04.30.07

Revenge of the Bank

Posted in Chinese Bank Rants, Personal Anecdotes at 8:03 pm by Benjamin Ross

Last week I had my first sweet, sweet taste of revenge against the merciless Chinese banking system. This week, they had their chance to fight back—the culprit was a fake 50 RMB note that was in my wallet.

I had been waiting in line at the bank to transfer my rent money to my landlord, when I noticed that one of the 50s in my wallet was clearly fake. I haven’t mention this much in my blog before, but here’s my policy on fake money—spend it. Counterfeit notes are everywhere in China, and anybody who has lived here for an extended period of time surely has experiences with them. The way I look at it, counterfeit money is just an inconvenience. Somebody passes me a fake. If I notice it is fake, I don’t accept it. If I fail to notice it, therefore it’s my own fault. Now I have to deal with the aggravation of passing it off to somebody else, who inevitably will have to deal with the aggravation of passing it on to another person. Nobody really loses out except Uncle Mao. (Actually, the majority of fake money I have received has come from official ATMs which I don’t consider my fault. I still follow the same policy). Bearing this in mind, I should add that I never pass fake money to people I know, small shop owners, or street vendors. Instead I try to use it at large grocery stores, McDonald’s, or in taxi cabs (where most of the fake money originates in the first place). I’m not sure if this is completely morally sound, but it helps me sleep better at night.

The other day, I had the stupid idea of using my fake 50 at the bank. Usually when you use fake money, the person you hand it to, simply says 换一张 (you got another one?), and hands back your bill sparing you the embarrassment of telling you it’s fake. At the bank this is not the case. The teller ran my stack of 14 bills through a little machine, and immediately picked up on the fake 50. Without fighting, I slid two twenties and a ten under the window. She took my cash, and told me that she would be confiscating the 50. “That’s my property.” I insisted, but there was nothing I could do from behind the bullet-proof glass. The teller marked the fake note with a small stamp, then called another clerk over who stamped the note at least 15 times on both sides. I was then required to fill out a “receipt for the seizure of counterfeit currency” form. The point of this form, presumably, is to take to the original passer of the fake money, and ask for a return. I was able to trace back the fake 50 to a 快餐 (cheap, buffet-style Chinese food) restaurant near my house. I pondered taking my frustrations to them, and asking for a replacement, but this would have run counter to the “it’s your own fault” theory which I subscribe to.

receipt for seizure of counterfeit currency china RMB
In the event that I ever need to prove to somebody that I tried to pass a counterfeit note at t.he bank, I now have an official “Receipt for the Seizure of Counterfeit Currency.”

Regardless of my frustrations, the bank does have a policy of confiscating counterfeit money, and it was my own dumb-ass fault for trying my counterfeit note at the bank. Fittingly, I got what I deserved. This does not change my opinion that the Chinese banks’ policies are designed to ensure that in the event of any discrepancy, the customer, not the bank, invariably bites the bullet. When viewed independently, it makes perfect sense for the bank to confiscate counterfeit money. However, this policy comes off slightly hypocritical when you consider these same banks also dispense fake notes from their own ATMs. I think next time I am given a fake 100 from a Chinese ATM, I am going to confiscate the fake, demand the ATM give me a replacement, and ask it to fill out a form documenting the event. I’ll let you know how successful this goes.

So for those of you not keeping score at home, here’s the tally.

Chinese banks: 350 RMB

Ben: 116.2 RMB

After being beaten fair and square by the Chinese banks, all I can say is that I am even more sure I did the right by thing keeping the 116.2 RMB last week.


 

04.28.07

Ben’s Chinese Pop Music Recommendations

Posted in Pop Culture at 2:06 pm by Benjamin Ross

As much as I despise 99% of Chinese pop music (and most other pop music for that matter), there are a few Chinese songs which have managed to make it into my iTunes regular rotation. While these songs aren’t necessarily “pop” per se, they do fall into the large canon of Chinese music which, as laowai living in the Middle Kingdom, we are constantly bombarded with. With no further ado, here are my personal Chinese pop song recommendations.

