Thursday, November 29, 2007

Andy Lau is Hardcore

Never thought I would say it, but Cantopop singer Andy Lau (劉德華) is hardcore! Watch him jump off the stage at a concert in Chengdu and save a fan who was getting thrown out by security guards.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Mick Jagger, Chinese Emperor

Here is Mick Jagger playing the "Emperor of all Cathay" in an 80s TV show. I couldn't tell you what this is all about because it was so disturbing I couldn't get through the whole video, but check out the costume Mick Jagger is wearing.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

A (Chinese) Boy Named "At"

According to Reuters, a Chinese couple want to name their baby "@":
While the "@" simple is familiar to Chinese e-mail users, they often use the English word "at" to sound it out -- which with a drawn out "T" sounds something like "ai ta", or "love him", to Mandarin speakers.

It's funny to me not only because "at" and "ai ta 愛他" sound little alike, but also because in Taiwan, at least, "@" is often read as "xiao laoshu 小老鼠," or "little mouse."

The article also talks about people with obscure characters in their names, and mentions Zhu Rongji 朱镕基. His "rong" is not hard to guess, though. Know of any really obscure characters in (modern people's) names?

amidaworld little mouse gmail dot com

Monday, August 13, 2007

Iggy Pop: "Cash In, Move to Taiwan"?

"Godfather of Punk" Iggy Pop talked to Pitchforkmedia about the difference between his stage persona and his "real" identity, James Osterberg:

Pitchfork: Obviously there are differences between Iggy and Jim [Osterberg]. You've spoken in the past about the distance between the two. Where does that relationship stand now?

Iggy Pop: If I knew what that relationship was I'd probably have to cash in and move to Taiwan. I don't know any more about that than you do, or anyone else.
(Emphasis mine.) Iggy's dream is to cash in and move to Taiwan? Did he just pull an "exotic" locale out of the air, or is Taiwan really on his mind? It's not like Taiwan is more expensive than Florida, where he lives now. Maybe it's the Tai Chi he's into these days.

Seems Iggy Pop is not the only aging proto-punk rocker into Tai Chi--Lou Reed has been doing it for years, too. He's even made an ambient album called Hudson River Wind Meditations, which is meant to accompany meditation, "body work," and Tai Chi practice.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

More Chinese Counterfeits

Coming hot on the heels of stories on the tPhone and unauthorized Harry Potter sequels comes an article in Popular Science about China's "cloning industry," framed around another iPhone clone, the miniOne. Interestingly, this article also touches on the idea that some of these "knockoffs" actually have features that rival the real thing:
The little gadget was bootleg gold, a secret treasure I'd spent months tracking down. The miniOne looked just like Apple's iPhone, down to the slick no-button interface. But it was more. It ran popular mobile software that the iPhone wouldn't. It worked with nearly every worldwide cellphone carrier, not just AT&T, and not only in the U.S. It promised to cost half as much as the iPhone and be available to 10 times as many consumers. The miniOne's first news teases—a forum posting, a few spy shots, a product announcement that vanished after a day—generated a frenzy of interest online. Was it real? When would it go on sale? And most intriguing, could it really be even better than the iPhone?
The article talks about legitimate factories running "ghost shifts" in which they turn out bootlegs at night while it is supposed to be closed, as well as copycat factories based 100% on real ones. Even replica cars get made.

It makes me wonder if it all comes down to design. Did the tPhone look ridiculous just because the crude backwards Apple logo on the box and the copycat desktop photo? What if the manufacturers had come up with their own? Maybe that's next.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

"Fake" Harry Potter in China

Last week, the NY Times had a story about "fake" Harry Potter books in China (behind Times Select wall now--hint for students: you can get free TS access with an academic institution email address), which are so "copious" that they must be "peeled back, layer by layer." The outer layer is comprised of books which purport to be by J.K. Rowling or even to be the translation of the actual seventh book in the series. That's not so interesting to me, but the "inner layers" made me smile. Some are by budding novelists "inspired" by the series:
Some borrow little more than the names of Ms. Rowling's characters, lifting plots from other well-known authors, like J. R. R. Tolkien, or placing the famously British protagonist in plots lifted from well-known kung-fu epics and introducing new characters from Chinese literary classics like ''Journey to the West.''
The funny thing is, nothing has really changed in that regard. Journey to the West itself borrows from so much. Take, for example, the scene where Sun Wukong hides in Pigsy's marital bed, pretending to be his wife and then beating him up (this is before they become fellow travelers, of course). There is a scene just like it in the Water Margin--and surely countless other tales lost to the ages.

