Something is rotten at Whole Foods: Racial “ching-chong” slurs prompt cry for public apology to Asian American community

AsAm News (by Shirley N. Lew):

It is with great sadness that the work I’ve done with the assistance of Chris Kwok of the Asian American Bar Association of New York (AABANY) on behalf of my friend, Kwok Ming Cheng, has come to an end.

Ever since an employee of Whole Foods Market in Lower Manhattan called Cheng a “ching-chong” last July, we have been collaborating with the guidance of Kwok to get the market on Bowery and Houston Streets to make a public apology to the Asian American community.

Cheng has decided to no longer pursue an apology from the market due to a very busy work schedule from a new job. I admit I am highly disappointed, not at him, but of the circumstances that is preventing him from continuing our battle with Whole Foods. However, I must respect his decision.

Our quest for an apology from Whole Foods was met with a lot of Asian American support last year. Some of you boycotted the market on your own and some wrote angry letters to them. All we wanted to do was first and foremost to have them apologize to the Asian American community, but their public relations manager felt it only involved an individual and not an entire community. They apologized to Cheng only. In addition to our first goal, we also wanted  to have Whole Foods employees receive some form of sensitivity training to prevent another incident with the help of Margaret Fung, the executive director of the Asian American Legal and Defense Education Fund (AALDEF). Whole Food refused that.

Cheng wanted Whole Foods to have a dialogue with us. It never occurred. Michael Sinatra, their public relations manager reached out to me one day to offer to meet, yet he would not agree to a single date we suggested.  After repeated failed attempts to agree on a meeting date, I sent him an email conveying my annoyance at such difficulty. He emailed back and suggested we were the ones being difficult. And with that, that was the last we heard from him. I still have emails showing him shooting down every date we suggested to him.

Kwok, Cheng and I continued to collaborate over months on developing a strategy. At times I admit it looked like an apology would happen if we made enough noise. Then came months of silence between Whole Foods and the three of us as things moved slowly for a variety of reasons; the holidays, Cheng getting married.  Another lawyer who was pulled in to consult added more hands into the mix.

Kwok told me we couldn’t continue with this without the victim involved. I wish we could somehow. I still desire to see a positive end result that we and the Asian American community have fought for. Since we can no longer continue, my only desire now is that hopefully our many attempts to resolve this issue with Whole Foods will inspire someone or group of people to not remain silent nor walk away from any social injustice they face.

During the height of the incident, I was hoping that we’d win, or even if we did not, I wanted to convey to society that Asian Americans are fighters and that we will always face our challenger. I wanted us to look strong, to prove to everyone we fight for our justice like any other ethnic group, but not being able to go on is a blow to me.

I felt the three of us somehow represented the Asian American community, especially for Lower Manhattan. I was contemplating on organizing a community event in Lower Manhattan after a resolution with Whole Foods. I thought of inviting community leaders, local business owners and other panelists to discuss why racial slurs are simply bad for merchants, the local economy and the community.

During those many months of collaboration, I was fueled to pursue some form of justice or at least ruffle Whole Foods feathers, which I strongly believed we did.  Now our battle has come to an abrupt end without an apology. I still do not want to walk away and let this go so easily. I don’t want to give up.

Racial slurs affect an entire ethnic group, hence the word “racial slur” not “individual slur.” “Chink,” and “ching-chong” mimic the sound of the Chinese language to unfamiliar ears, which also mocks our Chinese identity. These racial slurs are also used against the Japanese and Koreans too. The employee that called Cheng “ching-chong” is probably still employed. She should have known better than to repeat it from another employee, but she didn’t and that makes the incident so very sad.

People that poke fun at the sound of our language or slant their eyes at us give a hatred vibe and are not accepting of who we are.  I have bad news for them. Asian Americans are not going anywhere anytime soon, so they need to get to know us and get used to seeing us everywhere they go as we are the fastest growing minority group.

Recently I read a 2009 article, that is strangely circulating again on the internet, about a Texas lawmaker who suggested that those with Asian names should consider changing them so that it could be easily read at the election polls. Old story, but hot damn, reading that got me fired up. The article said the lawmaker didn’t think that the request was offensive, but merely trying to make the voting process easier.  She lost re-election later on.

It’s this ignorance, not innocence that touches a nerve in me and that’s why I feel so strongly to educate those poor ignorant souls. We can all just sit back and let racial slurs go on and brush it off because we don’t want to bother or have the time. We shouldn’t pretend it didn’t happen either.

Wouldn’t Asians be hypocrites to fight for diversity in the workplace, the entertainment industry and everywhere else, but not stop racial slurs? We all know the “n” word is bad, so why isn’t the “c” word just as sensitive when rolled out of someone’s lips? Why should Asians let the “c” word go? Racial slurs will never end if we don’t put in the effort to stop it.

