Maria Holland

Americans Can’t “Can’t Dance”, Chinese Can’t “Can’t Sing”

In Uncategorized on July 9, 2015 at 10:45 am

After a string of early mornings (5am, 7am, and 6am) I got to sleep in today!  It was glorious.  But then it was hot when I biked into work :-/

I had Hainan chicken rice for lunch – probably the best thing I’ve eaten in the cafeteria, and the cafeteria food is actually really good here.  Part of it could have been that I had really low expectations – I thought Zhao Yan told me it was 酸 (suān, sour), but he actually said 蒜 (suàn, garlic).  I was pleasantly surprised :)

As we were eating, a woman walked by us wearing a dress with little pretzels all over it.  Ugh, China, it’s hard enough for me to live here when everyone is in cute dresses that they don’t sell in my size, but a pretzel dress???  That’s a low blow.  As bad as the pineapple dress I saw when we shopping a few weeks ago.  It’s like meeting the man of your dreams and then meeting his beautiful wife, and all those other terrible things Alanis sings about.  

I asked Cheng and Zhao Yan what kind of music they like to listen to, and Cheng said, stuff like Domino, that’s happy and makes you want to move.  I asked her if she likes to dance, and both of them said they can’t.  They don’t know how, they’ve never been to a club, and they feel awkward because they don’t know how to move.  I think this is so interesting.  In the US, it seems like very few people “can’t dance”.  Clubs and bars are a part of life, and eventually most people figure out some way to move their bodies to music, at least when forced to by social conventions, like weddings.  In China, though, singing is kind of like this.  Everyone can sing, perhaps not well, but karaoke is such a staple that no one would straight up refuse to do it.  

In my opinion, though (as a lover of both activities!) that it’s not so much that people “can’t”, but that they “won’t”.  Most people dance a little awkwardly, and many people don’t have beautiful voices.  You either forget this and enjoy yourself, or stay on the sidelines.  In the US, it’s acceptable to “can’t sing”, but not as much “can’t dance”; in China you can 不会跳舞 but you can’t 不会唱歌.  Goal for the next few weeks: take Cheng dancing. 

I asked my labmates if they would help me translate the abstract of my last paper into Chinese, and they were confused as to why I wanted this.  I’m learning a decent amount of technical Chinese (today: boundary conditions, initial conditions, equilibrium equations, gradient, derive, and partial derivative) but I still can’t really explain my research to non-engineers.  I wish I could do that in Chinese like I can in English – is that too much to ask?  I asked them if their parents know what they do, and GuoYang told me he tried explaining it to his dad when he was learning about finite elements in college.  He told his dad that, if you have a cantilevered beam and bend it, I can tell that the highest stress will be right where it’s attached.  His dad responded, Even I know that!  I don’t that he tried anymore after that, haha.  

I left the lab at 8:45pm.  At home I almost never stay this late – I either go home to make dinner or have some event with free food.  But here, I get lunch at work, don’t have anything to do at home like clean my apartment, and have no commitments, social or otherwise.  So I find myself regularly staying until 8 or 9.  When I left, I found myself thinking about how I could use a cold drink – milk tea, of course, not beer.  Sometimes I feel reluctant to get Coco, as if I don’t deserve it or something, but usually convince myself to stop by.  It’s a $1 indulgence that brings me so much pleasure, and it will not be available to me for much longer!

A friend of mine from Stanford arrived in Beijing last night for a several-week-long conference.  I got a WeChat message from her shortly afterwards:

So, I’m experience something weird.  My hotel has internet, but I can’t connect to facebook OR my Stanford email.  Is that a thing?

Haha, yeah, it’s very much a thing.  That’s got to be a rough introduction to China if you don’t know it’s coming.  I wonder if she knows she has to bring her own toilet paper to the bathroom . . . maybe I should compile a list for situations like this.  


Today I learned: 

“Dog paddle” is an international concept.  Zhao Yan and 国洋 were talking about swimming, and 国洋 said he could 狗刨.  I recognized the first word as ‘dog’ and immediately knew what he was talking about.  

“Spherical cow” is not an international concept.  I showed them my explanation of mechanics, and they had a lot of questions about why the cow was round.  

You can send postcards without having to pry international postcard stamps from the hands of a stubborn post office worker!  I paid the postage and the guy just stamped them and said that was okay.  The second batch of postcards, 14 of them, went in the mail this morning!

Birkenstocks and sandals like that are called 人字拖, because the straps look like the character 人.

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