Monday, January 6, 2014

Meet and Greet with Youtube’s greatest Chinese Educational Language and Culture Stars: Dan, Carmen, and Ben

On November 23, 2013, I had an awesome opportunity to attend Dan and Carmen’s first meet and greet in Flushing, NY. Dan and Carmen are both Youtube stars of NTD’s (New Tang Dynasty’s) comedy channel, Off the Great Wall aka OTGW. Dan and Carmen, along with their cast mates, produce educational and comedic videos on a regular basis. For those who want to learn more Mandarin and Chinese culture in an entertaining way, and perhaps some Shanghainese from Dan or Cantonese from Carmen, I recommend the OTGW channel. The videos are in English and I believe Cantotomando and OTGW have similar philosophies on our approaches to spreading and teaching the Chinese language to our audience. I want you all to have fun too at Cantotomando, but I don’t want you to skip the basics or the foundations of what we learn.

The meet and greet was located inside the Flushing Mall (Culture Square, Rm M117). Due to the really complicated layout of the mall, I arrived almost a half an hour late because I had no idea of the exact location. Carmen did post a video tour of the directions, but I was still confused. The Flushing mall was a maze to navigate through. I did take some nice pictures of what I believe is a typical weekend at the Flushing Mall though.

When I arrived, Dan acknowledged my presence, which embarrassed me a bit because I showed up late. I hate to be that person who shows up late and all eyes are on me, but I’m also thrilled that I was acknowledged by a Youtube star. Honestly, I thought Carmen and Dan were located in the U.K. because of Carmen’s English accent. I had no idea the NTD station was headquartered in New York City and that I had such close access to such awesome stars. Wow, I started imagining about working for NTD one day.
Dan and Carmen were in the middle of the Q&A session where Dan did most of the talking. He was really interested in where we all came from and if we shared any similar experiences we had that Dan encountered while growing up. One question that impacted Dan was the fact that his Chinese name is his officially first name and his name caused a lot of confusion with the public.

One popular question I’m sure the public is curious about is whether Carmen and Dan are dating each other in real life. Carmen explains that while it is natural to think that a man and a woman who work together and have so much screen time together can be dating, in actuality, Carmen and Dan are just really good friends. Personally, I never thought of them as a couple, but I do understand why a fan would think that way.

In the middle of the Q&A session, a third Youtube star showed up: Ben from the Learn Chinese Youtube channel. Interestingly, Ben was born in Hong Kong, but moved to the U.K. afterwards. His obsession and interest in the Chinese language and culture is very strong and as Dan mentioned, perhaps stronger than any Chinese person with Chinese roots. Ben likes to study and translate ancient Chinese script. I do admit that I like the Chinese culture to some degree, but I don’t like it enough to start studying ancient Chinese script so I have to give Ben a lot of credit. While Ben speaks little Cantonese, his Mandarin skills are a lot stronger. He didn’t speak too much at the Q&A, but it’s always interesting to hear him talk about his life.

We were supposed to have our fourth Youtube star appear at the meet and greet, but for unknown reasons, she never showed up. She is NTD’s Mia from the Asian Beauty Secrets channel.

Dan’s younger sister was also proudly standing next to Dan during the whole event. She is so cute, vocal, and innocent. Dan and Carmen are really lucky to have such supportive family members.

Towards the end of the Q&A, two cute children walked up to Dan and Carmen and gave them both drawings that the siblings created themselves as gifts. That was a really touching moment how a Youtube channel can influence so many people around the world. I hope CantotoMando can also reach that goal one day. I’m not against creating a Youtube channel, but I simply do not have the resources to do it. Carmen and Dan have other jobs and film their videos usually at night or on the weekend so I suppose I have no excuse besides that I am not video editing savvy. My priority though, will always be to document the Chinese language and culture first on Cantotomando because this information will be accessible to all.

