Bright and Sunny

It’s bright and sunny in Shanghai; I slept in as long as I could, but I had to get up when I heard the cleaning lady.

We just had a long, hilarious, and frustrating conversation about 红豆饼,


so right now, the Great Fire Wall is preventing me from seeing and downloading respectable-sized pictures of hong dou bing, so what you see is what you get. So these little sandwiches of pancake batter and filling are baked off in an electric griddle in the shape of hockey pucks….  My question for the cleaning lady was, “what are these called in Chinese.”  The little card I took from the shop calls them 红豆饼 (red bean cakes) and then says there are other flavors as well; custard cream, peanut butter, taro, blacks sesame seed… and tuna.

Anyway, I tried to ask what these particular pancake pucks are called in Chinese, and all I got was “red bean cake.”  I asked, what if it’s filled with custard cream?  “Custard cream cake.”  Peanut butter?  “Peanut butter cream cake.”

Is there one name for this whole class of pancake puck?   Yes, she answered.  Yes.  There is one name for each flavor, red bean cake, custard cream cake….

But is there a single word that describes all these kinds of cakes?   Yes, she said.  Each flavor has a separate name.

So if I told my friend, I said, if I told my friend that I was going out to get “red bean cakes” and ask him what flavor he wants…. No, she interrupts, red bean is red bean.

So… what if I’m going out for “red bean cakes” and want to ask my friend what flavor he likes?  Don’t ask him, she said, just by the kind you like.   Custard cream is good. Be careful, because tuna is not sweet.

So I’ll just call all of them 饼 (cakes).  Yes.

But there are many kinds of 饼!  Fried 饼, steamed 饼, baked 饼… what do you call this specific kind of 饼?

Well, she says, this one is red bean, this one is custard cream, this one is tuna…


I’m asking the landlord to take his two massive TV sets and the ugly ass desks he has them sitting on, as well as the stereo/vcr cabinet with separate floor speakers, which don’t work.  Na zou le!  Get it out of here!


Unfogged linked to a blog called Stuff White People Like, and I subsequently read it from cover to cover (so to speak).  It’s so funny how resistant white americans are to being addressed as a cultural group (Zero-culture hypotheses; they think that they’re just “normal”).  What’s also funny is how defensive some of the commenters are about the crimes of ‘generalization’ and ‘innacuracy.’  Hurts, don’t it!  Ha ha, suckers, do you think America is some equality party where everyone gets to live their entire life without critically examining their own cultural tendencies?  Shut up and eat your fusion cuisine.


The cleaning lady gifted me a big packet of pistachios and some candied Mandarin oranges.  Gong xi fa cai!  According to custom, I claimed I was too embarrassed, tried refuse, and then accepted the gift.  I didn’t get her anything from the Philippines, whoops.


Praxis Language founder and visionary Ken Carroll was interviewed for a New York Times article on internet language learning today, and gave SpanishPod a shout out.  I will post my thoughts over at fluency.

4 thoughts on “Bright and Sunny

  1. Hmmm… frustration with the language… could this lead to more empathizing with newbie learners?? (Yeah, OK, probably not.)

    That Stuff White People Like site is hilarious! Nice find. I liked this paragraph:

    If you are in a situation where a white person produces an empty bottle, watch their actions. They will first say “where’s the recycling?” If you say “we don’t recycle,” prepare for some awkwardness. They will make a move to throw the bottle away, they will hesitate, and then ultimately throw the bottle away. But after they return look in their eyes. All they can see is the bottle lasting forever in a landfill, trapping small animals. It will eat at them for days, at this point you should say “I’m just kidding, the recycling is under the sink. Can you fish out that bottle?” And they will do it 100% of the time!

    Now I must go continue reading.


  2. I’m probably one of the white people who resists being addressed as a cultural group. That’s mostly because I find the subcultures have dramatically different experiences, and by painting with a broad stroke, you miss those differences.

    For example, city versus suburban versus rural living is all very different, then layered up on that is the differences between poor white, rich white and middle class white etc…

    The Stuff White People Like isn’t really about ‘white people,’ it’s about a specific subset of white people. And that’s okay.


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