Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Off for 2 Weeks

I have that nervous energy that comes the night before a trip. I'll be away till the 13th for this Chinese competition, and blogging will be impossible in that time.

Brisbane-Sydney, Sydney-Beijing, Beijing-Changchun, and back again.

The competition will be broadcast on CCTV, apparently. The standard is supposed to be very high though, so my anxiety levels are likewise rather high.

The Australian - total n00b rag

I usually find The Australian to be pretty good, but this changes everything.

It's a n00b rag. This blog craps all over it. I posted about a similar subject recently, the biggest difference being I know exactly what I'm talking about, and The Australian has no idea.

Sometimes I'm just taken aback at the n00bness of some people. Natalie O'Brien clearly didn't bother to check any of what these moronic interviewers were telling her. And there is not a single mention of Counter-Strike (which is the most obvious target).

Reading 'Virtual Terrorists' (a total n00bfest of an article), I came across this:

Kevin Zuccato, head of the Australian High Tech Crime Centre in Canberra, says terrorists can gain training in games such as World of Warcraft in a simulated environment, using weapons that are identical to real-world armaments.

WTF!? Clearly this n00b hasn't even played WoW.

If you're a n00b like him, let me explain why.

Have a look at the list of weapons on WoW.

According to Zuccato, we should be worried about 'terrorists' turning up to wreak havoc with...a Ballast Maul of the Bear, identical to its real-world armament as you can see.

And the simulated environments...very worrying. It'll be far too easy to plot an attack in a place like this:

What terrorist traning is there to be had in WoW? Honestly, if you haven't seen it in action, try and tell me that Leroy's clan was plotting a real life attack. The only terror caused by WoW is a bit of healthy family wrecking, and Leroy Jenkins-ness.

However, the WoW kid does have a moment of profound insight. In case you missed the link.

"It's not the computer game that's seperating this family, it's what you're reacting to it!"

Well put, kid, well put.


I am right and the Aus is wrong.

Read the other responses:



and Here.

This last one being particularly important, in showing the true story behind the 'terrorist' plot. Where did O'Brien get the idea that the bombs killed player characters? Virtual-coffins??
Players can't die in Second Life- end of story. O'Brien is writing her own fiction.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Best. Simpsons. Ever.

Just saw The Simpsons film, and it's brilliant. Weaves together the best wit and social commentary of the old episodes with the laugh out loud slapstick of the new ones. And doesn't succumb to seriousness.

Not much more to say really. Except that Grand Theft Walrus and Spiderpig almost killed me with laughter.

Endless Noodles

Went to Endless Noodles in Sunnybank last night for dinner with some friends. As far as eating Chinese in Brisbane goes, Sunnybank is certainly the best suburb. It's really the true Chinatown of Brisbane- forget Fortitude Valley, as it's mainly Canton food made to a Western taste (i.e bland).

Endless Noodles, however, (西域拉面,I think, "Western Chinese Handmade Noodles") is genuine, authentic, the good stuff. My favourites are the delicious Xinjiang lamb sticks and the scalding hot pot. Seriously, the hot pot there is hot. I haven't been to Sichuan, but the hot pot of last night was apparently as hot as anything in Sichuan. My lips are still red and raw, and I think I've lost my ability to taste for a month- a good sign.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

G is for Greenaway

Now that I've had some time for reflection, I've made up my mind about Peter Greenaway.

He's brilliant.

You'll not find a more confronting, entertaining, challenging or rewarding filmmaker than Greenaway. He completely manipulates the medium into unchartered territories. Like what Miles Davis did for the trumpet, he makes all feel fresh again. If I had to single out one aspect of his style which is most recognizable, it would be the enormous detail packed into each shot.

Some of the shots are just frame worthy; they practically stand alone as pieces of art. Incredible given that there's 24 in a second. And they are (from mid 90's and before) accompanied by intricate scores from Michael Nyman. The effect is genuinely unique amongst all the films I've watched.

All frames taken from 'Drowning by Numbers'.

Tough Life in Changchun

Just speaking to a friend from Changchun in Jilin province.

She tells me that in summertime there is no electricity in the university dorm until 5pm each day.


Shut It, Spielberg

So Spielberg has to live up to the Liberal Hollywood cliche of criticising China, does he Miss Farrow?

Damn it, I'm due to deliver a speech in Changchun very soon for a competition, and a big part of it hinges on the East-West cooperation between Spielberg and Zhang Yi Mou on the Olympics.

If he follows through with public criticism, this will cause huge loss of face for me.