While I’m sure our Youtube stars can chat all day, they had to move events along in the interest of time. Carmen told us that we would all take a quiz about the videos in the OFTW channel. The top two people with the highest scores would win a free family tree poster. One of OFTW’s most popular videos is the video that involves Chinese terminology stating the relationships of a relative in relation to the speaker in a typical Chinese family tree. The Mandarin version of the video was so popular that a Cantonese version was created as well followed by posters for sale in both languages available at the Zazzle website.

Because of OTGW’s family tree video, I was inspired to create the ultimate family tree terminology, which I am still working on. For those who are interested, I started writing about the family relationships: here.
To find out what questions Carmen asked, check out the description section of their official Youtube video of the meet-and-greet.

I admit that while I do like the channel, I have not watched all their videos yet. I certainly would not know a lot of the answers to their trivia. Those who had the most correct answers kept their hand raised until they had their top two winners.

Almost running a half an hour overtime, Dan announced that they will be taking pictures with fans and selling family tree posters as well. Unfortunately, I could not stay any longer because I had to rush to another appointment. I think it was Carmen’s mother who sold the posters, but she wanted the buyers to practice their Mandarin as well so she purposely tried to speak Mandarin to me as I bought both a Mandarin and Cantonese poster. Embarrassingly, my Mandarin is still not up to par when it comes to conversation. I was able to order both posters, but I did understand what she said when she told me to check it over to see if they were the correct posters. I would post our conversation except that I don’t remember what I exactly said anymore.

After I left, Dan, Carmen, and Ben posed for pictures with the fans and the line extended across the room. Dan and Carmen signed posters and sadly, I did not get mine signed. I thought that I could get them signed the next time around, but then I heard surprising news on the OTGW channel. On December 4th, 2013, Carmen announced that she was moving on from OTGW to another project within NTD Television. Dan still remains as one of the main hosts along with the rest of the OTGW team. I am remaining hopeful that this is not goodbye though because I’m sure we will see more great things from the staff at NTD in the future. One thing is for certain: New York City is the place to be as it acts as a hub to learning about almost everything while being accessible to almost everything.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

ALESN 2013 Fall's Schedule of classes

I'm back for another round of language learning opportunities. If you are in or around the New York City area, consider learning a language or taking an martial arts class for free at ALESN (Asian Language Exchange & Social Network). This will be my third year at ALESN and I'm excited to join them again.

Class descriptions are HERE.

If you wish to participate in any of the classes below, please register yourself online by clicking the class descriptions link above. If you don't have an ALESN account, you need to create one. When you come to an ALESN class for the first time, you will fill out a YMCA form, become a YMCA Beacon member, and receive a YMCA card to get into the building next time. Don't worry, there is no charge for the class or to become a member. At certain times, maybe twice a year, ALESN will hold a pressure-free fundraiser for donations to support this wonderful program so if you enjoyed yourself a lot, please consider giving ALESN a donation.

About The Overwhelming Response for the Mandarin 1 and Mandarin 2 classes:

This school year, Mandarin 1 and Mandarin 2 are popular classes so there may be a waiting list. If registration for the class is closed, please contact Tony, ALESN director, directly at and you will be placed on the"standby" waiting list for your desired class. Please note the rules where you must attend the first four classes or forfeit your spot in the class since there is a waiting list of people rushing to join the class. Also please only register for one day of the week for a Mandarin 1 class, not both days since the Mandarin class is offered more than once per week. Of course, you can sign up for a Mandarin 1 and Mandarin 2 class if you'd like, but make sure you are only registering for one specific day of the week per class. For example: Mandarin 1 & 2 on Saturdays or Mandarin 1 on Thursday and Mandarin 2 on Saturday. There are other rules that apply to these classes, so please view the rules on the ALESN website for more details.

