Friday, December 01, 2006

Towards the Sun

Somehow Friday has arrived and we seem to have missed out the middle of the week, even though enough has happened for two weeks worth of days. Relativity in action! A few hours yesterday in a cafe at Tsinghua gave me some time to catch up on a couple of papers and I have some possible ideas for a new project.

I've had some good news this week that I'll be going to the Yukawa Institute in Kyoto for a two month visit at the beginning of next year. This will be following a two week winter school on string theory in Korea with what look to be some great speakers.

My last trip to Japan was just two weeks but I had an incredible time out there. The physics was productive and taking in the culture was a joy. I look forward to more of the same.

So, for those who will be coming out to visit next year, I will be a few clicks East until the middle of March. I also will not be coming back for Christmas, as holiday time here is pretty strictly controlled (though my boss has been extremely kind so far in allowing me much more than I should have taken). Still, last Christmas was a peaceful experience and I'm sure something fun will come up this time.

The second piece of good news is that Parcelforce gave in and have reimbursed me for the computer which was badly damaged on the trip from the UK to China. This positive note is only the full stop at the end of a rather ugly saga, but I am pleased that they have done the right thing under the circumstances.

I mentioned a few posts ago when talking about learning Chinese that I've found a superb resource. I have been lent a tape set of 90 half hour Mandarin lessons called Pimsleur Mandarin. They're tedious, really really tedious. The repetition is unending and the pace is slow but if you want to learn the language then they are an invaluable resource. With such an alien language repetition really is the key and I can now be seen walking around with my headphones on uttering random Mandarin phrases as I walk to and from work.

To keep you interested there is a rather salubrious undertone to the lessons. You work up slowly to asking someone if they would like to have a drink or dinner with you but by lesson nine you get a series of crippling rejections by a woman who eventually tells you that you really don't understand, she doesn't want to go out with you at all. Soon you are married, kids have arrived and your wife is borrowing money from you. Around lesson 19 a woman has plied you with beer and you are in her hotel room while her husband is nowhere to be seen, in fact she doesn't know where he is. I'm on lesson 22 on tenterhooks! I'm probably reading too much into this and it's done rather more subtly than I've outlined but the extra touch is a clever one.

Though I complain regularly about the language, it is improving bit by bit. There are however aspects which will forever remain a mystery to me. Though it is in traditional script, meaning that only those in Taiwan will understand it, this ancient Chinese poem is an example of the problems that a highly degenerate language can give you. Enjoy!


sa~sa said...

haha... that was funny about the 3rd paragraph, for a second I thought you were really talking about yourself.

I haven't read many of your post, but man, you have been to a lot of places! I'm so jealous! It's my dream to travel all over the world.

So what other languages do you speak? If you don't mind me asking.


Unknown said...

Hi there, I've been very lucky both in the past with good opportunities to travel purely for pleasure and now to travel with my work. It's one of the many benefits of such a career.

Before learning Chinese I could hold a reasonable conversation in French but I find that now Mandarin takes over when I try and think in French.

I spent five years learning Russian but unfortunately it never really clicked and consequently vanished all too quickly.

To list completely I've had lessons in Hebrew when I was very young and Latin when I was pretty young and though the Latin is occasionally useful, I never 'spoke' either of these languages.

Sounds like you've had some interesting experiences in learning languages yourself.

All the best,


Anonymous said...

That sounds like one heck of a language course. It sounds like a good concept - combining, intrigue, adventure and language learning.

I've heard that one of the big problems for westerners learning chinese and other asiatic languages is grasping the use of tones.

I think I said my dad lives in Thailand. He told me of a woman who knows who has 4 sons who are all named the same thing, except for slight tonal differences. He's never learnt to hear the difference.

A good language series is Routledge's 'Colloquial' guides. I've used them to learn the rudiments of several languages.

If you fancy an amusing read about an Englishman out of sorts in Japan before you go there try 'Angry White Pyjamas' by Robert Twigger.


sa~sa said...

Morning J,
Gtta agree with Malcolm, that's a heck of a languaage course! Latin and Hebrew, have you ever tried to read the bible in these versions? I always thought they might reveal something in their original text (assuming the original was in either Latin or Herbrew, or was it Arabic?). Still searching for a Filipino restaurant, I heard there's one in Hangzhou, hah~ What's your native language? If you don't mind me asking. I also try to reply as much as possible but I sometimes get lazy :( hehe..

Hmmm... interesting about the 4 kids being named the same. Maybe it's just a first name. Coz I've heard of sisters all having the name Maria in the beginning of their names for religious purposes.

take care :p

Unknown said...

Hi Malcolm,

From what I understand Thai has even more tones than Mandarin and so this woman still has room to go.

I'll look out for the Routledge course and the book you mentioned, though foreign language books aren't so easy to get here.

Hi Sa~sa,

I never really understood anything I was reading in Hebrew, I could just say the words which seems a little meaningless now.

My native language is English though that is slipping slowly. I find myself using Chinese forms to say things in English now because I know that they will be easier to understand. I don't do this consciously but when I speak with another native English speaker here I do find myself using rather strange sentence constructions.

All the best,