So, kindly shut it, Spielberg.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Cult of the Giant Eggs

Today was my last in Cairns before I head off to Brisbane, and then fly off to China. So I thought a visit to Rusty's Markets was in order. It's always fun heading down there; an olfactory delight, and a boiling pot of cultures. Some of my favourites there are the fresh ground coffee stalls, the Greek yoghurt stall, Mr Grasso's honey stall, and the Yamagishi egg stall.

This last one, though, is quite interesting. Firstly, they're easily the best eggs one will ever taste. Massive in size, delicious in taste, and with beautiful golden yolks. But what is Yamagishi?

I remember taking a Japanese student who was staying with us on a tour through Rusty's, and made a point to stop at the Yamagishi stall. I inquired about what Yamagishi meant, the student spoke to the hawker, and the mysterious response was "It's just....name."

My brother worked a while in a local cafe which used Yamagishi eggs, and he got talking to the company rep who delivered the eggs. He told him that it's in fact a communal farm. Chickens and people roam free; this freedom is a secret to the quality of the eggs, no doubt.

Further investigation, though, reveals that it's more than just a commune; it's a cult.

Well, all I can say is that unlike Falun Gong, at least this cult contributes something useful to society. Let this be a lesson to other cults.

And if you're in Cairns, make sure you do visit Rusty's Markets.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Kaufmen and Language Learning

My favourite Kaufman would have to be Charlie. Charlie Kaufman has penned what I consider some of the most entertaining and intelligent films made- Adaptation is one of my favourites. Particularly notable for me was the line "I can be that cool script writer guy who speaks Chinese".
His twin-brother Donald Kaufman was most charming, and we shall miss him dearly*.

Andy Kaufman too was a memorable wag- the Tony Clifton character of his particularly.

But theres a new Kaufman on the block. In fact he one-ups all previous contestants with the addition of an extra 'n'.

I came across Steve Kaufmann whilst checking out the entertaining series on YouTube "Westerners Speaking Cantonese". That series, by the way, is a total monkey-act, no doubt about it. But just like a Russian cat-show, it's worth the price of admission.

And so I stumbled across Kaufmann, having an interview partly in English, and partly in Mandarin. That's here. Hilarious, by the way, is the interviewer, with his unintentional comic timing. But what do you know? Kaufmann's Mandarin is very good. Not as good as Da Shan or Da Niu, to be sure (Kaufmann has a bit of an accent compared to them), but way better than mine, and Kaufmann apparently speaks 8 languages in addition. Very impressive.

Anyway, he offers his opinion on language-learning, and some of them I find quite agreeable.

In particular:
  • It's probably a waste of time to ask why. As in, asking "Why do Chinese people say this?" This used to happen a lot in my Chinese classes, particularly in the introductory level. It hardly ever happens, though, in the advanced conversational classes, because by now we've just accepted the obvious and unchangeable. And most of those who asked 'why' all the time dropped Chinese out of frustration. It probably only rears its head again at the linguistic level, and that's cool then. But if your goal is to learn the language (as opposed to learning about the language), all that effort is probably better spent remembering what they say rather than why they say it, at least while you're still learning.
  • Reading and listening are really important yet often overlooked. In particular, reading something that you find interesting, and something that isn't too hard. For me, I love to read interviews with Christopher Doyle. His Chinese is very, very good, but not so native-like as Da Shan whereby he speaks only in obscure idioms and such. And most importantly, I'm really interested in what Doyle has to say.
  • Consistency seems to be more effective than pure volume. Take me as an example: This semester most of my time spent on Russian was on a Tuesday and a Wednesday. Tuesday was getting all the homework done at the last minute, and Wednesday was 4 hours of class. Other than that, I didn't do much. And I tanked Russian last semester! Yet my Chinese workload was spread out so that I was doing a bit each day, and I've been quite a spot more successful with it.
  • Learn contextually, and don't get anxious. If you're worried about getting the sentence right, you won't. And since you're prone to get it wrong anyway, why worry about it? Just relax, speak, and the native speaker will tell you what you're doing wrong. This is also much more memorable (for me at least) than reading the line out of a textbook. Most of the words that I have in my long-term memory I learned contextually, either from watching a film, reading an interview, or chatting with a friend. Not from studying a word list.
Kaufmann writes a blog, too.

So some qualifying statements. I don't want to downplay the importance of linguistics. For an excellent example of applied linguistics which is useful to a language learner, look no further than John Pasden's excellent article on pronouncing Chinese. Linguistics is also a fascinating area, and I'd be lying if I said I don't admire socio-linguists for the insights they give to a language, which as an added extra can also aid greatly in memorizing Chinese characters, for example. But, in the earlier stages, I'm not convinced one needs to know a whole lot about it.

