Subjective descriptions

And this means what?

Via StumbleUpon, I encounter Learning Languages. On the page about Portuguese it says


Brazilian is clearer and has less particular sounds.

which not only makes almost no sense to me, but seems to be contradictory.

I’m amused (in a sardonic way, of course) when I read

you can definitely learn [English] in 6 months.

To what level? After learning English for about four years, our pupils are about IELTS 4 (5 in some cases). In terms of proficiency, that’s the shallow end of the pond. (14.11.13. Even worse, some students I’ve encountered can boast that they’ve been learning English for nine years; their level of competence in the language is typically dismal.)

On the Spanish page I read

In Madrid, people pronounce ‘S’s in a wet and whistling fashion that recalls mating snakes.

That really helps because I’m familiar with the noises mating snakes make. [Obi-wan senses more sarcasm. –ed.] And the following is… Well, see for yourselves.

There are also many regional languages in Spain. Within the current political context of Spain, they are called languages and enjoy an important political status.

I assume that “regional language” is implicitly synonymous with “dialect”, or perhaps some sort of distinct linguistic entity which might lack status along some axis (e.g. political; official; literary etc.).

The site also has some information about the polyglot Cardinal Jospeh Caspar Mezzofanti who allegedly acquired more than 38 languages. I’m trying to work out how it could be known that the cardinal was fluent in Ancient Armenian. Was it a liturgical language? Who was competent to say the cardinal was truly fluent if the language lacked a body of native speakers? What about Illyrian, unless that means Serbo-Croat? (Probably now Serbian or Croatian.) One of the other pages about the languages the cardinal was supposedly familiar with raises doubts about several of them, including a number which are either non-existent or extremely obscure.

I don’t doubt that the cardinal had a facility for acquiring languages, but I’m a little sceptical about some of the claims made about his proficiency.

Not less than 80

The Speech Contest.

The culmination of this week’s cultural assimilation programme was this afternoon’s speech contest. Once again, the whole business was limited to our classes with two acts from each class. One was a speech and the other was poetry, although one of the Senior 1 classes did Martin Luthor King’s famous speech instead of a poem. The Senior 1s won both sections, although a couple of them were extremely nervous and fluffed their speeches.

I was curious to see who was representing Class 16. It turned out that two of the three entrants are in my half of the class, but no one came and asked me for help. Even the two kids from Class 6 only asked for my assistance twice, and today it was to get me to read Macavity so that they could record it. After that, they buggered off and that was all my involvement.

The ridiculous thing about the marking was that we weren’t allowed to give the competitors less than 80, which meant that we were really giving them a score out of 20.

On the original version of the score sheet, the title was “Speech Contest”, which 蛇夫人 corrected to “Speach Contest”, until I pointed the error out to Linda and Rose, who were suitably amused.

Riot control

Don’t touch the remote!

While Class 6 got all huffy about being shown another episode of Dr Who the other day, Class 16 just couldn’t get enough of it this afternoon. I was showing them the first episode of Aliens of London which was just approaching its end when the bell rang. I picked up the remote. You should’ve heard the shriek (remember, of course, that Class 16 is mostly female). Then the episode really did reach its end a few minutes later. When I stopped the DVD, there was an even louder shriek and demands to continue viewing. I had to explain that the second half of the story was on another disc here at home and they reluctantly trooped out of the room.

But you know what I’m doing tomorrow: if it’s not being lynched by a mob of irate 16-year-old Chinese school girls, then it’s showing the second episode of the story.

[31.08.14. And having edited the markup, and having edited the tags for this rather trivial entry, I’m off to the BBC website to see if I can watch the second episode of Peter Capaldi’s tenure in the TARDIS.]

