Active Versus Passive

In High School in California I was always told to use the active voice. Somebody "did something," "Pedro smacked Juan," "the glass fell from the rooftop." It wasn't that the baby was eaten by a dingo... no, no... "the dingo ate my baby."  

This is how headlines are written MUCHO active voice

This is how headlines are written MUCHO active voice

But the Chinese way is different.

See below: literally "In Ngau Tau Kok on Chun Wah Road an Old Fella Was Struck Dead by a Minibus."

If I sound cold and callous in using these tragic traffic accidents as grammatical showcases, I don't mean to. I just want to use a stark example of how people approach ideas differently. The constant here is grief coupled with shock coupled with voyeurism, there is a Chinese-Western commonality there. But in terms of how those ideas are thought of and conveyed, I think there are some subtle cultural differences.

And those bones of contention, the backstreets where Chinese and Western disagree, well, that's where there's tension, and that's where there is an enormous blue sky of untapped cultural space to explore. 

That's where I want to be. Ask me questions. Tell me a story. Let's explore it together.

Rebuttal to Eric Liu's 8/29 Piece in WSJ

I was browsing the WSJ, on its very capable iOS app, and came across the headline: “Why I Can’t Just Become Chinese” by Eric Liu. A headline like that jumps out at you, especially if you are writing an upcoming book on Chinese and Western culture as I am. So, naturally I clicked on it. 

I didn’t know what to expect, really, but I think Mr. Liu gets it wrong. I think he gets both China and the U.S. wrong.

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Mixed Pedagogy: ISF Academy Hong Kong

Basically, they (ISF) are offering a curriculum intense enough to develop high-functioning Chinese language skills, but in a Western, non force-fed, curiosity-stimulating format. To paraphrase how ISF insiders described it, their academy is high-octane Chinese with a Western Pedagogy. The Headmaster, Malcolm Pritchard, embodies this himself,  blending the Brahmin Anglo boarding school vibe with cracking Jiangnan-accented Chinese.  

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Cantonese and Other Dialects

I met someone in Hong Kong the other night from a publicly listed Chinese Tech company. His company is headquartered in Shenzhen. I wondered whether or not he speaks Cantonese (粵語,廣東話,or more colloquially on the Mainland 廣州話).

Baidu gives a number of eighty dialects, but the specifics of what counts as a dialect and what doesn’t is a doozy. To those hailing from smaller communities, which in China probably means entities containing fewer than 100,000 people, with fewer tongues speaking that particular vintage of local dialect, why doesn’t theirs “count?” To Beijingers for example, the Cantonese dialect that is spoken by about as many people as speak Italian around the world, Cantonese is “earthy.” It is “bird talk.” If a Beijinger wants to amp up the insult factor, they would call a Cantonese speaker, or probably a speaker of any other dialect, a “bird person.”

It turns out he does speak Cantonese- that is his lingo. Anyone who visits Hong Kong and predicts that because Mandarin is more and more commonly heard, means that this comes at the expense of Cantonese, only has part of the picture. Hong Kong's facility in English is what is declining- but with tens of millions+ strong native Canto speakers in the Mainland, and a wider group who speak it as a second tongue (I'm thinking Fujiannese, Guangxinese, Hainannese), Cantonese is doing just fine.