There were also a lot of "fake" sequels to the classic Ming and Qing novels. There was the Later Journey to the West, for example, in which Sun Wukong's descendant and others of a later generation go to the West once again. There is also A Supplement to the Journey to the West, which actually is supposed to be a dream that Sun Wukong had during the course of the "original" story that went unrecorded. There are also sequels to the Water Margin, in one of which several characters from the Water Margin escape to create a Utopia in "Siam," which actually seems to be a fictionalized Taiwan. There are tons of revisionist sequels to Dream of the Red Mansion, written by people dissatisfied with the ending. (Fan fiction from Late Imperial China?)

Surely some (if not most) of these are hack work, but at least some of them surely have something to say. I wonder, if a book--even a work of fiction--is saying something you don't agree with and you want to engage the argument on its own terms, isn't writing such a "fake" sequel a natural move? Can your ideas be "fake" just because you aren't the initiator of the conversation but the responder or objector?

A writer named Alice Randall got swept up in that question when she "re-wrote" Gone with the Wind from the perspective of a slave in a novel called Wind Done Gone. She got taken to court for copyright infringement and eventually won the right to engage Gone with the Wind on its own, fictional, terms by calling it an "unauthorized parody." The Wikipedia entry for the novel notes that it is "parody in the broad legal sense: a work that comments or criticizes a prior work" despite the fact that "the book is not a comedy, as the term 'parody' would imply in its common usage."

The NY Times article also mentions that unscrupulous underground publishers snatch up these "fake" Harry Potter books and publish them without paying royalties to the authors. This has been going on since the Ming Dynasty as well--see my post about Li Yu, the author of the Carnal Prayer Mat, complaining about piracy.

Update: The Times now has synopses and (very) brief translations of selections from a few of these "fakes."

The Hand of Google

I have spotted the Hand of Google, captured as it was scanning some books for Google Books. (Click and scroll down to see the hand.)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Simplified and Traditional Chinese in Safari

This might be pretty obvious to some, but I just realized that Safari (for Mac) will automatically convert Simplified Chinese to Traditional and vice versa. Just highlight the text to be converted, go to Safari->Services->ChineseTextConverter, and choose the Chinese flavor of your choice.

I have been a die-hard Firefox user for a long time but Safari does seem to handle Chinese and Japanese better. I'm one step closer to switching.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

More on the tPhone

It ends up the made-in-China iPhone ripoff, the "tPhone," is made by a Beijing-based company called Qiao Xing Mobile Communications, a subsidiary of CEC Telecom. From their "mission statement":
In the era that information technology fulfilled with humanity, QXMC firmly believes: only when being national can be international. Based on the deeply insight of Chinese civilization and lifestyle, QXMC perfectly mixes the cutting-edge technology with Chinese people’s taste and preference through the forward looking strategic vision.
If I were them, I'd lay off the claim about "Chinese people's taste" if I were making rather tacky products like the tPhone, aka the CECT P168. See a comparison of the two cell phones at iTech News Net.

Or then again, maybe I am speaking too soon. At least one blogger has posted some reasons for preferring the CECT P168 tPhone over the iPhone. People are griping about the iPhone's battery, which cannot (easily) be replaced by the end user, while the tPhone's is replaceable and even comes with an extra. The CECT P168 also features two SIM card slots, which would be pretty cool if you have different plans with different providers or if you travel a lot. (I carry Chinese and Taiwanese SIM cards around--I assume a tPhone could hold both and I could switch when traveling.) And of course the tPhone is not locked to a specific carrier.

We don't have to mention the cost....

Friday, July 06, 2007

Google Books Japan

Google Books Japan is up and running! In addition to Japanese books, there seem to be a lot in Chinese and English.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Pro-Taiwan Metal?

