July 28, 2005

Book Sale

A note to my masses of imaginary loyal readers and to my two real yet disloyal readers: Books.com.tw is having a book sale, with all books 21% off. Not bad! I just bought four books. Sale ends August 1. I ordered the books online and I will pick them up and pay for them at 7-11. Even more convenient than amazon.com!

July 26, 2005

Book Review: “Jibun No Ki” Shita De

"Jibun No Ki" Shita De
By: Oe Kenzaburo (大江健三郎)
ISBN: 9571337269

If you have read Oe Kenzaburo's A Silent Cry, and its blunt description of a grotesque suicide, then Oe would probably not be the first person that you would want to talk to your child about suicide. But suicide and the education of children are two major themes of his works, and in this collection of essays written for children he does not shy from talking about the topics he feels are important. The topics explored include schooling, reading, writing, life, planning for the future, and morals. The title of the Chinese translation of the book, “Why should children attend school?” which comes from the first essay of the book, sounds dry, but Oe's deep analysis of life naturally goes beyond easy or obvious answers. As with his fiction, he looks for meaning in both history and imagination, and comes up with rich answers that reward multiple readings.

Oe describes his method of reading, developed when he was a child and practiced until the present. When he comes across a passage that he likes, he will copy the text onto another piece of paper. Then he will memorize the passage until he can recite it without error. He then files the copied passage. He created this method when he was a child in a very poor family in a village with access to few books and money to afford even fewer. Even as a child he dreamed of being a scholar of literature. He claims to be able to recite passages that he memorized as a child. His reading plan also has a couple more features of note. He reads with a pencil handy, writing notes in the margins, notes that he finds very useful when he rereads the book. Each time he rereads a book he uses a different colored pencil. I would love to know what kinds of things he writes, but he does not go into detail. Another part of his reading regime is to create an environment and a plan to tackle difficult literature. As a child, the solitary environment of a tree house allowed him to read books that he felt were important, but were difficult to read without special concentration. As an adult, the subway ride to and from a swim club is his special reading time. He sees Japanese children reading comics in their free time and encourages them to devote time to reading more serious books in addition to comics. He encourages children to keep a list of literature that people have recommended to them, or that they would like to read. Some books on the list will have to be on the list for years, until the reader becomes mature enough to understand them. This idea inspired me to write down all the books on the to-read list in my head.

Oe touches on the topics of revisionism in Japanese textbooks, and penance for Japan's imperialism in China. His treatment of these topics is both sincere and thought provoking. Most children would not want to read a book by anyone who is moral lecture mode, and Oe avoids that through most of the book. There are exceptions, such as when he tells about the evils of rumors, but he illustrates his point with a personal story that presents his vulnerability to attack at the same time as he lectures. When he received his Nobel prize in literature, his handicapped child Hikari accompanied him and his wife. The newspapers criticized him for using his child as a prop. For him, it was a matter of needing to take care of his son, so he resents the newspapers' charge that he was crassly parading his son.

There are many passages so interesting that one cannot be sure that if Oe is teaching a lesson, or letting his imagination and memory loose on the reader. Oe describes himself as someone whose imagination runs wild when is not reading. As a child, one of those dreams was to have a seal as a pet. Although he lived in a small village in a forest, he imagined himself playing with a baby seal, taking it on walks like a dog. He told other kids who understandably ridiculed him for this, but repeating the story only made it more real for him. This story extended into his adulthood, when someone who had heard of him as a child came to one of his lectures, and still thought of him as that crazy kid who dreamed about raising a seal pup.

I have not been able to make sense out of all the stories like this (and the nightmares he had as a child about being involved in the war), but these loose ends invite me back for another read. It's too bad that this book (and many others) have not been translated into English.

July 25, 2005

High-speed rail in my front yard

This weekend I noticed a maintenance car going by on the high-speed rail right outside my apartment. It honked as it went by. I didn't see any other rail cars creating gridlock on the new railway, so it was not a “make way!” honk. No, it was a “Hello, world! Look how yellow and high-speed I am!” honk. Hopefully, when the rail goes into operation, the drivers will not longer be so excited about their high-speed horns. The rail is supposed to start operating by Halloween.