真的爱你 by Beyond. Beyond is the most famous band in the brief history of Chinese rock. They are from Hong Kong, so accordingly most of their songs are in Cantonese, which many feel is a more musical tongue than Mandarin. Unfortunately, Beyond’s lead singer died while doing a stage dive at a concert. They continued touring as a trio for several years, and today are pretty much retired.

奔跑 by 羽泉. This upbeat, motivational tune was popular when I first came to China in 2004. The KTV video shows the singers playing their instruments, then going for a fast break on a basketball court. It’s cheesy but fitting. This song stays in constant rotation on my iPod, and was also the song I sang on Fuzhou Foreign Idol.

北方的狼 by 齐秦 If you’re a guy, and looking for a good song to sing at the KTV, this is it. The words are slow and simple, and the song is well-known and liked by most Chinese men, and women too. It tells the story of a wolf coming from the north, and the music fittingly portrays this description.

挪威的森林 by 伍佰 This is a sad love song about leaving a girl, but it has a decent lead guitar riff, and the singing is pleasingly rhythmic. 伍佰 is from Taiwan, and has had many hit songs in both Taiwan and the mainland.

我的地盘 by 周杰伦 (Jay Chou) Conventional knowledge says Chinese and Hip-Hop don’t mix, but Jay Chou makes as good of an attempt as I have ever heard. Jay’s rap lyrics are also famously known to be completely incomprehensible, even to the Chinese ear. Other than the cheesy, Disney-esque opening, this tune really moves. The extra “er” he adds to the end of every word in the chorus gives it a nice touch.

If you want to listen to any of these tunes, click on the links on the song names. If you’re interested in more songs by these artists, you can get them from baidu.com. Above the search bar, click on the link that says “MP3.” Then on the next screen fill in the little circle that says “MP3.” If you want lyrics, click on the circle that says “歌词.” Copy and paste the name of the artist into the search blank and click on the grey rectangular button that says “百度搜索.”

Once the search results come up, click on where it says “试听” to listen to a song. A new window will come up with a player. If you want to save a song, right click on the hyperlink at the top of the player, and save the link. Sometimes baidu links are dead ends, so you might have to try a couple times to get it to work. Good luck.


 

04.25.07

China by Acronyms

Posted in Linguistics at 3:16 pm by Benjamin Ross

You would never guess that a country with an ideographic language system would have so many acronymous terms and organizations…but here you go. Additions welcome.

CCTV With world class programming from that Larry King-wannabee asshole on “Dialogue” to the 7 o’clock news, coming to you live simultaneously from 26 different stations, China Central Television is certain not to disappoint.

NBA Is it any wonder that the first words in English for Chinese boys these days are “I love this game?”

KTV the Chinese term for “karaoke,” the national pastime of Asia

QQ The ubiquitous instant messaging software which everybody…I mean EVERYBODY in China under the age of 30 has. It’s also the name of China’s best selling domestic car, which is something like a cross between a Geo Metro and a Big Wheel.

AA This is the Chinese term for “splitting the bill” or “going Dutch,” and I don’t mean Chinglish. This term is used by Chinese people when speaking Chinese. How it made its way into the Chinese vernacular is beyond me.

XP “ekk uhh suh pee” the operating system which powers 90% of China’s personal computers, available at your local market for 5 kuai.

DIY (Do it yourself) refers to buying the individual parts for a computer and putting them together yourself, rather than buying the whole computer together. It also usually comes with a complimentary copy of ekk uhh suh pee.

CS That ubiquitous computer game that takes up 90% of the bandwidth of Chinese Internet bars. You can be quite certain that at any given moment the number of people playing CS in China is greater than the population of most European states.

ICBC The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China. They must have more branches than the entire Redwood Forrest. You literally can’t walk 5 minutes in any Chinese city without finding one, if not four.

