Thursday, July 31, 2008

Floating Along

I was in the library this evening, and at 7.30 decided that I'd best be off soon. I'd just read a few more minutes and then head to the bus station. By the time I put the book down, an hour and a half had past. I had to run to the bus station, otherwise it'd be another half hour until the next bus. I just made it, but by that stage it was packed and I had to stand at the front, by the driver.

I'd never ever had that view before. The road is presented in front like a wide-screen presentation, and the slow, rolling, bouncing motion of the bus makes it feel almost as though you're gliding along the road. Try it sometime.

On the way back home I heard a Taiwanese on her mobile discussing university matters, and she inserted the English phrase "international finance management". It made me think how people choose to use foreign expressions for things that they could say in their own language. In this case it seemed particularly odd, because it was actually harder to say in English than Chinese. In English you'd have 10-11 syllables, as opposed to six in Chinese (国际金融管理, guoji jinrong guanli).

As I counted out the syllables and realised this weirdness, I considered asking her why she said it. But I figured she wouldn't appreciate it.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

To Sinicize the Games

Before going to China, I'd never put much thought into what it meant to localize a video game. Now I see why this process would be costly and lengthy. It means, in this context, to subtitle or dub over all the text in a video game. English, German, Spanish, French, Japanese- these languages seem to be prime for localization teams, probably because of the video game playing populaces of nations speaking those languages.

In China, I found that many games were not localized. A game might have a Chinese package, and a Chinese name, but the game itself was entirely in English more often than not. I suspect this is why the majority of video game magazines at the newsagents were of the 'strategy guide' variety, which is fancy way of saying "how to beat this game step by step."

One game which is localized, or Sinicized rather, is World of Warcraft, and it's now a massive source of income for Blizzard (which should be Blizzard Activision now, for budding stock traders). It's probably not a coincidence that it's a game which can't be pirated. It can only be played with an account kept on official servers, so there seems to be no way of getting it for free. Apart from WoW, Chinese gamers are relatively ignored; I'm not even sure if games made within China, such as the recent Splinter Cell game by Ubisoft Shanghai, get Sinicized.

What's interesting though is that Chinese netizens have taken the matter into their own hands, and release 汉化 (han4 hua4, 'Sinicized') versions of the games for free on the internet. It's probably the case that because of the rampant media piracy in China, the software developers/publishers/distributers don't feel it's worth the investment to Sinicize their products. But the lack of official Chinese language software is no doubt part of the problem now, and those in charge would be better off with a carrot rather than a stick approach to solving it.

And on top of that, I'd like to add, that playing video games in Chinese is one of my favourite ways of learning the language. There's nothing like having to solve an interactive puzzle in Chinese. Anyway, enough nerd-speak for now...

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Brisbane is a Taiwanese Mecca

My friend once told me that Brisbane has the largest Taiwanese population in Australia. I haven't bothered to veryify that, but it's plausible enough. The Chinese department at my university is almost entirely run by that rogue state. Some of the best Chinese restaurants in Brisbane are located in the suburb of Sunnybank, where lots of Taiwanese reside. And in my Three Kingdoms class, I've had my first taste of a truly 'dia' accented Chinese in a while(嗲, dia is third tone, for budding Sinophones out there).

If you haven't heard of this word, I'll offer now my understanding of it. Wenlin gives the translation 'childish, coy'. The 'dia' accent occurs when a young woman (or not so young) speaks as though imitating a four year old girl. Some people find it infuriating, but I just find it strange. Well, strange and maybe a bit annoying. And whilst it's sort of spreading throughout mainland China, Taiwan is apparently the place to get a fix of it. Or Brisbane, for that matter.

I was having a coffee with friends this evening in South Bank and there was a pair of girls behind us speaking some weird dialect, which at times sounded like Shanghainese, but I'm pretty sure wasn't. They certainly had that dia way of speaking though. Weirder still, was going to the bathroom and seeing a guy dressed up as Robin. As in, Batman and Robin. He was leaning on the sink bench, furiously scribbling down notes in a book. I left without saying a word. I guess that doesn't relate to Taiwan, but I had to mention it; it was just too strange not to.

