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 ("yourfriend@email.edu"). 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.)