July 19, 2005

Man-Q All-in-One Soap

About two months ago, I expanded my cosmetic product line to include a facial cleanser. But after seeing a commercial for Man-Q cleanser, I realized that I should be getting rid of products, not expanding! Man-Q is a body soap, face wash, and shampoo, all in one. As you can guess by the name, it is designed for a man's needs (laziness). Buying shampoo and soap every three months is such a hassle, but Man-Q offers a 2.2-liter dispenser, which should cut down on the late-night runs to the beauty salon. It comes in tea and citrus flavors, which both sound appetizing, but I think I'll hold off until I can get taro flavored Man-Q.

Book Review: A History of Dictionaries

A History of Dictionaries
ISBN: 9573026643
150 pp.

Have you ever liked a magazine so much that you wished it were bound and book-sized so that you could put it in your bookshelf instead of in your junk heap of magazines? "A History of Dictionaries" is one magazine lucky enough to get book treatment. It is a collection of articles about dictionaries by various authors with plenty of photographs and even a few ads thrown in. The articles lack enough depth to make this a satisfying read, but it whet my appetite for more dictionaries and more books about dictionaries.

The book includes history, interviews, recommendations for dictionaries and related books, a test to find out how much of a dictionary-nut you are, and musings about language. The most interesting part of the book is the history of dictionaries. It describes the beginning and evolution of English, French, Chinese, and multi-lingual dictionaries. The story of Chinese multi-lingual dictionaries is a story of missionaries.

One of the articles of interest to Taiwan is about why dictionaries in China do brisk business, while Taiwan’s dictionary market is dead. One of the reasons is that the government-sponsored dictionary in China, the Xiandai Hanyu Cidian (現代漢語詞典) is a mid-sized dictionary for popular consumption, whereas in Taiwan, the government-sponsored dictionary is a multi-volume research reference work. The article suggests that China has drawn a sharper line between classical Chinese and modern Chinese in its dictionaries, which leads to a greater interest in dictionaries, which are defining a newly developing language. This idea as well as some of the others should have been explained in more detail. The article would have been much better if it had suggested a course for the future dictionaries, but the article belonged to the history section, so we have to flip to the end of the book for to learn about the future.

The concluding essay of the book is an interview with Chan Man-hung (陳萬雄), manager of the Commercial Press in Hong Kong. The contributors to this book come from China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, but the book gives little consideration to the dictionary situation in Taiwan. The interview begins with the topic of the deluge of dictionaries in Mainland China, and the lack of interest in dictionaries in Taiwan. What I wanted to know, the future of dictionaries in Taiwan, does not get discussed. I think the situation in Taiwan could be improved by improving the dictionaries. With the exception of a couple of special-interest dictionaries, all dictionaries in Taiwan are ordered by radical. This would be fine if everyone got into the habit of looking up words by radical, but the only people who I have seen that are comfortable doing that are Chinese teachers. Other people usually look up the words by the pronunciation of the first character of the word in an index ordered by pronunciation, then flip to the correct page. I think publishers should make a dictionary for adults that is ordered by pronunciation (mandarin phonetic symbols). Next, dictionaries need to update their content. Chinese dictionaries are missing tons of words that you would find in an English-Chinese dictionary, and are missing tons of words that are not in any dictionaries. There are other improvement I can think of, but the lack of interest in Chinese dictionaries is mostly just due to a lack of an interest in Chinese. Taiwanese are satisfied with their Chinese language ability, and with the exception of professional writers, they are much more interested in developing their English skills. It would be great if Taiwan could pursue English-learning without losing focus on Chinese-learning, but that is not the case. Even the best general-use dictionary published in Taiwan, the Guoyu Huoyong Cidian (國語活用辭典) published by Wunan Culture Enterprise, is not even found at most bookstores.

The interview does suggest one needed development in electronic dictionaries. Chan notes that in Japan, the popular electronic dictionaries are based on reputable paper version, while in Taiwan and China, the biggest selling electronic dictionaries are based on no-name unproven dictionaries. Publishers of quality dictionaries need to hurry up and get their product out before the market is saturated with shoddy dictionaries that are mostly plagiarized.

The book also contains sections on how to choose Chinese and English dictionaries. It also proposes some top dictionaries. I agree with the recommendations, but rather than tell us how to pick out a dictionary, they should have just given us a look at the dictionaries. Most bookstores are filled with cheap but mediocre dictionaries; For the big name Hong Kong and Mainland dictionaries, Taiwan readers have to order on-line. So, the book missed an opportunity to do us a great service by showing us the content of these dictionaries. Nothing beats thumbing through a paper dictionary, but if they could have shown us a half page of each of the major dictionaries, then this book would be an invaluable resource. If I ever make a trip to Hong Kong or the Mainland, then I might try to take some pictures and offer them online. I would also be very happy if someone did that for me.

