August 31, 2008

Scooters getting towed

There were some illegally parked scooters right in front of the train station. On this day, they were unlucky and got towed.

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August 27, 2008

Jia Pingwa translation in Guardian

I came across a selection from Jia Pingwa's latest book, Gaoxing, in the Guardian, via Paper Republic. If you are interested in reading it in Chinese, I found the same selection on Dangdang. The selection on Dangdang is just missing a little bit of text at the beginning and end.

I have enjoyed reading Jia's works that have been translated, and it would be great if this selection in the Guardian led to another translation. It's surprising that there have not been any new English translations of Jia's works since Howard Goldblatt's translation of Turbulence in 1991. He is one of China's most popular and critically acclaimed writers, and his banned book Feidu seems like just the kind of things that Westerners would like to see translated.

I considered making a detailed criticism of the translation, but that seems kind of negative, so I'll limit myself to one comment and one criticism concerning the translation.

My eyes felt sticky, as if a lot of goo had suddenly come out of them, and everything looked blurred.
The word translated as "goo" is literally eye-dung in Chinese. "Eye boogers," as they are sometimes called in English, seems like a fairly good match for the Chinese, but it does sound kind of childish. On the other hand, the medical name, rheum, is too technical.

I'd never seen a young man with so many teenage spots...
"Teenage spots" is a literal translation of "pimples" in Chinese. This struck me as the worst translation in this selection.

I have tried to read Jia's writing in Chinese before, and it's not easy, so I don't envy the translator. Jia's writing is a lot more difficult than the average bestseller, though according to the article about Gaoxing on Danwei, this book is more readable than some of his others.

A couple of the things that make Jia's writing interesting are its earthiness, as in the line about the goo coming out of his eyes, and the many details about rural life, which often deal with practices specific to a certain region, such as this:
Then they shouted: "Shangzhou chowmein-eater!" In Shangzhou, where I come from, the land is so barren that last year's grain doesn't last till the next harvest, and at the Spring Festival, all there is to eat is fried noodles, which we make from persimmon mixed with rice husks.

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August 26, 2008

Usage of sentence-initial besides in English

I've read a lot of papers written by Taiwanese in English. Most of the writers have a master's degree or a doctorate, and some the writing is impressive. But no matter how good the writing, one things that bothers me about the writing of almost all Taiwanese is the non-idiomatic usage of the word "besides." It is used to begin a sentence, followed by a comma, and it is used synonymously with "in addition" or "also."

Judging by my ear, this is not a correct usage. However, checking the dictionary, it appears to be ok. See these examples:

Besides is an adverb or preposition that means "also, additionally": I would enjoy going on a vacation besides.

And from Wiktionary:

1. also; in addition
2. moreover; furthermore

But let's take a look at how besides is actually used in English writing when it starts a sentence followed by a comma. These examples are randomly selected from an English corpus.

Maybe he should have kept in touch. Gone back for reunions. But he had
been busy building a business, being a big man in his own town just as he
had been a big man at Hanford, Class of 1935. Besides, Cady Partlow
knew he wasn't the old-grad-type.

Used to further argue against the proposition that he should have kept in touch.

Who, then, is of sufficient stature to lodge with Lenin? Who but Nikita
himself? Since he has just shown who is top dog, he may not be ready to
receive this highest honor in the gift of the Soviet people. Besides,
he can hardly avoid musing on the instability of death which, what with
exhumations and rehabilitations, seems to match that of life.

Used to further argue against the proposition that Nikita is ready to receive this highest honor.

"Aren't you sure"? I asked, looking at her searchingly. I wanted to
grab her by the arm and beg her to wait, to consider, to know for certain
because life is so long and marriage is so important. But if she were
just having a normal case of pre-nuptial jitters such a question might
frighten her out of a really good marriage. Besides, in all honesty, I
don't know how you can be sure.

Used to further argue against asking the question.

I want you to find Monsieur Prieur at once and give him this money for the
boy's purchase. There's $600 in gold in this chamois sack. If the old
fool argues about the price, tell him I shall order my husband not to treat
him as a patient any longer. Prieur has gout and depends on Louis' pills
and bleedings. Besides, he owns 300 slaves. One less shouldn't
matter to him".

