Say hello to Mr. Dai

One of the things you have to do to get a long-term work visa in China is have a Chinese name. Sometimes I think this is a very ethnocentric policy, where the Chinese are effectively saying foreigners have to conform to certain norms of Chinese culture in order to stay, but there are actually some practicalities that have to be considered. The first is that Chinese writing is not phonetic, so you can't do like (for example) a Russian in an English-speaking country, and simply spell your name with the new alphabet. (Having studied both Russian and linguistics, I know that there are actually complications involved, but compared to Chinese, it's a walk in the park.) And if I moved to Russia I could easily approximate my name in the Cyrillic alphabet. Japan has dealt with the issue by including as part of their writing system an entire set of characters just for phonetically spelling foreign words and names, but China has no equivalent of katakana.

So, in order to be able to put the names of foreigners onto forms and so on, they have to come up with Chinese names. I started out by going to a handy little web site that has software to come up with Chinese names. You put in your English name, your birthday, and a few other things, and it will come up with something that in some way resembles your English name, but is both "normal-sounding" and auspicious to Chinese who encounter it. Quite sensibly, the program does not always give the same result for the same English name, since there's no absolute right or wrong in this matter. I tried it a number of times and got some of the possibilities, then consulted my Chinese coworkers for the final decision.

For my family name, there were a number of possibilities: Teng, Deng, Dai, Du, and so on. I liked Dai best, with Du second. Teng and Deng sound too much like the English word dung for me to be comfortable with them. Almost all Chinese family names are a single syllable.

For the given name, it is most common to have two syllables, though some people only have one. If you think of some famous Chinese people, there are plenty of examples. Mao Zedong, Hu Jintao, and Zhang Ziyi are of the most common form, Yao Ming is less common but not unusual. And remember that the family name customarily comes first, since family is more important than individuals. Most English names are longer than two or three syllables, so it makes sense to go for the longer option. Luckily, my given name lends itself to a number of similar-sounding Chinese words.

The first suggestion I got back from a coworker was Dai Jianlei, with jian meaning sword and lei meaning thunder. Very powerful, but a little violent to suit me well – maybe if I were studying martial arts…

The next one to come in was Dai Jianlian, where jian means build and lian means communication or connection. There are different variations of pronouncing what we write as jian, and also plain old homonyms (like to and too in English). This jian is written with a different character than sword jian, so the meaning would be clear. I like the building connections idea.

A third suggestion was Dai Jianli, and this time jian means health and li means polite. Jianli is apparently a pretty common given name, and represents sensible hopes of a parent for a child.

I’ve decided to go with the second suggestion (thanks AB!). I’m told that there is a famous Chinese basketball player named Yi Jianlian, so when Chinese people see Dai Jianlian, they won’t think it’s a funny name.
For those of you who do not have a Chinese font on your computer, I’ve taken the name and made it into a graphic. The fun part is going to be trying to learn how to write it consistently. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that when I write it, it will probably always look to a native speaker like a kindergartener's scribble, but that’s life. Here, I am in some ways the equivalent of a kindergartener.

In other news, we discovered another good restaurant near the office. I don't know what it's called, but we'll call it The Gaudy Place, or Hawaiian Pajama Place. The outside of the restaurant is covered with bright flowers on a bright red background from ground to roof, and inside, all the chairs are covered with the same pattern (it's a bit like a really tacky Hawaiian shirt), and many members of the staff wear it as well, some from head to toe. But it is very clean inside, which is always a good sign. Four of us went (JW, BG, TG, and I), and we ordered five dishes: cabbage and noodles, spicy peanut chicken, fried rice, green beans with hot peppers, and sizzling beef with onions and green peppers. It was all quite good, and there were many other things on the picture menu and at other patrons' tables that also looked good. With tea, the entire bill came to ¥65, between $8 and $9 US (total, not per person). We will be going back there. I'll have to take the camera and take a picture to show just how strange the decor is.
KW is returning to the US later this week, so we're planning to go to an art show tomorrow night after work. It says "Italian Contemporary Art Exhibition" on the tickets. It's actually located at the same G-Box (proper name "Gehua Tower") where our office will someday be. I found a web site about the show.

Speaking of the G-Box, I've now seen the space where our office will go. It is currently a dusty shell, with the outer windows in place, and some pillars, but completely unfinished once you get beyond the elevator lobby. We've been having all sorts of humorous discussions about how the office should be decorated and appointed. A couple of us are pushing the idea of a koi pond in the entryway. I’d like a waterfall down into the pond, but that might bother the fish… It's a huge space, way larger than the office in Seattle, but Beijing is much larger than Seattle, and we're trying to establish a business here. There will be hundreds of people working there by the time the Olympics take place.

Coming up this weekend is the Manchester Derby, a game between cross-town rivals Manchester United and Manchester City. With United sitting atop the Premier League standings, City is definitely the underdog. I'll probably catch the game at a certain nearby pub... It will probably be more crowded than a usual Saturday night, and they're supposed to have the Boddington's back in stock this week.

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