Banned and burnt

Shanghai Baby.
Wel Hui, sorry, Coco is a Fudan graduate who published a few short stories and now wants to be a novelist. She lives with her impotent drug-addicted artist-boyfriend Tian Tian, but is banging pretty, married German Mark on the side. She hangs out with her left-field assortment of friends. All the while, Coco is trying to write her first novel which, luckily for her, is autobiographical.
I am not the target demographic of this novel, which I bought out of curiosity. The whole thing is like one of those French films in which no one works and no one seems short of money. I couldn’t believe it when I read that Coco’s credit card limit (back in the late 90s) was ¥30K. In spite of being unemployed, she’s able to take a taxi to the airport (which one, I don’t know; Shanghai has two: Hongqiao and Pudong) and jet off to Beijing one evening for a party. On another occasion, after we’ve been informed that Coco’s money is running out, she jets off to Hainan without a second thought about the expense. Her parents live on the 22nd floor of their building. That’s also the top floor.
Although this is meant to be modern China (as it was ten years ago), Wei Hui’s, sorry, Coco’s attitudes are still Chinese. She quite happily filches money from Mark’s wallet on the principle that all foreigners are rich and won’t notice the loss. At the end of the book she pinches his sapphire ring, assuming again that he won’t notice, and regarding it as no big deal. Her view of foreigners in general is unenlightened. Just after the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade is accidentally bombed, Coco holds a party at which – by chance I’m sure – there’s an American and a Serbian. The latter gets to rant and fulminate about the American bombing of Serbia, as if they’re the villains of the piece, but no mention is made of Serbian atrocities in Yugoslavia.
Not a book that is to my taste, but I didn’t expect it to be.

Pointless, but worth mentioning

A pleasant afternoon.

We had a really nice afternoon today. It was clear. clear. CLEAR. Really. This is Chengdu we’re talking about. You could see the sun and blue sky, but you couldn’t see any clouds. All the locals were obviously going round saying, “What’s the word for the big bright yellow thing again?” and “That sky’s a funny colour.”

Meanwhile, here are a couple of shots of the completed monument. I don’t know whether there’s anything else to be done to it. It still looks incomplete to me, especially the top, left-hand part. It looks like there should be something else such as a capital to top it off. Also, the line of scrolls seems to be meant to be there. I had thought it might be intended to go on top or at the side.

The monument to Wen Miao Qian Jie. The English inscription.

If you have a look in the left-hand pic, you’ll notice a motorbike in the background. A bunch of policemen who ride motorbikes usually hang out with some bike repair people on the other side of the street. I thought they’d moved across the road to take advantage of the appearance of the local stellar object, but when I turned to look, I saw there was a whole line of those large funeral rosettes along the wall next to the entrance to blocks of flats next to the ones I’m in.

There’s a speech contest?

And we’re the judges.

The local Education Department has declared this to be cultural assimilation week (“Resistance is futile.”), to which end we had English Corner at lunchtime. It just involved a few kids from our classes, although I assume the rest of the school could come along if they wanted. From acquiring a copy of the programme for the week, I found that there’s going to be a speech contest on Friday afternoon and guessed at once and correctly that we’d be the judges.

Some of my little dears from Class 6 were absent this afternoon because they were in the teacher’s office dealing with the speech. They then turned up for the second class with a rather saccharine piece of English (pock-marked with Chinglish), which would’ve needed a certain amount of editing and desaccharinisation. (It’s a word, I’m telling you.) I said it wasn’t an ideal piece of English and went down to the office with them to do an on-line search for something a little more suitable.

They wanted some piece of verse, but needed something that would last up to five minutes, thus excluding sonnets from consideration. The Internet connection was diabolically slow, but I eventually managed to get onto Representative Poetry Online. Rather than browsing, I headed more or less for Andrew Marvell and picked out To his Coy Mistress (Luminarium). Yes, I know it’s a bit naughty of me, but the poem seemed to be about the right length. I’m going to have to do a lot of explaining, though. 17th century English (and poetry) is well beyond their current level of comprehension.

DIY fairy tales

Who needs the Brothers Grimm?

I StumbledUpon [sic!] a proppian fairy tale generator at Brown University. [29.01.14. The link is dead, but there are other sources. See Google.] Old bedtime stories not cutting it any longer? This could be just the thing you need. Let’s see what literary masterpieces are waiting to happen.

She stood tall and menacing in her fire-infused robes.  “Where are you from,” her tongue flickered when she spoke, “and where do you think you are going?”