Below is the revised schedule for the Fall semester.
Class / Time / Instructor (TBD = To Be Determined)

Mondays room 425
Cantonese I/II 6 to 8:30pm-Brendan

Thursdays room 425
Mandarin IV 6 to 7:30pm-Mei
Mandarin I 7:30 to 8:30-Jie
Classroom #414
Mandarin I 12:30 to 1:30-Daisy
Mandarin II 1:30 to 2:30-Ben
Mandarin III 2:30 to 3:30-Lily
Mandarin IV  3:30 to 4:30-Julie
Mandarin I 4:30 to 5:30-Lauren *(starts 9/28)

Classroom #410
Chinese Reading & Writing 12:30 to 2:30-Hung
Cantonese I 2:30 to 3:30-Hung/Lillian
Cantonese II 3:30 to 4:30-Hung/Lillian
Japanese I 4:30 to 5:30-Terry/Sophie

Dance Room in the Basement?
If you are physically up to it, ALESN also offers a Mixed Martial Arts/Self Defense class from 3:30-5:30 starting September 28th. No registration is necessary.

For those who are attending, enjoy, have fun, and maybe I'll see you there.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Chinese Paper Cutting - 剪紙/ 剪纸

Over the weekend, I had a chance to learn basic Chinese paper cutting 剪紙 / 剪纸 (zin2 zi2 in Cantonese,  jiǎn ​zhǐ in Mandarin). We didn't learn anything really difficult, but it is a good introduction to learning paper cutting. Basically we end up cutting symmetrical designs. The designs become more intricate and fancy as the number of folds increases.

I remember when I was a child, I would follow my grandma to the garment factory or 衣廠 (ji1 cong2 in Cantonese, yi1 chang3 in Mandarin – I guess the term is the same in Mandarin) where my grandma worked in Chinatown, NY. To pass the time, my grandma would give me a piece of paper and ask me to snip triangles along the sides of the folded paper with a scissor. In the end, I made a lot of paper snowflakes in different variations. I suppose I had my  /  introduction early on in life.

What we actually learned recently in class is how to create the Chinese characters: (ceon1 in Cantonese, chun1 in Mandarin) and (hei2 in Cantonese, xi3 in Mandarin). means spring. Chinese people typically hang a paper cut during Chinese New Year because Chinese New Year is the Spring Festival. or 雙喜/双喜 means “double happiness” where good things come in doubles. This paper cut is especially used and taped to the doors or walls during weddings since weddings represent the happiness of the bride and groom.

Unlike my other arts-and-craft projects on this blog, I will not be making a PDF file since this project is fairly easy to do and I am not expert enough to offer any valuable advice. Thanks to Hung, our Reading and Writing and Cantonese I and II instructor at ALESN, and his friend Sophia, for teaching us how to paper cut. Sophia even earned a certificate in paper cutting, which she proudly displays in the back of her portfolio.

Materials needed for paper cutting:

·         A sharp pair of small scissors is ideal.
·         Thin colored paper (origami paper works well too.)
·         Pencil
·         Eraser

How to make a paper cut:

Ideally, if you want to be traditional, red colored paper is preferred to scare away evil spirits. In my case, though, I used a piece of origami double-sided colored paper.

1)    Fold colored paper in half.

2)    Draw or stencil in (if you have a stencil) half of the  character on the inner side of the fold with a pencil. Please don't follow my ugly picture below. I was free styling. 

3)    Cut along the pencil line. If the rectangular spot on the bottom right, that is left-half of the  character, is too difficult to cut due to its small size, then try to cut like the number four, by cutting a triangle in the middle first and then snipping off the upper sides last.

4)    Erase the pencil lines. Open the paper up and wallah, you have a  paper cut!

 How to make a  paper cut:

Follow the instructions above except the sketch or stencil would look something like this:

In order to cut the two  boxes  in the middle, cut the whole stencil out first and then fold those  parts in half in order to cut . At least that is what I did in order to achieve a close-to- perfect cut.

The end result:


I colored mine blue because it was the only marker I had at the time. Leaving the paper white reminds me of a funeral.

We can continue making more characters as long as the characters are symmetrical though I guess pro cutters will know how to make a design even if the design is not symmetrical. I’m sure professionals also use an X-Acto knife to cut the paper as well.

