Dreams of White Tiles . . .


Reading Stuff

Filed under: Uncategorized — Roddy @ 5:35 pm

I’ve been trying to broaden my range of Chinese reading lately. Apart from the stuff I get at work it tends to be just newspapers, and even that’s mostly limited to the more interesting parts of the 南方周末 and maybe 财经 or 中国新闻周刊 if I have the time. This week I got through an article on reform of the petition system which was kind of interesting, and read the first few paragraphs of a load of others which didn’t really grab me.

For the other stuff, I picked up a book of essays by Lu Xun – I’ve read a little of Lu Xun before, and enjoyed a few of these. One that stood out was 我要骗人, if only because of one line, “中国的人民,是常用自己的血,去洗权力者的手,使他又变成洁净的人物的”- The people of China often use their own blood to wash the hands of the powerful, to cleanse them again.” (The translation is my own, and I apologise for it). I’m not sure if that’s an image I would have found so powerful in English. I think sometimes reading something in a foreign language allows the words to have a much more direct effect than the same words translated. It’s as you pay more attention to the words and they sneak right into your brain, so you don’t get a chance to analyse it so much and think ‘Ah, so what he’s saying is that . . . ‘ and so on. I know I can occasionally find myself embarrasingly moved by very bad pop songs if I’m not careful.

This also reminded me of another quote from Lu Xun, “墨写的谎言,决掩不住血写的事实” – “Lies written in ink will never hide facts written in blood” (again, I apologise). The quote arose after a student of his from Beijing Women’s Normal University was shot in a massacre of protestors against foreign encroachment in 1926 (this website, paragraph starting ‘1926 . . .’ and the next one, and also this). If you try internet searches for that quote, and you happen to be in mainland China, don’t expect to be able to actually access many of the results.

I’ve temporarily given up on Lu Xun at the moment, as a friend passed on a collection of essays by Wang Xiaobo, which I find much easier to read – probably because they are a lot more modern. The first one I read was 一只特立独行的猪, and although at the time I couldn’t have told you if Wang Xiaobo was dead or alive (dead, heart attack in 97) I liked the combination of humour and message enough to keep reading. I think the satirical style would actually translate well into English. Once I’ve finished these essays I may attempt one of his novels – I usually stay away from novels in Chinese as I rarely manage to keep track of the plot for more than a few chapters, but I might make a special effort if I continue enjoying the essays.


Let me count the ways

Filed under: Uncategorized — Roddy @ 10:32 pm

I’d seen baijiu (like vodka, without the smooth taste) in plastic bags before (on the left). You get milk in bags in loads of countries it seems, but I’m not sure how widespread this form of packaging is for strong spirits.

I’m not convinced by beverages in bags though. It dribbles, it’s difficult to put down without getting your table wet, and who really wants to suck a drink out of something soft and squishy?

I’m therefore please to welcome onto the market and on the right, the new contender, InstacupTM, for those of us too sophisticated for a bag and too disorganised to have a glass handy. Simply buy, pull off the lid, and there you have it. A glass of baijiu, ready to clink and drink. Genius.


Cultural Differences

Filed under: Uncategorized — Roddy @ 7:34 pm

In KFC for a morning coffee (if anyone knows somewhere else that serves up a semblance of caffine at 8.20am near my house, let me know) and the woman in front of me in the queue asks . . ..

Are you hiring?
Are you looking for work?
No. If you were a man, maybe, but we don’t need any women just now.

Reminded me of when I started my current job and helped out with some job interviews. They were quite openly hoping to employ more men, as the office was currently mostly women and this was apparently ‘unbalanced’.


Translation Stuff

Filed under: Uncategorized — Roddy @ 8:48 pm

Been a slightly busier week than usual, as I got a couple of freelance translations to do. The first one was a document relating to a patent application, and was fairly hard to do – lots of obscure electronic bits relating to obscure mechanical bits, and then the relations of those obscure electronic and mechanical bits had to be compared to the relations of other obscure electronic and mechanical bits in another patent to see if this patent blah blah blah you get the idea. . .

