New Threat! Water Armies All Across China

The Water Army is Coming!

Although they  sound like a new villain from a Hollywood movie, they are less scary in person. They are soldiers of propaganda, using whatever free-speech tools they can muster to win the hearts and minds of a voting public. But this is not a political tale, rather, it is a commercial one; and the votes are cast with Ren Min Bi (Chinese Yuan).

So, where does this “Water Army” come from? In fact, it is a Chinese term which has been causing difficulties for consumer protection around the Chinese Internet.  Imagine you go to a forum online and look for information about insurance, a new car, or even a toaster. Hundreds or thousands of these soldiers are hired for cheap, usually ¥0.7 RMB ($.01) per post, and begin a campaign to sway public opinion toward or against various products. In a country where the average worker makes 20-25RMB ($3) per hour, it is economically feasible for Water Armies to exist. Continue reading New Threat! Water Armies All Across China

The Chinese Way to Get Hit by a Cement Truck

Spun around!

When someone says “I feel like I got hit by a speeding bus,” I now know what they mean from personal experience. Actually, it was a cement truck and it was attempting to slow down when it hit us. Our driver was caught off guard by a parked van in the lane for the off ramp and hit his breaks just in time… that’s when most people look around and brace for the second impact…. which I discovered was a truck… and its screech was deafening.

With a steely crunch, our taxi was sent spinning 180° and left facing oncoming traffic. Our trunk was smashed into the back seat and glass showered over us. I checked my friend for wounds immediately. Neither of us got injured, thank God, but we were trapped in the back seat for a little while because the doors were pinched shut. We were lucky and I was bizarrely calm while my friend was passing out. I agree with people when they say “it could have been a lot worse.” Continue reading The Chinese Way to Get Hit by a Cement Truck

Ben’s Five Year Plan: 2011-2015

Creating a New World...

The Chinese 12th Five-Year Plan (FYP) is being decided upon by the National People’s Congress this month; March 2011. It’s a tradition for centralized, authoritative governments to use this kind of policy making “plan”. Of course, The Party has drifted away from its soviet roots into the protector of the current socialist market economy. We’ll probably keep hearing about these plans in global news media for years to come.

Hearing this news got me starting to think about my FYP. My father often thought about our family plans in 5-10 year increments… especially when moving house. So how would I consider my last fiver years compared to my next five years?

I moved to China in 2005, but found the cozy city of Zhuhai in 2006.  Technically, I’ve been in Zhuhai for 5 years studying Chinese, exploring some website ventures, teaching English, and travelling around Asia. But the next five years are going to look pretty different.
Here are my tasks and goals: Continue reading Ben’s Five Year Plan: 2011-2015

HSK: Certify Your Chinese

Enter the Dragon...

For the past few weeks I’ve been away from AsianLiving to work on a long-standing goal of mine: Crush the HSK. Conquering this exam has been an interest of mine since 2007. At that time I had already been in China for 1 year and started feeling pretty confident about my daily-use Chinese. I had already traveled to the Yellow Mountains by myself and played tour guide for my brother’s New Year visit. But little did I know that there would be a beast of an exam waiting to swallow me whole…

The Chinese proficiency exam (HSK) is the only standardized test of Standard Mandarin for non-native speakers. It is administered by the Chinese government through Han Ban, the “China National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language.” With a scale of 1-6, HSK basically tests your ability to memorize the minuscule differences among verbs, pronouns, prepositions, etc. My goal is to get 4, but that is REALLY hard. HSK has been pummeled by complaints over the years for its lack of practicality. So, they created CTEST in 2006 for students to certify their daily-use Chinese and, for the first time, speaking!

When I put off taking the exam in 2007 I had become busy with other projects. In 2009 I had signed up for a Fall exam in Guangzhou, but became too busy to attend the scheduled exam… but now, I’m ready! I will not let it slip through my fingers again! Expected a republished article about my experience preparing for this exam when it is over…

After November 28th I will get back to Asianliving and update with some new recipes I’ve learned! A new Toufu recipe is coming + a tasty vegetable dish that floats!

Wish me luck!

DIY Holiday Dumplings

Wonton Wrappers

Another Mid-Autumn Festival and National Day week have come and gone here in China! This time is important here for two reasons: first, to celebrate the moon at its fullest; and second, to commemorate the founding of “New China” in 1949. Last year was the 60th anniversary, which is thought of as an important age for growth and maturity in a person.

