Lunchtime entertainment

It came from the West.

While I was waiting for this interminably slow computer to do something yesterday, I went to the window to have a look at the view and could see some very heavy grey cloud coming in from the west. It didn’t take long for a thunderstorm and a torrential downpour to sweep across Fuzhou. The rain was nearly heavy enough to obscure the vertical support of Sanxianzhou (三县洲) Bridge.

It cleared up soon enough, but there were some low clouds clinging to the hills to the west. It would’ve made a good picture if I’d had my camera with me.

I went for a wander yesterday afternoon. I’ve been intending for some time to take a trip along Shangsan Lu past the university during the hours of daylight to give me a better idea of what’s there. I find that between Louhou Lu (Behind the Building[s] Street) and Student Street there are about half a dozen bookshops which all seem to be of middling size. Normally, local bookshops are small affairs.

I walked up Student Street which turned out to be longer than I was expecting. It’s basically a long line of little shops dominated by those perennial Chinese favourites, clothing and shoes. There were also quite a lot of little takeaway places nearer the start of the street. Although it’s outside term time, the place seemed reasonably busy for a mid afternoon on a Friday.

Once I’d left Student Street behind, I entered another rundown area and saw some graffiti. I know you’re thinking this is another yeah-so? moment, but I’ve seen very little graffiti here in China. What you’ll usually see is phone numbers for unspecified services (probably black taxis; girls who are easily led astray; documents; exam answers; etc.) daubed on walls, but almost never any Western-style graffiti. Of course, this is well away from general public view, and your average laowai would never see this.

As I came back past the university, I saw a shop called The Sexy Shop. I noticed, displayed in the window, the sexy equivalent of sensible knickers and a bra. Bit of an odd shop to have in such a location because I’ve been informed that it’s illegal for university students to have sex, which means, of course, that’s exactly what they’re doing.

That reminds me that as I was going through the check out at the Chinese supermarket last week, they had some condoms called Grain Condoms on display, and this was not the brandname as far as I could tell.

And then, as I’m walking up the hill from Louhou Lu, I see some black guy on a moped heading in the opposite direction. I thought I was the only foreigner around here at the moment, but I’ve been finding there are others around.

Input this

Getting characters onto the page.

A couple of years ago when I first started trying to use Chinese characters occasionally on the computer, all I had was the huge bloc of characters that was one of the subsets of the Arial Unicode MS font. It was obvious that the characters were arranged by radical, but finding the radical took some doing since there was no way of knowing exactly where it was going to be except by searching. Eventually, I went through the Chinese characters radical by radical and made an index of them and their hex codes so that I could find characters more quickly.

I discovered, eventually, that it was still possible to get international language support direct from MS which made things much easier since I was able to find characters by radical or pinyin using the character mapper. The former method is the one I’m used to, but the Unicode Organisation doesn’t want to make it easy for anyone and you actually have to know what the radical is in order to find the character.

Because I can’t go on line from home yet, I’m back to the point I was at about two years ago. Fortunately, I still have my index file, but as I said above, the Unicode Organisation doesn’t want to make life too easy.

For example, the water radical (氵) is quite common and, as any fule [sic!] expect, it should be quite easy to find. Well, it is, but only if you know that it’s actually listed under 水 shui “water”. Same sort of deal with the fire dots radical. You want that? You look up the character for fire (火). Of course, I’d look there every time. The three-stroke grass radical 艹, which is another high-frequency radical, is in the six-stroke section under 艸, but if you don’t know about the latter, you’ll be wondering where the former got to.

Most of this will probably make sense to native speakers of Chinese, especially those outside the mainland, because the Unicode arrangement is clearly geared to the traditional system, not the simplified one. It may make vague, etymological sense to group the water radical with the water character, and the fire dots radical with the fire character, but where the morphology is so different, it seems rather impractical.

Chinese characters the Unicode way. You know it makes so much sense.

Love those crazy language skillz

You silly man.

I was over on the forums where someone had posted a thread about a Patriot skin/bot for Q4. In one of the images, you can see a couple of Chinese characters tattooed on his arm. Someone wanted to know what they meant, and someone else supplied a translation, “crazy man”.

