Think in English with Adah

A TEFL blog: You have to train yourself to think in English

Why do We Chinese Still Watch the Gala?

The CCTV New Year’s Gala, a 5-hour TV feast of dancing, singing, comedies, skits, Chinese operas and magic tricks, has become one of the world’s most watched TV events. It must not be an easy job for the director and the acting crew to put everything together and do it live in front of the largest group of audience in the world.

“It is the television show that everybody watches and everybody loves to hate. ‘It is a crazy phenomenon,’ said Alison Friedman, a Beijing-based dance and theater producer. ‘Everybody complains about the gala, but they still watch it and then they talk about how bad it was.’ ” (Los Angeles Times)

With tons of complaints lined up on the web, why do we still watch the gala? If  the gala has become a Spring Festival Eve tradition in the last 30 years, why do we Chinese need such a tradition?

Here comes my analytical interpretations to the questions. Hopefully you will agree as you read on.

1. The gala serves perfectly as a large Chinese family’s collective pastime

First, take a look at the following 2 photos of 2 families watching the gala and identify things that are in common between them.

A Shanghai family gathers in front of their TV set and watches last year’s CCTV gala in their newly decorated apartment. (from a Chinese photo-sharing website)

 A villager and his family members watch the CCTV gala in Shandong Province. (Robert Gauthier, Los Angeles Times)

Regardless of the stark contrast between the financial statuses of these 2 families, you can find the following similarities:

(1) Both photos involve a large extended family. Spring Festival Eve is the most important time for family reunions. Nobody misses this one out.

(2) Both families are indoors, to be more exact, in their living room (or probably the only room of their house). It is freezing cold in most places of China at Spring Festival Eve, nobody wants to go out. Watching TV can be the most convenient pastime for a winter night.

(3) It is a tradition for Chinese families to stay up until the New Year’s Day comes. All family members sit in front of their TV set and they’ve got 5 hours to kill – together. The family members are from different age groups and may have distinct likes and dislikes toward TV performances. They need some program that can fit in well for everyone in the family.

Now do you see the necessity of making such a gala? Even thought the LA Times article warned that the gala is in jeopardy as younger viewers begin to tune out, I still think that the gala phenomenon is going to last as long as there is such a need for families to sit together for some collective entertainment.

2. The gala is a convenient modern replacement of the lost traditions and roots

In ancient China, people followed traditional rituals such as worshipping their ancestors, gods or Buddhas at Chinese New Year’s Eve. I still remember that my grandparents used to burn incense sticks in front of the wooden name boards of our ancestors that were placed on the shrine in our old house in the countryside. But that was many years ago.




















(A Chinese shrine with a figurine of Maitreya Buddha on the top. Maitreya means happiness. He is one of the most popular buddhas worshipped by atheist Chinese people.)

However, in modern China, a lot of the traditions have been lost in the process of unification (minority groups being assimilated by Han people) and urbanization (villages being developed into towns).  What do people do if their traditions have been washed away by the irresistible flood of modernization?

This is where the gala comes in.

The gala is not only a TV event, but a cultural and psychological replacement of the lost rituals which means a lot to the modern Chinese people who may not be aware of their missing cultural roots.

You can find a lot of the ancient ceremonial elements making modern appearance in the gala.  

Take the following photo of the opening performance as an example. We have some well-dressed TV hosts and performers standing in the middle of the stage and anonymous actresses standing in rows at the left and the right of the photo. The layout of the performers is almost completely symmetrical. Of course, we Chinese lay a heavy focus on visual effects. But if you look at this scene with a religious tint, wouldn’t you consider the TV hosts and singers as priests (or Wushi in Chinese)? In ancient human societies, priests performed the sacred rites of a religion and served as mediatory agents between humans and gods. The TV hosts play exactly the same role! They are here to deliver the message from the Heaven to all the Chinese people that spring is going to come back to the earth.


(Two groups of dancers dressed in shimmering red and golden costumes  form a dragon and a phoenixon collectively on the stage of the CCTV New Year’s Gala.  The photo came from the gala’s tweets on Sina Weibo.)

Also you wouldn’t be suprised to see the great numbers of performers at some of the dancing pieces posing together to create an impressive and somewhat solemn effect. If this is not a religious ceremony, tell me what it is?! If this is a ceremony watched by most Chinese people that bears the covert purpose of fulfilling our psychological needs, how possible is it for it to die?

For anyone who is interested in getting a first-hand experience of the 2012 Gala, go to this link to watch the entire video. The gala is only able to provide the original Chinese version though.

If you like this essay, let me know by dropping a few lines!

Adah’s 5-step Approach for Dealing with Difficult Bosses

We can choose to join the company that we like, but we can’t choose the people that we work for. Some bosses talk a lot but don’t do much. Others always criticize the work that you did and never take credit for your ideas. Some are controlling and rude. Others are indifferent and unsupportive when you are sick. Difficult people do exist in every workplace. Difficult bosses make the workplace a toxic pool for you to swim through. 

