ポリグロット(数か国語に通じる人)を目指して~
中国人の父にオランダで育てられました。 日本語を勉強しながら、ベトナム人の彼氏と一緒に暮らしています。

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

If you're not ready for Murakami yet ~ Reading Guide

You have probably heard about Haruki Murakami if you ever tried to start reading Japanese literature. But what I hear often is that people are intimidated by the amount of books Murakami wrote and don't know where to start. I just finished an amazing novel called 'Strangers'which is kind of written in the same vibe Murakami writes his books in. This book is perfect to read before starting on Murakami books or to prepare yourself for Japanese literature. Also for you bookworms who are accustomed to American fantasy novels this eerie ghost story is very refreshing to read. I will introduce you to Taichi Yamada's 'Strangers' today.




Introduction
This book does the magic blending surreal elements into reality in an unique way. It is a nice compact easy to read book and sucks you in from the first chapter.
'Strangers' is narrated by a middle-aged man called Hideo Harada, a television scriptwriter who is recently divorced and is living in an apartment building where most of the apartments are used as offices, leaving the building abandoned in the evening. One night he looks up at the building and notices a lit window and discovers there lives a young attractive woman called 'Kei', which he starts an affair with. A short time after, he goes back to Asakusa where he grew up as a kid before his parents were killed in a car accident. He finds a man who looks exactly like his father at the age he died. The man invites him for a beer at his house and Hideo accepts the invitation, trying to find out more about the man who resembles his father. Arrived at his house, Hideo becomes even more confused to find out the man's wife looks exactly like his mother. As confused as he is, he feels comfortable at the 10 year younger couple's house who treat him like their son. He visits the couple again and again while also building on his relationship with Kei. However Kei puts him in a difficult position, he has to choose between his nostalgic past or embrace the present.
The supernatural feel of the book makes you curious about what is coming after the current chapter and makes you keep reading. With surprising plot twists and an amazing ending Taichi Yamada (who is a famous script writer himself) draws you in to the story.
I do have to say, as subtle as Yamada's way of storytelling is, the translation is less subtle. A sushi chef saying 'Yo' to his customers? I don't think so. Also the translations of the father speaking casually to his son, might be a translated a little too casual. But you amazing translators can see for yourself if you agree to this one.

More 'Strangers'
Apparently 'Strangers' has also been made into a movie which is called  異人たちとの夏 (ijintachi to no natsu) and is directed by Nobuhiko Obayashi, who also made 'The Girl Who Leapt Trough Time'.
It was released in the US under the name of 'The Discarnates'. I have to find the movie somewhere and then see if it is as good as the book. Since it is listed everywhere as a horror movie I do need to come up with some courage though.

Try this short novel to awaken your interest in Japanese literature. It is not really a horror, so if you keep that out of your mind it is an amazing novel.
Please tell me what you
thought of the book when you read it!

~mei mei

Friday, 31 October 2014

Chinese Halloween a.k.a. ''Hungry Ghost Festival'' 鬼节 - No selfies allowed!

















Happy Halloween to my dear readers!

Hope your enjoying your day with pumpkin carving, dressing up and watching creepy movies. Ever wondered if they celebrate Halloween in China? Well they do! But of course not in the way you would expect it.

Ghost Festival is written as 鬼节 (guǐ jié) and consists of the character 鬼 meaning 'ghost' and 节 meaning festival. Nowadays it's also called 'Hungry Ghost Festival'.
If you want to 'celebrate' Halloween the Chinese way you are actually too late already. Ghost Festival is held on the 14th or 15th night of the seventh month every year and it's not really a celebration at all. Chinese people cannot wait for it to be over. They believe that during this time of the year the gates of both heaven and hell are open, which allows ghosts and spirits to entertain themselves at earth. These ghosts are said to be old ancestors who didn't get a proper send off or whose family didn't gave any offerings after they died. Families provide different offerings for these ghosts such as food, wine, incense and paper money which is said to have value in the afterlife. They are hoping that these offerings will keep the ghosts from intruding their homes and bringing misfortune. In some cities performances are held where the front rows are reserved for the ghosts. Fourteen days after the festival, people set up floating lanterns in the water to make sure all the fed ghosts find their way back to the underworld.

How to survive 'Ghost Festival'

If you want to prepare for next year already..
The whole 7th month is considered as 'Ghost Month' where the ghosts will be lurking around every corner. Here are some tips on how you can survive 'Ghost Month'.

- It is inauspicious to get married or sign important contracts.

- Wearing black will invite ghosts to come near you.

- Beware of the 水鬼 ( shuǐ guǐ ) a.k.a water ghost when you go swimming. They lurk in the water waiting to drown their victims so they can possess their bodies.

- Don't go out during the evenings.

- And last but not least.. for the modern kids; NO SELFIES allowed! You might capture a ghost instead of capturing that crush of yours with your beautiful selfie.



Thank you for reading & enjoy your Halloween!

~ mei mei


Sunday, 21 September 2014

Ultimate guide to Vietnamese sweets & desserts





















So many people asked me to write more Vietnamese related posts so here you go. In this post I will be introducing you to the world of Vietnamese desserts and sweets and show you some of my favorite Vietnamese dishes.

Core ingredients 

Vietnamese sweets and desserts are not always sweet and can also contain savory ingredients. Some of the core ingredients for desserts are; glutinous rice flour, mung beans,coconut (milk),jelly,palm sugar, cassava, tapioca, pandan,tofu and a variety of fruits such as mango, durian, longan, lychee or jackfruit.

Popular dishes
- Chè ba màu
Three colored dessert. (see top picture) This refreshing cold dessert is one of my favorite things to eat during a hot summer day. It can consist of different type of beans (red beans, kidney beans, butter beans), water chestnuts, jelly and fruits topped of with coconut milk and shaved ice to keep it cool. Depending on your taste the options are endless and there are many variations for this dish. You can enjoy this dish in many Vietnamese restaurants.

- Bánh Cam
These are fried glutinous rice balls
coated with sesame seeds. The fillings
do vary but consist mostly of mung beans and / or coconut.

