Notes on the China Experience and Creating Ting

The China Experience is actually a collection of different visits over 25 years.  Each visit included different areas and different people.  When I first put the pages up, there were only four or five sites devoted to aspects of Chinese culture.  China was not connected to the Internet.  Today there are millions of Chinese pages and increasing information about the people and their lives.

The focus of the site is on Chinese history and modern culture. I enjoy museums and when I find one that teaches rather than merely displays objects I spend a day there. When I take pictures of modern China, I tend to focus on the common life, the ordinary, the usual. I do include holiday celebrations, but from the perspective of the family. There are huge collections of images that sit on my shelves in slide boxes and on my computer in folders. There are just so many hours in a day. It is relatively easy to put a picture on the Internet, but it takes time to describe the picture and relate it to the general history of the area.

The cities of Beijing, Xi'an and Shanghai each have multiple indexes of pictures. There is a main page giving a general history and then picture indexes leading to individual series of pictures with descriptions. 

If you start at Beijing on the text page, the links at the bottom of the pages will take you through the text pages.  The same system is used on the picture pages.  You can do the pages in any order you want by returning to the China page and main menu.

Most of my images are resized to 600 or 650 pixels in height. They all carry my copyright whether noted on the picture or not. Commercial license of images helps the University of Maine at Farmington to support the website and servers. Most uses don't reflect on the expense involved with producing and offering information, so much is supported by commercial advertising that one begins to think it comes without cost. Educational sites depend on faculty and staff who work voluntarily, but student workers and support staff must be paid. Software and hardware must be purchased, and airplane tickets don't come cheap. Donations to the university are oh so helpful in maintaining these pages and other activities like this. We believe that it is our mission to educate, but we also have to pay the light bill.

About Chinese

I became interested in learning techniques associated with language acquisition when I first started studying Chinese.  My interest in neuropsychology, learning theories, and computers joined to turn my interest to creating methods to help the intermediate learner bridge the gap between vocabulary acquisition in the early stages of language acquisition and the translation required of more advanced learners.

At first I had only intended to create a vocabulary database for myself, but as I began to develop tools for learning it seemed a shame not to have others use the tools. One thing led to another and I spent 1997 recording and editing sound files so we could hear multiple readers saying both words and phrases. Those pages were plain html and built using a spreadsheet program. It took a few years, but Oracle 8 came out with an easier interface and suddenly I was able to fulfill a dream of allowing users to make their own decisions and create their own accounts for study.

We continue to add sound files. That is quite a project. First I have to write the entries for the dictionary. I write sentences in English and friends in China translate them. My friends in China write Chinese sentences and then I translate them. Hopefully, we have good English and good Chinese at both ends! Today we use Skype to discuss the context and meaning; in the old days it was much slower because we only had e-mail when I wasn't in China. We didn't get much done with e-mail because discussing nuance with someone requires immediate feedback and a rapid give and take concerning interpretation and examples. Then I have to recruit volunteers to read segments. Each segment is about 10 minutes, each reader can do around 10 segments. I spread the segments around the dictionary to avoid having the same people do all of one topic or interest. I also like to combine each reader with lots of different readers. Then the ten minute segments need to be cut and edited into approximately 120 to 170 sound files. They need to be named to coordinate with the database.

Next, all of the sound files get a second edit to make sure they are within a limited range of volume, don't have mistakes, and to pick up any extra background sounds and remove them. The names of the sound files are then printed and a coder has to enter the sound file link into the database. These steps are done when there are around 15,000 new sound files to minimize errors and for efficiency. Finally, the database and sound files are put up in a test bed and the errors are corrected. That can take a couple of weeks of painful tracing and correcting. From the time that a new set of vocabulary is written to the production of the sound files and placement on the Internet is usually around three years for English. It is slower than that for Chinese because I have to throw together a couple of suitcases of equipment and haul it off to China to do most of the recording. Not something that I do every year! I have 2 to 4 students who edit the English sound files, I do all of the Chinese myself. That takes time.

I have been very fortunate to find friends who share my interest and are willing to lend a helping hand from time to time.  Among my friends with whom I translate are: Liu Xiaoyun, Lin Lin, Zhang Meng, Li Di, Feng Xie, Liu Yu Rong, Cao Hui, Zhao Mo, Shao Danni, Sun Xiaomei, An Yufei, and Shu Chang -- so many others have helped in one way or another.

The pages would not have been the same without Zhao Min Qiang who was my Research Assistant for three years.  He learned four different programming languages in two years to be able to code the original searchers, flashcards, menus and some of the games.  He became an Oracle programmer and then moved on to javascript, PHP and others to implement tasks and designs I gave him.

Brienne Hughes, Josh Glavine, Sean Smith, Katie Smith, and Josh Keezer, students at UMF, all worked on either the China Experience or on Ting.  Josh Glavine programmed and designed the graphics for the number movies in Flash.

A special note of thanks to Al Bersbach, Phillip Theruvakattil, Fred Brittain, Mal Carey, David Irving, Jamie Holmes, and Aaron Gagnon at the UMF Computer Center who are always ready to give a leg up when I would reach a block in programming or a glitch with one of the machines.

Thanks goes to Theo Kalikow who can make a quick decision, Angie LeClair who shared her knowledge, Howard Smith of China Smith Travel who knows China, and to Cai Zunan, Liu Yu Rong, Ren Meng Yun, Wang Yong, Nancy Hu, and all of the other people in Beijing who showed us hospitality.  Special thanks to Northwest University in Xi'an and Shanghai University for well planned introductions to their cities.

The pictures included in these pages may be freely used for educational purposes in the classroom.  I would appreciate e-mail if you want to use them for any other purpose so I can tell you how to make donations.

Pictures and content may not be distributed beyond your local site or used for commercial purposes without permission.

I want to thank NETSCAPE (TM) for their wonderful browser and early innovative work.  I also want to thank Chris Gheisler who programmed Total Commander, Irfan Skiljan who gives us IrfanView, the authors of Goldwave sound editor, and all the millions of authors of freeware and shareware that make the Internet a symbol of possibility and hope and a lot of fun.

To see Chinese characters on the pages, you must either have a Chinese Simplified font installed on your computer and specified in your browser, or a Chinese system.  I just deleted most of the page because the improvements in operating systems and browsers mean that most users haven't the faintest idea that there is a possibility that they might not see the Chinese characters properly. For a piece of old history you can visit the FAQ page to see that it once was a matter of pride and accomplishment to have conquered the intricacies of reading and writing Chinese on a computer and even more so on the Internet.


Pat Carpenter, Director of Giving
Ferro Alumni Center
University of Maine Farmington
242 Main Street Farmington, ME 04938
Phone: (207) 778-7090

Make checks payable to: Computer Center, U. of Maine at Farmington

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Last update: February 1996, 1999, 2002, 2013
©  Marilyn Shea 1996, 1999, 2002