First Mongolian

Even though I was in Asia for four years, I'd never met anyone from Mongolia. And although the U.S. has many different kinds of people (the first "experiment" of its kind, according to a now-deceased Tunisian immigrant I knew), I'd never met a Mongolian here, either.

Well today, I was at an "exciting" temp gig, and the office ordered Chinese food. The delivery guy walked in, and he looked Chinese, but not like other Chinese people I'd seen. His skin was darker and his face and features were wider, and he had a more "rugged" look. Maybe he was from a certain area of China I didn't know about, or from an island in the China Sea, I thought, but his accent didn't sound Chinese either. He could've been from Latin America, since I'd seen Asian-looking Latin American Indians, but he didn't speak with a Spanish accent.

So I asked him if he was from China (it was the closest guess) and he said Mongolia. My eyes almost popped out--Mongolia? I'd never met anyone from there, I told him, and we managed to have a basic conversation about it, though his English was still at a more basic level. Then it made sense--it's right near China, and there's a long history between the two countries, so of course he looks like a Chinese "relative".

It was cool. So now I can say I've met a Mongolian. He couldn't even tell me where they live in Chicago, though I believe he said that there's a community in Colorado, which seems odd, since it's not a major port or entry point. And here's something to ponder: what the heck does a Mongolian accent sound like? I already forgot, so I may not be able to spot a Mongolian again. Oh well.


Non-famous honesty

Yesterday I did a post about John Irving's honesty and how he has guts to share so much "in spite of" his fame and success (because bearing your soul when you've built a public persona is quite risky and shows vulnerability).

But I must also mention Jon Konrath because he is also honest. It's not like he's sharing his darkest secrets and struggles, but his blog consistently shows well-written honesty that I have not found elsewhere, except at a now-defunct blog that I think was called "Themes and Variations" that I cannot find anywhere anymore.

Which makes me wonder if honesty is "worth more" when the person is famous. Does he not "matter" as much because he's not famous? Does writing only matter if it's written by a blockbuster author?

I've never met Jon and may never meet him (thus I'm not trying to gain favor), but for some reason I love reading his thoughts. I've mentioned him a few times before, but I can't help it because whenever I come across a windbag and/or pompous writer who's "taking risks" in sharing stuff, I think about Jon because he's toiling away at his day job and writes creatively on the side, sharing his unpretentious thoughts with me and lots of other people who love to read good writing.


Bravely honest

I had some down time before teaching, so I turned on the tube and came upon a talk that the author John Irving gave when he was in Chicago. He was promoting his new book, and I thought it was odd when the promotional flyer said that he would not be signing any books. "What nerve," I thought, because he's so successful and he can't even give his fans any face time? I've often thought that if I ever "made it" (which I won't since I don't like the isolation, doubt, and failure of fiction writing) I would be a whole lot more grateful than the superstar novelists.

I haven't read any of his books because they seem sort of vulgar--not that they're totally that way, but there seem to be some unsavory parts in his stories and borderline darkness that I'd rather not consume. But that doesn't mean I don't respect what he's accomplished: he's been successful, has a loyal audience, and lives in New England and Toronto--I love that city!

Well, little did I know until I saw his speech on Chicago public TV that he's been through a lot of bad stuff, and he was bearing his soul. He told everyone that he was sexually abused when he was 11 by an older woman, never knew his father (his parents got divorced, the family didn't want to discuss it, and his mom remarried and never let John Irving have a relationship with his father), and had yearned to see his father. He found out that he had a half-brother when he called Irving and told him that his father had died five years before that phone call. He was so sad! And I got all this info from that talk, which was more than an hour. He really shared everything, and I think that's brave!

The reason why he was telling everybody about his lifelong struggles, including relationships with older women (obvious psychological reason there) was because his latest book is based on what he experienced and the struggles he's had. You can read all about his life and book (which I still don't care about) in this NY Times article.

By the way, I saw him speak when he was in town back in the late 90's, and even though I had no interest in his books, I liked hearing him speak. He read excerpts from his upcoming novel (I forgot the title) and I felt like everyone was laughing except for me--too vulgar. I was quite close to the stage, so he looked at me--at least I'm pretty sure he did. And why wouldn't he? Everyone was laughing, and I was sitting there unamused, and I was close enough for him to see my expressionless face. But eventually I laughed because he's a good writer and the other parts he read were benign.