Bánh Khoai Mì Nướng
Sweet cake made out of cassava, coconut and condensed milk. This super delicious cake is also a good alternative when you are on a diet since you can cut out most sugar because the cassava and coconut are already very sweet.

-Bánh Dày Đậu
Glutinous rice balls with mung bean filling. Similar to Japanese mochi this dish is made with glutinous rice and stuffed with a crushed mung bean and coconut filling. Sometimes cassava is also added or the mung beans are replaced with a other type of bean. On the right picture is my own version topped with coconut but mostly you see them topped with crushed mung beans.

-Cà phê sữa đá
Vietnamese style iced coffee. Introduced by the French and then developed by the Vietnamese. This is a really popular treat among tourists. Made with a special stainless steel filter and coarsely ground dark roast coffee, then mixed with condensed milk and served with ice.

-Kem chuối 
Banana pops. Super easy to make and amazingly delicious. Small bananas are pressed a little flat and coated with sweetened coconut milk then topped with desiccated coconut and peanuts. A Popsicle stick is pushed into the bottom and they are frozen into delicious banana Popsicles.   



I hope you gained a little more interest into Vietnamese cuisine after this post. These Vietnamese dishes are fairly simple to make but extremely delicious. Surprise yourself and your family by making one of these dishes or simply enjoy it in the convenience of your local Vietnamese restaurant. These are all worth the try!


Thank you for reading.
~ Mei Mei


Monday, 1 September 2014

The differences between a Japanese and an American business environment

After working for a Japanese company for a year I went back to school for a while. After I finished school I started working for a huge American hotel chain. Some of you asked for my thoughts on both Japanese and American companies so I am sharing my experiences with you in this post today. I hope you will understand that I am not trying to compare whether it is better to work  for a Japanese or a American company. I am just reviewing the pro's and con's of both of them so you can somehow get the feel what it is like to work for one of them. For those of you in America who are thinking about working for a Japanese company, or those who are residing in Europe I hope this will be helpful for you.

Unique Japanese business culture
The one thing I want to mention first is that even though I myself am residing in Europe, working for a American company in my opinion is not that different than working for an European company. But working for a Japanese company was a total change and it really took me some time to adapt to the Japanese work environment. The Japanese business environment is a whole sub-culture by itself with it's own customs. I will write a separate post with typical Japanese work related customs because it's to much to cover into this post. In the part below I will state some pro's and con's from my own experiences working for a Japanese company.

Pro's;

1. The Japanese are highly valued in the business market. They never fail to deliver and even go beyond the expectations. This is really true. Even though many others claim to get jobs done when it obviously exceeds their capabilities, if the Japanese say they get it done they will get the job done.

2. They Japanese value and respect the elders for their wisdom. Many westerners get informal towards their colleagues and guests / customers easily. In my opinion (but I know not everyone shares this one with me) I love how the Japanese talk to their elders. In the way they speak they acknowledge the position, wisdom and status of the person, which shows great respect. I wish more companies were like this.

3. Japanese colleagues are very pleasant to work with. All the time I worked for this company, there was never anyone who has ever been rude to me or who I couldn't get along with. At the time, I was the youngest of our team and my Japanese colleagues always took the time to help me or explain things. They are also never the person who leaves first and even outside of work, they are always ready to help you.

Con's

1. You will never-ever disagree with your manager or those above you in the corporate ladder. This was actually quite new for me. Normally if I have different ideas on how something I do should be done I will just discuss it with my supervisor, manager or whoever is above me. But in Japanese business culture this is a complete no-go. In time even if you did not experience this before you will get used to it. You will acknowledge that those people are promoted to a higher level because of their skills and experience. Don't be one arrogant thinking your own decisions are always better and neglect those people and their decisions, just go with the flow and you will experience yourself that this is the right thing to do.

2. You will never be finished on time. I work in the hospitality industry so I know I never finish exactly on time. But the Japanese will never close the shop at exactly six for example. As I mentioned before they are never the first to leave, and when they leave it is only after permission of the person in charge. Although it is not really a big con, when I know my finishing time is six I'd like to know at what time I can catch the train, or tell my partner I'm home. But seriously you will never know.

The oh so typical Americans
The funny thing is, when I applied for this job I was actually quite nervous when I got it. I felt so comfortable in the Japanese business environment and now I was about to start something totally different. I had a one year contract so what if I didn't like it? I moved especially for this job to this city. So I already started off insecure which is nothing like me at all. In my very short two-day training I really felt the American atmosphere. The over-acting tacky training videos, the emphasis on how amazing the company is and so on. It was all really new for me first. But now I am already used to it. So after working there for two months I will share with you my pro's and con's.

Pro's

1. You always know what to expect. The rules are set a long long time ago and everyone is used to them. All colleagues know them by hart and in only a short while you will be able to drill them out with that oh so American pride as well.

2. They don't take them selves so serious. In my opinion, Americans are very easy to work with. They are very casual in contact with guests / customers and also with colleagues, which makes me feel very comfortable.

3. Because they are so easy-going, in my first week I was already invited by my colleagues to go for drinks outside of work. This really makes it easy to get to know your colleagues and bond with them also outside of work. For me, a good bonding with my colleague outside work brings out great communication between one another at work itself.

Con's

1.  There is always a bad apple in the team. That one negative person that is not so easy to work with but you have to work with because it is your colleague can be quite annoying. I never see this happen in a Japanese work environment, I am used having the person in charge of the team take care of that.

2. Sometimes they are really difficult to understand. It's is only a small issue I have sometimes with guests and with colleagues as well. I had a couple of moments where they act really polite when they are mad, which makes it difficult for me to guess what they actually need. Like this gentleman who asked for my manager, because he said he had the worst experience in a hotel ever. And all of this with a smile, a thank you and a please. He said it in the way you just had to turn around right away and run for your manager. I don't know if I explained this well but it was kind of creepy.