From the mountainside I watched a giant crane fly down beside me and place two of its feathers onto my feet for flight.

After I took the needle from its place, I pryed my father’s bones from the floor and put them in my satchel.

My father’s bones and needle transformed into a suit of skin.  It smelled distinctly foreign like the mountain.  When I put it on I felt like the mountain was traveling along my shoulder blades.  It felt restless.

“As a child, my son could dance along the soil so quickly that the men who died and live in the ground could not catch him.  Prove this to me now,”

Without hesitance I lifted my pant legs began to dance in father’s leather bottomed shoes.  The soles breezed across the floor, cutting the mist with rhythmic motions.  I then turned the ring on my finger and watched my father rise, soil shedding from his skin.  His shaved face and clean hands stood against the paling crowd. This impressed the people who stood before me, as did the fact that my tongue did not bleed from the needle it held.

My lying brothers cried when they were forced to walk on the ground without their leather bottomed shoes.  I watched as they, like my father had once, were swallowed by the ground and mouths hungry for stinking flesh.

I was offered a place in the palace, but I could not accept.  I wanted to be with the mountain; I felt it move under my skin as I knew part of me was in the mountain too.

Well, if this doesn’t deserve a Man Booker Prize, I don’t know what does. But I’m wondering. Is “hesitance” a word? “Hesitant” and “hesitancy” or “hesitation”. I assume “hesitance” is a back formation from “hesitancy”. Hmmm. Odd.

It comes with presets so that you can generate stories in the style of well-known fairy tales.

Stories of Old China

Not translated by the Yangs.

Stories of Old China is another in the Foreign Languages Press series called Echo of Classics with the text in Chinese and an English translation on the facing page. This is a collection of thirteen short stories. 

The Heartless Lover by Jiang Fang is also in Selected Tang Dynasty Stories under the title Prince Huo’s Daughter. It’s the tale of a scholar called Li Yi who does well in the imperial examinations, but can’t find a wife and asks a matchmaker, Mrs Bao to help. Although he seems to be a nice young man, he turns out to be a rather nasty misogynist. 

Good Fortune waits on Courage is the story of Pei Youxian whose uncle, the Prime Minister Pei Yan, is wrongfully executed. When Pei Youxian remonstrates with the empress, he is flogged and sent into exile where he marries and becomes a rich man. He and his wife manage to survive the pre-emptive slaughter of members of the previous royal family and are restored to favour when a new regime come to power. 

In A Dream and its Lesson, an ambitious but somewhat indigent young man complains to a Taoist priest about his lack of success. He then dreams that he rises high in the government; but when he finds that success comes at a price, he prefers to remain a farmer. 

In The Herbalist’s Strange Adventure, a nameless herbalist from Qingcheng (青城; i.e., that place about 40km up the road from Chengdu) ends up in heaven. In spite of that, he longs to return to Earth and is granted a lifespan of 5,000 years. 

The Mystery of the Missing Minister is similar to the preceding story. In this one, a Duan Lüe is obsessed with learning about the Way and becomes the pupil of a hermit called Meng Qisi from Heng Mountain. Duan Lüe studies with the hermit for four years, but becomes homesick and wants to return home. He later learns that the mysterious Elder of Heng Mountain was probably none other than a Jin Dynasty minister, Xi Jian. 

Shang Qing is the heroine of The Faithful Handmaid, the story of a servant who helps to clear the name of her late master, Prime Minister Dou Cen, after he falls from imperial favour through the machinations of the conniving Lu Zhi. 

I’m sure that I’ve read Love and Loyalty of a Courtesan (李师师外传) somewhere else. I may have read a story of a similar nature, perhaps one of Pu Songling’s. After her father dies when she is young, Li Shishi ends up in a house of pleasure (brothel, I assume) which the emperor visits incognito and is enchanted by her. For a long time, she is his favourite and he showers her with gifts. But eventually, he tires of luxury and abdicates to become a Taoist. Li Shishi joins a nunnery, but when the Jin invaders come in search of her, she kills herself.

