Anyway, it was a really interesting dialogue.  Afterwards, our teacher added that actually, most people think the best husbands come from Hubei because they cook really well and do household chores.  (We asked her if she had found a good Hubei husband yet and she said she’s still looking).  Apparently guys around here aren’t prime marrying material because, while they tend to be rich in Fujian, this makes them view household chores as below them.

There was another interesting passage on directions:

Woman: Let me tell you – the first time I came to Beijing, I asked someone how to get to the bus station.  He said “Head straight north to the intersection, then turn west and it will be on the north side of the street.”  I then asked again, “I’m sorry, is north that way?”  The man looked at me, dumbfounded, as if I were a crazy person – how could I not know which way was north?

Man: You really can’t tell which way is north?!

Woman: You don’t understand, we southerners aren’t used to using “north, south, east, and west” to express directions.  We usually say “forward, backward, left, and right” – for example, “Walk straight ahead to the intersection, then turn left and it will be on the right side of the street.”  This way is very clear!  You can figure it out with just your body, whereas you need the sun and streets to figure out “north, south, east, and west”.  It just makes things confusing for first-time visitors to Beijing. . . Also, Beijing taxi drivers don’t use maps and street names to recognize streets, they just rely on the environment.  For example, cross the intersection, at the tree turn back, then there’s a red house.  But if they go to a new place, it can be a problem and they can waste a lot of time in vain.  Taxi drivers in Shanghai are good at figuring things out; if they know a street name they can take you where you want to go.

Man: I think there are a lot of reasons for this difference – for example, the weather.  In the south it is often cloudy and rains and you can go the whole day without seeing the sun.  If somebody doesn’t have a compass on their person, it would be very hard to tell which way is north, south, east, or west.  In Beijing it’s often clear and you can see the sun all day, so it’s easy to tell directions.

Woman: It’s definitely related to weather, but it also might be related to terrain.  In the south, there are a lot of mountains.  In cities, buildings are built around mountains so the roads twist and wind.  It’s not like in the north, where cities usually don’t have mountains and the streets are really square – if it’s not east-west, it’s north-south.  So to people who live there, north-south-east-west is really clear, but to southerners it is confusing.

This is an area of personal challenge for me, as I find the Chinese language (on which I have made progress in a year) easier than telling north-south-east-west (on which I have made almost no progress in 21 years).  Left and right is so much easier to me, but I always have this sort of argument with my friends who disagree – most often in the past, boyfriends who can’t tell left from right and inexplicably excel at cardinal directions.

Anyway, this passage resounded with a sign seen on my recent trip to Wuyishan:


It also reminded me of a story from my second trip to China.  I got into a taxi with some of my fellow travelers and, as we drove, I decided to try out some of my new vocabulary.  Pointing out the driver’s side window, I said “zuǒ” (left); out my window, “yòu” (right); and out the windshield, “qián” (forward).  She looked at me like I was speaking some other language and corrected me, pointing the same way as I did but instead saying “xī dōng běi nán”.  I was deeply troubled by this, as my Chinese ‘teacher’ Xiao Zhang had definitely taught me “zuǒ yòu qián hóu” and he understood me when I said them.  Why, then, were these words not working with this other Chinese?  I decided she was speaking a different dialect or was, herself, crazy and thought no more of it.

Fast forward a month or so – my Chinese is progressing, as is that of my friends.  We’re working our way through children’s picture dictionaries on a bus ride to the next town over when Alli lets out a sigh/exclamation of understanding.  (It’s a sound I make frequently in the process of learning Chinese: OOOOOOOooooh!)  She turns around to me and says, “Remember those weird words that that taxi driver was using?  They mean north, south, east, and west.”

I felt pretty stupid after that.  But seriously, if someone pointed left and asked if that was called ‘left’, would you correct them and call it ‘north’ (or whatever)?  I wouldn’t; that’s just mean.

Wow, I didn’t intend this whole post to be about those two listening passages.  The real excitement of the day started after class was done for the day.  I had lunch, cleaned up my room, and then one of my Thai friends, Pun, came over to help me bake cookies.  We basically turned the entire room into a kitchen – melting butter on the hotplate on Leinira’s chair, mixing dry ingredients on her bed, sitting on my bed to watch the oven on top of the refrigerator.

The first batch was just two cookies, which is good because I burned them.


My ‘oven’ (or the closest thing to one that exists in China) has exactly two settings – on and off – and apparently ‘on’ is really really hot.  They’re supposed to cook for 10 minutes at 375F, but after 5 minutes at ‘on’, they were burnt.  We ate them anyway, and went on to improve our timing and technique as we baked another 43 cookies.


Another Thai friend, Bu, joined us later and helped with the cookie making.


Despite having to bake them in batches of 4 or 6, the whole process was surprisingly quick – less than 2 hours from start to finish.  Also, the recipe calls for less ingredients than I thought so I can make more batches than I originally calculated :)  The only ingredients I can’t buy at the small local supermarket are baking soda and vanilla, both of which my mother sent me.  The sugar grains are larger than I’m used to and the brown sugar is very molasses-y, but the cookies turned out well so who cares?

I enjoyed the baking process, especially with the help and company of my friends.  When we were done, I began calling other friends to come over for either a taste of home or their first taste of fresh-baked cookies.  Throughout the afternoon and evening, I was visited by friends from Thailand, Korea, the Philippines, Mexico, Sweden, Slovenia, and Austria.  As they snacked, we sat around and talked – so while I didn’t get much done today I had a very enjoyable time.

In between visits, I watched “It’s A Wonderful Life”.  Seriously, is there a better Christmas movie?  Only 11 minutes into it, I was already crying.  I love everything about that movie.  One of my favorite parts of the movie is how it shows the effects of one’s life as so far-reaching.  For instance, by saving his brother’s life when they were young, George was also responsible in a way for saving the troops on the carriers that Harry was honored for saving.  I see so much of other people in the things I’ve done, and want to share my successes and joys with those who have helped or influenced me because they’re partly theirs.  In the same way, I hope to enable others to do good things, just as I want to do good things myself.

My other favorite part of the movie is the line: “My lip is bleeding!  Isn’t it wonderful!?!  My lip is bleeding!”


  1. Sounds like a great day Maria: cookies & It’s A Wonderful Life!!
    miss you lots, but Merry Christmas! Love, Aunt Mary

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