In the end every company is different, as well as the people we work with. For the people who do not like their jobs, or the environment they are working in, please do something about it. Talk with your manager, a colleague you trust or someone in human resources. Whatever it is, it is easier to try and solve it with someone else than coping with it on your own. If there is nothing to do about it, maybe it's a sign it is time for a change. You are the only one who chooses your job.



Thank you for reading.

~ mei mei




Wednesday, 20 August 2014

The history of tofu - Mapo Tofu recipe 麻婆豆腐

In 1986 USA Today reported that tofu was America's most hated food. Years later tofu is gradually making it's comeback. And it should be! I love tofu, and if you grew up in an Asian family you grew up with tofu. My boyfriend born and raised in Vietnam cannot look any more happy than when I serve tofu on the dinner table. He very well remembers the times where he was younger and they had to share a block of tofu with the whole family. Eating a whole tofu dish now equals wealth for him.
In western countries tofu is getting more popular because it's natural, inexpensive and nourishing. In those countries people manly use tofu in stir-fry dishes or as a substitute for meat, but there is so much more you can do with it! In this post I will explain you where tofu originated from, how tofu is made, the health benefits of soy products and a delicious typical Chinese tofu dish.

How tofu is made
First let me explain how tofu is made. The process begins with soaking and then mashing soy beans. They will separate the mashed soy beans into two containers. One container for the milk and one for the pulp. The factories sell the pulp and keep the milk for making tofu. Tofu is made by coagulating soy milk and then pressing it into those familiar blocks you see in your local supermarket.
Tofu originated from China. Legend says it was discovered in the Han Dynasty more than 2000 years ago when a Chinese cook accidentally curdled soy milk when he added seaweed. Some people also state that Lord Liu An discovered the technique for making tofu, but there is not much effort supporting that statement. Back in that day inventions were mostly attributed to important leaders.

Health benefits
Tofu contains more than double the protein in meat or fish, contains all eight essential amino acids, has high value of magnesium, copper, zinc and vitamin B1! Also daily intake of soy foods are associated with reducing risk of at least one cancer type. Quite amazing for such a simple looking product right?


Mapo tofu 
One of the most famous and my all time favourite tofu dish; mapo tofu. Mapo tofu is a spicy tofu dish that originated from the Szechuan province. It has that numbing spiciness which I adore and is flavoured with Szechuan pepper and fermented black beans. Most of the time the tofu is combined with pork or minced meat but if you are a vegetarian you can just leave the meat out and it will still taste amazing.
I will share the recipe with you today and I hope you have a chance to try it out. If you are not used to spicy food, remember if you are the cook the spiciness is all up to you. This is such an easy and nutritional recipe for those days where you don't have much time to prepare dinner.

Ingredients;

- one block of soft tofu cut into cubes
- 250 gram of minced pork or beef (optional)
- one cup of chicken stock
- 2 cloves of chopped garlic
- one cup of chopped spring onions
- cornstarch
- one tbsp fermented black beans
- chili bean paste (to taste)
- 2 tbsps soy sauce
- 1 tbsp of Chinese rice wine
- sesame oil
- ground Szechuan pepper (to taste)

Instructions;

1. Heat up a skillet or a wok and add the sesame oil. Add the fermented black beans and break them a little with the back of a spoon. Add the garlic, chili bean paste and toss until fragrant.

2. Add the meat and cook for another minute.

3. Pour in the chicken stock, rice wine and soy sauce. Carefully add the tofu blocks to the mixture and stir gently until all the blocks are coated with the sauce. Be careful not to break the blocks. Add half of the spring onions and cook for 2-3 minutes.

4. Add a tsp of cornstarch in the middle of the pan and allow the sauce to thicken for another minute or two. The sauce is thick enough if it sticks a little to the spoon.

5. Pour everything in a bowl or serve on a bed of rice. Put the other half of the green onions on top and finish with some ground Szechuan pepper to taste.


I hope you enjoyed reading my post and try out my recipe.

~Mei mei

Friday, 18 July 2014

Daily life of an interracial couple - The good and the bad

Less than 50 years ago interracial marriage was illegal in the United States and many other countries. But even though that barrier is gone, still many interracial couples get discriminated nowadays. As my other half and I are an interracial couple as well I got asked many times how this affects our daily lives.

Roots
My boyfriend is 100% Vietnamese and I am Eurasian (for full explanation about my ethnicity click here). Although I am proud of my Asian roots, my brothers and sister do not acknowledge their roots and most of the time if someone asks, they do not admit they are mixed. As I am the youngest I was very confused by this. I grew up with the privileges of getting to know the ins and outs of more cultures than one, eating different foods and celebrating several Asian and Western holidays. I enjoyed everything and see no harm in growing up like this.
As we got older my brothers and sister didn't like to visit my Asian family and only hung out with non-Asian kids. When I started learning Japanese my siblings simply called me a 'weirdo' (and they still do). I felt left out sometimes but didn't really paid attention to it until I started dating. Of course my siblings only dated non-Asian people, so when my boyfriend and I started going out the real issues started coming.

The aggressive Vietnamese
When I was around sixteen my father told me that I should definitely marry a Chinese man. He said I was the only one who could 'maintain our roots' and that it was simply the best choice for me. Short after that I started dating my boyfriend in secrecy. This was the only time ever I felt uncomfortable being judged by my family so I kept it on a low profile. After one year I told my parents and my siblings the truth and everyone freaked out. My father was extremely mad and said a person of Chinese heritage is never suitable for a Vietnamese man. When I wanted to move in with him, my sister took me apart and said; ''Vietnamese men are not good to their wife's, they are really aggressive and rude and should only date Vietnamese women because they are used to it''. As I was shocked because of her rudeness I asked her where these 'facts' came from. She said her boyfriend who travels a lot, told her the Vietnamese are not so nice and that one of her friends also dates a Vietnamese man.
Even though I am the youngest of our family, so far my boyfriend and I lasted longer than any of my siblings relationships. It was only after years they accepted him.
My boyfriend doesn't really feel like he is part of the family, but after a while my father and he started to get along pretty well. And my father learned they actually had a lot in common.