After my fun day at ALESN, I went back to my grandma’s apartment and gave her my paper cut. Then, we had dinner. Coincidentally, during dinner time, my grandma and I watched an episode of the Hong Kong TVB series, Beauty at War aka War and Beauty 2 (金枝慾孽貳/金枝欲孽贰 – gam1 zi1 juk6 jip6 ji6 in Cantonese jin1 zhi1 yu4 nie4 er4 in Mandarin) where the two consorts Consort Yue (played by Sheren Teng) and Consort Dowager Shun (played by Christine Ng) were paper cutting in episode 18.

Screen captured from

After being upset, Consort Yue left with her finished paper cut of four beautiful characters: 榮華富貴 (wing4 waa4 fu3 gwai3 in Cantonese, rong2 hua2 fu4 gui4 in Mandarin), which means “glory and weath.”

Screen captured from
 Then, Consort Dowager Shun opened her own and she found out that she cut the wrong section and to her dismay, her character paper cut fell apart.

Screen captured from
*Sad Face*

Screen captured from
Well, I wasn't sure of the story line since I am not following this drama, but it was a real interesting scene. Hopefully, you won't have to go through this mishap. Happy paper cutting!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Chinese Family Relationships: Overview

It’s been a while. I hope you haven’t been slacking off as a lifetime Chinese student. I was actually doing more research and draft articles for this blog, though unpublished at this point. Fear not, I shall not give up on this blog. If I don’t post in more than a month, please review the older posts in the meantime.

Lately, I have been researching the topic of Chinese family relationships or kinship  I have a large family on both sides, which allowed me the opportunity to really know my relational terms while growing up. I also learned that no matter how much Chinese you know, there is always something that Chinese people are unfamiliar with or have forgotten. That is why I believe Chinese learning is a life-long process and some topics or areas deserved to be reviewed once again.

In my researching process, I have spent four days reviewing two dictionaries and looking for relevant, standard terms just for the basic family alone. I searched for all the possible terms that existed, ignoring irrelevant slang, nicknames, titles, and other definitions. You may have called your sister a pig your whole life, but that term will not be included in my chart. I have also seen in TV shows where some rich people address their fathers based on their titles (teacher, CEO, President, etc.), which creates some distance between them, but that is simply not a normal or loving way to call one’s parent. Because I have American influences, I have gotten creative, calling my paternal younger uncle, Sukie, most of my life instead of the proper term, (suk1 suk1 in Cantonese, shu1 shu5 in Mandarin).

I will leave the creative naming up to you, my readers, but at the very least, you should know the basic terms. If you do come up with a nickname, I hope it is a respectful term. Family is so important in Chinese culture that it is rare that I hear somebody call their family members a derogatory name. If I do hear it, I would think the speaker is uncultured and of course, disrespectful. Sometimes, the more offensive a name is, the more the term indicates how close you are with a person, but the term should never be so offensive that it makes a person uncomfortable or embarrassed. My paternal older Aunt, who is a proud grandma, calls her grandson, 菠蘿 / 菠萝 (gam1 bo1 lo1 in Cantonese / jin1 bo1 luo2 in Mandarin), which literally means, golden pineapple. People would ask my Aunt how her  菠蘿 / 菠萝 is doing. In the end, the nicknames should be endearing.

If you saw the comprehensive PowerPoint slide that I made on the basic family, you would be surprised.

Here is a screenshot:

Therefore, I had to make a quick chart as well for standard semi-formal terms. I will try to pick the most standard terminology for the quick reference chart.


When you want to indicate that a person is a relative, you may use the term:
親戚 / 戚 (can1 cik1 in Cantonese, qin1 qi5 in Mandarin)

If you want to refer to somebody as your close relative, you may use the term:
親人 / - (can1 jan4 in Cantonese, qin1 ren2 in Mandarin)

What is a Close Relative?

