I recently downloaded this sheet of Covid stickers and emoticons. I really like them because they reference specific features of Shenzhen’s experience during the February and March 2022 Omicron outbreak. However, I haven’t yet used any of them because I’m feeling nervous about being called out for cultural incompetence if I misuse them. Or even more scary is that I won’t be called out and I’ll just continue making the same mistake over and over again. That said, I don’t actually want to use emoticons enough that I am willing to learn how to use them by stumbling along and making mistakes. And there’s the rub: emoticons don’t actually resonate with me. They’re just part of a dialect that I recognize has overtaken me, but even so, I haven’t really put in any effort to learn.
So why don’t I emote-icon with confidence? What am I missing when chosen family and friends insert emoticons into a dialog? And why do I feel more comfortable writing in 普通话 than I do texting in either English or Mandarin?
My cellphone has changed me or rather it has changed how I experience myself, and this other me (the one that steps back and reflects on this experience) is coming to terms with someone I never imagined I would meet, let alone become. Continue reading →
Walking along New Shekou Road this afternoon, I suddenly became aware of the abandoned, but still working telephones in this older, industrial area. I asked several pedestrians when was the last time you used a telephone (in a booth) and not a cell phone? Most counted the time on their fingers, guestimating between 6 and 9 years ago.
Impressions, below. And under that, a poll: When was the last time you used a public telephone in an outdoor telephone booth to call someone?
The countdown for Shenzhen’s official 3oth Birthday (26 August, 2010) has begun. All sorts of events are planned at every level of government, including a three-day weekend for white collar workers (27 Aug will be a municipal holiday). My favorite event is the mass give away of phone cards (15 million!) so that every Shenzhen inhabitant can reconnect with loved ones back home and “introduce them to 30 years of success in the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone (quote unquote from the front page of 深圳特区报：“发放专门制造的纪念电话充值卡，可以让市民打电话向亲朋好友介绍深圳经济特区30年的建设成果”）”
It’s true, the story of cell phones and Shenzhen identity needs to be written. Not just in terms of individual identity (keeping connected, texting all sorts of jokes, and unofficial rumors, letting a child play games while parents chat at morning tea), but also in terms of the way that the City has used cell phones in soft propaganda campaigns. What’s more, phone statistics seem to be the most accurate way of estimating Shenzhen’s population and demographics.
Also of note is the celebratory language. Other than the obvious resurgence of earlier reform phrasing (特区 this and 特区 that has returned with a vengeance, and 闯 is once again the verb of choice to describe the act of immigrating to and inhabiting Shenzhen), City officials and public intellectuals are appropriating Confucian understandings of proper aging. Shenzhen is celebrating: 三十而立 成就深圳 (at thirty one establishes herself; successful Shenzhen). Likewise, the next ten years are being discussed as a movement from 三十而立 to 四十而不惑 (at forty one has no doubts / hesitations).
And finally, just a note on polysemy and how the mind wanders. One of the front page articles for the celebration kick-off was: 发挥党代表作用，增强党的活力. At first glance, the phrase means what it says: make full use of Party representatives, strengthen Party vitality. However, in colloquial slang, when one man joins a group of women, that lone man is called 党代表 or Party Representative. So, instead of thinking good thoughts about how the Party is still striving to improve itself, I’m thinking that those Party representatives do need to keep their strength up!