Feeling uncomfortable in public
At the beginning I actually never noticed anyone other than my family having problems with our relationship, until my boyfriend mentioned it. One day after we went shopping we went for a drink on a sunny terrace. As we sat down he said to me 'Don't you think it's annoying?' With no idea what he was talking about I was looking flustered. 'They are always giving us a weird look.' I was looking kind of worried after he said that and asked him 'Do you think it's because of our ethnicity?' As my boyfriend doesn't really likes heavy conversations he just joked it away with; 'No, they are just thinking how such an ugly man can date a beautiful woman like you.' Even though I went with the joke I could see it really made him uncomfortable. It got even worse when we went to a party; a Chinese guy who knew my roots went up to him and said 'a man of Vietnamese blood is never good enough for a Chinese beauty' (he mentioned the beauty because the first character of my Chinese name means beauty). After those unpleasant experiences he started to distance himself from me in public and wouldn't even hold hands. He became very self conscious and was very insecure. I felt terrible for him because he was affected by other people's nonsense. Why is a Vietnamese person of lower rank than a Chinese person? Why do people neglect the fact that I am not 100% Chinese? Why do they discriminate interracial couples at all? Why do we have to date our own race only? Since I am a mixed race who am I allowed to date following the norms? 

What about the children?
This is a question we get a lot (mostly from people older than us). What about the children? This is the thing I am actually most excited about being an interracial couple. I cannot imagine anything more beautiful than different cultures melting together into one amazing child. They can speak several languages fluently from a young age and get to know many beautiful aspects of different cultures. I don't see anything wrong with that. But at the beginning I felt terrible every time I heard that question, as if they are implying there is no bright future for our kids, while the US even has a mixed president for example!

Getting used to it
After being together for many years now we have found peace in the midway. He regained his confidence and feels comfortable again, while I am proud and happy to be with him everyday. Of course we get weird looks, silly questions and experience a little racism from time to time but in the end it's all worth it.

I hope I have answered all your questions in this post and that it was interesting to read.
Thank you all for the requests.

~Mei mei

Monday, 2 June 2014

#Asianguestguide 2 - How to deal with Chinese guests - China's booming tourism industry





















Chinese tourism industry
We all can't deny the fast growing industries in China and some even call it the country of prosperity and welfare. Welfare equals money, and if there is money, the hard-working Chinese can go on a holiday. The domestic tourism of China has continuously increased with 10% each year over the last decade and increases every year.
If  those facts of China's domestic tourism already leaves your mouth open, you will be surprised by hearing nearly one in ten international tourists worldwide is Chinese, which around half are leisure guests. And on top of that they spend the most in total (129 $ billion, followed by the Americans 86$ billion in 2013)!!
As I live in Europe myself, I can say that the Chinese love Europe! And here in the Netherlands they are trying to profit from the boom of Chinese tourists with new measures. From Amsterdam Schiphol Airport there are direct flights to seven Chinese cities, they hand out presents during Chinese New Year and even all luxury shops accept Chinese currency. By 2020 it is estimated that 200 million (!) Chinese will go overseas, double the number that did so last year. So the Chinese tourists DO matter.


The golden rule
So after reading this you will understand that if you work in the hospitality industry, you are very likely to get in contact with Chinese travelers. Whether they are on a business or leisure trip, you are the one that can make their stay in your country memorable.
But how can you satisfy a Chinese guest?  The golden rule is actually very simple; if you can, give them what they want. it sounds really cheesy but it's true. Even the major companies do it! If you think I'm kidding I will share a true situation which recognized the guest's need and then used this golden rule;
Emirates Airlines, the fourth-largest airline in the world, has won over the retail-crazy Chinese by simply boosting their baggage allowance.They recognized when Chinese travelers go abroad, they come home with more then when they left. So just by making a small change they won tremendous market share of the Chinese consumer.
So how can we apply this in our situation? Imagine this; you work at the front-desk and just checked in a Chinese guest (without talking too much, because he does not speak your language), the guest comes back and is obviously upset. So what now? The first rule of trying to solve an issue, is acknowledging the issue itself. When you help a guest and cannot speak their language, it's obvious that the guest has many questions because of the lack of information. To prevent this you can have a translator make simple information sheets in the language of the guest. So if you work in a hotel and have many Chinese guests while nobody speaks Chinese, a simple sheet with breakfast times, opening hours, rules and other crucial information can make the guest feel at ease. And not to mention yourself too, I know it can be quite frustrating to send a guest off without really helping them out. At least now you have some information ready and you can point things out more easily.



















After the golden rule
So after you tried to help them by using the golden rule, also make note of these pointers given by the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute.

 Family name comes first, normally only one syllable (Xi Jinping)
 Status comes before gender. No 'ladies first' in China.
 66% of Chinese search the web before making a travel decision.
 It is appreciated a lot when a non-Chinese person tries to speak Chinese.
 Numbers 4 and 44 are pronounced the same way as the word for 'death'  and are therefore unlucky. They should be avoided. The number 8 has a positive connotation.


In the end it is all about trying to help your customers and respecting their culture and heritage. If you encounter many Chinese in your job, try to learn more about their culture and learn some easy phrases to connect better with them and make them feel at ease. It will cost you some time after work, but can make a huge difference in the next encounter!

I hope you enjoyed this post full of facts and pointers, next part is coming up soon. Please let me know if you would like me to cover a certain subject!

~Mei mei



Monday, 19 May 2014

#Asianguestsguide 1 - Introduction; dealing with Asian guests in the hospitality industry

I am pleased to tell you I am starting with a new blog series called 'Asian Guest Guide'. In every post I will review a particular type of guest, or guests from a specific part of Asia. For everyone working in the hospitality industry I want this to be a little guide on how you can manage with foreign guests in certain situations in this industry.

Why did I come up with this guide?
I am working as a front desk agent myself and have to deal with guests from every part of Asia on a daily basis. I worked for quite a while in a major Japanese hotel as well, which equals even more Asian guests. My family has been in the hospitality industry for many years and had their own restaurants and hotels. Even though I love the diversity of guests I see every day, I see my colleagues struggling trying to deal with the 'oh-so-difficult' Asian guests on a daily basis.
In this series I am going to simplify these situations, analyse guest profiles and share my own experiences in general.