Anyway, I haven't been to Taiwan before, but sometimes feel like I might be living in Taiwan-town. More investigation is needed.

Friday, July 18, 2008

In The Deep End (And A Request)

It's about 2 am and I'm taking a break from some reading I need to get done for university. Stuff I need to get done before the first lecture begins. Not light reading, I'm afraid; more like, the hardest reading I've ever put myself through. I'm only doing one Chinese course this semester but I think it's more than enough: Reading the Three Kingdoms. You may know this as a really long historical novel, and the basis for many martial arts films, including that one recently with Andy Lau and Sammo Hung. And you'd be right. Other than that I've got some philosophy of science courses, but that's another flavour of quark.

It's hard reading for a few reasons, the first being the language used. Sure, I've read (and I'm reading) sections from The Art of War, The Dao De Jing, and the Zhuangzi, which show Classical Chinese in varying difficulties. But they all come with a modern Chinese translation, so an English example would be that it's kind of like reading Shakespeare with each paragraph paraphrased by Hemingway. Because of that modern translation, I'm able to get through relatively painlessly in those otherwise difficult works.

However, whilst the language in The Romance of the Three Kingdoms is more...colloquial?... (people with proper knowledge of Chinese linguistics will hate me for my ignorance!)..the problem is the version I'm reading has no modern translation. Oh sure, it has an English translation, but it sucks. There's been a few times when I've gone to the English to try and check my understanding, only to find that very section hasn't even found its way into the translation. Nice. I put the lack of a modern translation down to the fact that it almost is modern in some ways, it just uses a totally different set of words (no doubt I'll sound like a twit when I start using these archaic words in conversation). I'm reading it online -for free, at the recommendation of our lecturer- so I can use Wenlin to help me read it.

This is a double edged sword. There are times when Wenlin (or the ABC dictionary, I guess) will recognize as a phrase something which isn't supposed to be a phrase, or will try to translate something which would be better given as a Chinese synonym (like 就是 for 乃). It can be quite confusing, though it's not really the fault of the software, just a limitation. The result is I sort of alternate between reading on my laptop and checking the English definitions for the unknown words, then consulting my portable electronic Chinese-Chinese dictionary for stuff that makes no sense in Wenlin.

So my request is thus: Some smart software engineer should design an addon for Wenlin which adds in a Chinese-Chinese dictionary (but keeping the pinyin). Or, if anyone knows of software like that, let me know.

I've calculated I'll have to read something like 2 chapters a day if I'm to finish on time. The novel is very enjoyable and I'd be lying to say I'm not drawn in, which is quite a feat given the amount of frigging about I have to do with said dictionaries.

The other life-jacket in this deep end is that we're allowed to do the assessment for the subject in English. The lectures though, I'm told, are in Chinese. I'm not sure if it's irony, but I'm sure there's something odd about taking on harder Chinese courses in Australia than in China.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Being Back

I've been back exactly a week now. It's both good and bad, and strange and familiar. I was right about appreciating the weather: Cairns in winter is like a Romantic poet's realization of the ideal summer. This was really pronounced when my family and I went up to the tablelands (Yungaburra, specifically) for an overnight at a bed and breakfast (Eden House, specifically) last week. It was a Great Leap away from Beijing, in the best way. Eden House may do the best hot chocolate in the world; a slight tipple of cognac and lots of melted, really good chocolate, it's worth taking the trip up just to taste it, and see chocolate congeal on the edge of your glass whilst you're drinking. Just superb. I've never had a more peaceful night's sleep, nor had thicker slices of bacon for breakfast.

Then on the weekend we went up to Palm Cove, which, along with Yungaburra, is just about the best place to cure 'China Syndrome' that I can think of (nod to Paul). Without sounding like a singles advertisement, I enjoyed long walks on the beach, good wines, delectable cuisine (Nunu's may be the best restaurant I've ever been to, hot chocolates aside), and lying around reading Spence's "To Change China" (more on that another time) it was all just what I needed. These things make it good to be back.

"Pretty soon it'll feel like you never left" said one of Mum's friends.