I said in my last post that Taiwan needs to take recognition where it can get it, but even I never expected this Reuters headline:

Ozzy Osbourne to help Taiwan in U.N. membership quest

Don't worry, he's not going to bite bat heads off at the UN or anything. Actually, he is supporting the Taiwanese black metal band ChthoniC's tour around the US. During the tour the band will provide literature supporting Taiwan's bid for UN membership, apparently with the Taiwanese government's backing.

I am not sure if Ozzy could find Taiwan on a map or anything, though. According to ChthoniC's Wikipedia page, it seems that they will merely be a support act on the Ozzfest tour. The article also has the standard "two sides split after civil war in 1949 yadda yadda" stuff. The media: wrong on Taiwan, wrong on heavy metal?

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

iPhone and the Pride of Taiwan

I just noticed something while watching the "Watered Down" commercial for the iPhone. Here's a screenshot from about 12 seconds in:

It's a bunch of Taiwanese waving flags and holding a sign reading "Light of Taiwan: Wang Chien-ming." It's just a random picture from the NYTimes site, but hey, Taiwan takes international attention when it can get it.
(And yeah, he officially spells his name "ming" instead of "min.")

Monday, June 25, 2007

Cameron Diaz, Serving the People

So Cameron Diaz made a bad choice of accessories and showed up in Peru with a bag that had a red star and said "To Serve the People" (為人民服務) in Chinese. You know, Peru--land of the Shining Path guerrilla group that was supposedly responsible for the deaths of 70,000 people. The international press went into an uproar and started writing stories about how she'd offended the nation. Dinesh D'Souza, who is apparently now blogging for AOL (who knew?) chimed in with a post called "Sorry Cameron Diaz, but Mass Murder Isn't Cool." Do actual Peruvians care? Not so much, apparently.

I remember D'Souza from the mid-90s PC culture wars and his book Illiberal Education. It seems since then he's moved on to writing about how the "Cultural Left" is responsible for 9/11 and the "liberal Fascism" of Mussolini and, um, Hillary Clinton. Better not wear that Ho Chi Minh shirt around him. (Hey, it was a gift.)

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Dramatic Chipmunk... Japanese!

OK so surely you have seen the "Dramatic Chipmunk" video by now--the "best 5 seconds on the internet." (You've probably also heard that it's not really a chipmunk but a prairie dog.) But did you know that the footage was from a Japanese variety show? The show is called "Hello! Morning" and it features members of the J-pop group Morning Musume.

Take a look:

As one comment on YouTube said, why isn't that girl in the video an internet meme? Listen to that noise!
(And as another comment says, "The cameraman is a guinness!")

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Kanji Remains the Same

Some weird news articles about Japan.

First, from the International Herald Tribune:
TOKYO: About 100 Japanese governing party lawmakers denounced the Nanjing Massacre as a fabrication on Tuesday, contesting Chinese claims that Japanese soldiers killed hundreds of thousands of people after seizing the Chinese city in 1937.

The members of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democratic Party said there was no evidence to prove mass killings by Japanese soldiers in the captured Nationalist capital, then known as Nanking. They accused Beijing of using the alleged incident as a "political advertisement."
I think the reporter and editor should be aware that "Nanking" and "Nanjing" are the same thing. The city had the same name then as it does now--it wasn't "known as" anything different. And what is a "political advertisement"? Is that in scare quotes because it doesn't make any sense? Surely that's a translation of senden 宣伝, which could be "advertisement" or "propaganda," and in this case is clearly the latter.

The second article is from the AP, and concerns Iwojima's decision to change the reading of their island's name back to an older one, "Iwoto":

Before the war, the isolated spit of land was called Iwo To — pronounced "ee-woh-toh" — by the 1,000 or so people who lived there. In Japanese, that name looks and means the same as Iwo Jima — Sulfur Island — but it has a different sound.
It "looks the same" but has a "different sound"? Couldn't the reporter have written that the characters used in the name remain the same but their reading is changing? I think even those of us with no Japanese can handle that.

When I see something I know a little about represented in this way in the news, it just makes me wonder how absurdly misrepresented other things I don't know about are. Frightening.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Presenting... the tPhone!

Who needs to wait another week or so for an iPhone when you can get a tPhone now!

Guess where it was made?