CCP Need we elaborate?

WC I had honestly never heard this term before I came to China, but supposedly it was what they called the crapper in the 1800’s, and apparently still do call it today in France.

KFC The standard bearer by which all “hamburger” restaurants are judged in China. (Other local permutations include DFC, BEC, HDC, and MDC)

VCD The “wee see dee” was the preferred medium for videos in China before the emergence of DVD technology. It revolutionarily combined the convenience of a CD and the picture quality of a conventional webcam.

PICC The China Property and Casualty Company is on a quest to make sure no Chinese skyline is without one of its hideously monotonous signs. After 3 years of being bombarded with their advertisements, I still have no idea what they do.

TMD is short for 他妈的, and literally means “his mother.”  It is probably the closest approximation in the Chinese language to the word “fuck.” My own personal favorite syntax is to use it as an adverb: “真TMD (adjective).”  For example: 这个网站真TMD酷 (This website is really fucking cool!).


 

04.24.07

Pirates of the Middle Kingdom (update)

Posted in Business 'n Economics, Sino-US, Relations and Comparisons at 9:38 am by Benjamin Ross

continued from “Pirates of the Middle Kingdom”

After the initial harsh reactions to US complaints against piracy, China appears to be (at least according to the state run media) stepping up efforts to protect intellectual property. According to this article from China Daily, Chinese authorities have destroyed 42 million pieces of contraband. If true, this certainly is a step in the right direction for supporters of intellectual property rights. However, one sentence from the article had me concerned.

“Workers across the country set fire to 30 million pieces of smuggled and pirated audio and video materials.”

Did they say “set fire?” Was that really the only to dispose of all those discs? To me, the environmental ramifications of 30 million CDs going up in flames presents much more dangerous prospects, than the potential loss of profits for American companies.


 

04.23.07

At the Movie Theatre…Behold, the “Couple Seat”

Posted in Personal Anecdotes at 11:29 am by Benjamin Ross

After three years in China, one experience I had yet to have was seeing a movie in the theatre. Part of the reason was that movies are still out of the price range for most Chinese. Thus, going to see a movie doesn’t serve the same social functions (i.e. default date, something to do on a rainy day) as it does in the US. Instead, Chinese people watch most of their movies from pirated DVDs or download them from the Internet.

So for a little change of pace, Melody and I decided to have a night out at the movies. The theatre was located downtown and there were only 3 movies showing, a Chinese action flick, a Korean scary movie, and “The Devil Wears Pradda.” The latter two were both voiced over into Chinese. We opted for the Korean movie.

The movie, called “Han River Monster” turned out cheesy, but entertaining. It was like a Korean version of “Snakes on a Plane,” except instead of a snake there was a giant man-eating aquatic monster with a prehensile tail.

chinese movie theatre theater cinema
the row of “couple seats,” logically placed in the very back of the theatre

The movie experience itself was remarkably similar to that in the United States, but with people smoking in the theatre. One aspect I did find particularly interesting was the availability of the “couple seat,” a special double-size seat designed for two people to sit together and snuggle. The price of the seat was 60 RMB, 10 RMB more than the price of two regular tickets. Of course, Mel and I had to try it out.

The couple seats are located in the back row of the theatre, and each seat has a barrier separating it from the adjacent seat, so that the people sitting next to you cannot see what you and your partner are doing. This presumably opens up a whole new world for junior high students looking to get away from the watchful eyes of Chinese parents. I tried several times to coax Melody into making out during the movie, but with no success. I was however able to get an arm around here during several of the scary scenes. I guess I’m just not as smooth as the guy sitting next to us who I think made it to second base.


 

04.22.07

East meets West…not in Fuzhou

Posted in Culture Clash, Fujian at 9:49 am by Benjamin Ross

So the other day I am supposed to meet a Chinese friend at Dong Jie Kou, the mega-intersection which forms Fuzhou’s main shopping district. It’s also the geographic center of the city. I arrive 5 minutes before the scheduled meeting time. A few minutes later my phone rings.