I hope our experience and my still fired up attitude will inspire some of you to go further in your quest for justice than where we left off with ours. Although, we end here, that doesn’t mean we should stop discussing the Whole Foods incident. We have to take what happened there as reminder to not ever let this happen again. The next person to use a racial slur will get an earful from me. I promise you.

Thank you for the support you gave us and especially to Kwok of AABANY. I also want to wish my friend all the best at his new job and marriage, and may he never be called the “c” word again.

Now go out there and stomp out racial slurs.


Shirly N. Lew

Study reveals Chinese speakers use more of their brain than English speakers



A study has found that people who speak tonal languages such as Mandarin or Cantonese use both hemispheres of their brain rather than just the left hemisphere, which researchers have long emphasized as being the primary processing center for languages.

Quartz sorts out the report, which was recently published in the in the Proceedings for the National Academy of Science:

After analyzing brain imaging data from Mandarin and English speakers listening their respective languages, researchers from Peking University and other universities found that native Mandarin speakers and native English speakers both showed evidence of activity in the brain’s left hemisphere. But Mandarin speakers also saw activation in the right hemisphere, specifically in a region important for processing music, via pitch and tone, that has long been seen as largely unrelated to language comprehension.

Since at least the 1950s, researchers in the field of neurolinguistics have been questioning how languages influence perception, and physiological behavior. This latest study supports one emerging theory, connectionism, that maintains that some languages require interactions across the entire brain. The findings are important for better protecting language-related regions during brain surgery as well as understanding the “constitution of knowledge of language, as well as how it is acquired,” according to the study.


It can be reasonably concluded then that all native speakers of tonal languages, including Vietnamese, Cantonese and Thai, use more of their brain than non-tonal language speakers, Gang Peng, a co-author of the study, told Quartz. Bonus: these speakers are more likely to have perfect pitch.

A salute to Officer Liu

New York Post:

Today New York’s Finest will join with newly widowed Pei Xia Chen to bury a gallant officer: Wenjian Liu.

It was never supposed to turn out this way.

As recently as September, Pei was a bride planning a happy future with the man she loved. Her husband had come to this country from Guangdong Province in China as a teenager; he’d learned English at Brooklyn’s Lafayette HS; and he found his own path to the American Dream — as an officer in the finest police force in our nation.

It’s a reminder that cops have names and faces and families.

Detective Rafael Ramos, who was buried last week, had a wife and two sons he loved more than life itself. He was studying to be a chaplain.

We dwell on this because too often police officers are treated as cardboard cutouts.

These are the men and women we send into dark stairwells, down dangerous streets and into situations from which everyone else is running away. Their prayer each day as they put on the blue is that they discharge their responsibilities with honor and return home safely to their spouses and children.

We are encouraged by the outpouring of public affection for these men and what they symbolize, not to mention the incredible turnout for their funerals.

Notwithstanding the ugly chants about dead cops that have attended some of the protests, the public appreciates the men and women who stand between us and harm’s way.

In the first days after her husband was shot, Pei Xia Chen appeared before the TV cameras, distraught and shaky. Her message? To express the gratitude of the entire Liu family for the sympathy and condolences they have received.

In her statement, Pei detailed her husband’s devotion to the NYPD, his pride that he was able to use his Chinese language skills to contribute to the safety of this city and the joy he took in his chosen vocation.

Another way to look at it is this: While Liu may have started out in China, by the end of his all-too-short life he was a New Yorker through and through. On this sad day, we salute this dedicated police officer and lift his family up in our prayers.

Wenjian Liu was a loyal son and husband, a proud New Yorker and our protector. May he rest in peace.

China bans puns in media and ads

Beyond Chinatown:


Last week, China’s State Administration for Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (国家广播电影电视总局 / 國家廣播電影電視總局) announced a policy that bans the use of wordplay in media and ads ostensibly to “popularize and standardize the use of the national common language, a heritage of Chinese traditional culture”.  Since Chinese languages, like Mandarin, have a rich linguistic tradition of wordplay based on homophonic puns that, unlike puns in English, are much more ubiquitous and always seem clever and never groan or eye-roll inducing, the edict at first glance seems to be more ridiculous than SAPPRFT’s ban on time travel in TV shows and movies.   It might not be entirely ill-conceived.

The Wall Street Journal’s China Real Time explains one example specifically cited by the Chinese version of the FCC as an “indiscriminate use” of language:

[T]he phrase “晋善晋美” was used in ads promoting tourism to Shanxi province, widely seen as the cradle of Chinese culture. The slogan — translated as “Shanxi, a land of splendors”–  was a pun on the Chinese saying, “尽善尽美,” which means perfection. The ads swapped out the character “尽” for a homonym, “晋,” a character often used to represent Shanxi.”