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Monkey: The Opera

Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett, creators of the "cartoon pop band" Gorillaz, have been working on an opera based on Journey to the West. A preview of a documentary about it is available on the Gorillaz fan site.
One of the best things about the Journey to the West story (aka Monkey: Folk Novel of China) is all the different versions it has appeared in. Being British and of a certain age, Hewlett mentions the famous Monkey Magic TV show so popular in the UK and Commonwealth countries as an inspiration.

Anyone looking for an introduction to the Journey to the West story would do well to start off with the newly published The Monkey and the Monk, the abridged version of Anthony Yu's complete translation.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

OpenOffice for Mac

The good news: for Mac has been released!
The bad news: It's an alpha release with many features not yet functioning. From the website:

This is an alpha test version so that developers and users can find out what works and not, and make comments on how to improve it.

There are a number of things that do not work in this version including, but not limited to:

  • You cannot print
  • PDF export does not properly work as thetext won't show on the page right
  • Starting from a shared folder does not work
  • Copy and paste does not fully work
  • will crash after quitting
  • Some text is not drawn in places like Impress
  • Impress will not recognise multiple monitors

If you want to lend a hand in testing or developing, download it from

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

More Words That Mean Their Own Opposites

I posted about words that mean their own opposites in Chinese before. Words like this are called contronyms or Janus words. Here are some in English:

Bill: invoice, money
Dust (v): add fine particles, remove fine particles
Model: archetype, copy
Custom: usual, special
Trim: cut off, add ("trim the Christmas tree")
Sanction: approve, boycott

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Can't Master Mandarin's Tones? Blame Your Genes!

Even though this is in the Scientific American, I still think this is fishy. Some Scottish linguists claim to have found a correlation between certain genes and populations speaking tonal languages:
During a study of linguistic and genetic data from 49 distinct populations, the authors discovered a striking correlation between two genes involved in brain development and language tonality. Populations that speak nontonal languages (where the pitch of a spoken word does not affect its meaning) have newer versions of the genes, with mutations that began to appear roughly 37 thousand years ago.

If you're not ethnically Chinese, don't quit those Chinese classes just yet. The authors of the study admit it could be coincidental.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Japanese Star Wars Theme

Here's a good way for Star Wars nerds to practice Japanese listening comprehension--the Star Wars theme with lyrics in Japanese! Via Tokyomango (and my favorite Japanese TV show)

See also: No-sword's post on the lyrics to the Imperial March.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The True Agenda of the Teletubbies

Jerry Falwell famously declared that the purple Teletubby, Tinky Winky, was gay because he has a triangle on his head and carries a purse. Now the Polish government is on the lookout for gay Teletubbies. I don't know if Tinky Winky or any of the others are gay, but did you know that the red one, Po, is Chinese? S/he is played by Pui Fan Lee, and can be heard speaking Cantonese in many episodes. Sometimes she does some kung-fu looking moves, too. Maybe it's really the Chinese agenda the Teletubbies are secretly advancing...? Here she is, without the red Teletubby suit.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Intellectual Property Piracy in China

I shall accuse those who copy my designs in the courts wherever they are and plead that justice be done. Those who reprint my books in the belief that their wealth and power will protect them are living off my labor, and that is a situation I cannot tolerate. I swear to fight them to the death, and hereby give notice to the authorities that this book marks a new policy on my part.
In brief, Heaven and Earth endowed every human being with a mind and it is up to each one of us to develop his own intelligence. I have done nothing to stultify their minds or prevent them from developing their intelligence. What right do they have to take away my livelihood and prevent me from living off my own labor?

This was written by Li Yu 李漁, author of the famous erotic Chinese novel The Carnal Prayer Mat, in the mid 17th century. Some things never change.

(Adapted from Patrick Hanan's translation in The Invention of Li Yu.)

"Chinese is too hard and I'm quitting"

To the poor soul who came across this blog after typing "Chinese is too hard and I'm quitting" into Google--hang in there, it gets better!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

John Cage 4'33"

"The material of music is sound and silence; integrating these is composing. I have nothing to say and I am saying it." --John Cage

I always liked that last rather "Zen" line by John Cage. Funny they translated it into Japanese rather prosaically as 私は何も言わない。それが私の主張だから。(roughly, "I say nothing at all because that's what I advocate.") I guess if they translated it too directly people might just think it was a mistake.