Book Review: Ikoiri Musume

Ikoiri Musume
By: Sakura Momoko
ISBN: 9571028789
262 pp.

If you are a fan of Japanese pop musical group Morning Musume, then you have probably dreamed of meeting the members in person. But if you are in touch with reality, you probably have not called their talent agency, Up Front, to make a date with each of the members. Author Sakura Momoko is an exception to this rule; She is a fangirl who got to live out her fantasy of spending time with each of the members of Morning Musume, and got paid to write a book about it.

Sakura Momoko is the artist and author of Chibi Maruko-chan comics, and the creator of the classic cartoon of the same name. These works are loved by young and old, male and female. Sakura has also written books of essays about her life. These qualifications pay off. She gets to have adventures with Morning Musume, and we get to eavesdrop on the fun.

Sakura and Iida Kaori visit a museum dedicated to an art prodigy who died at nineteen. Sakura and Yasuda Kei watch a movie (Spirited Away) and make rings at a silversmith's workshop. With Goto Maki, she visits an aquarium where they play with dolphins. For the date with Yoshizawa Hitomi, they go fishing. Rika and Sakura design a t-shirt together. Kago Ai and Tsuji Kago predictably spend their dates eating. Abe Natsumi suggests a picnic, and they follow that by playing at an amusement park. Yaguchi Mari convinces Sakura to make a day-trip to Korea for a Korean feast. Nigaki Risa and Konno Asami go ice-skating with Sakura. Lastly, Takahashi Ai and Ogawa Makoto team up for a day at Sakura's studio, with the strangely unambitious goal of designing a badge. Sakura ends the book attending the rehearsal for a big Morning Musume concert.

In the preface to the book, Sakura describes her goal in writing the book as an attempt to uncover the real character and personality of the girls who she loves and admires. However, it is too much to expect that spending a few hours with the girls will allow her to uncover anything that has not been revealed in the countless hours the group spends on television. Bringing along a couple of chaperones from the management agency for the dates does not help things. In spite of these obstacles, the book is personal. The members talk about their families. Yaguchi tells that her father will phone her and make her talk to his coworkers, proving that he is the father of one of the members of Morning Musume. They talk about leaving their hometowns to live in Tokyo to work. Kaoiri mentions that when Morning Musume began, she was still attending school in Hokkaido, so she had to commute by plane! They talk about what they do in their precious little spare time. Many of them enjoy taking pictures in those photo-stickers machines popular in Japan, and they also like karaoke. I'm sure those activities are a nice change of pace from all those singing and performing in front of a camera that they do.

Sakura adds a lot of the humor in the book. Goto Maki suggests flying in an air-show jet. When that is rejected, she suggests skydiving. Sakura's premonitions of death at these suggestions had me laughing out loud, as did her clumsy attempts to befriend a dolphin that can smell her fear. Sakura shows reluctance to try any activity, other than eating, that will take her out of the comfort of her home. It brings to mind the lazy and lovable Chibi Maruko-chan. The adventures proposed by the Morning Musume members get her into a movie theater and into an ice-skating rink for the first time in years. She also constantly worries about the mobs of Morning Musume fans—she worries much more than the members themselves. Probably for similar reasons, she is conspicuously missing from all the pictures in the book.

Of the three books about Morning Musume that have been translated into Chinese, this book is easily the best. But just like all Japanese TV programs subtitled in Chinese, the English gets mangled in the process. When Tsuji eats a churro, it gets turned into a "chorus." Unlike the last book I read about the young stars, this book rarely wonders about what the future holds for them. As a fan, Sakura probably realizes that most of the members will fade into semi-obscurity, and even if they continue on as stars, their lives are as exciting now as they ever will be.

Star Wars Kid

Apparently, this video has been downloaded 12 million times, so this is pretty stale news, but I hadn't seen it. It is a video of a guy waving around a baton. There are a bunch of edits of the video that look pretty funny. Maybe when I have time I can watch them.

New Church Berkeley Sermons on Web


My favorite church that I've attended is New Church Berkeley. The central message of pastor Allan Collister's sermons is love, the love of God and of the church. Allan's analysis of the scripture leaves me feeling that he understands the spirit behind the scriptures better than others, and the God of his understanding is the one that I want to know.