But a romantic evening under a full moon is incomplete without one thing: homemade Dumplings! Last week a colleague invited me to his family’s house to make dumplings from scratch. (Actually, we bought the little dough wrappings… but everything else was really fresh!) I suggest buying dumpling wrappings from your local Asian food store or major grocer chain. Here are “Wonton Wrappers” available on Amazon.

Before we get started, I should mention that dumplings are generally a once or twice a month thing in Chinese households; similar to our pizza or pasta nights I remember from growing up. In this case, it is a great way to bring the family together for a bonding session. 10 per person should be enough. On this most recent occasion, we added a pan-fried fish and a tarot-root soup to make it a full meal for 5.

Dumpling Prep

1~ PREP filling: Fresh meat is crucial to good dumplings. I prefer pork, but you can use anything you want! Grind up about 1 pound (.5kg) and put in a bowl. In the picture we added corn, but I wouldn’t suggest it.

2~ Spice the meat how you prefer, but we used a few splashes of soy sauce, some sugar, and turmeric. It’s better to go light on the seasoning at this point.

3~ Shred celery and carrots. Mix thoroughly with the meat you have prepped. Feel free to use clean hands to mash it all together. (Great task for a kid with some self-control!) Continue reading DIY Holiday Dumplings

Chinese Black Beans

Chinese Black Bean
Chinese Black Beans

I wouldn’t really call these “Black Beans”, but they are black and from the bean variety… so, there you go. Actually, these are Fermented Soya Beans and require a little work to get ready, but are a nice savory addition to Chinese dishes. I bought my first box of 豆豉 “Dou Chi”, while preparing Ginger Fish with a leader at my university here in Guangdong province.

If you want to buy authentic beans, look for this package:

Yang Jiang Dou Chi
Yang Jiang Dou Chi

How to prepare: Basically, consider these black beans as raw materials that have residue from the fermentation process. They are dirty and need a little washing. Rinse them through warm water and let them sit in a bowl while preparing the other ingredients for your dish.

Read about Japanese “Nattō” on wikipedia, which is a watery version and consumed as a breakfast food. Here are some highlights of the medicinal benefits:  Reducing the likelihood of various types of blood clots; Preventing or treating “amyloid-type” diseases such as Alzheimer’s[*2009]; Due to large amounts of vitamin K it can assist with bone formation and prevent osteoporosis; It may have a cholesterol-lowering affect[*2006]

Asian Food Markets

Click here to find your nearest Asian Market

Most cities with at least 50,000 people in America are bound to have some kind of Asian market. It might be Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, or any other Asian nationality. That shouldn’t be a problem because all Asian food is awesome!

The map to the right will help you find your closest Asian food market. Just keep clicking in the area of your city or town to eventually find it! If you are good with Google, you could substitute “usa” with “[your town]” to search faster. Continue reading Asian Food Markets

Learning Chinese Tools and Sites

As I have pushed myself down the path of Chinese learning, there are a number of resources that I couldn’t have lived without. Others are good blogs that shouldn’t go unnoticed.

I swear by Nciku as my number one choice for Simplified and Traditional Chinese learners. It is also useful for Chinese learning English. This multilingual dictionary got start in 2007 and became very popular in a number of months. I use Nciku Mini more often because it reduces the Ads and speeds up lookups.

Nicetranslator is a mashup of google’s translation api, I believe. That means the function created by Google is available to website developers and I think this one really nailed it! Translate loads of text into or from 60+ languages. Its also easy to use and it offers a good widget for blogs that need sidebar translation. See how my website for Online Learning uses it.

John Pasden is a host of ChinesePod, the most successful podcast for learning Chinese,  and developed a pretty cool blog in 2002  called Sinosplice. He has loads of articles that are based on his life experiences in China and the learning of Chinese. I have been keeping up with his blog for some years now. It is great for those who are planning a trip to China and want to prepare for what to expect!

Without overloading you with too many resources, I would say that the above are a great start.

If you have any suggestions, please comment below!

Funny Chinese Blogosphere

Living in China is full of reasons to laugh everyday. Its just so different! Sometimes the differences get old, but there is always room for more laughter. Until recently, there was no way for a Westerner to even understand a smidgen of what I’m talking about until China Smack and China Hush came around. (I personally find China Smack more entertaining…) More social commentary can be found at the China Beat too.

The Internet is one big, open web but in many parts of the world it is not. There is a national firewall in China and other dictatorial states in the world have their own Internet. North Korea has its own Internet too. However, for outsiders looking in, there is still a lot for us to read and discuss; much more than we would have thought in the early-90s. So, go ahead, and enjoy the mini-blogospheres of the world!