July 08, 2008

#01-132: Reading Boomtown Chronicles 5

wide view of an urban area with bushes in the foreground, over which is written "READING BOOMTOWN CHRONICLES"
Shenzhen, the Boomtown

Note: Between Lesson #01-128 and #01-207, I wrote 72 lessons explaining expressions in articles published in the Shenzhen Daily. Read more about "Reading Boomtown Chronicles."

Get Ready: Reporters (and others) "looked askance" at Shenzhen's beginnings, but the place boomed beyond all expectations. Have you ever been spectacularly wrong about anything of great importance?

Boomtown Chronicles Part II - published Monday, June 23, 2008

Part 2 doesn't have quite as many picturesque expressions as Part 1 did, but it will still keep us busy for a couple of columns.

"The rocky start of transformation"

rocky: This word implies difficulty, so the subtitle of the article is saying that starting the transformation (change) of Shenzhen from a series of villages and farms to a modern city was not an easy thing to do.

Why does "rocky" mean "difficult"? Ask any farmer who has tried to grow crops in rocky ground, or a sailor trying to land on a rocky coast. Or, if you drive a car, would you rather drive on a smooth dirt road or a rocky one, with stones sticking up everywhere?

  • "laboratory for a vast experiment"

laboratory: This expression is an allegory, an extended metaphor that gives us a picture of Shenzhen's early days. Deng Xiaoping chose Shenzhen to form a special zone as this "laboratory."

Of course, Shenzhen was literally an experiment. This is no metaphor--China had never tried anything like this. It is the use of the word "laboratory"--a place where experiments are conducted--that raises this to a figure of speech.

  • a "groundbreaking ceremony"

groundbreaking: Do you remember the word "groundbreaking," used as a metaphor for "pioneering" in Part 1, Lesson #01-128? Well, here it's used literally: Western reporters were invited to a "groundbreaking ceremony" in Luohu in 1980, where construction was started with dignitaries digging in the earth--"breaking the ground."

  • the reporters "looked askance"

look askance: One of those reporters, Melinda Liu from Newsweek, said that most of the reporters "looked askance at the patch of mud that was supposed to be China's future." To "look askance" means to look at something suspiciously. The word "askance," like its cousin "askew," means "from the side" or even "crookedly." So when you give your boss a sort of questionable excuse for being late--again--you can imagine him looking at you out of the corner of his eyes, "looking askance" at you.

I imagine Ms Liu and her friends are quite surprised by what has happened to Shenzhen since their visit!

  • "the bumpy path of its transformation."

bumpy: This is another metaphor for the difficulty of Shenzhen's growth: a "bumpy path" would be very much like a "rocky road," just the opposite of a "smooth ride."


Read more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shenzhen

Practice: Choose the correct term to fill in the blank in the sentence below:

  1. askance
  2. bumpy
  3. groundbreaking
  4. laboratory
  5. rocky

  1. Dan was afraid he would damage his hiking boots on the ________ trail.
  2. The salesclerk looked at me ________ when I told him that I only wore a "medium" sized shirt.
  3. The organizers were embarrassed when they couldn't find a shovel for the mayor to use at the ________.
  4. The road was so ________ Debbie thought her teeth would break from the bouncing.
  5. My garden is sort of a ________ for raising new species of weeds.

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for July 8, 2008

1 comment: