Monday, June 22, 2009


Marketing is an amazing (and funny) thing.  Consider the plight of The Midland Certified Reagent Company, manufacturers of quality oligonucleotides. I don't care how nerdy your clientele is, I would imagine that trying to produce an ad for these guys must be quite a challenge.  Here's the small text ad they came up with in the 03 Feburary 2006 issue of Science Magazine.

  "Quality ...

  is like buying oats.  If you want nice, clean, fresh oats, you have to pay a fair price for them.  Oats that have already been through the horse come a bit cheaper."

  I don't care what you think, it takes a creative mind to come up with this tagline and their management had to have some balls for approving it.  Think of it, in Science Magazine, they just managed to characterize their (cheaper) competitors products as sh*t ... and they got away with it. *genius*

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Sunday, February 01, 2009

Bad Acronym Decisions

I know that I should be making inciseful and interesting observations about American culture since I've just moved back to the United States. All of that will have to wait until I get the following off my chest.

My new office building in Houston also houses a company called Financial Analysis Group.
I would do anything to not have that be the acronym for my company.


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Nv Ren Bu Huai - Women aren't bad

Nv Ren Bu Huai, Nan Ren Bu Ai (女人不坏男人不爱) - If women aren't bad, men can't love. Recently heard from a friend who was not happy with ... men. The translation in English doesn't quite convey the full meaning and judgement behind the saying but it's the best I can do. It's a great summary of the standard impression that women have of men. :) What kind of response can a man make to this kind of statement (other then a lame attempt to switch the men and women in the sentence)?

I'm trying to make sure I live my life in Beijing in such a way that I never have to hear this comment directed at me.

Updates are red: I got some comments that the saying includes an "if" that I neglected in my translation. As you can see, the "if" makes a big difference and totally changes the meaning of the sentence.


Monday, November 17, 2008

Going Sailing - Connection Made

The sailing race for us began in Hong Kong; which does not speak the same Pu Tong Hua language that is spoken in Beijing. While the written script is all the same (Traditional and Simplified), the spoken language is completely different.
During my visit to Hong Kong, the inability of the locals to speak Pu Tong Hua was ... infuriating! I found that I was annoyed at being in a part of China (just let me say this for argument's sake) and not being able to use the Chinese that I have worked so hard to learn. I know that I could have switched to English (with difficulty) but I wanted/expected to speak Chinese!
What did I learn? I have integrated into Local Chinese society much more than I had realized. It kind of sneaks up on you. I can manage to function in Beijing in a way that is impossible in Hong Kong. Although infuriating, I became much more aware of how easily I can move through life in Beijing with my (admittedly poor) Chinese. Sometimes you need to break a connection in order to realize how strong it has become.

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Monday, September 01, 2008

English is Hard! - Soon, recent, when?

I know I've been very lucky to have learned English as a native language (yes, even though I'm Indian; it is our native language!).  As I've spent more and more time with people who are still learning English, I am exposed to concepts that I thought were easy but really weren't.  Why are they fun to blog about?  Because it's sweet revenge for the all of the Chinese concepts that I can't grok but the Chinese this are second-nature.

Recent vs. Soon: With differing concepts of time, the idea of expressing recent vs. soon is quite difficult.  Strangely enough, the words just don't translate cleanly and this leads to lots of people saying, "I'll do that recently."  If you think that's funny, the Chinese probably hear much funnier things out of my mouth when I try to say the same sentence in Chinese.

Soon always applies to events in the future but translates as:

  • 不久- not long 
  • 很快 - very fast
  • 早 - early

Recent always applies to events in the past:

  • 最近的 - most close - must be connected to a specific instance of time (e.g. year, epoch, etc.)
  • 全新世 - I have no idea about this one, don't know what it means.
  • 今 - close or near

No wonder the Chinese get this wrong all the time.  It's obviously not a simple concept.  I'm beginning to the think that the english concept of soon and recent is extremely simplified and ambiguous.


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

It's Called the Olympics ... stupid!

Ao yun hui (奥运会) - Olympics.  It took me an embarrassingly long time to learn the characters and correct pinyin for the Olympics.  I kept thinking they would use something that sounded more like O-lee but it was not to be.  However, I recently discovered that instead of using this name, some of the locals in Beijing are referring to the Olympics as nao yun hui (闹运会).  In a fit of inspiration, they have replaced the first character with another that means ... trouble (as in: to stir up).  What a great insight into how the normal man on the street has both pride in the Olympics being in China but also an understanding of how much trouble the Olympics has caused to their daily life.

As you might imagine, the story is not over.  I was none too pleased to here the following word used during the opening ceremonies.  After all my trouble to understand and memorize the words above, they go and use this at the actual event: ao lin pi ke (奥林匹克).

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Monday, September 03, 2007

Zhi Ma Kai Men - Open ...

Zhi ma kai men - Literally, means "sesame open door". Figuratively, it means "open sesame." Not much more to say about it except; How cool is that? It's a direct, literal translation of what Ali Baba used to gain access to the treasures of the theives he ... huh ... stole from.

Usage (while standing in front of a door and waving your arms like a magician): Zhi ma kai men. (Open sesame)


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Er Bai Wu - I'm the Fool

Er bai wu : Literally means "250". Figuratively, it refers to the subject as being silly. Among close friends, it's a cute term but when applied to someone else, it's quite a malicious put-down (maybe it translates better as feeble-minded?). As a result, almost no local chinese will ever negotiate a price of 250 yuan for anything they buy. How did I find out? I bargained an item to 250 yuan, listened to the snickering and thought I was overpaying. Later, I come to find out that I had bargained to a fool's price (quite literally).

Usage: Ni er bai wu. (You're silly.)


Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Chi Doufu - Eating Tofu

As I begin integrating (a bit) more into chinese culture, I'm finally becoming privy to a host of new and interesting slang. Here's the first gem:
chi doufu: Literally, means "eat tofu". Used in nightclub/bar settings to refer to a guy who just interested in eating a girl's tofu. Before you get worked up, the tofu here refers to the girl's skin (being that most chinese girls have the same white skin color as tofu).  Guys who are out just to hold, caress, kiss and grope a girl's body fall into this category.  I don't think there is a related term for the obvious next step in the relationship; even though english abounds with such food references.  I'm not sure I like the sound of "eat tempeh".
Usage: Ta xiang chi ni doufu (He wants to eat your tofu).