“Ben, I am here. Where are you?”
“I am in front of the KFC on the southwest corner of Dong Jie Kou.” (I have to specify “southwest corner” because there is another KFC on the northeast corner as well).
“What do you mean?”
“The southwest corner of Dong Jie Kou.”
“I do not know which corner is the southwest corner.”

Now we have to begin looking for other geographic markers. This is not always so simple in Chinese mega intersections such as Dong Jie Kou. There are KFCs on two of the corners, McDonalds’s on two of the corners, and major shopping malls on three of the corners. By my thinking, using cardinal directions would be the most logical way to ascertain an exact location. Not in Fuzhou.

Fuzhou dongjiekou sky bridge
Dong Jie Kou, Fuzhou’s thriving mega-intersection, and logical point from which to determine direction.

“Where do you live?”
“The northern part of the city.”
“Where’s that?”

“Where is the police station?”
“It faces the west side of the park.”
“Which side is West?”

“I’m trying to find your house. I’m in a cab driving up and down Wu Yi Lu. Should I turn east or west?”
“I don’t know.”

Regardless of the fact that most of the city’s major thoroughfares run either north to south or east to west in a neatly organized grid, virtually nobody, with the exception of cab drivers, knows cardinal directions. Instead, directions are given in relation to a well-known location.

“It’s across from the post office.”

“It’s next to the McDonald’s”

“It’s behind the whore house.”

The problem is that when you are you are in an unfamiliar area, or one where all the architecture is identical, this method does not work. I am not sure if this is just a Fuzhou thing, or a Chinese thing. A Chinese friend once told me “Northerners use north, south, east, and west, but Southerners only know right and left.” The only northern city I have spent a significant amount of time in Beijing, and I noticed that Beijingers, do in fact know cardinal directions.

“Where do you live?”
“I live just south of the north part of the 3rd ring road”

“Where is Hou Hai?”
“It’s northwest of the Forbidden City.”

“How to I get to the Qianmen area?”
“Go to Tiananmen Square, and walk directly south.”

However, I have not spent enough time living in other Chinese cities to confirm whether or not this statement about North vs. South holds any water.

To me, cardinal directions make perfect sense for a city like Fuzhou. Dong Jie Kou is the geographic center of Fuzhou, its main shopping district, and the center of the traffic grid. Using the North Bus Station and South Bus Station as compass points it is not difficult to figure out which way is North and which way is South. If you know the names of major streets (which most locals do), all you have to do is stare at a map for about 15 minutes, and you can figure it all out. Why this method has not caught on with the locals is beyond me.


 

04.20.07

Meet the Uncles

Posted in Culture Clash, Linguistics at 8:15 pm by Benjamin Ross

For the past month, my Chinese girlfriend’s father has been in town visiting from Italy, where he now lives. This was my first time meeting either of her parents, and I was a little nervous at first. One of the most difficult aspects for me was addressing him. Although I have been living in China for 3 years, and speak Mandarin with a decent degree of fluency, I still find it awkward referring to my Chinese friends’ parents as 叔叔 (shu1 shu1) and 阿姨 (a1 yi2), which the dictionary defines as “uncle” and “aunt.” In the past, I had skirted around the issue through use of pronouns. However, before the visit, my girlfriend informed me that I needed to add a 叔叔 before the (ni3) when addressing her father. For example. 叔叔,你要不要喝水.(Uncle, would you like to drink some water?). Leaving off the “uncle” would come off as disrespectful.

I believe part of the problem lies in the way these terms are translated. While the Chinese term for a paternal uncle is 叔叔and a paternal aunt is 阿姨, it is misleading to translate 叔叔 as “uncle” and 阿姨 as “aunt,” and leave it at that. A more accurate definition for these terms would be “respected person of the older generation.”