The characters are 痴漢 chī hàn, which seems really to mean “silly/idiotic Han Chinese person”. [03.08.14. Youdao translates the phrase as “idiot”.] Although hàn can mean “man”, I suspect that the connotation is still “Chinese person” rather than human beings in general. As for chī, that can also mean “crazy about” (i.e., very interested in something). At best, it means “silly man”.

But that’s not all. As any Chinese person will tell you (provided they know the English words), the first character is simplified and the second traditional. It’s the sort of thing that probably makes the Chinese wince, giggle, or both.

The words which the creator of the skin probably ought to have used are either 狂人 kuángrén or 疯子 fēngzi. I don’t know what the connotations of these words are, but the first is literally “crazy person”.

But to turn back to 痴 chī, I can’t find it in the English half of my dictionary. If I understand the character dictionary in the office correctly, it seems to have something to do with talking gibberish. I’d guess that it’s probably low fequency vocab.

The middle verb

So there may be a few inherent ones.

Yesterday I said that I couldn’t think of any verbs that I myself might use in the middle voice. From what I’ve found (see this thread on englishforums.com), there are some verbs which I would use in the middle voice. Obviously, these form a subset of all of them, with speakers of American English using others in this way, even although I wouldn’t myself.

The question about this latter group is whether the middle use of raise or delete is inherent or derived. That is, whether the middle of these verbs is formed by zero derivation, or whether this particular function is lexically listed. I think I’d say that my grammar limits me to middle verbs which have this function as part of their specification. I can’t simply take any old transitive verb and make it middle using zero derivation.

03.08.14. Is the spread of the middle in American English due to one or more of the following?

  1. It’s a consequence of the Americans’ fear of the passive voice.
  2. It’s a consequence of the pernicious effects of Microsoft Word English on linguistically ignorant users. (And there would seem to be some sort of link with the first reason.)
  3. It’s been influenced by Spanish. (I assume that like other Romance languages, the passive is less frequent than reflexive forms essentially performing the same function.)
  4. It’s a consequence of English being acquired by a large body of non-native speakers (i.e., immigrants). (I suspect the historical evidence is against me.)
  5. It’s a consequence of the independent development of the language, being an innovation rather than the spread of an archaism. (I know everyone thinks American English is less formal than English, and somehow more cutting edge. I disagree. I think that it’s a linguistic museum. Certainly, it’s not the pinnacle of the development of the English language as [American] books about the history of the English language typically imply. Yes, I know I’m being peevish, but I’m fed up with seeing American all over the Internet, and ever having the feeling that Britain trots along behind like some mentally retarded poodle.)

Lie back and think of England

It’s not that sort of passive.

I’ve been reading this entry on Language Log about the source of injunctions against using the passive voice.

Although George Orwell railed against it, the school of the 11th Commandment (“Use ye not the passive for it lacks force. And the Lord saith unto you: For him who useth the passive, there is a Circle of Hell.”) seems to be in the States. I’m sure that the opposition to the passive in style manuals may have something to do with the avoidance of the passive in American English, but I also have another theory.

I think that the passive may also be losing ground in the face of the middle voice. It’s not something we use much in British English, but it’s noticeable in American writing. For example, I’d write

[e] is raised to [i] when [i] or [j] occurs in the following syllable.

An American would probably phrase that as

[e] raises to [i] when [i] or [j] occurs in the following syllable.

Of course, in my English raise is a transitive verb and requires a direct object (e.g. Old MacDonald raises chickens). I would find it unnatural to say “[e] rises to [i] etc.” because I still want the implication of an agent even if one isn’t being overtly stated.

The middle to me looks a lot like a Romance reflexive, but with the reflexive pronoun missing. The American sentence is kind of implying “[e] raises itself to [i] etc.” Of course, I might be so desperate for some sort of object that I’m seeing some sort of ellipsis which isn’t there.

Nonetheless, for me, the middle in American English is noticeable. The question is what the source of this form is. It may not be wholly absent from British English and I’ve found it hard to avoid writing in the American style at times, but I can’t think of any commonly used instance of the middle in British English. I think it pops up in journalese, but that’s dimwitted hacks for you. But to get back to my original question, I have no answer. It may just be another instance of the random way in which dialects of a language diverge from each other.