Tyrants and Scholars is a story about a scholar named Du Xunhe who seeks an audience with the Lord of Liang and, after a considerable wait, is granted one. He manages to become one of the Lord of Liang’s favourites. But on another occasion, after all of the Lord of Liang’s entourage agree with one of his pronouncements – apart from one man – he has his snivelling lackeys executed.

In Scholars versus Eunuch, the powerful eunuch Wang Jing makes all manner of demands as he travels around the country. A group of scholars in Shuzhou resists him much to his fury. The provincial governor is a decent sort of person and assures the scholars that all will be well. Local officials manage to prevaricate until Wang Jing is disgraced, and the scholars get off lightly.

Mr Dongguo, a follower of Mozi, rescues a wolf from hunters in An Ungrateful Wolf. After he releases the creature from its hiding place, it announces that it’s going to eat him. Dongguo asks the wolf to consider arguments from third parties, but a tree and an ox side with the wolf. With the help of an old man, Dongguo tricks the wolf back into its hiding place and together the two men kill the animal.

The Old Scholar’s Reincarnation is the tale of a successful young scholar who is the reincarnation of a scholar who, in spite of his brilliant compositions, never succeeded in the imperial examinations. The young man’s success enables him to raise his former wife out of poverty and the family goes on to fame and fortune in Fujian Province.

In Fairies of the Floral Kingdom, the narrator, Wang Zhuo, visits the flower garden of Mr Shen who is also known as the Flower Hermit. Wang meets and is entertained by the flower fairies in the garden one evening.

The final story in the book, Quest of the Filial Son, is about Zhou Fangrong’s quest to recover the remains of his father. In spite of enormous difficulties and hardships, Zhou succeeds in fulfilling his filial obligations.

23.06.13. Edited the formatting and added tags. I assume that many of these stories are meant to impart some sort of message. It would be helpful to know more about the context of each tale.

The laser-scarred DVD yielded…

Death at a Funeral.

The paterfamilias has died, but the attempt to hold his funeral don’t go as smoothly as planned. The undertakers deliver the wrong body; the famous novelist son claims he’s too skint to contribute towards the cost of the funeral; the dead man turns out to have been gay; his boyfriend tries to blackmail the family; the niece’s boyfriend gets high accidentally; etc.

This is a comedy, but doesn’t make the fatal mistake of trying to be relentlessly funny, which is what would happen in the American version.


The film covers Oscar Wilde’s gay old life from the height of his fame to his relationship with Bosie Douglas to his subsequent trial and im­prison­ment. In spite of his brilliance, Wilde’s big mistake was to get involved in a libel trial at which he had to lie his arse off.

Wilde’s infatuation with Bosie destroyed his marriage and relationship with his children, although he is portrayed as a loving father when he is playing the part of a parent.

I was skimming through the credits at the end, looking for those stars of the Modern Age who belonged to the Blink-and-you-miss-them Club back then, when I spotted that a certain Orlando Bloom played the part of a rent boy.

Troppo kewl für Lei.

Such undergraduate errors.

On Facebook I find a group called “We can speak Welsh and were damn proud of it!!!” Apart from excoriating the use of three exclamation marks, I’d suggest the title should be in Welsh, which might spare them the embarrassment of that missing apostrophe. 

I note another group called “I’m cool because I know IPA”.[1] This is the image they use at the moment:

What's wrong with this?

What’s wrong with it? “of” has been mistranscribed. What should it be?

"Of" is unstressed.
It’s a typical undergraduate error to muddle shwa and
It's always stressed. .
For example, “above” is
"Above" ,

with stress on the second syllable. I’ve seen first years botch the transcription so many times, and so many times I’ve used “above” to illustrate the difference between these vowels, and between stressed and unstressed syllables. [Remember how you weren’t cool to begin with? You just made it worse. –ed.]


1. If this is a criterion for being cool, then I was cool before most of the current members of Facebook were born. (Should I say that out loud?)

[04.12.13. I note that the difference between shwa and the other noise is probably neither here nor there, the vowels merely being the stressed and unstressed versions of the same noise.]