Wednesday, October 01, 2003
Practical Chinese Reader: The Next Generation

This is just something I had to blog...

Past students of Chinese as a second language will of course all know Gubo, Palanka and Ding Yun. For a generation now, nearly all Chinese foreign language textbooks have come from the same place: the Beijing Culture and Language University. The Practical Chinese Reader series is essentially the same textbook in every classroom in the world, translated from Chinese into into whatever the local language might be so that all Chinese students everywhere have the same preparation and the same curriculum. Then, if they come to China to study, they can all have the same textbook, whatever their native languages might be.

These textbooks contained readings that primarily centred on the lives of two foriegn students at the Beijing Culture and Language University: Gubo and Palanka. The two names are just generic, western sounding names. For years, I assumed Gubo was intended to be African and Palanka possibly Russian, but there is never any discussion of exactly where they came from. In the first couple of lessons, they befriend a young Chinese univeristy student, a women named Ding Yun. The entire BCLU curriculum was built around these three recurring characters, whose names must be recognisable to many thousands of Chinese language students around the world. I'm sure I'm not the only student to put his minimal Chinese to use wondering how Gubo would approach Palanka and Ding Yun about a menage à trois or similar extracurricular activities. I've even come across Palanka/Ding Yun slash fiction on the net - the occidental ingenue and the naive Chinese university student, discovering their sexuality in the dorms of Beijing...

Chinese classes are usually three hours a session. It gets boring. You learn to entertain yourself.

Well, today in my Chinese class, I finally acquired the New Practical Chinese Reader, the lastest edition from the BCLU Press. To my shock and amazement, there was no sign of Gubo and Palanka!!! Well, I was just blown away.

So, at the end of class, I went up to the prof and asked "?"

The prof replies "? ? " Then, he opens up the textbook to the second page, where all the characters in our text are profiled, and the first person introduced is:

Ding Libo
A Canadian Student,
aged 21, male
Gubo is his father
Ding Yun is his mother

Well, now the mystery is solved. Gubo is Canadian, and he never managed to hit it off with Palanka, but seems to have gotten somewhere with the xenophilic Ms Ding.

I suppose I'm a bit of a sentimentalist, but I'm going to miss (Gubo), (Palanka) and (Ding Yun). I've taken first semster Chinese at least four times, three times in English, once in French, and once in California with traditional characters, where I also passed the second semster. Wherever I studied, Gubo, Palanka and Ding Yun were there. This is the first time I've taken Chinese and their difficulties in surviving day-to-day life in Beijing were absent.

Still, life goes on, and after twenty-odd years stuck in BCLU's foreign student dorms, I suppose it's time for them to move on to grown up life.

Tuesday, September 30, 2003
Caption the Photo

From Microsoft sued for alleged theft at

Update: The wife has a knack for finding these things:

From CNN Inside Politics