However, I also wonder whether the middle is a feature of creoles (a pidgin which has gained a body of native speakers). Creoles have impoverished grammatical systems, and how they handle more sophisticated modes of expression such as the passive, where the object is raised [sic!] to the subject position, gives some interesting insights into how the human mind does language. My thinking is that with such a large immigrant population most of whom spoke no English, is it possible that certain features of American English are creole-like because non-native speakers were attempting to acquire the language, perhaps much of the time without formal instruction in the language? The middle arises as a substitute for the passive because the grammar is simpler. With the passive, the object of the verb has to be moved to the subject position; with the middle, you appear to be left with an empty object position. (I don’t know what the transformational approach to this is; perhaps there’s also object raising here, thus

e is raised [e] to [i] etc. → [e]1 is raised e1 to [i] etc.
e raises [e] to [i] etc. → [e]1 raises e1 to [i] etc.

where e marks an empty position. More research needed.)

Commandments against the passive have their effect on the language, but they’re kind of working in tandem with a grammatical alternative that’s already there. Since the former get more publicity, the latter tends to get overlooked.

You just can’t keep me away from the place

Back to Hong Kong.

I went into CAAC in town and bought a ticket for Hong Kong. I’m off at the end of the month and back mid August. I need to get away from the Mainland for a bit.

Meanwhile, I’m on the overcrowded-as-usual No. 20, and eventually manage to make my way to the back of the bus. But as I’m squeezing my way down the aisle, I see this guy wearing a pair of trousers with ANUS on the pockets sewn to the trouser legs. If the opportunity had presented itself, I would’ve got out my dictionary and shown him exactly what the word meant, but the bus was too crowded for social niceties or English lessons.

I guess in China trousers can be a load of old arse.

42­° yesterday and 41° at the moment. Hong Kong could be a little cooler, but I suspect that I’ll return with tales of incessant rain.

Awaiting demolition

Green Bamboo replies.

An old building on Nantai Island, Fuzhou, 2006.My e-mail inbox has been bursting with a mail message from a Mr Ar­vidson of Ruritania wanting to know where all the modern build­ings are in Fuzhou. Well, they’re here, but not in this im­med­iate area, which still has some char­acter and much more in­teresting sights to photograph than the gen­eric build­ings which anonymise [That’s, like, a real word? –ed.] the cities of the workers’ socialist paradise.


‘Ello, ‘ello, ‘ello.

I’m heading to the Metro Supermarket yesterday when I come walking up to an impromptu vegetable market on the pavement. Just as I reach it, a van draws up sounding its horn and the vegetable sellers promptly shoulder their wares and scurry off at a gentle pace. I glance to my left and see that there are about six policemen in the van who then engage in a casual pursuit of the entrepreneurial miscreants. The latter seemed in no rush to escape; the former in no rush to catch them.

[07.08.14. In spite of the brevity of this entry, this remains one of the most memorable things I’ve ever seen in China because of its complete absurdity. The police could easily have caught and detained the vegetable sellers, but made no effort to do so. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it was a regular piece of street theatre followed by the payment of a “trading fee” to Pc Plod.]

Of minor successes

A little consistency would be nice.

For about a year now I’ve been saying that I should buy a flash drive which I finally did last night. I went into Gome which is not far over Jiefang Bridge. When I eventually found what I was looking for, I ran into another instance of a product not being available in the shop. The section of Gome I wanted was actually at the entrance. I found some boxes for flash drives on display in a cabinet at the back, but got steered to another cabinet where there were all of about three. I was hoping to get a 1Gb flash drive, but they didn’t have those and had to settle for a 512Mb drive. Cost ¥257 (c. £20).

It’s tiny, too. Smaller than my thumb and potentially rather easy to lose or forget about and get washed. [07.08.14. I still have this flash drive, and it did get washed without any undue harm a couple of times. It was ridiculously overpriced, though. I got a 1Gb flash drive for HK$95, I think, and then a 4Gb one for about the same, although I don’t recall, and until I bought an 8Gb one just recently, I mainly used my original flash drive.]

This is not the first time I’ve been in an electronics shop where you couldn’t get the bigger version. When I bought my MP3 player from Da Zhong a couple of years ago, they had to order the model I wanted because they weren’t available in the shop.