Shanxi Promotional Video:


The slogan was selected in December 2012 by the Shanxi Tourism Bureau after four months of competition and was heavily promoted on CCTV and other media outlets.  In July 2013, it was reported a fourth grade student mistook the tourism slogan for the idiom meaning “perfection”.

The clever phrase was deemed to “rape” the idiom and sullied Chinese culture.   This pun control can be seen as part of the Central Government’s efforts to promote standard Mandarin.

Many are sympathetic to the government’s concern about the irregular and inaccurate use of characters, especially among children, but find it at odds with linguistic appreciation and development.  Yi Ming (亦鸣 / 亦鳴), a contributor to China Art Newspaper (中国艺术报 / 中國藝術報), praises the slogan as a clever use of traditional culture for a commercial purpose and highlights the charm of Chinese characters.

Li Zhiqi (李志起) chairman of marketing group CBCT, linguistic innovation should be encouraged and new idioms created.  An editorial in Xinhua does not believe in a “one size fits all” prohibition.  The author calls for the SAPPRFT to “seriously listen to the reasonable opinions of language scholars and the public” and believes that people need to keep an open mind about language so that it can develop.

The rule naturally echoes efforts by the government to censor online taboo topics, names, and words which Chinese netizens often circumvent by slyly hiding behind puns.  For example, when the government censored the word “harmonious” (和谐 / 和諧, pronounced héxié) online because netizens began using it as a euphemism for censorship (which the government justifies in order to promote a “Socialist Harmonious Society“), “river crab” (河蟹 / 河蟹, pronounced héxiè) was used as a substitute.

Dissident artist Ai Weiwei later visualized the phrase in an installation and invited supporters to feast on river crabs to protest the government’s demolition of his Shanghai studio.



David Moser, academic director for CET Chinese studies at Beijing Capital Normal University, tells The Guardian, “It could just be a small group of people, or even one person, who are conservative, humorless, priggish and arbitrarily purist, so that everyone has to fall in line…But I wonder if this is not a preemptive move, an excuse to crack down for supposed ‘linguistic purity reasons’ on the cute language people use to crack jokes about the leadership or policies. It sounds too convenient.”

Popular Chinese sci-fi novel to be released in English on November 11

Beyond Chinatown:


We’ve been anticipating the English translation of Liu Cixin’s (刘慈欣 / 劉慈欣) popular sci-fi novel The Three-Body Problem (三体 / 三體) since it was promised at MFA Lab’s sci-fi themed screening in April.  Finally, the wait is over!  The first book in the Remembrance of Earth’s Past (地球往事) trilogy has been translated by award-winning sci-fi writer Ken Liu and will be released by Tor Books on November 11, 2014.

In the book, which The Register says is “The War of the Worlds and The Day The Earth Stood Still from a 1984 standpoint”,  a secret Chinese government project makes contact with an alien civilization that faces extinction on their home planet.  The aliens threaten to invade Earth (which Liu likens to European colonization of Canada), and in this “worst of all possible universes”, humans are split whether to welcome the aliens to help them take over our corrupt world or to fight them.  Its title is taken a concept from classical physics where gravitational pull of a third mass perturbs the interaction between two two masses.

Liu is one of the most prolific and popular science fiction writers in China.  In 2010, he was named Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Writer by the Nebula Awards.

Even before publication, The Three-Body Problem has been selected by Amazon as of one the best books of 2014.  In its serialized form in Science Fiction World (科幻世界), it won the China’s science fiction writing Galaxy Award (银河奖 / 銀河獎) in 2006 and helped launch a new interest in science fiction in China, selling over 1 million copies since its publication in 2008.   Testifying to the popularity of the book and showing that Chinese sci-fi fans are just like sci-fi fans in the America, there are fan-composed songs, fake trailers, and Sina Weibo accounts based on the books characters where the users act out the story.  Even more humorously, Liu recounts, “When CCTV, China’s largest state television broadcaster, tried to hold an interview series on the topic of science fiction, a hundred plus studio audience members erupted into chants of ‘Eliminate human tyranny! The world belongs to Trisolaris!’—a quote from the novel. The two TV hosts were utterly flummoxed and didn’t know what to do.”

Talking about the significance and evolution of science fiction in China with Tor Books, Liu says

The experience of Three Body caused science fiction writers and critics to re-evaluate Chinese science fiction [whose fan base was “small and insular”] and China . They realized that they had been ignoring changes in the thinking patterns of Chinese readers. As modernization accelerated its pace, the new generation of readers no longer confined their thoughts to the narrow present, as their parents did, but were interested in the future and the wide-open cosmos. The China of the present is a bit like America during science fiction’s Golden Age, when science and technology filled the future with wonder, presenting both great crises and grand opportunities. This was rich soil for the growth and flourishing of science fiction.”