If you have any specific situations you would like me to cover in this series, or if you have difficulties with understanding some type of guest, please let me know and I will try to analyze the situation and cover the outcome in this series.
















Part one will be up soon!

~ Mei mei

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Book Review: Chineasy the new way to read Chinese

My apologies for not writing in a long long time, but I was really busy with many things. One of them was getting a copy of Shaolan Hsueh's Chineasy. Because I was convinced that after the release they wouldn't sell out that fast I didn't pre-order a copy. Big mistake because the book was sold out online! I tried to find a copy everywhere but I could only order one from Amazon. I was really lucky I stumbled on a copy yesterday when I was in our capital city. Long story made short, I am going to introduce Chineasy today.

Chineasy is a book which states to read Chinese in a whole other way. An very easy and fun way. I was very interested because it covers basic Chinese characters which can also be quite convenient for Japanese learners to know, since most of the basic characters are the same.
The author, a Taiwanese woman residing in the UK, had difficulties with teaching her own children Chinese with current existing books and methods so she created her own. As a result came Chineasy. The books is based on building blocks to quickly learn several hundreds of characters. If you have studied Chinese characters or Japanese Kanji it is likely that you are already familiar with this technique. But born as the daughter of a calligrapher and a ceramic artist, Shaolan Hsueh grew up immersed with art which has a great influence in the making of Chineasy. She worked together with an graphic artist Noma Bar who made the characters come to live visually. Honestly, I have to say that the bright illustrations and the interesting descriptions really caught my attention and made me smile while reading.
Although the technique is good, the illustrations are great, and the descriptions are interesting some of the links between the illustrations and words were pretty far-fetched.
As I continued reading, the end of the book contains some sentences which are build upon the words we have learned so far. Although some of the sentences are useful for daily life, others are really odd for such a book; 'The rich girls stinks', 'The mermaid Princess burst into tears'. I think I wouldn't use both ever.
At the very end there even is a short story which is kind of hard to grasp, even with the great visuals.

Overall I think it's a great book. If I got children I would enjoy to teach them Chinese words from this book. And even if your a businessman or student, this book will give you an insight into Chinese language. As I explained, there are some negative points about the book, but overall it is fascinating to read. I would recommend beginners who have not studied Asian characters before to give it a try.

I hope you enjoyed reading, have you bought Chineasy already?














~ Mei mei

Thursday, 27 March 2014

The best apps for learning Japanese on Iphone and Android (Part 2)

In my first post I introduced two apps for studying Japanese. I have found two new interesting apps and tested them for a while. I will introducte you to 'I-Sokki' and 'Japanese!!' this time. These are both only compatible with Apple devices. I'm sorry for that! Switched back to iPhone recently so that's why I found these. Next time I promise to introduce some apps which are compatible with multiple devices.

I-Sokki;
Supported on iPhone, iPad 
I-Sokki is a fairly simple app with a subtle sakura style layout. It is a quiz / flashcard kind of app which offers you short quizzes studying Japanese vocab. In the main menu for the quiz there are three options; Japanese Mode, Kanji Mode and Reverse Mode. 
Japanese Mode; has questions in Kanji / Hiragana with English multiple choice.
Kanji Mode; has questions in Kanji / Hiragana with Japanese (kana) multplice choice. This one does not show the meaning of the word though, which is quite weird I think.
Reverse Mode; has English questions with Japanese multiple choice.
The app lets you train the JLPT level 5 for free. You can purchase the other levels for 1,79 per level, or purchase all levels for 4,49. You can also find a vocabulary section where you can check your familiarity with the words of your study level. Of course the app also has an achievement section where you can check your progress. If you want to drill in some vocab without spending too much time, this is an great app for that. If I'm waiting for the bus, for an appointment or something else I just spend my time quizzing away. 
The downside on this app is that there is no focus on grammar. You will not find any explanations or grammar guides.

Overall rating I-Sokki;
Visual / layout; 3/5
Information; 3/5

Pro's;
- Clean layout
- Easy to use

Con's;
- No grammar
- Only the N5 level is for free



















Japanese!!;
Supported on iPhone, iPad
This app is great for the people who are just starting with Japanese or planned a trip to Japan. It is a fairly simple app with a clean blue layout. This app divides information into the Japanese cities. You can click a city and read a lot of information about the sights, typical foods and tons of other information. They even have several simple maps! This app also teaches you Hiragana and Katakana together with some basic grammar and phrases. There are eight cities with information in the app and three games. The games focus on Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji and these are just simple matching games.
Overall this is not an app which you can enjoy all year through but is a good source of basic information and will be very helpful during and preparing for your trip to Japan.

Overall rating Japanese!!;
Visual / layout; 2/5
Information; 4/5

Pro's;
- Full version for free
- Easy explained information

Con's;
- No study material
- No long term app



















Thank you for reading!
If there is an app which you would like me to review please send me a message~

~Mei mei


Sunday, 9 March 2014

6 reasons why you should learn Korean / why Korean might be easier than you think!

When you think about the Korean it might seem just another difficult Asian language. But don't get scared about what they  tell you, Korean is actually one of the easiest East Asian languages to learn! I will give you six reasons why Korean might be easier then you might think and why you should start learning Korean right now.

1. Korean has one of the most intelligent writing systems on earth. Compare it to Chinese and Japanese and it is looks suprisingly easy as well! The Korean alphabet is called Hangul and consists of 14 consonants and 10 vowels. That makes only 24 characters to learn!

2. Hangul is written the same way you probably have learnt. From left to right, top to bottom. And unlike Japanese, it has spaces inbetween.

3. Korean is not a tonal language. The language does have some accents but these don't change anything grammar wise.

4. The grammar in Korean language is very simple and straightforward. For example; you do not have to worry about gender and many verbs are just made out of nouns + the verb 'to do'.

5. There is a huge amount of information (most of the time for free) on the internet. You have lots of dramas with Korean and English subtitles and the amazing podcasts of Talk To Me In Korean are also free!