In the West, we are accustomed to personalization. Even in instances where titles are used, we often add a surname. Sometimes we drop the title and simply use the given name. For example, I call my physician “Dr. Glazer.” I call my friend (link) Todd’s father “Mr. Wesselhoeft.” I call the manager at Taco Bell “Frank.”

In China the conventions are different. I call my doctor 医生 yi1 sheng1 (doctor). I call the security guard in my apartment complex 保安bao3 an1 (guard). I call the shopkeeper near the guard station 老板 lao3 ban3 (boss). I call taxi drivers 师傅 shi1 fu4 (master), and I call shop assistants and waitresses 小姐 xiao3 jie3 (little sister) or 小弟 xiao3 di4 (little brother). Neither the family name nor the given name are ever used.

The use of titles is especially applicable to family members. Each unique family position has its own title. When dealing with members of older generations, only the title is used, not the given name. So for example, my girlfriend calls her father’s brother 叔叔 (shu1 shu1) but calls her mother’s brother 舅舅 (jiu4 jiu4). Her mother’s sister’s husband is 姨丈 (yi2 zhang4) while her father’s sister’s husband is 姑丈 (gu1 zhang4). In English, all four of these people would be called “uncle.” The Chinese title system gets even more elaborate when dealing with cousins and relatives two generations removed. When I am with my girlfriend, I must address her relatives with the same titles she uses. The only acceptation being her parents, whom she calls 妈妈 and爸爸 (ma1 ma1 and ba4 ba4) but whom I call 阿姨 and 叔叔 (a1 yi2 and shu1 shu1).

In a professional setting in China (i.e. doctor, taxi driver, etc.) an appropriate occupational title is used. When addressing with a family member or a close friend’s family member, the respective kinship title is used. When neither of these conditions are met (i.e. stranger, friend’s parents, old lady collecting bottles for recycling, etc.) the default respectful title for a member of the older generation is 叔叔 (shu1 shu1) for a man and 阿姨 (a1 yi2) for a woman.

Defining these two words as meaning “uncle” and “aunt” does not reveal their true functionality. For myself, this has caused me to feel awkward when using them in appropriate situations. By the time I understood the proper usage of these words, they had already been cemented into my brain as “uncle” and “aunt.” The same holds true when the situation is flipped around. The first time my girlfriend talked to my mother on the phone, her knee-jerk reaction was to call her “auntie.” She knew from watching American sit-coms that this was not appropriate in a Western context, but it still felt uncomfortable for her to refer to my mom as “Sally.” For me, after spending two weeks with my girlfriend’s father, it finally started to become natural to call him 叔叔. I think this coincided with my mind letting go of the implicit connection between 叔叔 and “uncle” and instead regarding it simply as an indication of respect for one of my elders.


 

04.18.07

Chinese Banks: The Sweet Taste of Revenge

Posted in Chinese Bank Rants, Personal Anecdotes at 11:01 pm by Benjamin Ross

Yesterday I went to the bank to pick up some money my boss had sent me from the US to pay for my Chinese visa. The expected total was to be 1120.6 RMB. I filled out the transfer forms, and the teller informed me she would be giving me 1226.8 RMB. She wrote down the total on the form, counted out the cash, and handed it to me. I was a little surprised at this apparent oversight, but assumed it was a simple currency exchange miscalculation on my boss’s end. I took my cash, and was on my way.

Half an hour later I received a call from the bank teller. She told me the bank had made an error, and had given me too much money. They asked when I could come back and return the extra 116.2 RMB.

Normally this would have been a no-brainer. Yes, at times in my dark past I have been known to purchase pirated DVDs and steal wireless Internet, but I have always believed money should be returned in the case of an honest mistake. Then another thought occurred to me. I remembered sign which has perturbed me since the first time I was able to read it. It reads like this: 当面点钱,离开不负责 and can be found in big letters at every bank in China. It means “Count your money at the teller window. Once you leave the window we are not responsible.” In other words, “If the bank makes a mistake, you have to bite the bullet because it’s your own damn fault for not catching it in time.” And bite the bullet I have done, like the 3 separate occasions when Chinese banks have given me counterfeit 100 RMB notes. According to the policy, which is posted on the sign, there was nothing I could have done since I had not noticed it at the time the transaction took place.