In this Wall Street Journal article about the release of the English translation, editor Liz Gorinsky says that the book is “very different than anything you would expect from an American science-fiction novel” and points out the opportunity for English readers to see a Chinese cultural perspective: “China is in the news a lot, but there aren’t many direct cultural exports being published as part of mainstream media…Obviously, you can’t get the Chinese cultural perspective from just one author, but there are relatively few opportunities like this to see what the modern Chinese social landscape is like.”

WSJ‘s China Real Time has an interview with Liu.

The first three chapters can be read on the Tor website, and excerpts from later on can be found here (three specific stories are highlighted) and here.


Spanish YouTuber teaches us 14 Taiwanese pet phrases

A Spanish YouTuber living in Taiwan shared a list of must-know pet phrases that he picked up by observing the locals. If you’re learning the Chinese language, starting a new phase in life in Taiwan, or even just imagining taking a trip to the lovely country, hit the “read more” button!

Our teacher for the day is Jesús Sandoval, a foreigner living in Taipei, Taiwan. He initially started his YouTube channel teaching Spanish to Chinese speakers, but his channel has evolved to focus more on interesting facts and information about Taiwan from a foreigner’s point of view.

In one of his recent episodes of 阿兜仔不教美語!(Foreigner doesn’t teach English!), he touched on lingo that the Taiwanese often use in daily life. He recalls his Chinese language teacher teaching him that the mandarin equivalent of “hello” is 你好 (ni hao), so he went around greeting people with that, but he later realized that the people around him never said 你好 on a daily basis (你好 is usually used when you meet people for the first time). When in Rome, do as the Romans do.


Microsoft: Bing’s altered Chinese search results are a glitch, not censorship


Anti-censorship blogs have found that when using Bing, it appears the Chinese government‘s muzzle for “damaging” web-based news extends beyond its borders, but Microsoft says that’s not the case.

Bing search queries are returning with wildly different results for Chinese-language users on US soil, according to Greatfire. The site tested a series of searches in Chinese for hot-button topics ranging from the Dalai Lama, Tiananmen Square and the corrupt government official Bo Xilai. In the case of the Tibetan spiritual leader, results don’t include his Wikipedia page, personal website or various news reports like they do for searches in English. Instead, Chinese-language Bing users both domestic and foreign found links to a state-sponsored documentary and China’s heavily censored version of Wikipedia, Baidu Baike. If a user is in mainland China, Bing denotes that the search results have been altered, but not so in the US according to The Guardian.

Bing’s Senior Director Stefan Weitz has denied this and tells us that it wasn’t complying with China’s stringent legal requirements — it was a glitch. According to a statement by Weitz, an error caused “an incorrect results removal notification for some searches noted in the report” but that the results were unaltered outside of China.

However, Redmond didn’t note whether or not the error had been fixed. We’ve included the full statement from Microsoft after the break.



Chineasy, A Visual System to Easily Learn Chinese Characters Using Simple Illustrations


Laughing Squid:


Chineasy: The New Way to Read Chinese is a collaboration between London entrepreneur and author ShaoLan Hsueh and graphic artist Noma Bar designed to provide a simple way to learn Chinese by combining the characters themselves with illustrations that provide an easy touchstone for reference.

Chineasy’s goal is to allow people to learn to read Chinese easily by recognizing characters through simple illustrations. The magical power of the Chineasy method is that by learning one small set of building blocks, students can build many new words, characters, and phrases.

This was all made possible in part thanks to the project’s successful 2013 Kickstarter campaign, which raised £197,626. The system is set to release on March 14th.

You can pre-order Chineasy: The New Way to Read Chinese on Amazon.

Check out this link:

Chineasy, A Visual System to Easily Learn Chinese Characters Using Simple Illustrations

Chineasy Horse Illustrationhorse/ma

chineasynannynanny/bao mu

chineasyjellyfishjellyfish/shui mu

chineasybrightmoonbright moon/ming yue

images via Chineasy

via Cool Hunting


Pew: Chinese Second Most non-English Language Spoken in US


An analysis of the American Community Survey by the Pew Research Center has found that Chinese is the second most non-English spoken language in the United States, behind Spanish.

2.8 million people speak Chinese at home, that’s well short of the 37.6 million who speak Spanish. Hindi, Urdu or other Indic languages are grouped together as third with 2.2 million.

French is right behind at fourth with 2.1 million. Tagalog placed fifth at 1.7 million… Surprisingly not all Spanish speaking are Hispanic.

Check out this link:

Pew: Chinese Second Most non-English Language Spoken in US