Meanwhile, I’ve managed to get the washing machine working more or less as the Chinese intended, but I don’t know why the spin on it was working correctly some times and not others. I wasted a whole lot of water trying to work out whether there was a specific set of steps you had to go through to get the spin to work correctly. Unfortunately, there’s one dial that has a couple of settings, but, apart from the one that empties the machine of water, I have no idea what the other one might do.

I heard that my friend Andrea who’s been trying to get into Peking University for the past three years has finally succeeded in her quest. It’s been a long and somewhat painful journey for her, but she made it.

I’m told that the current spell of wet weather is meant to be a typhoon that hit Taiwan. We seem to have caught the rain but little to none of the wind. It looks clear to the east, but it’s murky to the north and especially the west. It’s brought the temperature down by 13° or 14°, but the humidity still gets you.

You should also see that I’ve added some more pictures from the local area. There are some interesting back streets around here, although I don’t think the photos do them justice.

Local history

They got here early.

I was doing a search online for the history of Fuzhou because the LP Guide is complete rubbish on this subject. I found this site which has this information:

Marco Polo is supposed to have passed through Fuzhou at the end of the 13th century. He described it as a great center of international commerce with special links to the Indian trade, prosperous, with great gardens and an abundance of fruit. He also noted the presence of a large Christian community there, with roots going back several hundred years. These were possibly descendants of Nestorian Christians, a Syrian sect that had come to China via the Silk Road.

That explains, in part, why there are so many churches here. After the Opium Wars of the 1840s, Fuzhou became one of the Chinese ports open to foreign trade and there was a lot of missionary activity from here.

I’ve also found out what the Rongcheng Gu Jie is all about. The róng (榕) is the banyan tree, so that the name of the street is Banyan City (i.e., Fuzhou) Ancient Street.

We also have to have an irony moment:

The climate of Fuzhou is comfortable…

It’s 39° here at 12.15pm. Yeah, I’d call that comfortable. I know I shouldn’t snigger, but, well…

The tourism industry of Fuzhou with its sustainable, fast and healthy development is being perfected day by day. In this coastal city, the reception establishments related to tourism are modern. At present, there are over 80 stared hotels

It’s not bad Chinglish. I wonder what a stared hotel is. I wonder if it’s like a stolen hole.

The sky is remarkably clear today with a clear view of the mountains to the north of the city.

That was quick

They’ve arrived already.

When I got back from tea last night, I was given a message to say that June, who works in the International Office, wanted to speak to me, but hadn’t been able to phone me. There’s a good reason for that – the line’s dead. I saw her this morning and explained that the phone didn’t seem to have been working (I didn’t confirm that until later); the washing machine is a piece of junk; and the flat’s too small to accommodate me and everything I own.

This last fact is exacerbated by the presence of my boxes which arrived here in record time. Friday, I think. I’ve asked for them to be left where they are because there’s no point in hauling them to the shoebox if I’m going to go somewhere else. [07.08.14. Big mistake because I never did get moved to better accommodation.]

I’ve now met Jane who’s going to be the team leader here. She’s here for a week and going back to Beijing on Friday.

After lunch I went for a walk in the direction of Santanzhou Bridge, which is the suspension bridge to the west of Jiefang Bridge. I found a large temple on the corner overlooking it, but I’m not sure who it was dedicated to. Although there are a larger number of churches here than I’ve seen anywhere else in China, there are also quite a few temples around as well.

The name of that so-called ancient culture street is Rongcheng Gujie. I couldn’t find the first character in my dictionary, but I managed to track it down in a character dictionary here in the office. It can either mean some sort of ancient tree or something which appears to be characteristic of Fuzhou, but the crucial characters defeated me because each has two readings and the possible combinations don’t make a lot of sense. [07.08.14. Actually, this will be 榕 (róng) “banyan”, which is an alternative name for Fuzhou. Just to confuse things, Chengdu is also known as 蓉 (róng) “hibiscus”.)

By chance, I happened to walk back up the street to where this excellent little restaurant is, so it was quite easy to get back home. [07.08.14. This was probably XXKX, which did the best gong bao ji ding I’ve had, although it was a stir-fried dish rather than the gooey fare I’ve had in other places.]

When I got to school, the noticeboard said it was 41°. Oddly enough, it doesn’t feel that hot. Nor does it shut the cicadas up.