November 25, 2005

Email of Resignation

Every few weeks I get an email from a coworker who has resigned. They usually state how long they have had their job and express how wonderful it has been. They usually give no clue as to what the sender will be doing in the future. That sounds perfectly normal, but the strange thing is that I have never heard of any of these people. They send these emails to dozens, maybe hundreds of people that they have never met. For your enjoyment, here are translations of the last couple such emails I have received.

Dear Superiors and Partners,

I've been at -- almost 2000 days now. Today my time here has come to an end, but that doesn't mean that our relationship is over. Thank you everyone for your help with work and life. I'm going to take a step in a new direction. I want to especially thank Manager Z's guidance and support. After arriving in the --- department, I've become much more sensitive, whether in work or in life. Becoming accustomed to demand high standards—isn't this an excellent work attitude?

[Contact information]

Keep in touch, take care

Note: Do not reply to this
Becoming much more sensitive? Is this a veiled apology for being a nitpicker or being hard to please? Or is he proud of this?

Dear Superiors and Friends,
On 11/25 I'll be leaving this company. Although it has not yet been one year since I came to ---, it has been a great experience. I hope that we'll have a chance to work together in the future.
My contact information: ---

Take care

Wow. I can feel the love.

Update: Today I got another one. This writer cared enough to write in English. Here it is:
Dear Friends,
Today is my last day in ----. It is of great pleasure to cowork with you in the past four years and hope you all could get much progress in your work for now and future.Thanks again for your kindness and patience.
Best regards.

Anyone looking for a recycled Godcast?

Many churches are now making their Sunday morning services available over the internet as video or audio downloads. Christian podcasting even has a catchy name—Godcasting. It seems that this has already become a popular resource for the curious, bored, zealous, or otherwise interested listeners. But I began thinking that this would also be a great resource for preachers, pastors, and priests. Think of all the preachers across the world who struggle each week to come up with a thirty-minute message. After giving their message, good or bad, it usually remains only in the speaker's notebook. It may get limited circulation on a CD or cassette, but it is essentially expired. If those sermons are now archived on the internet, this could open new possibilities. With the extreme convenience of getting sermons on the web, why don't pastors' simply replicate another pastor's message that they find particularly inspiring or insightful?

Although it would benefit everyone, pastors won't be adopting an open-source sermon-sharing model anytime soon. I have probably only once or twice heard a speaker say that his message was taken from another speaker. Why is that? If a certain sermon is good enough for listeners to learn from, why isn't it good enough for another person to teach from? I thought of every possibility. There are sinister possibilities, such as: any speaker outside of a given church is too suspect of heresy; or each speaker believes that he has the most direct communication with God and does not need the diluted teaching of another. I thought of practical possibilities, such as: a message needs to be changed to suit different listeners; or a message needs to be changed to suit one's speaking style. The practical considerations are closer to the truth, but in reality, they are overstated. I think that the answer has nothing to do with religion, and is just the result of expectations we have as teachers and pupils.

The reason why pastors rarely copy another person's message is because both speakers and listeners expect the speaker to speak original material. Speaking original material displays the authority of the speaker, which is important for the speaker's self-image and for the audience's confidence in the speaker. The learned have to display their understanding by going beyond the original text, which means that a reproduction is an inferior product. Original material also suggests timeliness and relevance. In many fields, these assumptions just don't hold, but we hold fast to them. How much "new" understanding about a subject does the average sermon hold? (How much new "understanding" do we gain of third grade math each year, which requires textbooks to be updated every few years?) Although the listeners expect to be educated and inspired by a message, they don't expect that a teacher can be educated and inspired so easily. A teacher's learning should be the result of a personal struggle. And if one speaker does use another's speech, we can't help regarding it as a form of stealing, even though sharing one's understanding is obviously not a zero-sum game.

In short, there are so many negative associations with copying another person's teaching, that teachings will never be shared as freely as their jokes. It is there for the taking, but second-hand learning has to be repackaged, otherwise it is just second-hand goods.

But there is room for exceptions. I once heard a pastor repeating a sermon that he had given just two months before. My first thought was, "How embarrassing. He must have forgotten." But after he made a reference to the previous sermon, I began to realize that he was repeating it because it deserves to be repeated.

The message was about the need to forgive others. If you feel bitter or are quick to anger, then those are signs that you probably need to forgive someone. You may say, "But I've already forgiven him." That may be true, but that just means that you need to forgive again. And in the future you may need to forgive again and again for something that happened long ago.