Also, I don't want to downplay the importance of textbooks and grammar patterns. There are times when you just need to know how a word functions. Good textbooks provide patterns which are easy to follow, and things progress in a logical fashion. And at a translation level, I would think that you do need to know exactly what a word implies and what the closest thing to an equivalent is.

So far there is just one point of contention I might have with Kaufmann, when he states that vocabulary is far more important than grammar. I suppose that depends upon what he means by grammar. If he means those big, nasty books of pure grammar, then I wholeheartedly agree. But there's a difference between that, and knowing the basic cogs of a language. Like knowing the order involved in basic sentence construction. Or knowing what a verb is, what an adjective is, and so on. And I don't see a lot of use in knowing a whole bunch of words in say, Russian, and having no idea of how to conjugate them. You just won't be understood.

But regardless, his point is a pertinent one- spend lots of time working on your vocabulary!

Finally, a question I think is worth asking. Would you rather speak two or (if you're lucky) three languages with native fluency, or 9 languages pretty damn fluently? I don't have the proper answer to that, except to say that I'm focusing on Chinese for the foreseeable future, and any Russian I can come to terms with along the way is a bonus.

*Yes, I'm kidding about Donald.


iBlog is looking like a possible alternative to the dreaded MSN spaces. There seems to be a massive amount of Chinese blogs hosted there.

Anyway, had some follow up injections today (3 of them) and now I'm off to meet up with a friend to explain some of the more confusing lines of Chinese poetry I've come across.

Blogging from China

When writing a China blog, one is not only concerned with the title, but also which blog service to use.

I'm still in Australia now, so I've got a bit of time to figure this out.

The question is: which services are, shall we say, available in China? Blogger, Blog-City, Blogsome, Wordpress, LiveJournal and Xanga are apparently not too good in this regard.
Which leaves MSN Spaces- the truly horrid, baron wasteland of the blogging world.

Surely there must be a better option.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Good People of the 3 Gorges Dam

I finally got around to seeing 'Still Life', by Jia Zhang Ke. It's an excellent film indeed, wholly deserving of the Golden Lion it won at the Venice Film Festival last year. Although, I can't say I really know any of the contenders for that prize, so I've no idea really. But this is a very, very good film.

The film is about the villagers of Fengjie , in Sichuan province. Or is it now under control of Chongqing? Anyway, one of the special things about the film is that the amazing location of the villages, right on the banks of the Yangtze (长江). It's special because we can't visit these places anymore; they've been completely submerged since 2006. I'm sorry to say I've never been to this part of China before so I'll never know what it was like up close, but this film does offer a beautiful visual record of it.

Upon some reflection, a primary theme throughout the film seems to be about loss. There are two lead characters who both are involved in broken marriages, and have become loveless. And then there is the loss of the village itself.

I'm not sure that it's my favourite film by Jia, I think I still prefer The World. But this is nevertheless another brilliant piece of cinema from him, and I can't wait to see what he films next. Certainly something that does seem to be becoming a trait of Jia is the occasional juxtaposition of surrealism in what are otherwise hyper-realistic films. I first noticed it with the cartoon sequences in The World, and in Still Life he takes it further by using some impressive computer-generated imagery. I quite like the effect.

Oh, and a note about the title. 'Still Life' is the English name, but the original Chinese name 三峡好人 translates to The Good People of the 3 Gorges Dam (well that's my translation). A bit of a mouthful from a marketing perspective. It does, however, have relevance to the film, as there is a scene where a young man remarks "There are no good people here!". Whilst on topic, I should add that some (most) of the dialects in the film are nigh impenetrable to me.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

I Want To Smash It

Another crushing defeat for Australia. I remember reading an article, probably around this time last year or so, in TIME magazine, regarding football. The idea in the article was that perhaps the rules of the game should be changed so as to lower post-game fury.

The author had a point.

Since the scorecard is usually so low, the entire game is often decided by a single goal. As it was tonight with the penalty shootout. Whilst similar situations can and do occur in rugby and in cricket, it does seem so much more common in football, and also harder hitting to the spectator. It's much easier to concede a loss when each side has racked up a large score. But if it's 1-0 or 2-1, the margin is that much more absolute, and that suddenness of it all is probably what inspires football hooliganism.

Even here, watching T.V in the lounge-room, to a relatively unenthusiastic spectator such as myself, the reaction upon losing was clear. Put enough alcohol in me, and I'd dare say I'd be out putting chairs through glass.

