In this amusing deconstruction of the viral road-rage video above, Vice writer Joel Golby notes a particular exchange which struck me as sounding strangely Chinese. In case you don't fancy watching the video, the bottom line is that the angry driver accuses the cyclist of not wearing a helmet and the cyclist replies that the driver should put his seatbelt on. The driver issues a fantastic reply: "Put your fucking mouth shut". It's great for lots of reasons including the flouting of English norms to use di-transitive verb "put" in this way. Put usually means to move the position of something, but the rule flouting here is that put is being used in a way just facilitates a following state. You could argue about the syntactic structure but a classical analysis would have the put as a verb and the shut as a noun indicating a state.
My flatmates are politically involved students. Last night they decided to drop into the student protest at the Taiwanese educational ministry and I went along to see what's up. A bit of background here. The educational ministry controls what's in school textbooks. The ruling KMT is making a number of changes which appear to highlight the importance of Chinese culture above other events in Taiwan's history. A little while ago a number of students occupied the minister's office. Word is that one of those students, after being charged, killed themselves on Thursday. This triggered a wave of protest on Friday. Students scaled the fortified fences and occupied the ministry compound. Several rows of police with riot shields were sitting on the steps, settling in for a long night as the stand off continues.
The key student slogan is 自己的課綱，自己救。This is a total bugger to translate which also gives me great joy. The root causes of difficult translations is probably my favourite thing in linguistics. My stab was "to guide ourselves we must save ourselves" but my flat mates weren't so keen on this. They were adamant that the essence is to save the country and the slogan should sound like a call to arms, so he suggested "Do your part to save your country" which I like lots more. Incidentally the causes of translation difficulty include the 課綱, which is educational guidelines, not a curriculum but rather how one designs a curriculum. Then there's the lack of subjects and objects with a reliance on 自己 which means 'self'.
The Chinese on the the plastic fan (how practical!) is less compact and more straight forward: "This summer our fight is to oppose the brainwashing of the educational guidelines". Back side, Using action to open the black box, Using thought to resist brainwashing." Small text: Aside from marks, did you know that children are taking to the streets?
A couple of weird personal events: I was chatting to my friends and some white guy walks up and asks of I'm a Taiwanese citizen, and then tells me there is some risk to being there. Then proceeds to ram home the point by talking to my friends in very good Chinese (warning them about something that happened to a German guy during the day - talking pointedly to them rather than me) before walking off. Seemed like a performance to me. Then later I'm in a deep conversation with another student and some guy in his 50s (out of place in a student protest) walks up and brazen stands right next to us as if he's participating in the discussion, stands there for five minutes (we ignore him) and then he walks off. It was all very "this is my job" sort of thing. Maybe that was some sort of assessment by someone from the government? I doubt he had much to report given that I was talking about how it would be interesting to correlate survey results of feelings of "feeling Taiwanese" with political poll results of support for the two parties.
Tuckered out with talking and having much to think about, I walked home through the beautiful but empty streets of Taipei's government precinct, collapsing into bed with flip-flop induced blisters.
I've completed the first of four weeks of an intensive course in Chinese at the Taiwan Mandarin Institute (TMI). It's been a couple of years since I've studied Chinese formally and three years since I sat in a classroom doing typical language teaching tasks. The reason I'm doing this course is because I will be doing fieldwork in a region where very few people will have proficiency with English. I need to be able to explain my research and recruit participants which is a bit further along than casual chit chat. Critically, I'm the product of a fairly poor Chinese-teaching system in Australia which featured large classes and very limited contact hours. I was pretty self-motivated but I guess I'm not naturally an extrovert so I didn't try super hard to continue to find ways to converse with Chinese speakers. I did, however, continue my Chinese literacy studies since that's something that one can easily do by oneself. So realistically, I have a pretty good vocabulary, a pretty good ability to read Chinese, a passable ability to write Chinese, passable listening comprehension (I can still lose people if they speak quickly) and actually pretty rubbish speaking ability with some unusual hold outs like a fair smattering of entire phrases.
I started my Chinese intensive refresher this week. In today's class I talked about my visit to a real authentic local Taiwanese restaurant that I went to with my Taiwanese housemates. It was memorable for lots of reasons not the least that the place (阿才的店) has some historical significance. Where we ate the arrangements don't appear to have changed since the Japanese colonization. Anyway... out of the many interesting dishes, two are relevant here because they came up in my classes and an interesting follow up chat with a housemate I had tonight. The first is a dish which is basically a yummy omelette. It was called 混蛋 (hun dan), literally mixed egg. I thought he was pulling my leg because he does like to mess with me and hun dan basically means bad dude, a scoundrel. Omelette is usually 煎蛋 (jian dan). It turns out that the scoundrel hun dan can be written either as 混蛋 or 渾蛋, both being perfect homophones (tonally as well), where as one hun means to mix (so this is used for the dish) and the other means stupid or unsophisticated. Curious.
I went on to probe my flatmate about my favourite dish of the evening, a curiously Southern Chinese style (lots of chilli) dish with pickled eggs that had become a sort of dark translucent jelly. I might not be selling this well but believe me when I say it was incredibly delicious. It turns out this was 宮保皮蛋 (gong bao pi dan). Now the whole pi dan thing is basically preserved or thousand year eggs. The gong bao is a style of cooking better known rendered in the anglicized Cantonese as Kung Po as in Kung Po Chicken. My flatmate is quite a well read young lad and went on to tell me that gong bao, as dish, was renamed in mainland China during the cultural revolution owing to the fact that the dish was named after the Qing-era governor of the Sichuan province, Ding Baozhen, as gong bao would have been his official title.