6. Korean has a lot of English loanwords (Konglish )and many Koreans are eager to learn English.

I hope this post has triggered your interest in Korean language. Read some more information about Korea and you will probably fall in love with it's beautifull language, interesting culture and kind people. If you are a fan of everything Japanese, have a look at my other post which compares the Japanese language to Korean.

















Thank you for reading!

~Mei mei



Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Keeping up learning languages while doing nothing special

Everyone who is studying a foreign language will reach that point where you think you have lost your motivation. Although everyone will say you have to continue studying even though you don't feel like it, there is actually nothing wrong with taking a little break. Allowing yourself to have a break will make your mind free of stress so you can regain new inspiration.
Even if you do not want to open your books there are still many ways to learn new words, grammar, etcetera effortless. I have explained some of these simple methods below.

Podcasts;
I have an iPod only for my podcasts. Listening to podcasts can be done while you're on your way to work, have to wait for the train or while you're preparing the dinner. This is a great method for those who are have surpassed the beginners level and feel at ease listening to conversations. They will easily pick up new sentences because they already understand the grammar behind it. If you think conversations are a little hard, just stick to listening music. This is also a great way to relax while you're still studying.

Dramas, TV-shows and movies;
For those who are learning Japanese or Korean you have the access to many great dramas, TV-shows, and movies for free online. If you are an beginner this is an easy way to get comfortable with the foreign language.If you are more advanced this is a fun way to check how much you already understand. There will always be a good show or movie in the genre you like.

Eventually you will pick up the dictionary again to find out what the word is they use so frequently in your drama. You will regain your interest and continue your studies with the new information you have learned from simply watching a movie or listening to the news in the language of your studies!






















Keep the good work up!

Thank you for reading.
~Mei mei

Friday, 21 February 2014

Japan, Nihon or Nippon 日本, ?
















Japan;
Linguists believe the name Japan derives from the attempts of Marco Polo pronouncing the early Mandarin Chinese word for Japan which is 日本国 pronounced in pinyin as 'Rìběnguó', and literally means 'Country of the Sun origin'. Marco Polo's attempts resulted in 'Jipangu'.  Also many people believe that the word originated from Malaysia. The Malay word for Japan, 'Jepang' also came from the Chinese language. This word was encountered by Portuguese traders in Malacca and it is believed that the traders were the first to bring the word to Europe. 

にほん or にっぽん ?
The Japanese name for Japan can be read as 'nihon' or 'nippon' (onyomi) and are both written with the same kanji;日本 , ‘nichi’ means sun or day and ‘hon’ means base or origin. Put them together and you get ‘ base of the sun’ . You might also have read ‘base of the sunrise’  somewhere which comes from the Chinese point of view. From China, the sun rises from the side of Japan. This is also the source of the popular Western term ‘ land of the rising sun’.

When combined, ‘nichi’ often loses the final -chi sound and creates a small pause between the first and second syllable of the compound. When we want to romanize this, the pause is often represented by doubling the first consonant of the second syllable. Compounds with ‘hon’ often change into -bon or -pon. Therefore there are two possible ways to pronounce 日本.  While both are correct (and also frequently used) ‘nippon’ is often preferred for official purposes like money, stamps and international matters. 'nippon' is also used for a longer period of time then 'nihon' which is said to have derived from the Kanto accent.
Although 'nippon' is the more obvious way name to pronounce 日本, a recent survey showed that 61 percent of Japanese people read it as 'nihon', also it is a lot more popular with the younger generation.

 In Japan there is no official document defining the pronunciation of 日本 . An attempt was made by the Ministry of Education in 1934, when they started a major investigation in the national language including their recommendation of  naming the country 'nippon' for once and all. However the government simply ignored their request.
Another move was made more recently in 2009, when a member of the Lower house made a more liberal move and submitted a request asking the government to decide on an unified pronunciation, whether it be 'nippon' or 'nihon'. The government replied that they saw no reason to take official steps, since both terms are in wide usage nowadays. You can either applaud their indecision as a way of saying they had some bigger issues to deal with, or you criticize them for their laid back attitude.

What do you think of the governments decision? Do you use 'nihon' or 'nippon'?


 ~Mei mei

Friday, 14 February 2014

Black Day, Asian day for singles? 블랙데이 - Jjajangmyun 자장면 Recipe

In case you don't have that  special person to celebrate Valentine's Day or White Day with, don't worry, the Asians have a special day for you too. It is called 'Black Day' 블랙데이. Black Day is celebrated on April 14th and is mostly celebrated in South Korea. At this day the Koreans mourn a little over the fact they didn't get any gifts earlier (on Valentine's or White day) and then celebrate their singleness by getting together with other single friends. If you want to follow their tradition you just have to wear something black and eat some dark coloured food like the famous jjajangmyun 자장면


Jjajangmyun is Black Day's signature dish and consists of white noodles covered in black bean sauce. Although jjajangmyung is written like 자장면 , it is pronounced as 짜장면with a 'J' as in 'jam'. Jajang (자장) means 'fried sauce' and myeon ()means 'noodle'.
It is actually a Chinese-Korean dish which some Chinese immigrants brought to Incheon. Unlike other Korean noodles, jjajangmyun is made of white flour instead of potato starch. The noodles are made by hand, and after that shortly boiled. When the noodles are cooked,  pork,vegetables and sea cucumber are added which make the base for the sauce. Last but not least they add black bean paste and a good stock. Some corn starch can be added also if the sauce isn't thick enough. jjajangmyun is considered as a national dish of Korea and the perfect comfort food for Black Day.
If you want to take it to a whole other level there are even many jjajangmyun eating contests this day!

Although jjajanmyun may sound like a dish for the loners which can make your teeth stain, it is really delicious. I highly recommend you to try it so I have the recipe for you below!
  