Thursday, July 19, 2007


The trip to the Doctors was eventful, as far as such trips go.

I had expected perhaps a Hep B shot, but I was treated to a veritable smörgåsbord of vaccines.

Six injections! To quote Ron Burgandy, "I can barely lift my right arm".

The 'highlight' was getting the Rabies vaccination, though I must say Japanese Encephalitis is quite underrated too. I hear it can cause death in some 30 percent of cases.

I'm headed back next week for some more. I'm told it's much better to get injections done here, however, as there are apparently issues over needle re-usage in certain parts of China.

Deus Ex Machina

Robo-dog Messiah? Well, it could be, or it could be a hoax. Not sure on the reliability of Slashdot as the article was recommended to me by a friend.

As that same friend pointed out- anyone know the process to extract water from wine?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The China Blog

I was going to write a lengthy post about the recent government intervention over Haneef, but I I've said most of it over in the comments at Sir Hall's post. Besides, why write about boring Australian politics when there's a new China blog on the block?

Not the most original name for a blog, but The China Blog from TIME seems pretty good so far.
It does have a US-centric focus, but it is at least a well researched and argued angle that the contributors adopt.

And I'm still thinking of names for the coming China blog of my own. Off to the doctors to see about injections and so on in the meantime.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Loss of Face and Job


This would be pretty humiliating, I think.

It does also highlight something else which irks me.

That trend amongst really wealthy American families to compete in the language stakes of the child. Like 'guru'* Jim Rogers bragging about his daughter:

He is so confident that China will be the world’s next great nation that he employed a Chinese nanny for his daughter shortly after she was born. “She is 3 years old and already fluent in Mandarin,” he says.

I don't think I was fluent in English at the age of 3. Anyway, I'm probably totally mistaken here, but I don't think the painless 'teach them when they're young' method will work as well as these billionaires think. Ethnic-Chinese still struggle to pass Chinese language tests. The difficulty, I'd say, is not the spoken aspect, but the written. Plenty of savvy people are making lots of cash getting people to speak Mandarin, and they'll claim that speaking is what's important.

Ms Bai, a student in bilingual education at the Teachers College of Columbia University, explained that teachers of Chinese "still focus on grammar, on reading, and don't speak much. Chinese students focus mostly on getting good grades, so writing is more important for them. But in a job interview, you need to speak the language. In the United States, the focus is more on speaking."

Right. I'm unaware of this alleged crowd of people who are literate in Chinese yet struggle to speak. Their silence is deafening. But who needs that pesky grammar and reading?

Quick Mandarin's Zhang said: "It's hard to find good Chinese teachers, because teachers coming from China are very strict in their methods of teaching. Americans have a different way of learning - they like to actively learn through searching answers. But in China, it's different. The teacher will talk and then just give a lot of homework."

To which, I reply with a quote from the Straits Times article at the top:

Mr Richard Ong, an ethnic Chinese born in Malaysia, did not write Chinese well enough to take a mandatory test for senior managers, say bankers.

And so he didn't get to be a Goldman-Sachs CEO- probably the very job that Rogers has targeted for his kid. I wonder which test it was. But in any case, regardless of what the second hand language salesmen try to tell you, reading and writing is important, and there's no painless way to learn those 3500 characters required to be considered literate. In fact there is a Chinese professor I know who says writing is the most important aspect of learning Chinese.

*Guru. I hate the word, particularly since nowadays it is almost always applied to investment authors.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Man of Mystery

My brother has been watching a lot of Derren Brown, lately, and I've been watching a bit of it myself. It's quite entertaining really, and some of it is really impressive. His card handling skills, for example, really are brilliant.

Some of the other feats, however, I'm still skeptical of. Regardless of how good one's skill with persuasion or suggestion is, the mere fact that this is television should be an alarm bell for any rational person. And yet...It's certainly nice to believe that with the right application of behavioral science, one could affect such stunning results. There's also no question that in addition to being an excellent showman, he's an extremely intelligent guy. So it's thought provoking entertainment at worst, and I think that's better than most of the crap that passes by these days.

And, to his credit, attempts to dig up any dirt or proper criticism about him will turn up nothing.
Thus far, at least.

So, for now, enjoy.

Monday, July 09, 2007

My Favourite Republicans

A favourite Republican? Surely not! Well, like it or not, they're not all neo-con fanatics. Whilst I disagree with most of their policies, there are a few I'd like to single out as being moderate and rational, to the extent that I have respect for them and note their positions to be rational, logical and consistent.

My favourite Republican runner would have to be Ron Paul.