If by chance this particular bank had given me less money than I should have received, and I hadn’t realized it at the time, there is no way in hell they would have given me my money back. It would have been my own fault for not counting the money on the spot…as is clearly indicated by the sign.

It was my thinking that it is only fair that the rule work both ways. 离开不负责 does not distinguish between the 2 parties involved. It simply reads “leave, no responsibility.” Once the customer walks away from the teller window, all responsibility is absolved. If the bank makes a mistake that favors me, and they do not catch it on the spot, I should be able to keep the money, as well as a clear conscience.

The next morning I sent a text message to the bank teller to inform her that I would not be returning the bank’s money.

“There is a sign in your bank which clearly says, count your money on the spot or else we are not responsible. This is your bank’s own regulation, and I plan to follow the regulation accordingly. I am not responsible for the money you miscounted.”

She replied, “Yes, I know we have that sign, but this is not about the sign, it is about honesty. If you do not return the money, there is nothing I can do, but I know I gave you an extra 100 RMB.”

I replied back, “This is not about honesty. This is about policy. If you had given me 100 RMB less than I should have received, and I had come back a half hour later, you would not have returned my money. That is the regulation. If there had been no sign and no regulation, I would gladly have returned your 100 RMB, but since you have this regulation, I am going to follow it.”

She replied, “If we had given you less money, it would have been caught on the security camera. You could have reported it or called the police.”

My urge was to respond with a big fat 狗屁 (bullshit, literally “dog fart”), but I decided to give it a rest. She sent one more last ditch effort to appeal to my conscience, but to no avail. My mind was set. I was not going to return the money.

I have been running through the episode for the past 24 hours, and can’t help but think that I did the right thing. I really could care less about the 116.2 RMB, but I certainly could not live with myself had I allowed the bank redemption for their mistake, knowing full-well that if the tables were turned, I would have been screwed with no remorse. Had this event happened in an American bank, or a Chinese bank without the warning sign, I would have returned the money without second thought. But when you’re living in an untrusting world where everybody is out to cover his own ass, sometimes you have to cover your own as well.

continued on 4/30/07 in Revenge of the Bank


 

04.17.07

Don’t forget to say “please” and “thank you.”

Posted in Culture Clash, Linguistics at 1:32 am by Benjamin Ross

Last night I went out to dinner with a large group of both Chinese and Westerners. Two of the Westerners were a couple who had only been in China for one month. They had been eagerly studying Chinese, and whenever a new dish came out, they would ask one of the Chinese hosts what it was called, and have them write the name down on a piece of paper in both pinyin and characters. After each new word, the couple repeatedly thanked their host with multiple xie xie’s. This excessive thanking would be appropriate, if not expected, in a Western context, but in China it comes off awkward. Why? Because Chinese rarely say “please” and “thank you” (谢谢 and ) for small tasks when dealing with friends.

This does not mean that Chinese people are rude or lack courtesy. Rather, the usage of these “courtesy” words varies across culture. If you do a small favor for a Chinese friend, chances are (unless he is trying to over-compensate for culture difference) he will not thank you directly. Here is the logic. The two of you are friends. It is only natural for you to help one another out. Thanking is not necessary because helping each other out is what friends do.

Here’s a simple example. Let’s look at a typical exchange from a Western dinner table, compared with a Chinese dinner table.

eating dinner in the West.

Person A: “Would you please pass the potatoes?”

Person B: “Here you go.”

Person A: “Thanks.”

eating dinner in China

Person A: “Give me the potatoes.”