I didn't turn the volume down as it suggests. I thought it was kind of cool to hear the stopwatch ticking, the shuffling of the paper, etc., and let that ambient noise blend with the noise around me.

Indie China

Tragically misguided British indie band The Crimea tour China hoping to make it big. The drummer says,
"Our logic was simple: if we could be big in China, then it would be big on a scope even The Beatles couldn't have imagined, if only because China is potentially the biggest market in the world. In theory, we could reach a billion people here..."

The crowd's reaction?
I ask one of the crowd, Xi Yan, a 22-year-old who has travelled from his small village in the north of the country to be here, how he rates the performance. "Yes," he says, confidently, nodding. "I think they are good and that they make me feel relax and calm, but I am preferring your Iron Maiden, no?"

The band are also making their album available for free on their website--a better plan than trying to conquer China before the UK, I say. It seems to have paid off, at least getting them media attention.
(From Independent Online)

Friday, May 18, 2007

Sushi View

Ever wonder what it feels like to be a piece of sushi at a kaitenzushi (conveyor belt sushi) place? Watch this video shot from a camera somebody put on the conveyor belt of a sushi place in Tokyo. It was around midnight, and there were some interesting people in there. Be sure to watch long enough to see the back kitchen.

(Via Japundit)

A Chinese Unicorn

The very last entry in the Chunqiu, or the "Spring and Autumn Annals," is this:
In spring of the fourteenth year, in the West a hunting expedition captured a unicorn.

What is the significance? Supposedly, Confucius heard the news and began to weep, saying "Why has it come? Why has it come?" His disciples asked what was wrong, and he said, "The unicorn only comes when there is a brilliant king. Now it has appeared when it is not its time and was injured. I'm pained by this." According to some commentators, this is what moved Confucius to write the Chunqiu--a history that instructs the reader.

(By the way, it's not really a "unicorn." Actually it's what we might call "kirin" after the Japanese pronunciation. The ki 麒 is the male of the species and the rin 麟 is the female. The Erya 爾雅 says that it has the body of an antelope, the tail of an ox, and one horn. I think there is a name for such an amalgamation in English but it's been a while since I looked at the Fiend Folio.)

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Coffee in China

There's a Reuters article about coffee in China:
Du Yansheng, a farmer on the southern Chinese island of Hainan, hasn't gone without his morning cup of coffee in five decades, not even during the Cultural Revolution -- when such "mock-Western" practices could have landed him in prison.

There's a picture with the article of the Starbucks in the Forbidden City in Beijing. But notice how the Starbucks logo in the picture is from some hanging decoration inside the store--when I was there a few years ago there was no prominent logo outside, just a sign that said there was coffee being sold. It was apparently considered too crassly capitalist to have blatant Starbucks advertising in such a "cultural" place. Sure enough, recently there has been a movement to get rid of it altogether.

I just had to get a latte there, personally.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

555 in Hakka

Language Hat's post about Hakka reminded me of the only Hakka words I know. I heard a Hakka-speaking friend say "Mm!" I asked him what that means and he said "Five."
"So how do you say 55?"
"Mm sip mm."
"How about 555?"
"Mm bak mm sip mm."
Needless to say, this phrase doesn't come in handy very often.

A lot of famous people are Hakka, including former ROC president Lee Teng-hui, PRC leaders Deng Xiaoping and Li Peng, shoe designer Jimmy Choo, and Hong Kong stars Chow Yun-fat and Leslie Cheung. According to Wikipedia, former Prime Minister of Thailand Thaksin Shinawatra is part Hakka, too. Though Hakka are often called a separate ethnic group, they are actually ethnically Ham people.

Japanese Smiles

Live Science has a story about a Japanese researcher who was puzzled over the emoticon :) that his American colleagues would use:

"It took some time before I finally understood that they were faces," he wrote in an e-mail. In Japan, emoticons tend to emphasize the eyes, such as the happy face (^_^) and the sad face (;_;). "After seeing the difference between American and Japanese emoticons, it dawned on me that the faces looked exactly like typical American and Japanese smiles," he said.