Would you just surrender to their constant backstabbing and waste meaningless time in watching your back while you should be fully engaged in your project? Or would you just ignore your difficult boss at all? I would say NO to both questions. Remember that you are hired to WORK as a professional, but not to suffer a bad boss. If the negativity of the difficult boss begins to make a big impact on your productivity, it must be addressed, not just as an interpersonal problem but as an issue affecting your project progress.

For those who are ready to address a difficult boss, here is my 5-step framework for dealing with a difficult boss.

1. Invite your boss to a private discussion.  When you approach your boss, make sure that you point it out that the discussion really matters to you. Try to arrange a short discussion instead of a long one because it is very unlikely to commit the person to a 1-hour discussion.

For example:

“Hi, Mark. I would like to have a discussion with you about something I have been thinking for a long time. This is really important to me. Do you have 15 minutes today?”

2. Talk about the impact of their behavior on you and stick to “I” statements. They may never be aware of the impact that their actions or words have on you so it is really important for you to let them know it. When you talk about the impact, focus on your experience and emotions instead of pointing your finger at them and criticizing them.

“I felt quite disappointed when you blamed me for the mistake in my last report during our team’s weekly meeting. The reason for me to feel that way is because I didn’t mean to make the mistake. I felt really bad after the meeting and this has begun to affect my work productivity.”

3. Now hear what they have to say about their impact on you and acknowledge their understanding. They may be shocked to know the spell that they cast over you. This could be the first time for someone to point out the negative influence they have on their coworkers. Your feedback should trigger them to reflect on their behavior. Give them some time to think. Since most people are not evil-natured, they may show some sympathy to your experience. They may be more willing to know what you will say next. But be sure to stay positive, supportive and pleasant throughout the conversation. Don’t turn this into an outlet for personal criticism; instead, make it an opportunity to improve work productivity and to reinforce professionalism for the both of you. After the boss reacts to your comments, you may say:

“I am glad that you understand how I felt. I feel much better now after you listened.”

4. Try to reach agreement about further actions. The purpose of any meaningful discussions is to reach agreement about real actions. You the problem-solver should make positive suggestions about how to prevent similar problems from occurring in the future. Make sure that you don’t cause your boss to lose face by using questions instead of statements in your suggestions.

“I should be more careful while writing the weekly reports. I am thinking of making one change to our work procedure. What do you think if I send the weekly report to you for editing before I send it out to the other team members? This can prevent mistakes in the future and I can also learn from you about how to write a great report. Do you think this is a good idea?”

5.  Decide whether you need to follow up on the discussion. If your suggestions work out well and their behavior has gotten better, you will find that both of you are in a win-win situation. However, if the situation hasn’t changed or even gotten worse, you may determine whether a follow-up discussion is necessary. Or you may need to involve others, such as your boss’ supervisor or another colleague who may have the same issue with your boss, in a 3-way or 4-way discussion. To protect yourself, be sure to ask them to keep the information source anonymous when they discuss it with your boss.

You have the right to build professional work relationships and to reinforce a fair competition environment for yourself.  Dealing with difficult people can be challenging but take this as one of the obstacles that you have to overcome on your way to becoming a mature professional. You will win if you try.

For those desperate employees who have to deal with a lot of requests or favors asked by their boss, you may read my previous entry:  How to deal with requests from your boss or client?

Vocabulary bank:

1. to take credit (for something) (phrase) to praise for something you have done or achieved

2. toxic (adj) poisonous and harmful to people, animals, or the environment

3. to surrender (v) to say officially that you have been defeated and will stop fighting

4. to backstab (v) to say or do unpleasant things in order to harm someone’s reputation

5. negativity (n) the attitude of someone who always sees the bad aspects of a situation

6. to cast a spell over someone/ something (idiom) to have a magic influence over someone/ something

7. evil-natured (adj) bad in nature

8. to reinforce (v) to make a situation, process, or type of behavior stronger and more likely to continue


A Phrase A Week: To make a pig’s ear of something


This phrase does not relate to the ears of a pig which is a cold dish found in many cuisines around the world.

If you make a pig’s ear of something, you make a mess of it.

 “Look at all the mess the brothers have made. What a festival!”


‘To make a pig’s ear’ is a mid 20th century phrase and means ‘completely botch something up; make a complete mess of it’. This is first found in print in a 1950 edition of the Reader’s Digest:

“If you make a pig’s ear of the first one, you can try the other one.”

The expression derives from the old proverb ‘you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear’, which dates from the 16th century.


1.      I was filing back some documents and would you believe it, I made a right pig’s ear of it, I misfiled everything.

2.      I made so many spelling mistakes on my document that I made a t pig’s ear of it. My boss got mad. He asked me if I had ever heard of a spell checker.

Even when you have made a pig’s ear of it, stay cool and don’t forget to smile.

A Phrase A Week: As cool as a cucumber


If someone is as cool as a cucumber, they don’t get worried by anything.


It means to be very calm and in control of your emotions, especially in a difficult or surprising situation.


This idiom may be based on the fact that in hot weather the inside of cucumbers remains cooler than the air.



