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.)