Attempted explanation

I did a post about mistakes that Chinese speakers make in English, and a couple of people wanted some explanations. So, below are the "correct" sentences (I put "correct" in quotes because it seems like the "mistakes" are quite subtle to the point that they don't seem "wrong" even to native-speakers' ears/eyes). The revisions are in caps since I can't do bold, etc. in Blogger via a Mac.

Original: It was so late there was no taxi.
Revised: It was so late there WEREN'T ANY TAXIS.

Original: Your coat is broken.
Revised: Your coat is RIPPED [or TORN].

Original: Let me help you to do your work.
Revised: Let me help you do your work. [delete TO]

Original: Susan didn't make a fault anyway.
Revised: Susan didn't make a MISTAKE anyway.

Original: He becomes better.
Revised: He's GETTING better.

Original: I recommend you to take a long vacation.
Revised: I SUGGEST you take a long vacation. [delete TO]

Original: It was still bright outside.
Revised: It was still LIGHT outside.

Original: Wait here, please, I'll come back in a minute.
Revised: Wait here, please, I'll BE back in a minute.

Original: I am uncomfortable.
Revised: I FEEL uncomfortable.

The reason why I think that some are perceived as "incorrect" is because the speakers are trying to create idioms. And it's common for people to translate their own expressions into the target language instead of memorizing the phrases of the new language.

For instance, "bright" is a quality of lightness. I think that sentence is meant to say that it's light outside (ie, the sun is out), as opposed to dark. And I know that there is a Chinese character for "bright" that is used in Japanese, so I'm guessing that Chinese uses a similar character.

The "come back" phrase is perhaps technically correct, but "be back" is more "natural". Many native English speakers say "be back" instead of "come back." Maybe it sounds better because "come back" is too literal and precise. "Be back" is the phrase that is common.

Also, someone can be uncomfortable, but that's a feeling, which is why "feel" seems more natural. I am uncomfortable sounds so definite and factual.

Well, that's my attempt to explain why those are mistakes. I'm responding to what Arrogant Polyglot said in the comments section of my post.

Will respond

A reader (Michal) asked about the previous post that had sentences with English mistakes that Chinese people make. I'm going to do a follow-up post on that topic later today since I don't have time right now to do it. But I'm very happy that someone asked a question that I can respond to! Sometimes it's hard to just do posts without knowing if anyone is really reading them. :)


What Chinese speakers say

Someone from China gave me the following list of "Common Mistakes from Chinese Speakers." I have no idea where he got it--it could have been from a Chinese site.

It was so late there was no taxi.

Your coat is broken.

Let me help you to do your work.

Susan didn't make a fault anyway.

He becomes better.

I recommend you to take a long vacation.

It was still bright outside.

Wait here, please, I'll come back in a minute.

I am uncomfortable.

Some of these mistakes are more subtle than the usual mistakes that English-learners make (even when native speakers write!), but it's a good activity to do in a class, if you're only teaching Chinese people.


Forgot to blog

I was going to do posts the past couple of days, but on Wednesday I had to temp all day, finish up a translation project, then work until midnight to help the news folks report the election returns (the Illinois Primary). So I ended up working a 16-hour day. Yesterday was Recovery Day, so I took a very long walk (over seven miles) from Lincoln Square to downtown. I walked along the lake and was one of maybe 10 people who had bundled up enough to enjoy the 35-degree "spring" weather. I was understandably tired when I got home, because of the walking and shopping/browsing breaks I took, so I ended up watching some DS9 reruns and went to bed--forgetting to do a post about "Common Mistakes from Chinese Speakers" that a Chinese guy gave me. Right now I don't have time to type them up because I have to read stuff on-air for CRIS radio.

And today will be another example of what I predicted: Snow in Spring. I think Chicago springs average just two weeks.



John Deaver sent me an email with the following information about the meaning of "namesake," which I'm assuming is from a Random House site:

The usual use of the word namesake is 'a person named for another', so that the second name-holder, rather than the original name-holder, is the namesake. So usually George W. Bush would be the namesake of George H.W. Bush, but not usually the other way around. Many dictionaries list this as the only sense of the word, and it's probably the one you should stick with.