1.      Joan felt nervous, but she acted as cool as a cucumber.

2.      The politician kept cool as a cucumber throughout the interview with the aggressive journalist.

3.      When everything seems to be going wrong, she stays as cool as a cucumber.

A Phrase A Week: If the shoe fits, wear it!


If a description applies to you, then accept it.

 This expression is often used when something derogatory is said about a person who then complains to a third person. The third person, if they agree with the original negative comment, might suggest “If the shoe fits, then wear it”.


“If the shoe fits, wear it” is often shortened to “If the shoe fits…”, leaving the listener to fill in the blank. The expression is the American version of the earlier British phrase “If the cap fits, wear it”, which is also still in general use.

The change from cap to shoe may well have been influenced by the Cinderella story, which has a snug-fitting slipper as the primary plot device. Versions of the tale that include the “lost slipper” scenario were well known in the USA and Europe by 1773. “If the shoe fits” has been used for centuries in a figurative sense and its most common usage now is in shoe shop advertising slogans.


Jack: Just because I’ve missed two or three sessions, my fitness trainer says I lack motivation.

Jill: Well, if the shoe fits, wear it.


A Phrase A Week: All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

Not a phrase this week but, just for a change, a proverb…


This proverb means that everyone needs to take some time off from work, relax and have some fun. Don’t overdo it.



English phrases frequently include names. Jack appears in more phrases than does any other name. That might be expected as Jack is a colloquial form of John and, for the period in which the majority of these phrases were coined, John was the most common boy’s name amongst English speakers. Jack was the generic name for the common man; a lad, a fellow, a chap, but also with the hint of rogue (a dishonest man). ‘John’ appears in our phrases and sayings hardly at all and this is probably because ‘Jack’ was considered the more interesting character.

The name Jack also appears in this kind of famous pumpkin lanterns that people carved for Halloween.

The origin of Jack-o-lantern


The Jack-o-lantern custom probably comes from Irish folklore. As the tale is told, a man named Jack, who was notorious as a drunkard (someone who often drinks too much) and trickster (someone who uses dishonest methods to get what they want), tricked Satan (the most powerful evil spirit) into climbing a tree. Jack then carved an image of a cross in the tree’s trunk, trapping the devil up the tree. Jack made a deal with the devil that, if he would never tempt him again, he would promise to let him down the tree.

According to the folk tale, after Jack died, he was denied entrance to Heaven because of his evil ways, but he was also denied access to Hell because he had tricked the devil. Instead, the devil gave him a single ember (a piece of coal that is still hot and red after a fire has stopped burning) to light his way through the frigid darkness. The ember was placed inside a hollowed-out turnip (see the picture below) to keep it glowing longer. 

The Irish used turnips as their “Jack’s lanterns” originally. But when the immigrants came to America, they found that pumpkins were far more plentiful than turnips. So the Jack-O-Lantern in America was a hollowed-out pumpkin, lit with an ember.

A Phrase A Week: To take something with a grain of salt


To consider something to be not completely true or right. If you take what someone says with a pinch of salt, you do not completely believe it.


The idea comes from the fact that food is more easily swallowed if taken with a small amount of salt.

One of the reasons salt has historically been so important to humanity is its ability to preserve food and to hide the taste of rot. Hence the expression, “take it with a grain of salt” when someone tells you something that might not be accurate.


1.      They took my explanation with a pinch of salt. I was sure they didn’t believe me.

2.      You have to take everything she says with a pinch of salt. She has a tendency to exaggerate.

3.      It’s interesting to read the reports in the newspapers, but I tend to take them with a grain of salt.


A Phrase A Week: Lo and behold!


When you tell someone about something surprising that happened, you can say “Lo and behold!”



The word ‘lo’ as used in this phrase is a shortening of ‘look’. So, lo and behold! has the meaning of look! – behold!.

Something not very far removed from lo and behold appears in the Bible, Genesis 15:3 (King James Version):

“And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir.”

The complete phrase is first recorded in an 1808 letter in the Correspondence 1787–1870, of Queen Victoria’s lady of the bedchamber – Lady Sarah Spencer Lyttelton:

“Hartington… had just told us how hard he had worked all the morning… when, lo and behold! M. Deshayes himself appeared.”


1.      I went into a bar just next to our hotel and, lo and behold, who should I see sitting there but Jim Gibson!

2.      Carrie tried her luck at the lottery and, lo and behold, won1500! 

A Phrase A Week: To save one’s bacon


If something saves your bacon, it saves you from failure or difficulties. You can also say that someone saves your bacon if they save you from a lot of trouble.



1.  You saved my bacon there. I’d probably have lost my job if you hadn’t been ready with an explanation.

2.  It’s a short book but it could save your bacon when you’re traveling overseas.

A Phrase A Week: To get to the bottom of something


If you get to the bottom of something, you find out its real cause or the true story behind it.


1.      The police don’t know who did the robbery yet, but they promised to get to the bottom of it.

2.      I’m not sure how a mistake like this could happen, but I’m determined to get to the bottom of it and make sure it never happens again.


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