When I went to the church, around 1999-2000, they recorded his sermons on CD. I have long thought that it would be a good project to put them on the internet. I checked the church's web page, and someone has already done just that, starting from late 2003. It will probably be a while until I can actually listen to them, because I don't have a computer. But my DVD player could play a disc of MP3s if I get one burnt.

Centigrade-J Japanese Music Site Still Going

Centigrade-J is a Japanese music sight, mostly about bands like Dir en Grey, Pierrot, L'Arc~en~Ciel, and Fra-Froa, bands so hardcore that they don't even care if you can spell or pronounce their names. While none of those bands interest me, there were often funny and interesting articles on the site when I used to visit it. But after the site went down in 2001, I lost track of it. Well, I checked again yesterday, and the site is still going, and there are some good articles to read.


Book Review: Five Language Visual Dictionary

Book Review
Five Language Visual Dictionary
ISBN: 9867744624
400 pp.

If you know a word that no one else knows, does it mean anything? That is the question that you will ask yourself when reading any kind of English-Chinese reference book. You finally figure out how to say that word in Chinese that you have always wanted to know, and then you find that no one else has heard of the word.

Picture dictionaries have to get the right amount of detail. A dictionary with too few words is fairly useless, but if there are too many words, the useful words get buried. You don't want to know the names of thirty kinds of citrus fruits, you want to know the names of the ones that you recognize. The Visual Dictionary is not a translator's reference book. It provides a good level of detail for a dictionary that will be used for browsing.

The book's best feature is its pictures. They manage to sneak in a drawing of a raccoon and a blue whale, but almost all illustrations in the book are high-quality color photographs. To illustrate the human body, photos of clay models are used (but you won't find much detail about body parts).

Each entry is given in English, French, German, Japanese, and traditional Chinese. The English is England's English, and the Chinese was written by Taiwanese translators. The entries in a visual dictionary are primarily nouns—concrete things such as an apple, a bicycle, or a zebra. Not much room for confusion there, right? Not so. The dictionary does not know sure whether the Chinese text should be describing the pictures or translating the English. You have to figure that out for yourself. There is a photo of a child performing a flying jump kick. The first four languages indicate a jump, while the Chinese indicates a flying kick. Another picture has the English description, “actor.” The Chinese entry also indicates that it is an actor, then indicates “male” in parentheses.

Some Chinese entries leave me wondering whether the translators made up the Chinese words. The Chinese for “raspberry” is given as mumei (木莓). After searching on the internet, I find that mumei is acceptable, but it is not as common as fupenzi (覆盆子) or fupenmei (覆盆莓). I also find that shumei (樹莓) is another option. This leads me to believe that the “strange” Chinese translations are probably technically correct, but perhaps not the best choice in daily conversation. However, at least a couple of the entries are plain wrong. In a picture of a man fishing, the English describes the man's pants as “waders.” The Chinese entry describes someone who is wading. An English phrase for use at a butcher’s shop is “Take a number, please.” The off-base Chinese entry is “我要一些,謝謝! (I'll take a number [of those]. Thank you!) Would it break their budget to have someone check their work?

This original edition of this visual dictionary was written for English speakers learning European languages (French, German, Spanish, and Italian). For those languages, pronunciation can be understood from the spelling. For the Taiwanese edition of the dictionary, Chinese speakers will use it primarily to study English and Japanese. For English and Japanese, pronunciation cannot necessarily be guessed from the spelling, so including pronunciation is essential. The editors miss out on opportunity to make this dictionary truly useful by not including pronunciation of any of the languages. Including Mandarin pronunciation would also allow them to market the dictionary to young children. If they had wanted to be even more innovative, they could have added Taiwanese for each entry. That would have been difficult, but it would have made for a very interesting dictionary. As it stands, the dictionary is a great collection of pictures that will be of only modest usefulness for language study.

A Modest Account

As I began to browse a report today, I thought, "This is written pretty well." As I continued to read, I thought, "This is too good. What Taiwanese can write this well?" The wheels in my headed kept turning until I remembered, "Oh, yeah. I wrote this." This is probably about the third time I've had this experience when reading a document.

Taiwanonymous Up!

The launch of this site is an event so momentous that it requires at least a sentence of celebratory exclamation! Why not two exclamation marks and a period!!?

To get things started, I am putting up some book reviews and some stuff I wrote last week. This should give us an idea of what is to come. There is stuff about Japanese music, and Chinese dictionaries.