It is a simple but important message, and I appreciated hearing it a second time as much as I heard it the first time. Although repeating one's own sermon does not transgress against our expectations as much as repeating another's sermon, it is a step in that direction. On that day, the pastor made a decision to give his best, not his freshest.

November 17, 2005

Translation of Wordplay in Harry Potter: The Mirror Of Erised in Chinese

I recently came across a fascinating web site dedicated to Chinese, Japanese, and Korean languages. A large part of the site details the translation of Harry Potter into these languages. Although I have not read Harry Potter, I was interested enough in one of the translation problems to try to work out a solution. The problem is the wordplay concerning the Mirror Of Erised. In the original text, the mirror is carved with the words "Erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi." At first glance, this appears to be a foreign language or a magical incantation, but by reading it from the right to the left and rearranging the spacing, it becomes "I show not your face but your heart's desire." The author could have made the inscription a simple reversal of the hidden message, "Erised straeh ruoy tub ecaf ruoy ton wohs I," but this code is, perhaps, too easy to crack, and it looks less like an actual foreign language.

In the Chinese translation found in Taiwan, the mirror's inscription reads "意若思,思特拉,厄魯,歐特,烏比,卡佛魯,歐特,昂,烏西." This is a phonetic transliteration, which in Hanyu Pinyin reads, "Yiruosi, yitela, elu, oute, wubi, kafolu, oute, ang, wuxi." The author of this page points out that the first three characters "意若思," from which the mirror takes its Chinese name (意若思鏡, the Yiruosi Mirror), also hint at the function of the mirror, because they can be interpreted as "wish seems like thought" or "desire is what you think." Although this is better than a complete lack of meaning, the hidden message of the English version is missing.

Because this is an interesting word problem, I decided to come up with a Chinese translation that is more faithful and more fun. Here is what I came up with: "望慾的忠欣擬士而巷形的擬菲病的兆硬我." Here, you can take a few seconds and see if you are able to crack the code and find the hidden meaning. (It should not be too difficult, knowing how the English message was written.) Solution: The secret message is written from right to left with many homophonous characters written in place of the correct characters. This inscription appears to be nonsense when read from left to right or right to left, but when read aloud from left to right, the pronunciation is "Wo ying zhao de bing fei ni de xing xiang er shi ni xin zhong de yu wang." Translated back into the proper characters in Chinese, this hidden message is revealed as, "我映照的並非你的形象,而是你心中的慾望." (I reflect not your image, but your heart's desire.) The name of the mirror should come from the first two characters of the inscription, making it the "望慾鏡" (Wangyu Mirror). "Wangyu" means "to look at desires," and when read in reverse means "desire," as Erised does.

The major shortcoming of this translation is that it does not look like it is a foreign language; it looks like it is a mess of Chinese characters. I originally hoped that I could make it look like a foreign language by using the Chinese characters commonly used for the transliteration of foreign languages. I was unsuccessful, leading me to believe that the primary reason that a transliteration looks like a transliteration is because of the sound of it, not just because of the characters.

The major strength of this translation is that it contains a puzzle. I tried to make the puzzle neither too difficult nor too easy. The Chinese message must introduce some element to make the reading more difficult, because Chinese is no more difficult to read from left to right than right to left, and spaces do not play a part in forming words. I should theoretically test a few people on their ability to find the message to see how successful it is. If it is too simple, then it could be made more difficult by using more unusual characters in the coded message, or even better, to make the coded message classical Chinese. By writing in classical Chinese, the sounds "wo" and "ni," which are obvious clues for "I" and "you," could be removed.

The second major strength is the clever name for the mirror. The name can be interpreted as "look at desire mirror." Although this points to the mirror's function much more overtly than the English name, I like it because it also means "desire" in reverse.

Note: I got the Chinese translation, "我映照的並非你的形象,而是你心中的慾望," by summoning the power of the Mirror of Google, which showed me this. I'm not sure whether "慾望'" is more appropriate than "欲望," so I trusted the Chinese writer on this one. Some other translations I found were, "我显示的不是你的脸,而是你内心的渴望" and "我不僅顯示你的臉,而且是顯出你內心的慾望."

November 14, 2005

Stuffed Animals on Truck Grills

There's an article in the New York Times (found via Boing Boing) about why stuffed animals are found on the front of trucks and especially garbage trucks. It would be easy to explain this phenomenon away as just a trend, monkey see (monkey laugh) monkey do, but this is something that I have seen in Taiwan, too. I would guess that it was something that started here spontaneously, and was not imported from abroad, but it's hard to say. Here are a couple of quotes from the article.
…the grille-mounted stuffed animal is almost always a found object - "mongo," in garbageman's parlance. And in that respect it functions as a sort of trophy.
"Binding a soft thing to a very powerful truck - there's a kind of macho thing about that," she said.