Of course my own choice for the election would be Obama, and I doubt Paul will actually secure the nomination since he's so at odds with the Christian Right of the GOP, but this video is certainly worth watching, particularly from 5:20 onwards. He's a foreign policy realist, not an idealist, and so I think that qualifies him as conservative, and not a neo-conservative.

Others call Paul, like that other likeable Republican Clint Eastwood, a Libertarian; that might be right, too, but I'd have to hear more of his views about other social issues. He defends his position on abortion well enough. I don't agree with him about gun ownership, immigration and free-market health care either, but at least his positions are consistent with the GOP, and are defensible. On the Libertarian/Republican angle: it's said (though it seems hard to be sure of this) that Matt Stone, of South Park fame, is a registered Republican.

So yeah: Ron Paul, Clint Eastwood and Matt Stone. Exceptions that prove the rule, perhaps, but worth remembering.

Finally, note also, in the video, the Fox technique of interviewing and shoving words in peoples mouths, which is also employed by Rudy G- who himself first looked like he may have been a moderate, rationalist but has since proved to buck under the pressure of the Christian Right.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Fascist Joggers

Nicholas Sarkozy enjoys jogging. So, perhaps jogging belongs to the ideology of the right, says Liberation, and Alain Finkelkraut. Of France, in case you weren't sure.

Interesting. I'm a walker myself, like Socrates and Rimbaud, and I'm not a conservative. So I'm safe from this charge.

But wait a second. I also enjoy sleeping, eating, and drinking vodka. I was also once heavily into Judo, and I learn Russian too. Does this make me a totalitarian of the Putin brand? And I have been known to enjoy the odd cigar at times. Am I therefore Churchillian in my thinking?

Another great walker was none other than Nietzsche. He even wrote that he'd sometimes walk for 8 hours in a single day.

Anyway, two posts which give a deeper analysis than I can be bothered to today, courtesy of a quick google search.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Taiwanese Death Metal Politics

Chthonic, a Taiwanese death-metal band (I hate the genre as much as anyone, believe me) aren't rocking just for the normal reasons.

They're rocking for sex, drugs and Taiwan joining the United Nations.

As much as I hate the style of the music, it was interesting to hear the blend of that guitar wall and machine gun bass-drums mixed with an Er Hu. Very strange in fact.

Other than that, I don't think I'd pick them as Chinese (or Taiwanese, as they would no doubt insist upon).

Those interested can visit them on MySpace.

Ronnie Chan, Regina Ip on Bloomberg

The original interview was taped in late June, apparently, but I just saw Bernie Lo's interview with property tycoon Ronnie Chan. Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be a linkable site, at least to those of us unsubscribed (such as myself). In any event, Chan made some interesting, some may say bold, points, suggesting that:

1. The opening of China is the biggest economic opportunity in the history of mankind.
2. The press in Hong Kong has more freedom under Beijing than it did under the British.
3. Hong Kong is moving too slowly compared with Singapore and Shanghai, and missing out on the prime opportunities.
4. Foreigners don't care about the economic future of Hong Kong.
5. Los Angeles, in the 1970's (whilst Chan was living there) had pollution problems that were comparable or worse than those China faces today.
6. Hong Kong already has universal suffrage.

He's extremely pro-business, yet one also detects a certain Anglophobia too, or at least bitterness. Perhaps rightly so, too, but I couldn't be sure on that.

I'm not sure on the facts about press-freedom, as I was under the impression that it was more heavily censored these days than before.

He also may be right in his optimism about the pollution problem. L.A has, according to him, come huge bounds since the 70's, and current technology should allow a faster transition.

I think, however, on the point of universal suffrage, he is completely mistaken. Bernie seemed to think as much, too. Chan was nonetheless a very persuasive, impressive man, and he knew how to debate in a civil manner.

Regina Ip, formerly security secretary of Tung Chee-Hwa's administration, made a small headline by saying Hong Kong doesn't need democracy for economic prosperity. I don't think that's at all controversial though, as it hasn't had democracy for all this time, and still had huge growth. China hasn't had democracy through its period of extraordinary growth either. Just a case of trying to find a headline I guess. But still, surely it's not simply for economic reasons that a democratic system is desirable.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Coming Soon...Need New Blog Name

Just got an interesting email from Canberra, the upshot of which is that I'll be most likely starting a new blog for the next year.

It'll have a China focus, I'm pretty sure of that.

I'd love to hear some suggestions for the name. Sino-Something.

Anyway I'll provide more details as this develops.

For the moment, it's uni-break and I'm in back in far-north QLD, and life is sweet.