However, there do exist examples of namesake referring to the original owner of the name rather than the name-borrower. Joseph Addison, writing in The Spectator in 1712, referred to a reader who "Subscribes herself Xantippe, and tells me, that she follows the Example of her Name-sake" (Xantippe was Socrates's wife, an allusion that would have been easily understood at the time).

This would seem to be a recipe for guaranteed confusion, though the problem is not much mentioned in usage guides. Perhaps it just doesn't matter very much.

The word namesake is first recorded in the mid-seventeenth century. It derives from the phrase (one's) name's sake.

I'm assuming Deaver sent it to me because he found a report of someone with the same name as mine. It's one of those nerdy moments that sometimes pops up in an otherwise bland workday.


Keep House alive

I had to drive home very late tonight, and instead of listening to talk radio or commercial music stations, I decided to listen to Streetbeat, which is a part of WNUR (Northwestern University's radio station). If you're in Chicago, it's 89.3 FM, but you can also listen online.

Since our inception in the late 80s, our foremost goal has been to play the most forward-thinking, cutting-edge, underground dance and hip-hop cuts the world has to offer. We have programming on the station six nights a week covering material from industrial to progressive, hip-hop to tech house.

From the beginnings of house music in Chicago, WNUR has brought to the airwaves a side of dance music that doesn't get exposure elsewhere on the dial, in the clubs, or even in the party scene...Our present mission is to provide Chicago and the world with a source of consistently good underground electronic/dance music in all its variety, both new and old, whether local or imported.

As my profile states, I like House Music, especially Deep House. I wish it was more popular than Hip Hop because it's hard to find stations that play it, and even clubs and other public places tend to be hip hop-oriented. Actually, hip hop pervades much of our society, so we're lucky that we can get any House at all. And the sad irony is that Chicago is the birthplace of House, but it's hard to find. I hope House doesn't die!


Weird fortune

I went to an Asian restaurant and had the requisite fortune cookie. My husband had a normal fortune: "You will be successful in your career." That makes total sense and is clearly encouraging. It's a good fortune to have.

But my fortune was confounding, and I still don't get it, even after reading it several times: "The smart thing to do is not be your self."


(This is the second post made with a Japanese template and dashboard. Now I will press the Japanese button to publish this.)

Blogging with Japanese

I'd like to state for the record that at this moment, I am using Japanese for my Blogger template: I have set my Blogger dashboard to Japanese. I may keep it like this for a day or longer and then switch to another language (that I can read). So right now, the "Create" page that I'm in is 作成 and if I want to preview what I'm writing, it's now called プレビュー instead of "Preview."

Blogger sometimes has problems that all of us moochers (it's free) have to wait to be fixed, but this feature is quite nice, especially for language lovers like me. Too bad they only list celebrities or well-connected people's blogs in their "Blogs we've noticed" list instead of those blogs that appreciate their multilingualism. Oh well.


Got it :)

I did a post before about how I wanted this book, 海外のビジネスマナー (Kaigai no Bijinesu Manaa). It gives information about business practices and cultures throughout the world, sort of like intercultural training.

Well, when I was in the Japanese store yesterday, I couldn't resist, especially because someone gave me a financial gift. Too bad it's going to take me eons to read it, since I don't know all the kanji or vocabulary in it. But it's a good way to learn Japanese because reading content that is interesting and enjoyable makes language learning easier. Now all I've got to do is practice more language-learning discipline. My schedule has been quite wacky lately.


This is Chicago

If you're wondering what downtown Chicago looks like, here it is. I saw this at Rachelle's blog, and this is what it looks like today, even though she took it a few days ago. Today was (finally!) sunny and mild, which is atypical weather in March. I wouldn't be surprised if there's going to be a snowstorm soon.

The pic was taken from the Museum Campus. This is the real view that you'll see if you stand there. The Sears Tower is the tall black building on the left. Worth the trip!


Physics graphics

At first, I thought Physics News Graphics was a joke because of the text that accompanies this cool image:

New experiments and simulations show that large-scale fluid circulations drain energy from smaller-scale vortices to sustain themselves, akin to a hostile takeover of smaller corporations. The figure shows a visualized flow from a laboratory experiment of a thin salt-water layer driven by magnetic forces. One can see vortex structures on a range of scales.