I dunno about that. My last few days in China were quite memorable. Everyone in the apartment left a few days before my flight to Hong Kong, and I wasn't quite ready. So for a few lonesome days I had the city (and the apartment) to myself. I had the farewell dinners, looked at some places for the last time, even visited Stone Boat for the first time, which I loved. Then I had to get the apartment ready for the landlord and bond collection, which was a whole lot easier than I'd thought, thankfully. I was afraid she'd get annoyed about things like massive scratches along her wall (my bad, with a stray suitcase), or massive amounts of dust (that's the crappy air), or food stains (two males of university student age, ok?), but it turned out she was just concerned that we might have tried to steal her television sets or her air conditioners. Right.

That bond collection was at 8am of the 4th of July, the same day as my graduation ceremony, at 9am, and my flight to Hong Kong at 1.30pm. So I arrived at the ceremony hall (the literal Chinese name for which is the "Study Dilligently Hall"), with my luggage and a giants helping of anxiety. After an hour of pleasantries and official-babble on behalf of the various heads of department, I was able to get my certificate, say all the goodbyes, and then grab a cab to the airport.

After what seems now to be an obligatory delay at the Beijing airport of 2 hours, at terminal 3 (very impressive terminal that one), I was off and out of the smog. And I arrived into a Hong Kong clearer than I'd ever remembered seeing it.
I'd put up photos but I can't find my camera; I think I left it in the hotel room in Hong Kong. It's a shame because I took two great photos contrasting the difference in pollution between the two cities.

Anyway, the best way I can describe it is as follows:
It was like all of Beijing had been some drawn as a sketchy background in an early black and white cartoon, whilst in Hong Kong the sky, the grass, the mountains and the ocean were all rendered in stunning 3D colour, like Toy Story or Finding Nemo. It actually seemed too colourful at first.

I had the best time in Hong Kong, as I always do, caught up with some very good friends, and then all-too-soon had to take the train back to the airport for an 18 hour hell-haul back to Cairns, via Brisbane, via Singapore.

And now I'm happy to be comfortable for the time being, though university begins exactly one week from now.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

What I'll Miss and What I Won't

I'm leaving Beijing on Friday, and going back to Australia on Monday. I thought now would be a good time to explain what's going through my mind. Most importantly, what will I miss, and won't I miss?

I'll miss my friends most of all. Some of my friends are Australians studying in China, and they're returning back too, so that's not so bad. On the other hand, some of my friends are Chinese uni students, and it's doubtful that they'll be heading to Australia any time soon. So it'll probably be a while till I get to see them again. It's a good thing we have email.

I'll miss walking into a bookstore and getting almost dizzy with all the books I haven't read, and want to read. Ditto for DVD shopping...

I've always enjoyed walking down the street and feeling surrounded by historical archicture, down to the street itself, and walking down a Hutong to get a delicious meal. And I'm really going to miss those jiabingr, they are the breakfast of champions....

It'll be a shame not to be surrounded by the melodious and often slightly humourous banter of Beijingers, and I'll miss all the funny, peculiar phrases exclusive to the Beijing topolect. And joining with Beijingers in insulting the various non-Beijing speakers of Mandarin and their girly pronounciation.

And there is just a certain feeling you get in Beijing, of being in the midst of something great, exciting and important. That will be sorely missed; I suspect it'll make seem Brisbane seem positively dull.

However, I won't miss having to use a proxy browser to read the BBC news. I won't miss an hours commute necessary to go and buy some deoderent. I won't miss blowing my nose and leaving behind a black streak of coal dust. I won't miss the endless advertising for the Olympics, and 'staunch unity'.
I won't miss having the power cut in my apartment without warning, the internet cut without reason, or the hot water in the shower not working without turning on three other taps.

In fact, I'd go so far as to say I'm looking forward to being able to see clear, all the way to the horizon, every day. Hopefully that won't get old too soon, but in any event, I'll be back sooner rather than later, no doubt. That's the natural result of a degree in philosophy and Chinese; those philosophy jobs are just too hard to come by. The real question is, which city in China, or the Chinese diaspora, will I go to next?