The theory is that you can keep your mouth from going into a smile pretty easily, but it's harder to suppress the display of emotion in your eyes. The Japanese, then, tend to suppress their smiles so they look to the eyes for emotional cues. Americans don't suppress their smiles so they look to the mouth. That's why the different emoticons developed.

Read the whole story here.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Sounds of Tokyo

I have been using Adium for a while now for all my IM-software needs, and it has some nice features. One cool one I just discovered is the Tokyo TrainStation sound set (available in preferences). Those muted yet noticeable sounds from the stations are used when your contacts come online, send a message, etc.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Neo-Ruins of Tokyo

Shibuya lays in ruins in this picture by Motoda Hisaharu. It's part of a stunning series called Neo-Ruins. From a statement on his website:
"Motoda's view of the future at first seems nihilistic, but the proliferation of plant life in the ruined streets seems to suggest that there are other ways for the plant to survive even after our great cities have fallen."

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Simplified vs. Traditional Chinese Characters

A lot of people seem to think simplified Chinese characters are "easier" than traditional, but I have a hard time with them sometimes. Of course it is probably mostly a question of what you are used to or what you happen to like best, but for me simplified characters are more difficult to read at least. I just ran across this character: 灿. I had no idea what it could be, but I was guessing that it would read "shan" in one tone or another since that's the element on the right side (which is usually the phonetic). I was drawing a blank so I looked it up. It's the simplified character for 燦 càn, "brilliant." Sometimes the simplified characters are so simple that they are hard to recognize.

More "Great Wall" News

...but this time, it's a Chinese restaurant in the Bronx. Some guy tried to pay for his take-out with some change, including ten pennies, and the restaurant refused to accept them. What did he do?
He told his wife and two daughters to never order from Great Wall again. Then he sent e-mail messages to a number of elected officials.
A media circus ensued, state senators showed up, threats were made, and pennies were accepted. Not that the restaurant was in the right, but calling your state senator about a crazy Chinese take-out place seems a bit of overkill. Read the whole story in the NYTimes.

Great Wall Discovery

Chinese archaeologists have discovered a part of the Great Wall built in the Han Dynasty near the Mongolian border. It's the oldest and northernmost section extant. Story on Yahoo News.

Min Xiao-Fen on MP3

So I wanted to check out Min Xiao-Fen's music after hearing that she collaborated with Bjork. iTunes had Min's album, but it's $11.99 instead of what used to be the standard, $9.99. I decided to shop around, and it ends up eMusic has it. For $9.99 a month (less than the one album on iTunes), you can get 30 DRM-free downloads from eMusic. The selection is pretty limited but I think there's enough to make it worth $9.99 a month--especially if you like indie or other more music. And there's a free trial, so I'm checking it out.
(And the album, Spring, River, Flower, Moon, Night, is very nice. Min is like the Hendrix of the pipa--she really rocks!)

ABC Sets a Date for Lost

Funny that just after I mentioned Lost in a post, an article appears in the New York Times saying that, at the creators' request, the show will end in Spring, 2010.
“We have always envisioned ‘Lost’ as a show with a beginning, middle and end,” Mr. Lindelof and Mr. Cuse said in a statement, which was re leased over the weekend to The Hollywood Reporter and to the rest of the news media on Monday. “By officially announcing exactly when that ending will be, the audience will now have the security of knowing that the story will play out as we’ve intended.”
That will make for six seasons. If they say it was "all a dream" Dallas-style, I will go insane.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

"It was all a dream...."

If you watched a TV show for an entire season and then at the beginning of the next season it was revealed that "it was all a dream," how would you feel? Jerked around because it wasn't "real"? Or would you think it was all fictional anyway?
It actually happened with the '70s-'80s show Dallas. An actor whose character had been killed off returned to the show, so they said that season 7 was all a dream.
From a FAQ about the show:
Is it a waste of my time to watch the dream season? Well in many ways yes, it holds no part of the overall plot but there are some wonderful episodes and scenes.
I hope Lost doesn't end up taking some easy way out. (Don't tell me--I'm still watching season three!)