But if you look at the other images, you'll see that the other text is serious, such as this:

Sketch of an acoustic lens based on a two-dimensional sonic crystal and a map of the resulting sound level (in dB). The sketch is drawn to scale. The lens-like sample measure 1.2 m of width. In this experiment, the researchers use a sonic crystal consisting of a triangular lattice of 4-cm-diameter cylinders, the pitch being 6.35 cm. The sound pressure map
has been taken at a frequency of 1700 Hz, which is well below the first acoustic gap that starts at 2300 Hz.

So I'm assuming the site is serious. BTW--I have no idea what that means, or much else on the site. Mahndisa probably understands, since I found out about it from her. But visit the site--you'll be looking at the images all day, like this one:



Racism internationalized

I'm not a politically-correct type, so I'm not blogging about it for that reason. I'm mentioning it here because it's quite disturbing and wrong.

This is a true story, but I won't use place or people names:

I know someone who works at a hostel, and they were checking in someone from Asia. They gave the person a key to the room, and soon after the person came back to the desk.

They asked, "Is there someone else in my room?"
The hostel worker said, "Yes--you registered for a dorm room, so there's someone else in there."
The guest asked, "Is the person black?"
Hostel worker: "I don't know, and who cares?"
Guest: "I don't want to stay in a room with a black person."
Worker: "I have no idea if they're black, and it doesn't matter if they are!"
Guest: "Then I want to check out. I can't stay in a room with a black person."

So the guest returned the key and left the hostel because of the possibility that the other person in the room might be black! Like I said, this really happened, and it was so shocking, I had to post it here.


Me live

I mentioned in January that every week I read newspapers for blind people on a radio station. Well, the service just went online, so if you're curious about my voice and the numerous reading mistakes I make, you can hear me at the CRIS Radio site. I'm usually on the air every Tuesday from 9-10 am Central time. Last week I was on the air from 9 to 11, but that's only because someone didn't show up, so I subbed for them.


70 miles

Today I have to travel 70 miles for work. I'm going to DeKalb, Illinois for an event. This is definitely the farthest I've had to drive for a job. I hope I make it. I wanted to go because I've never been to DeKalb before, but 70 miles is a long way to drive.

In other news, I did a presentation yesterday, and I learned an important lesson: Know Your Audience. I assumed people knew nothing about my topic, but I guess some did, from the looks of the evaluations I got. Most of the people thought it was decent, but there were a few who thought it was useless. So if I ever do a presentation again, I'm going to find out who my audience is, what they know, and what they expect.

Maybe my next presentation will be media-related since it seems that's where I'm headed professionally. If something develops at another radio station, then I will have successfully made the transition into a new career. But I won't know until the next couple of weeks. If it doesn't work out, then I have other options, I'm sure.


Universal translator glitch

As some of you may know, I've been taping and watching reruns of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. I wasn't into any sci-fi before, so now I'm catching up, finding out what I've been missing. It's worth it, even though my sleep has been suffering. Today I feel a bit under-the-weather because I watched a couple episodes last night. I don't know what I'll do when I've taped and watched all the episodes--rent the movies? Watch the episodes again and look for subtleties or even memorize dialogue? (Joke! I'd never watch a movie to memorize dialogue! There are too many other things to memorize, including Japanese phrases and French vocabulary!)

Anyway, last night I was watching an episode of DS9 where Worf was explaining some Klingon concepts to Captain Sisko. I forgot the Klingon words, but basically, he said one word, and then said, "it's hard to translate." Then it occurred to me: what about the Universal Translator?

The Universal Translator is a Startrek thing: some unseen device that every alien has, which makes it possible for all of them to sit around, blab in their own language, and have others understand them perfectly. It's also the reason why they all speak English when we're watching it ;)

Which brings me back to the Klingon situation. I notice that in the show, they often show Klingons throwing out their phrases and words, and sometimes, if a non-Klingon has had exposure to their culture, then they would understand what it means. And if not, then the Klingons or some enlightened non-Klingon would explain.

But does this mean that the Universal Translator has a glitch? If it is supposed to translate everything anybody says, then why are the Klingons exempt--how come they're allowed to use their language and circumvent the Universal Translator? Why would Worf or anyone else say a word, then say it's difficult to translate, or not translate it at all? It's definitely a flaw of that Universal Translator concept. Thus, it's not so universal after all.