I don’t particularly like doing patents. There’s always new vocab in it, which makes it a bit more interesting, and if the rate is high enough then it cancels out the extra dictionary time. But by their nature patents describe things with great accuracy, and transferring that accuracy into the translation can be tricky. I got paid for it quickly, anyway, and the hourly rate worked out ok.

Then this weekend I had a few newspaper articles to do (not for publication, someone in the US wants to know what China’s saying). Newspaper articles are much easier, and even if there is vocab you don’t know, it’s never going to be very obscure. These articles all had a financial / economic slant and there were a few phrases I wasn’t sure about but at least there’s plenty of information on this field available.

I also did a couple of sample translations. One was on architecture, and I very nearly got confused with 多进建筑 – many-entrance-building. The context made me think this was a kind of short, squat apartment building with a number of entrances along its length, as opposed to a high, tall apartment building with one or two entrances – I know that’s not a great description, but I know the kind I mean.

A bit more research and a couple of hints in the right direction and I figured out it actually refers to larger traditional courtyard buildings, where there are a number of courtyards, and to get to the ones at the back you have to go enter through the ones in the front – hence, many-enterings. I’m not sure that’s the kind of mistake that goes unnoticed.

I’ve also come across a new translation tool that works within Word, Wordfast. It looks like a cheaper, nastier version of the very expensive translation tools you can get, but seems to have most of the important functionality. I got hold of it too late to use it on the patent thing, and the newspaper articles didn’t have the repetitiveness that these tools help with, but I think it’ll come in handy at some point.

Feeling less bad about the few hours I’m working now – earning a large chunk of my normal monthly income in what was effectively a couple of days work will do that . . .

Talking of large numbers John has a chart of Chinese 大写 or ‘capital’ numbers. These numbers aren’t actually capitals. Hard to have capitals in a language without letters. They’re complex forms of the normal numbers used to prevent forgery on things like receipts, contracts, etc. it’s easy to change 一 into 十, but not 壹 into 拾.


Four Seasons in One Year

Filed under: Uncategorized — Roddy @ 10:40 pm

Chinese people1 are very fond of saying that China / Beijing / their hometown has four distinct seasons. I’ve never lived anywhere that hasn’t got four distinct seasons so I find it odd that people need to point it out2. If you get onto Google, you can go as high as ten distinct seasons before the internet runs out (although soon enough this page will be on Google, and you’ll have to go to eleven).

I noticed in the back of my dictionary recently a list of 节气 or solar terms. These were the 24 subdivisions of the Chinese calendar. I looked about a bit and found this PDF document, ‘The Mathematics of The Chinese Calendar’ which helped me realise how much I don’t know. I’m always happy to expand the boundaries of my unknowledge3. It’s interesting, if somewhat esoteric reading:

235 mean lunar months (6939.6885 days) are roughly equal to nineteen tropical years (6939.6018 days) . . .

What actually interested me though was the names of these solar terms. Assuming these were used in conversation, they must have been much better sounding coversations . . .

“So when did he finally snap?”
“I’m not sure exactly. Sometime in Limit of Heat (处暑)”

“When did you first realise you felt that way about her?”
“Hard to say. Awakening of Insects (惊蛰), I suppose”

“We should go away for the weekend sometime soon.”
“Ok, but don’t forget my mother’s visiting in Descent of Frost(霜降)”

“I see. So when did these hearing problems start?”
“Well doctor, I first noticed it round about Grain in Ear (芒种)”

“When was it they told you?”
“Cold Dew(寒露)”

There’s a full list in that .pdf file if you’re interested.

I also think we should update these 节气. For example, perhaps now we could be in Awaiting Heat (候暖), describing this troublesome time of year when the weather is cold but the heating not yet on. If I can think of 23 others I’ll let you know . . .

1: Only, however, Chinese people who write tourist brochures and essays entitled ‘My Hometown’.
2: Although I suppose I may have been imposing my spring, summer, autumn, winter knowledge scheme onto an infinite variety of unrecognised seasons.
3: Thinking about it, the more I read the more I realise I don’t know, making what I know an ever smaller subset of what I know there is to know. Meaning reading just makes me stupider.

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