Recipe;
 This recipe makes four servings;
- Pork belly, diced in easy to eat cubes or strips
- 1 cup diced carrots
- 1 cup diced potatoes
- 1 cup diced onions
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- +/-  3 large table spoons black bean paste
- corn starch
- Water
- Sesame oil
- Your favorite vegetable julienned ( I recommend cucumber or Korean radish)
- Korean noodles of your choice 

1.        Heat a wok or a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the meat and cook until the edges are slightly browned.
2.      Add the carrots and potatoes and sauté for 1/2 minutes. Add the onions and garlic and sauté until the onions turn translucent.
3.      Add the black bean paste to the pan and combine. Make sure everything gets  evenly coated. Gradually add some water and bring to a high simmer. ( be careful not to add to much).
4.      Let the sauce simmer until it thickens, this will take about 3 to 4 minutes. The sauce has to stick to the noodles, but not too much either. If your sauce is not thick enough, you can add some cornstarch.
5.      Turn off the heat and add some sesame oil, stir until combined. Pour the sauce on top of the noodles. Garnish with your fresh vegetables.

I hope you enjoyed reading my post!
~ Mei mei

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Geisha; the artists of Japan

















Geisha 芸者 or Geiko 芸子(in Kyoto dialect) are professional female artist aiming to entertain their guests during dinners, banquets and other occasions. They are extremely well trained in a variety of Japanese arts like traditional dancing, preforming music, games  and other skills.
The word Geisha consists of two Kanji; Gei and Sha, Gei   means ‘art’ and Sha   means ‘doer’. Like all Japanese nouns there is no plural version. Apprentice Geisha are called Maiko which literally means dancing child.  The word consists of two characters also. ‘Dancing’ and ‘child’.

Origin
The Geisha originated from serving girls called ‘saburuko’. These girls where most of the time without a family.  Some of them offered sexual services while the other girls which had better education, preformed at social gatherings to entertain guests. In the traditional Japan, sexual delights where not a taboo and it was very common for Japanese men to search a courtesan for some pleasure. They even build the so called pleasure quarters in the 16th century. Outside the pleasure quarters prostitution was illegal. Inside the quarters they had yuujo 遊女 ‘play women’ which were legal. The highest rank of yuujo preformed erotic dances and skits. This art was called kabuku which means ‘to be wild and outrageous’. This was the beginning of Kabuki theater.
As these quarters quickly began to grow to large entertainment centers, the yuujo offered a lot more than sexual services. Each of them began to develop a special skill and some of them were even renowned artists, poets or calligraphers. Before Geisha the odoriko (dancing children) appeared. When they grew out of their teenage years they adopted different names which depended on their skill. The first woman who ever called herself a Geisha was a Fukagawa prostitute. She was a skilled singer and samisen-player and a huge success making female Geisha extremely popular in Fukagawa. After that the Geisha became more spread over the country and often worked solely as entertainers and no more as prostitutes.
Still many Geisha worked as prostitutes imprisoned in the pleasure quarters, in order to protect the business of the Oiran 花魁
Eventually the Geisha evolved and many of them became professional entertainers, while others still offered sexual services which was still legal up until the 1900s.  

Influence of the second world war
In the period of the WWII many Geisha were forced to stop because they had to work in factories or had to move. With the Americans coming to Japan, prostitutes started to call themselves ‘Geisha girls’ to attract the attention of the American soldiers and the original Geisha lost their status. In 1940 all the teahouses ‘ ochaya’ and bars were forced to close, so that all employees could work in factories. A year later, they were allowed to reopen. The few Geisha that continued rejected all western influences and hoped to rebuild the Geisha image with the traditional ways of Japan. It was up to these few Geisha to bring back the traditional standards and keep their image clean.

Becoming a Geisha
The training of the Geisha starts around the early age of 9. Some of them were raised in an ‘Okiya’ 置屋which is a Geisha house. They were given food, kimono’s, very expensive training and board. These debts must be repaid to the Okiya with the earning she makes. The repayment continues until she has paid for all her debts. After that she is permitted to move out and work independently. In the 1950s the Okiyas disappeared with the outlawing of child labor.
The apprentice Geisha, so called Maiko will start their training by observing a full-fledged Geisha at work. She must find  an older Geisha which will act as her mentor. They call their mentor ‘onee-san’お姉さん which means older sister. They have to follow their onee-san everywhere and they must obey her as well. The mentor trains her Maiko in all the required skills such as conversing,  playing shamisen, dancing and other requirements. The onee-san will even help her pick a name to use in her career.
Maiko’s are very beautiful to look at, they were colorful kimonos with a very low, loose hanging collar in the back which accentuates the back of the neck. Also there are 5 different hairstyles a Maiko can wear which show the different stages of her apprenticeship. The hairstyles are decorated with ‘Kanzashi’ traditional Japanese hair ornaments.

Geisha today
Although there are not many Geisha left today, you will have the highest possibility to see one in Kyoto. Kyoto's most famous district is Gion 祇園 which is known as one of the 5 Geisha districts (hanamachi). Nowadays it's not impossible for tourists and outsiders to see Geisha and Maiko. They are still very exclusive and expensive and often require an introduction from someone who is already a customer. However with the tourism growing in Kyoto there are some hotels and travel agencies which offer lunch or dinner with the entertainment of Geisha and Maiko for any tourist with a sufficient budget.
Every day at Gion Corner at the end of Hanami-Koji, the Geisha and Maiko give a show which is aimed at tourists. The show gives an introduction to several Japanese arts. In April you can watch the Miyako Odori which are daily dance performances by Maiko. There are four one-hour performances every day which costs around 2000 – 4000 yen per person.
Shijio Avenue also located in Gion district, is a popular shopping are with many stores selling local products like sweets and crafts.
There are also several Maiko studios in Kyoto where you can dress up as a Maiko or Geisha, some of them are especially aimed at tourists.

Outside Kyoto in the Higashi Chaya district in Kanazawa you can find a former ochaya which is open to the public as a museum. You can see a traditional tatami room here and exhibits of various items such as utensils, accessories and instruments.

Whenever you see a Geisha or Maiko don’t start making pictures out of the blue. Act respectfully.