Used to further argue that he should not haggle over price.

We don't need this type of protection any more. The public is now armed
with sophistication and numerous competing media. Besides, there are no
longer enough corruptible journalists about.

Used to further argue against the need for this type of protection.

Auditors were encouraged. In the regular sections they have always been
more or less discouraged. The philosophy has been that if they could find
the time to attend class why not encourage them to get the credit and
perhaps provide an incentive to do the work more effectively. Besides,
auditors do not count on faculty load with the same weight as regularly
enrolled students. But in this one section we welcomed auditors.

Used to further argue against the practice of auditing.

Both these youths, who greatly admired Henrietta, were somewhat younger
than she, as were also the neighboring Friedenwald boys, who were then
studying medicine and bright though they all were, they could not possibly
compete for her interest with Papa, whose mind- although he never tried to
dazzle or patronize lesser lights with it- naturally eclipsed theirs and
made them seem to her even younger than they were. Besides, Miss
Henrietta- as she was generally known since she had put up her hair with a
chignon in the back- had little time to spare them from her teaching and
writing so Cyrus Adler became interested in her friend Racie Friedenwald,
and Joe Jastrow- the only young man who when he wrote had the temerity to
address her as Henrietta, and signed himself Joe- fell in love with pretty
sister Rachel.

Further argues that the boys could not compete for her interests.

In the course of our talk, Askington mentioned that he spent part of each
week studying. "By yourself"? I asked. "No, I take classes with
different people", he said. "I don't think I've reached the point, yet,
where I can say I know everything I ought to know about the craft.
Besides, it's important to the way a painter thinks that he should move in
a certain atmosphere, an atmosphere in which he may absorb the ideas of
other masters, as Du^rer went to Italy to meet Bellini and Mantegna".

Further argument against studying by himself.

Macneff smiled and said, "I am glad that your scriptural lessons have left
such an impression". How could they not? thought Hal. Besides, they
were not the only impressions. I still bear scars on my back where
Pornsen, my gapt, whipped me because I had not learned my lessons well
enough. He was a good impresser, that Pornsen.

This usage is a little different from the others, but maybe it can be seen as being a further argument against the proposition that Pornsen's lessons left no major impression.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

So it appears that "besides" is used in this way (at the beginning of a sentence, followed by a comma) when the author is making an additional argument against something. None of the examples are simply adding further exposition or explanation of a topic. (Besides seems to literally mean that the additional item is of secondary importance, but I don't think that is necessarily so. It can be of secondary importance or it can be of greater importance--a further point that renders the first point of secondary importance.)


Book on Taiwanese religion and note on last post

Via Steven Crook's blog, I came by what looks like a great on-line book today, Gods, Ghosts, & Ancestors: Folk Religion in a Taiwanese Village, by David Jordan.

After just spending a few minutes looking through the book, I learned the technical name for the idols described in yesterday's post. They are called josses.

Occasionally I have questions about Taiwanese religion, but most young people I know aren't very knowledgeable about the details. And of the things I observe, I probably have a lot of mistaken ideas. For example, I only recently learned that the money burnt to ancestors and the money burnt to the gods are completely different things. Ghost money (冥紙) is normally only burnt during ghost month. The rest of the time, the paper money burnt to the gods is not called ghost money. I'm sure I'm missing a lot of details, so the book mentioned above looks valuable.

August 25, 2008

Temple not responsible for lost idol

Translated from Liberty Times article.

By Wu Shicong, Yang Guotang, Zhuo Yingli

When Mr. Chen of of Liujiao Township, Jiayi County returned to Feng Tian Temple in Xingang Township to retrieve the idols of Guanyin and Guan Yu that he had placed in the care of the temple, he found that the Guan Yu idol was missing. He sued the temple in a civil suit, which resulted in Feng Tian Temple being ordered to pay over $120,000 in reparations. The temple authorities appealed and the decision was reversed. The judge ruled that Feng Tian Temple was not responsible for the safekeeping of the idols, and rejected Mr. Chen's petition. Feng Tian temple won the appeal and were judged exempt from reparations.