So it turns out that I sit at a seemingly ancient Japanese style low-table setting from their colonial era, eating a dish that is a mish-mash of a couple of key cannons out of mainland Chinese cooking, then later have a conversation with the current Taiwanese student generation on the etymology of the dish name. I think all linguistic work should be so nourishing.
The weekend has arrived. I start my Chinese intensive on Monday. It'd be nice to get out and about and take in some more Taipei but long term work commitments, of the paid variety, take precedence. It's funny really, I'm working on setting up online eLearning materials for students about to begin their Chinese studies back in Australia. A Canadian guy at my AirBnB is doing something simililar. He normally works in Jakarta and nipped off to Taipei where he is also remote working without his boss even knowing. At the end of the day we pool intelligence on the best noodle shops we've found.
My first week in Taiwan was mostly taken up with the 13-ICAL austronesian linguistics conference. I wasn't presenting or anything like that since the sort of nitty-gritty descriptive linguistics is not really my area. That said it was a great opportunity to meet some interesting people and find out what else is going on in Taiwanese linguistics. There was a satellite event following ICAL proper which was all about Formosan languages, including Saisiyat. This was my first meeting with people from the community. It was friendly, helpful, but far more challenging communicatively than I expected. I'll have more to say about that later.
Other than that I've been mostly hiding from the heat, acclimatising hopefully, and discovering the immense joy of wandering the laneways of Taipei and sampling the frankly indescribably fantastic food.
After what seems like an eternity of planning, suddenly it was time to jump on a plane. I thought I'd just slip into things, somehow, but the reality was that the first day, or half day really, was a roller coaster. My bags, despite some 'ruthless' culling, are too heavy. Particularly to haul any distance in thee 33C Taiwanese weather. I've just been floored by how hot that is after Melbourne's coldest spell in my memory... I also just felt like my Chinese wasn't worth a damn. People immediately used English with me, they didn't seem to understand my Chinese. Even when I was installed in my AirBnB digs, I felt lonely, exhausted, naive and ill-equipped for just doing my own research in a place I knew nothing about.
On the second day, I was up early to head to the 13ICAL conference, an Austronesian linguistics conference. Saisiyat, like all Formosan languages, is part of this family group so it ought to be relevant for me in a sense. In reality I knew it wouldn't quite be like that because, well, the fundamental assumptions of my research direction are rather different from that of theoretic descriptive linguistics. In a nutshell I'm only passingly interested in structure (syntax, morphology) and a bit more interested in phonology and so on. In general, I hold that I'm interested in language documentation because there are people that are interested in what these speakers say, not necessarily precisely how they say it. At the same time I hold that we can do linguistic science with the data I collect but my gold standard is in creating a documentation for a wider audience such as people who speak the language or, perhaps, would like like to be able to speak the language. I guess what I'm trying to say is that descriptive linguists have a documentary agenda and sometimes that agenda feels quite removed from my own.
Anyway, at the end of the second day things seemed to be coming together. I've already met some fascinating people. I think I'm transitioning into a frame of mind that can cope with knowing nothing (Jon Snow). I also seem to be making progress in making myself understood in Mandarin but that's going to be another major challenge.
I also want to say generally how astonishing Taiwan is. I'm reasonably well-versed in Taiwanese history and the country's development as a whole but nothing prepared me for the reality. If they need infrastructure, they just build it. This is in stark contrast to the total paralysis of infrastructure in Australia. The MRT underground makes the London Underground look like a quaint toy set and I'm not even going to venture a comparison with Melbourne. Academia Sinica is an utterly beautiful campus and the facilities are just mind boggling. Trust me when I say that the University of Melbourne hasn't got a single lecture theatre as well equipped as any of those being used at ICAL13. Also take a look at the last shot in this slideshow which I took from window out the back of the linguistic department building as it began to rain. Utterly breathtaking. Hello Taiwan, I think we're going to be friends.
Dedicated handheld GPS devices have long been an invaluable tool for any number of activities including fieldwork. I think they still are but I suspect that many people today will mistakenly think that their mobile phone has completely supplanted GPS receivers. Indeed for most purposes at home they have. This post is going to be a little on the techie side but it also going to talk about an essential bit of equipment, why it's necessary and how to use it. One application is in tagging all of your photographs with GPS coordinates in the EXIF data. You can gain all the advantages of GPS accuracy in a smartphone but if you're away from mobile signal, then pairing the phone to a proper GPS receiver is great solution. Pictured is a dinky little Chinese unit that can be had for only AU$85, paired to my Nexus 5 displaying satellite information. Click Read More for, well, more.
The Japanese Encephalitis vaccine turned up at my pharmacy. I went along to the clinic so the nurse could jab me with that and the combo hep A/B. I appeared to have a minor reaction to the JE vac, which they had never given to anyone before. My left arm was in considerable pain yesterday, I had to stay at the clinic for a time until I felt I could drive. I also ended up getting the shits from the typhoid oral vac a couple of days ago. Another dose today, perhaps I'll make something simple for dinner...