November 10, 2005

English Verb, Chinese Verb Complement

In business settings, and especially at hi-tech businesses, you rarely hear "pure" Chinese. There are many English words that do not have a commonly used Chinese translation, and there are many words that are said in English for no apparent reason. Some of the English words that are common in Chinese conversation are very local to the business environment, while some are universal. In my opinion, the funniest example of mixing English into Chinese sentences is when English verbs are used with Chinese verb complements. The English verbs do not need complements, so the use of a complement does not affect their meanings, but some Chinese speakers feel more comfortable integrating the English word into Chinese grammar. Examples:
delete 掉 (delete-diao)
remove 掉 (remove-diao)
cancel 掉 (cancel-diao, also pronounced can-diao)
stay 住 (stay-zhu)
keep 住 (keep-zhu)
I also think that I have heard:
catch 住 (catch-zhu)
miss 掉 (miss-diao)
I am sure there are many more, and I will try to add more as I hear them.

Another funny feature of English in Chinese is that some English words are pronounced using Chinese tones. For example, I often hear people start a sentence with the word "anyway." It is pronounced "an-y-way" with the first two syllables a high tone, and the third syllable a falling tone. Whether pronounced correctly or not, it is easy to mistake "anyway" for the Chinese word "yinwei" (因為), which has a high tone for the first syllable and a falling tone for the second syllable.

Update: I heard this one second-hand and it was too hilarious not to record. One person, who favored the english word "try," said, "你可以自己 try try 看."

November 09, 2005

Morning Musume on Boing Boing

Morning Musume have hit the (little) big time! Today as I was reading Boing Boing (www.boingboing.net), as I do every day, I saw what appeared to be former Morning Musume member Abe Natsumi's eyes, with a slab of beef strapped to her forehead. There is a link to a video of the game that she and other members of Morning Musume are playing. The video comes from a Christmas special that aired in 2002, if I remember correctly. I actually have that show on videotape, and it is hilarious. Someone subtitled the video clip on line, but it really does not require any knowledge of Japanese or English to enjoy the clip. In their TV appearances over the years, Morning Musume have played hundreds of games, and this game has got to be one of my all-time favorites. The girls pop their heads up through holes in a clear plastic enclosure. An iguana-like lizard is let loose, and approaches the girls. The object of the game is to let the lizard come as close to you as possible before bailing (popping out of the hole). Abe Natsumi is particularly prone to screaming, as the clip shows. On a side note, Goto Maki has a few iguanas as pets, so it probably was not terribly scary for her. Also, Yoshizawa Hitomi's blank expression is priceless! As a fan I must point out an error in the description of Hello! Project on the Boing Boing site: Minimoni is no longer together, so you can no longer see them touring. And as for Tsunku, I think it is quite a stretch to describe any of the groups he has been in as "ginormous boy bands."

Update (2:30pm): Apparently, CNN trolls Boing Boing for stories (an excellent idea). According to this blog entry, Morning Musume have made it on CNN for this story!

Related Post: Book review of Ikoiri Musume

November 08, 2005

Buddha's Hand Squash (Chayote)

I recently saw an interesting vegetable at the supermarket. It is called a Buddha's hand squash (佛手瓜), and the name comes from its claw-like shape. The skin is green and it looks like the skin of a citrus fruit. I was ready to buy one just to find out what it was, but there was a notecard that explained its uses, and strangely, eating it was not one of the recommended uses. It can be used to make juice, to stew meat or vegetables, as an offering to Buddha, and there were also medicinal uses. I found this picture which shows the weird clawlike shape.

Searching on the internet, I found that this vegetable is originally from Mexico and Central America, and is called the chayote. The seed does not have a dormant period; it begins sprouting before the vegetable is ripe. The sprouts continue growing out through the vegetable skin. In order to plant this vegetable, you cannot plant only the seed, you have to plant the whole vegetable. This method of growing them is an extremely literal illustration of the Chinese proverby "Zhong gua, de gua" (種瓜得瓜), which means, you plant melons/squash, you get melons/squash (or, you reap what you sow). After being planted, they do not need to be watered or fertilized. According to various web pages, they can be eaten raw, fried, pickled, stuffed, mashed, etc.