The ruling stated that in May 2006, Mr. Chen of Liujiao Township, Jiayi county brought the Guanyin and Guan Yu idols from his home where they had long been enshrined and entrusted them to the care of the Feng Tian Temple of Xingang Township.

Chen said that he gave an offering of $2000 and the temple authorities promised to take care of the idols for one year. But when he returned to the temple in May of the following year, he found that the Guan Yu idol was missing. He believes that Feng Tian Temple wrote him a receipt so they should be responsible for compensating him for the loss.

He asked for compensation, including the cost of the idol and the cost of the dedication ceremony, totaling over $200,000, but the district court of JiaYi ruled that Feng Tian Temple should pay $125,000. Unsatisfied with the verdict, Feng Tian Temple appealed.

Mr. Chen quoted the original settlement and requested the Feng Tian Temple give him an additional $80,000. Feng Tian Temple claimed that the idol's owner entrusted the statue to them in order to receive the the offerings of burnt joss sticks [literally, to soak up the burnt incense], and so a contract was not established entrusting the idol to them, and they are not responsible for its safekeeping. As for the offering, they consider it a normal donation.

The judge found that Feng Temple does not accept a fee for taking care of the idols and they cannot refuse. They did not promise safekeeping, so there is no basis for Mr. Chen's demands. The judge threw out the original verdict, and stated that he could not make an appeal. Feng Tian temple won the suit.

As for the ruling, Feng Tian Temple expressed that they would have no statement until they received the written ruling. Mr. Chen's wife said that Feng Tian Temple gave them a receipt, so they should be responsible for safekeeping. She couldn't accept the verdict.

[Note: The receipt notes that Chen gave the temple two idols as well as an offering of $2000.]

A caretaker at the temple presents the idols with tea (or water).

Feng Tian Temple for many years has performed the service of accepting believers' idols. There are three main reasons believers entrust them with their idols. The first is when their homes are being renovated, when the noise and dust caused by construction would be disrespectful. The next reason is when believers move or temporarily live somewhere else and so are not able to worship the gods. The last reason is when believers have a funeral, which according to folk customs makes them unclean and unable to worship.

According to Feng Tian Temple's owner's committee, the time is limited to one month. If the idol is not retrieved within a month, you give up your rights to it, and the temple authorities are fully authorized to handle it as they may, which is not open to dispute. If the idol is adorned with valuables, the owner should keep them. The temple is not responsible for damage or missing items.

Temple authorities said that believers bring idols to the temple for dedication ceremony, for worship, and for safekeeping. They do not charge for safekeeping, but believers can give an offering as they wish.

August 15, 2008

Some recent homophone confusion

There aren't many potentially confusing homophones in Chinese, but yesterday I heard a really confusing one. My coworker told me that he and a couple of others were going to buy cheku, and asked if I wanted to buy cheku with them. A cheku is a garage (車庫), so I was understandably baffled. I wondered if they were buying some kind of portable carrier for putting their bikes in. But it turns out they are actually buying biking shorts (車褲). It seems as if the name for biking shorts has been perversely chosen to confuse everyone (not just foreigners) who hears the word.

Most homophones that confuse me can be distinguished by tone, but it is easy to miss the differences in tone and to think of the most familiar word with the same pronunciation. When you buy coffee, they sometimes ask you if you would like tangbao. The first time I heard this question I was very confused. Why were they asking me if I wanted dumpings? (湯包) (See below) But they were actually asking me if I wanted sugar packets (糖包). The pronunciation is the same, but the tones are different.

Another example comes from today: When I paid my phone bill, the cashier asked me if I would like to ding the receipt. I thought she asked me if I would like to subscribe to (訂) my receipt. Once again, my mind began going through a strange series of thoughts trying to make sense of my flawed interpretation of the sentence. I would have figured out what she actually meant in a few seconds, but as the wheels in my head were slowly turning, the cashier asked the same question again and luckily it clicked the second time. She was, of course, asking me if I wanted to staple (釘) my receipt (to the bill).

One last example, also from today: I heard that the doctor prescribed xianweifen. I imagined that this meant "micropowder" (顯微粉). But if I was listening carefully I should have know that it was actually fiber powder (纖維粉).