Speaking "Rat"

Printculture's C Bush grew up speaking English with a Rochester/Chicago accent, affectionately called "Rat."
If you aren’t sure what the accent sounds like, you might, the article suggests, recall Detective Sipowicz from NYPD Blue, played by Chicago native Dennis Franz. Or, for a less ethnographically pure, but perhaps easier to recollect example: the beer-toting fans of da Bairs from Saturday Night Live during the 90s.

He talks about the trouble he had adapting once he moved out of "Ratland." He mastered saying "soda" instead of "pop," but he couldn't get "bagel":
Much harder was my mysteriously wrong pronunciation of “bagel,” which I would sometimes have mimicked back at me by friends. It was good-natured fun for them, but genuinely perplexing for me because I just couldn’t hear the difference. Anyone who has studied Chinese knows this experience: “No, silly, it's not not ma. It's ma!” All the difference in the world to those who have ears to hear, but crazy-making to those who don’t. I eventually figured those out too.
"Crazy-making." Love it. I was OK with Mandarin tones, but I don't have the ears for Taiwanese ones at all.

Classics the Easy Way

There are books you want to read, and then there are books you want to have read. For the ones in the latter group, you can now turn to "Compact Editions" published by Orion. TimesOnline has the story of a new line of edited literary classics. Of course, not everyone is happy about the idea of a version of Anna Karenina with 30-40% cut out:

Matthew Crockatt, of the London independent bookshop Crockatt & Powell, poured scorn on the enterprise. “It’s completely ridiculous — a daft idea,” he said.

“How can you edit the classics? I’m afraid reading some of these books is hard work, which is why you have to develop as a reader. If people don’t have time to read Anna Karenina, then fine. But don’t read a shortened version and kid yourself it’s the real thing.”

Interesting. Is there no middle ground between reading the whole thing and "kidding yourself"? What if you are interested in a piece of literature for non-artistic reasons and the gist is enough? Or if you read the version that is not the "real thing," does it spoil forever the prospect of reading the full version? Does that go for every book, or just the ones that are deemed "classics"?

Monday, May 07, 2007

New Bjork Album

Bjork's new album, Volta, comes out Tuesday. It features a collaboration with the Min Xiao-Fen, the pipa player. I haven't heard the album yet, but Min was on Bjork's webcast concert the other night and it was pretty interesting. Check it out here.

(PS That's not a typo--Min spells her name "Xiao-Fen" even though proper Pinyin would be "Xiaofen.")

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Four Free OS X Apps for Students

A while back I wrote about how many Princeton students were using Macs now. One great thing about Macs is all the cool little applications that you can get for free. Here are my top four for students:

1. Voodoo Pad Lite. This program is a hassle-free personal wiki maker. I write all my notes in it, and when I type something that already has a page, it automatically makes a link. When I come across something I've covered before in another context, I can just follow the link and review it. You can even export everything to your iPod or, in the full version, to HTML.

2. WriteRoom. When you're writing papers, do you get distracted by your browser, AIM, games, etc.? Turn them all off. WriteRoom is just a blank screen and text--everything else is gone. Concentrate!

3. For a more full-featured word processor, I use NeoOffice. I used to use OpenOffice on my XP machine before I switched, and NeoOffice works just as well. There is an OO port for OS X, but NeoOffice is supposedly more "Mac-like" and easier to install so I went with it instead. Supposedly a native Mac OpenOffice is in the works, but until then NeoOffice is fine. No compatibility issues with MS Office .doc format, and Chinese/Japanese text has been no problem.

4. Quicksilver. What is it? Hard to explain. That's why it took me so long to get on board with it. I heard people say it's an "application launcher," and I thought, "So it will open apps for me? Who cares when you have the dock?" How wrong I was! Quicksilver totally changes the Mac experience. Basically, you can do anything from anywhere. When I need to email a file to classmates, I just call up Quicksilver, type in the first few letters of the file name, tab, type a few letters of "email," tab again, and type the email address. It only takes a few keystrokes--no navigation through folders, no opening applications. It's also great with iTunes while studying. Use the party shuffle, then while you're studying add songs to it with just a few keystrokes. You don't have to leave your word processor while you're writing to go mess around in iTunes when you think of a song you want to hear. You have to play with it to really see how it works. Merlin Mann of 43 Folders describes Quicksilver as having a grammar--you choose a subject (a file, for example), a verb (such as "email"), and, if needed, an object (""). Apple really should buy this and incorporate it into the OS.