Person B: (passes the potatoes, no response)

The general consensus is that Westerners communicate more directly than Chinese people. However, in this situation, the converse is true. If a Chinese person were to ask 请问你能不能把那个土豆给我一下 (Would you please pass me the potatoes?), to his friend or family member, it would give the impression that the relationship between the two is not strong, thus the need for “over politeness.” In the West, “over politeness” is the default. For us, simply saying “Give me the potatoes” sounds rude.

Saying “thank you” to a close Chinese friend who is not familiar with Western culture will often leave you with a reply like “Why are you thanking me? Are we not good friends?” This can be a difficult linguistic concept for Westerners to grasp, as we are taught from childhood to say “please” and “thank you” for virtually everything. Saying “thank you” after somebody passes you the potatoes is only natural, but for Chinese these “politeness” words are usually reserved for service people, or unfamiliar acquaintances.

When we learn a language, we need to remember that learning the context of words and phrases is just as important as learning their meanings. Just because 谢谢 has the same literal meaning as “thank you” does not mean that it will have the same effect when put into use in a real situation.


 

04.16.07

movie review: “300” 真他妈的肉麻!

Posted in Pop Culture at 3:35 am by Benjamin Ross

This post has nothing to do with China whatsoever. I felt inclined to write it nonetheless.

I just finished watching the new hit movie 300. Before I tell you my honest opinions about the movie, let me just say that the special effects were spectacular. In case you have not seen it, 300 tells of the Battle of Thermopylae between Sparta and Persia. The basic structure of the movie is this. 5 minutes of hyper-masculine macho battle prep-talk – 15 minutes of stabbing, grunting, and decapitations – 5 more minutes of hyper-masculine macho battle prep-talk – 5 more minutes of stabbing, grunting, and decapitations, et cetera.

Here’s the formula for each fight scene. Warriors run at one another from both sides. As soon as one warrior approaches another, one lashes out his sword or a spear. The weapon connects, blood and body parts fly around in slow motion, and dismembered warrior falls to his death. The warrior who is still alive runs at another warrior, and the same result occurs. Combat deaths occur the rate of about one per three seconds when the camera is on. There are a few variations, such as when a rhino appeared out of nowhere and attacks, or when several hundred arrows come out of the sky in unison (this happened several times), but other than that, it was like watching a 2 hour game of Mortal Kombat.

In case you did not figure it out yet, I did not like this movie. In fact, it was so pathetically cliché that by the end, I was laughing out loud every time a decapitated head flew across the screen in slow motion. It was the gore of Passion of the Christ, mixed with the plot of a Chinese Kung Fu movie. I wish I could say that 300 was the worst movie I have ever seen, but unfortunately this is not the case. 300 is just another volume to the ever growing list of Hollywood movies which rely on “cool” rather than content to attract viewers.

300 is a perfect example of what you get with several hundred million dollars, a team of brilliant computer graphic designers, a script that could double as a high school play, and a team of actors who make Keanu Reeves look like Marlon Brando. Special effects and computer graphics today are so advanced, that they have rendered solid acting, well-written scripts, and real historical context obsolete. I watched 300 with the naïve assumption that I might actually learn something about ancient Sparta and Persia. Here is what I came away with.

The skies over Sparta are always full of black clouds with a sun constantly peaking through them.

Spartan warriors are scrupulously trained to all shout “Ahh oohh” in unison after certain vocal cues from their leader.

90% of Spartan communication is done in the form of monologue or speech.

Spartans say the word “Spartan” roughly once per sentence.

To become a Spartan soldier you must have a perfectly sculpted 6 pack.

Persians kings are black men with piercings all over their face.

A good movie will entertain. A great movie will leave you still thinking about it an hour after you have finished watching. 300 was neither. Special effects can be entertaining, but they do not take the place of an insightful, informative, and thought-provoking production. Special effects should be used to accentuate a movie, not be the basis which the entire film is based. Apparently, our society has devolved to the point that our entertainment has to be spoon fed to us by Hollywood through special effects and graphic violence. Thank God for books.

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