November 10, 2008

#01-181: Reading Boomtown Chronicles 51

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 #01-208, I wrote 72 lessons explaining expressions in articles published in the Shenzhen Daily. Read more about "Reading Boomtown Chronicles."

Get Ready: Do you think it's better for society to be more like a melting pot or a salad bowl?

Boomtown Chronicles Part XIX - published Monday, November 3, 2008

  • Title: "From karaoke to hip hop, a salad bowl of cultures."

karaoke: a device for playing popular songs without the voice, so users can sing along. Like the device itself, this word is only a few decades old. It's a coined Japanese word meaning "empty orchestra" (oke is short for okestura, a Japanese way of saying "orchestra"). Rather than "empty," we might think of it as "absent"--the orchestra is not there, but we can still hear them.

By the way, absolutely proper pronunciation would be kah-RAH-oh-kay, but most Americans will say carry-okie. It's easier!


hip hop: a type of music, basically synonymous with "rap." This, like karaoke, is also a recent coinage. It's a kind of music in which the rhythm, including the rhythm of the spoken (as opposed to sung) voice, takes precedence over melody and harmony (though there is an underlying "musical" track, and there may be occasional sung passages).

"Hip hop" describes not just a kind of music, but an entire youth subculture that includes art, dance, and even clothing styles. "Hip" means "cool" or "stylish"; "hop" is a movement of the body. This may explain part of the term's origin. But one of the "legends" surrounding the term is that two early rappers were teasing a friend who had joined the army; they began singing the words "hip, hop, hip, hop" to make fun of the way soldiers march rhythmically in step.


salad bowl: a place where things--like pieces of lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, etc.--are mixed together but maintain their individual character. For many years, America was referred to as a "melting pot," a place where immigrants would come and "become American," melting together and losing their ethnic or national identities.

In fact, however, in any good-sized American city, you will find festivals and celebrations from people of many backgrounds, so instead of a "melting pot," it has become popular to refer to America as a "salad bowl," where all the different ingredients are mixed together, but retain their separate identities.

The article shows that Shenzhen is exactly that: A place where Chinese people of various ethnicities, as well as increasing numbers of people from all over the world, have come together to build a new society.

In our circle of friends there are Han and Zang Chinese, American, British, Canadian, Filipino, French, German, Indian, Indonesian, Italian, Spanish, and other people. A salad bowl indeed!


Read more:

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

  1. hip hop
  2. karaoke
  3. melting pot
  4. orchestra
  5. salad bowl

  1. ________ is so popular that a number of performers have become very rich.
  2. Sometimes it's good to have things blend together, like in a ________.
  3. Now mix all the separate vegetables you've chopped in a ________.
  4. My friends and I love to get together and sing ________.
  5. I enjoy listening to Beethoven's symphonies performed by a full ________.

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for November 10, 2008

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