Close relatives usually comprise of your immediate family, your father’s brother’s family, and your paternal grandparents. Basically, if you share your last name with a relative, you are considered “closer” to that person than a person who does not share your last name. A lot of people are forward-thinkers and may reject a male-dominated philosophy and call every relative their “close” relative so the actual meaning of the term may depend on the person as well. My aunts, being female, would reject this philosophy as they consider themselves just as “close” as their brothers are to the family. I originally introduced you to the semi-traditional meaning. If we really want to be super traditional, your sisters are not considered one of the “close” family members since they will be married off one day (if not already). The original 六親 (six [close] relatives – luk6 can1 in Cantonese, lu4 qin1 in Mandarin) are father, mother, older brother(s), younger brother(s), wife (in today’s terms: spouse), and son(s). I can explain more by adding the Chinese characters, but this can be explored in another post.


I hope you are at the Chinese level where you know how to say, “He or she is my…”
If not, here’s a quick run-down of the words:

Cantonese (spoken-colloquial):
 keoi5 hai6 ngo5 ge3…
He/she is my…

Please read and pronounce in Cantonese:


Answer: He or she is my relative.
keoi5 hai6 ngo5 ge3 can1 cik1.
keoi5 hai6 ngo5 can1 cik1. 

The possessive word, is omitted when the speaker is referring to his or her 親人. I will leave it up to you whether to include it or not and many people find it strange or unnatural to use the possessive particle for family members since you don’t technically possess or own them. You might or might not hear or see the possessive particle being used, but it is usually left out of the sentence.

我爸. keoi5 hai6 ngo5 baa1*4 baa1.
He is my father.
* = You may pronounce baa1 or baa4 for the first .baa4 is the more common pronunciation. 

If you want to be formal or polite – Cantonese (spoken-colloquial):
位係() ni1 wai2 hai6 ngo5 (ge3)…
This [classifier for person] is my…

Please read and pronounce in Cantonese:

This [classifier for person] is my father.
ni1 wai2 hai6 ngo5 baa1*4 baa1.

ta1 shi4 wo3 de5…
He is my…

ta1 shi4 wo3 de5…
She is my…

The pronunciations for “he” and “she” are the same in Mandarin, but the Chinese character is different.

Please read and pronounce in Mandarin:
. ta1 shi4 wo3 de5 qin1 qi5.

Here is the Taiwanese/Cantonese-Written phrase:
親戚. ta1 shi4 wo3 de5 qin1 qi5.
She is my relative.

The possessive word, is often omitted when the speaker is referring to his or her . I will leave it up to you whether to include it or not and many people find it strange or unnatural to use the possessive particle for family members since you don’t technically possess or own them. You might or might not hear or see the possessive particle being used, but it is usually left out of the sentence. In the last example, 親戚... is used more frequently than 親戚... according to Google search results since a close relative is a general term and not referring to anybody specific. Then again, everything seems to be a preference. I personally prefer that you go with the general flow of society and omit the possessive particle when you are specifically referring to your close relatives.

我爸. zhe4 shi4 wo3 ba4 ba5.
He is my father.

If you want to be formal:

這位人. zhewei4 shi4 wo3 de5 qin1 ren2.
這位親人. zhewei4 shi4 wo3 de5 qin1 ren(Taiwanese traditional characters and Cantonese-written characters).

This is a general statement so I personally added the character.

Filial Piety

I won’t mention filial piety at this point because I feel like this is something that is generally known. A child should respect parents and respect elders. Perhaps I’ll write up a post about it at a later point.

Given Names

This topic might or might not be obvious, but a Chinese person would never refer to an elder or address an elder by their actual given name. Some people in the United States call their parents, aunts, and uncles by their actual name, but that is disrespectful in Chinese culture. Calling an older relative by their title and then name (e.g. Uncle Bob) is more respectful, but still disrespectful in Chinese culture when addressing relatives. This is especially true for business relationships where last names are used along with titles. With friends, it may or may not be an issue depending on the age and relationship between you and your friend. However, if you are in a situation where you have to clarify a relative’s given name, then it is okay to mention it as a name. If I am talking about my father, I would say, “My father’s name is ______.”

I could seriously go on and on about the Chinese family topic, but I will spare you for now. There is still so much we can discuss about family and family history. There is so much I want to tell you, but we will stop here for today. Look for my other similar topics in the future.

I will continue explaining family members in detail in future posts. I don’t have all the answers, but it’s a start!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Red Envelope Project: Red Envelope Lantern 紅包燈籠/紅包灯笼

Do you like this "lantern" 燈籠/灯笼 (Cantonese: dang1 lung4/ Mandarin: deng1 long2)? Do you want to make one?
This 燈籠/灯笼  is made out of "red envelopes" 紅包 (Cantonese: hung4 baau1, Mandarin: hong2 bao1)

Thanks to Helen Man and Tina Lee, instructors at ALESN, I was able to learn how to make such a beautiful flower ball decoration out of Chinese red envelopes.

I have attached a link here in case you want to download the FREE PDF file that I made for this project.

Otherwise, the online instructions are below! Enjoy!

Materials Needed:
24 Cardboard Pieces that can fit inside the red envelopes
24 Red Envelopes
Red String
Chinese-Charms, keychain, or anything decorative for the bottom of your lantern

Scotch tape

Step 1: Preparation
Insert a cardboard piece into a red envelope. Leave the flap of the envelope open.
Do this for all 24 Red envelopes.
If you choose not to use cardboard, your lantern might come out flimsy in the end.

Step 2: Taping The Lantern
Line up six red envelopes vertically facing down.
Tape the envelopes together with the unclosed flap directly above the next envelope.
The picture on the left shows what the front should look like after taping.

Step 3: Taping The Lantern
Turn the row of six envelopes to face down again.
With the flap of the red envelope closed, place a new envelope with the back-side facing up and place it directly on top of the envelope that is furthest to your right. Tape the left side of the new envelope to the gap between first and second red envelopes on the right.
Next, repeat the process with a new envelope on top of the second envelope from your right except with the backside of the envelope facing down. Remember to only tape the left side of the envelope.
Repeat this step four more times, reversing the envelope sides each time, making sure all flaps of the new envelopes are closed.

You should have used 12 envelopes in total so far.

Step 4: Taping The Lantern
Set the whole project on its side, drawing out the second set of envelopes.
You should be able to match up the first two red envelopes on the right to make a triangle and tape them together.

Repeat with the third and fourth red envelopes and also with the fifth and sixth red envelopes.

Step 5: Taping The Lantern
At this point, the tip of the first triangle on the right should meet with the tip of the second triangle. Tape the tips together.
Leave the third triangle on the left alone.

Step 6: Taping The Lantern
Take out your red string and fold your red piece of string in half. Make sure the string is still long enough to go through your imaginary lantern and more for the loop at the top and to hang the charm at the bottom.
At the area where your folded your string, estimate how big your want the top loop of your lantern to be and tie a knot at the bottom of the loop.
Place your knot on top of the two triangle tips where you last scotch taped and tape the red string against where you previously taped to reinforce the red string to the middle of the lantern.

Step 7: Taping The Lantern
Tape the tip of the last triangle on the left to the middle of the lantern.

Close up the hexagon by taping the last end of the red envelope to the original first envelope.

 Your lantern should look like this so far.
You have just made the top half of your lantern!

Step 8: Taping The Lantern
Repeat steps 2 and 3 except that you are lining the envelopes horizontally and not vertically.

Step 9: Taping The Lantern
Repeat step 5 again, taping the right two triangles tips together.
At this point, it is easy to place the top of your lantern upside down, pulling the remaining red string upwards and taping it against the middle of the bottom half of the lantern, making sure that the vertical hexagon is also upside down. Close up the bottom hexagon. 

Step 10: Taping The Lantern
Reinforce the insides of the lantern with more tape, unless you like it loose.

It looks prettier when the angles of the top and bottom sides match up.

Step 11: Applying the Charm
Using the remaining string, tie the charm to the bottom of the string. You can cut off any remaining string or do something creative with the leftover string.

Wallah! We have a red envelope lantern!
Optional step: There are options such as rolling up some more envelopes vertically or horizontally and taping it to the sides of the lantern for a more Asian style.

Another option is to get a thin stick and attach it to the top of the lantern so you can hold it like a real lantern in the night for fun.