Oct 072011
Tidbits: Broken Trail

Broken Trail is an award-winning, made-for-TV Western about two men on a horse drive who rescue five young Chinese women who are being sold by human traffickers. Chinese is spoken at several points in the film. One scene (clip below) of particular interest is when Robert Duvall’s character decides to number the young women (communication between the parties is not yet good enough for him to get their names), going from one to five. The eldest realizes what he is doing and explains to the others (“他在给我们号码 / 他在給我們號碼 / tā zài gěi wǒmen hàomǎ”), one of whom vehemently objects to being “four.”  ”Four” is generally considered to be an unlucky number in Chinese because 四 sì is a near homophone of 死 sǐ “to die” (see Wikipedia on Numbers in Chinese Culture). It’s kind of interesting that the closed captions include a translation of the proposed number four saying … [read more]

Jul 262011
Chinese on American Dad

 In the episode “Every Which Way But Lose” of the cartoon American Dad, Steve’s football team includes a Chinese boy (in the audio commentary to the episode, one of the show’s creators says that the look of the character was based on an old friend of his.). Normally Steve’s Japanese friend, Toshi, is the only character who doesn’t speak English, so having a Chinese speaker around causes some tension. Here’s what I believe he’s saying: 就象熊猫在竹林里,我们 就象熊貓在竹林里,我們 jiù xiàng xióngmāo zài zhúlín lǐ, wǒmen Note: this approx. 6-second clip is presented for educational purposes. If you are the copyright holder and object to this usage, please contact me. The episode “Every Which Way But Lose” is available on  and iTunes.

May 022011
Avatar: The Last Airbender - Aang

Avatar: The Last Airbender is an animated series, not to be confused with that later movie with the blue aliens, although A:TLA did spawn a live-action feature film as well. Although the setting is a fantasy world, it is heavily influenced by various Asian cultures and I enjoy watching for the Chinese bits that come up (I actually do like the show a lot generally). Names of people and things are one fruitful area. For example, the protagonist’s name Aang seemed obviously to be a rendering of Chinese 安 ān ‘peace’, like the given name of the director Ang Lee 李安 (pinyin: Lǐ Ān). But Aang’s name is written using two Chinese characters 安昂 (ān áng) which can be understood as ‘peaceful soaring’ (see the Avatar Wiki), specifically  in the episode “Tales of Ba Sing Se” (according to Wikipedia). The use of Chinese isn’t gratuitous; it tends to be meaningful in the context. Aang’s name is entirely appropriate for a … [read more]

Apr 282011
Random sighting: 请愿书

A letter showed up in my department (which is not an East Asian dept. vel sim.) bearing a sticker with Chinese on it. I was puzzled since I recognized the three individual characters 请愿书 (qǐng yuàn shū) but didn’t know what they might mean together. And I didn’t think they meant “important.” A quick iPhone dictionary check and I learned the Chinese for “petition.”