I hope you enjoyed a little history again~

~ Mei mei

Thursday, 6 February 2014

The two best apps for learning Japanese on Iphone and Android (so far)



Since it's in my reach to use both Android and Apple devices I'm going to review a few apps which claim to help you with your Japanese. In daily life I use a Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini and I also own a tablet from Samsung. My boyfriend is a huge fan of Apple so he has an Iphone 5S and an Ipad Mini. With so many devices lying around it wasn't really that difficult to test a couple of apps on these popular devices. Today I will give an introduction to the two best apps I have found so far.

Human Japanese;web page
Supported on; PC, Mac, Iphone, Android, Windows Phone

Highly praised by the Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal this is indeed quite an amazing app.
You can download two versions; Human Japanese and Human Japanese Intermediate. I have downloaded the first version which is free. It takes some time to download though. When I opened the app it gives an easy introduction on how to navigate trough the app. When you have finished the introduction you can start with the first chapter. The first chapter is another introduction, this time they will introduce the Japanese language to you. The explanation is easy to read and very detailed. If you don't like a lot of reading this might not be the right app for you though, after six pages of reading we arrive at the next chapter. The next chapter covers pronunciation. After ten pages of detailed information there is a quiz to put your fresh skills to the test. After that there is a short summary on chapter two and then we arrive at the next chapter. This is basically how the whole app works. There are seven chapters which you can study for free. For the other 33 chapters you need to upgrade to the full version. The main menu allows you to fast forward to the quizzes and have a look at the dictionary. Although it is a lot of reading, the subjects are very interesting and easy explained.
The full version is available for +/- $9,99.
If you think you've got the basics down you can download Human Japanese Intermediate. In this version they will explain more advanced topics and you can practice your Kanji. I suggest you to go trough the free seven lessons first and have a look. It is really worth it!

Overall rating; Human Japanese
Visual / layout; 4/5
Information; 5/5

Pro's;
- Clean layout
- Detailed information

Con's;
- The amount of reading can get a little boring for some people.
- The layout looks really large and a little ugly on my tablet.
- Only seven lessons in the free version.


Mirai iStart Japanese;web page
Supported on; Apple devices only

I don't want to be mean but the app I thought of most useful was this one, which is only available for Apple devices. (Don't be sad though, I'm still on my journey finding even more useful apps which are compatible with other devices too!) Mirai is a Japanese study app which let's you listen to a series of Japanese pod casts all under the supervision of a penguin with glasses. In every lesson you will follow a basic conversation visualized with speech bubbles that have English grammar explanations.  For the Japanese bubbles you can toggle between romanized words and Japanese script. For every lesson there is a vocab section an a quiz at the end. You will even learn how to write some Kanji in the writing section where they show you the correct stroke order. The free version has 20 lessons for the full version you have to purchase a subscription which costs +/- $3,60 a month. Although you get some good things for your money, I still don't like the idea of a monthly subscription. I really hope you give this a try because the free lessons can teach you a lot of new information. If you have conquered all the 20 lessons you can just delete the app and search for a new one right? If you're really interested in this app but don't have an Apple device you can check out their blog here, where you can learn the Kanji of the day (with stroke order!) and listen to 10 Japanese pod cast lessons!

Overall rating; Mirai iStart Japanese
Visual / layout; 5/5
Information; 4/5

Pro's;
- Beautiful layout
- Informative lessons which don't take a lot of time
- Writing section
- 20 (!) free lessons

Con's;
-  Not completely free either
-  Only compatible with Apple devices


Conclusion;
Actually these aren't the best apps out there I think, I will have to continue searching for even better ones. If you want me to test out a particular app please let me know. You can comment below or send me a message and I will be happy to try out some new apps for you.















Thank you for reading.

~ Mei mei

Sunday, 2 February 2014

The Chinese should change their writing system! - Happy year of the Horse!

The biggest struggle of people who learn Chinese is of course their writing system. Not only students who study Chinese on a daily basis struggle with this, but it is also a huge issue for people who want to start learning Chinese. They want to try studying Chinese as a second language, but are held back by all the difficult characters and never actually start because they fear they will fail mastering the characters. Have you ever had the same thoughts? I know I did, and even the Japanese Kanji seemed like a lot of characters to me.
I got inspired to write this post when I read an online discussion. The original article gave an introduction to the concept of Chineasy. A huge discussion was going on in the comment section with quite interesting thougts and opinions. The comment which started the discussion was; ''The Chinese should change their writing system!''

Chineasy
Chineasy is an award-winning concept which makes it easier to remember all the Chinese characters. I will give an introduction and a full explanation about Chineasy after I have purchased the book.

Discussion
A man posted a comment below the article stating the Chinese should change their writing system to a phonetic system like our Latin system. He said this because he also felt it is too hard to learn all the complicated characters as a foreigner. Although it might sound drastic changing the whole alphabet, this actually happened in 1926 in Turkey. In the early years Turkish was written using a form of the Arabic script. However, the Arabic script is rich in consonants but poor in vowels while Turkish is the complete opposite. After years of public debating, people opposing from the idea and people supporting the idea, the Turkic republics of the Soviet Union adopted the Latin script. Which boosted major changes in Turkey.

Reform of the alphabet
Why can't we do this with Chinese? I read this question a thousand times in the comments. People call the alphabet 'unpractical' and 'complex' but is it really that unpractical? The Chinese can easily read ancient books and writing because the characters have stayed the same. Phonetic scripts are based on pronunciation which constantly change. Also although there are many dialects in Chinese, everyone can understand each other by the written form.
But there are actually many answers to the question at the top. For example; there are way too many homophones in Chinese like 'shi'. When they are written in Pinyin it becomes shi1, shi2, shi3 but even then there are too many forms of only shi3. Changing the script sounds a little crazy now right? If you are really persistent writing Chinese in a Romanized alphabet take a look at pinyin.info . On this website they even have an article about the attempts of the Chinese adopting the Latin alphabet. So you can't say they didn't gave it any thought at all.

I also wanted to say; Happy year of the Horse! I wish you all a lot of wisdom and prosperity in the new year. And I hope all of you lucky Horses have a good year!
























Thank you for reading.

~Mei mei