Got any more? (I'd love to hear about a good flashcard-type thing for memorizing vocabulary words, etc.)

Saturday, April 07, 2007

A Poem by Li Shangyin

Li Shangyin, Contemplating the Ancient
李商隱 覽古

Li Shangyin (813?-858) was born in Huojia 獲嘉 in modern-day Henan. After his father’s death in 821, he lived in Luoyang. After passing the jinshi examination in 837 he held several minor posts in and outside the capital.

This poem, "Contemplating the Ancient," is a criticism of the indulgences and ambitions of the emperor Jingzong 敬宗 (reigned 824-827), alluding to the downfall that met similar rulers in the past.

莫恃金湯忽太平, 草間霜露古今情。
Do not rely on iron walls and boiling moats while neglecting the peace:
The conditions of the ages are but frost and dew among the grass—

空糊赬壤真何益, 欲舉黃旗竟未成。
What is the point in writing them down?
They desired to give a lordly air, but in the end nothing came of it.

長樂瓦飛隨水逝, 景陽鐘墮失天明。
The tiles of Changle fly off and are washed away with the waters,
The bells of Jingyang fall and are lost to the Heavens’ light

回頭一弔箕山客, 始信逃堯不為名。
I turn back to memorialize the Man of Qishan,
Beginning to believe in his avoidance of Yao and not making a name for himself.

Line 1: This phrase is abbreviated from 金城湯池 and refers to fortifications. It is first found in the Han shu, juan 45: 必將嬰城固守,皆為金城湯池,不可攻也。“It was necessary to firmly secure the winding walls by using iron walls and boiling moats. These cannot be assaulted.”

Line 5: The Changle Palace of the Han. See Han shu, juan 12: 冬,大風吹長安城東門屋瓦且盡。 “In the winter, a great wind blew at Chang’an’s East Gate, and the tiles of buildings were on the verge of being blown away completely.”

Line 6: Nan Qi shu, juan 20: 宮內深隱,不聞端門鼓漏聲,置鐘於景陽樓上,宮人聞此鐘,早起裝飾,至今此鐘唯應五鼓及三鼓也。 “From deep within the (pleasure) palace, the sounds of the drums of the outside gate could not be heard. Bells were installed in Jingyang Tower, and when people in the palace heard these bells, they would quickly rise and dress. As of now, there should be only five or even three of these bells remaining.”

Lines 7-8: Xu You 許由, to whom Yao desired to entrust his rulership. Xu You turned it down, saying the world was already in order and he had no desire to take over only to make a name for himself. See Zhuangzi, Xiaoyao 2. (Translated in Watson, Chuang Tzu: Basic Writings, p. 26): “Yao wanted to cede the empire to Hsü Yu.... Hsü Yu said, ‘You govern the world and the world is already well governed. Now if I take your place, will I be doing it only for a name? But name is only the guest of reality—will I be doing it so I can play the part of a guest? [...] Go home and forget the matter, my lord.’”

Friday, February 23, 2007

Lao Tzu? Hated it!

If you're a fan of the Tao Te Ching, you might want to stay away from the Left Behind series of Christian post-apocalyptic fiction. Hated Dream of the Red Chamber? You might love Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, or A Million Little Pieces. Genji fans apparently steer clear of books about shopping and Christianity, and it looks like Confucius will not be among the Five People You Meet in Heaven.

Courtesy of the LibraryThing UnSuggester, which analyzes people's books and finds the books least likely to be in the same collection.

Thursday, February 22, 2007


On a podcast of the HBO show Real Time with Bill Maher, the host said that he thought the presidential race was gearing up so early in the US because people were so sick of "President Albatross." Everybody knows what albatrosses represent, and the line got big applause.

How do we know that "albatross" means "a burden"? It comes from "Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner," but have we all really read that? (I think it was assigned in my high school English class, but I am not sure about that.) By now, the diangu 典故 (reference) has a life of its own removed from a shared cultural experience of literary reception. When I see that kind of reference in a pre-modern text, though, I often assume that it is part of some common code of the times. That might be a big mistake.

Do we know "albatross-->Coleridge-->burden" or is it just "albatross=burden"?