Monday, December 03, 2007

Flashcard Hell

Damn. For a few months, I got sucked into the flashcard trap thanks to the great Anki application. I was so impressed, I went and made flashcards for all the Korean and Japanese vocab and grammar I studied. Inputting all that took a lot of time and effort and could lead to a debilitating case of carpal tunnel syndrome. Anyways, after things cooled down, I realized that I ignored my own advice about relying on flashcards. They are good for learning the building blocks of any language, ie the alphabet/characters, but beyond that, they serve little purpose since it doesn't provide context. It would be far easier to randomly stick my finger in a dictionary and see if I know the definition; at least I wouldn't have to input anything. Anyways, unless there is a big test I'd need to study for, I think I'll have to limit my flashcard use to individual Chinese characters.

Books: Wasting Money, Space, and Time

One thing that I used to have a problem with was buying books and never getting around to going through them. It was such a pain in the ass since I used to lug those unread books with me whenever I moved (I move a LOT). Since then, I've been able to control myself by actually reading the books before buying any others, not only for my own education, but to also lighten my luggage. In any case, I was going to write more on it, but I coincidentally found an article over at Sinosplice that covers it far more eloquently than I ever could. You can read it here.

No Sweat Cantonese (Review II)

Right after I finished "A Cantonese Book", I went right into "No Sweat Cantonese" for another go. Everything I said in the first review still holds. The only difference is that I've been in HK long enough and have gone through some other materials enough to get a better idea of what they were trying to explain. It felt less like a book to learn from and more like a practice book for the stuff I learned elsewhere. Anyways, I got through the entire book this time and it was a lot less frustrating. Probably because I just got finished with "A Cantonese Book" and it was tough to consider "No Sweat Cantonese" as a serious source of Cantonese education. It would be like playing basketball with a five year old. I'd get some practice dribbling, but wouldn't break out in a sweat. This is an especially appropriate example since I suck at basketball. As I mentioned in my last review, there were a couple of useful tidbits here and there, but nothing worth the price of the book.

A Cantonese Book (Review)

I picked up this package when I first arrived in HK. At first, I was pretty disappointed that the box was much bigger than the book and 2 CD's that were included; deceptive marketing and all that. Anyways, overall, I enjoyed the set. It didn't cover much, but I did feel like I got a decent grasp of what there was. First the good stuff. Everything was written in characters. I'm sure I've mentioned it before, but I had romanization when it is not accompanied by the corresponding characters. There were also plenty of chances to learn to read and pronounce and practice the different grammar structures. There were also a variety of exercises. I'm not sure of how useful they are, but at least I never got bored going over them.

Now for the bad. This book is pretty thin with some big fonts. In other words, it doesn't go over much. A lot of the grammar wasn't very clear and seemed to go for the learn by intuition approach. I've been around enough textbooks to get an idea of what they want to get across, but for someone starting out fresh, I can see how they might get frustrated. Another point of contention is that there were no translations given for the example sentences. I was about 98% sure of the meanings, but that last 2% does a lot for peace of mind.

I don't think it is the best book to learn Cantonese from, but I do think it is a good book to start from, especially when considering the lack of variety and quality in other Cantonese materials out there.

10 Things I Love About Hong Kong

In no particular order, except for #1.

10. The best online banking system ever.

9. Low cost and variety of transportation.

8. Being able to find anything you might need or want.

7. Little or no overt xenophobia compared to other countries I've been in like Korea or Japan. In HK, if you can pay like everyone else, there is no exclusion in products and services.

8. Outside of some brusque sales clerks, I think Hong Kong has some of the friendliest people in the world.

7. Contrary to belief, if you know where to shop and don't insist on living on HK island, HK can be an extremely inexpensive place to live.

6. While other places claim to be international, they are left in the dust compared to HK who comes closest to reaching that ideal.

5. Most movies show up on VCD almost immediately after their theatre run.

4. People in HK tend to be more practical.

3. Winters are like Autumn, my favorite season.

2. Light shows and fireworks every night.

1. THE FOOD. Dim sum, seafood, Middle Eastern, Greek, Mexican, American, Pizza, Japanese, Korean, Shanghainese, Malay, French, Spanish, Indian, Thai, Szechuan, vegetarian, healthy, steak, burgers, hot dogs, Turkish, Greek, Vietnamese, whatever. It is ALL here!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

10 Things I Hate About Hong Kong

In no particular order, except for number #1:

10. Being harrassed to buy suits, watches, or getting my fortune told every time I go to TST.

9. The hot muggy weather that makes your clothes stick to you like sweaty saran wrap.

8. Weekend crowds.

7. Having to wait for an hour to eat out because you didn't make a reservation.

6. Mini-busses that seem to accelerate when they see pedestrians on the street.

5. Long ass lines at the ATM machines.

4. When your laundry can't properly dry because of the high humidity and they get that mildewy smell.

3. Toilet paper being sold in indiscrete packs of 12 or 24 rolls.

2. The freezing indoor air conditioning that make it necessary to take a jacket with you even on the hottest summer days.

1. Getting dripped on with that nasty water from the air conditioners mounted on the outside of buildings every time i walk on the street.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Anki (Review)

Anki is a cool little app. I found online. It is a flashcard program made specifically for Japanese. Automatic kana input, statistics regarding the kanji you have stored, detailed graphs on the progress. Good stuff. However, the program can also be used for other languages or topics. These last two months have pretty much been dedicated to input (2,500 Japanese words and 1,700 Korean words) and review. Took a lot of time, but worth the effort since it helps with retention. This program also uses spaced repition, which is the best way to commit things to long term memory. The extra advantage, though, is that you can decide how far you want to push the next review for a particular word. All it requires is being honest with yourself. This is definitely the best flashcard program I've found. You can download it at

Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center: Korean (Review)

*Disclaimer: I took this course in the Summer of 1995 so things have proabably changed a lot since then.....or not.

This school is run by the military and provides language training to all branches of the armed forces. In my case, I was enrolled in the 63 week Korean course. Korean is considered a Category III language, which, in military lingo, means damn hard. Classes begin at 9am and finish around 3pm if I remember correctly. There are about 30 students per section, each section broken up into 3 classes of 10 students each, and roughly 5 or 6 teachers per section. The books at the beginning were pretty mediocre and were obviously produced by the lowest bidder. But the materials do improve as the course goes on.

This was a crash course in the language in every sense of the word. There was no stopping for anyone. If you fell too far behind, you would be put into another newbie section. Quizzes were given at the beginning of every day on material that has NOT been covered in class meaning that you had to study 80-100 words a day on your own time. Teachers would rotate every hour and this is a big point; the quality of teachers really was not consistent. My favorite was an ex ROK Colonel, who I'm sure considers the Geneva Convention to be mere suggestions (who knows how many bodies he's buried?). His primary pedagogical tools were fear and intimidation. On the other end of the spectrum, there were teachers who couldn't speak English (I think immersion only works when you are IN the country, otherwise it is just frustration) and teachers who subscribe to the 'read straight out of the book' school of teaching. I'm pretty sure that the majority of the instructors do not have a background in Korean language education. The only requirement was probably being a native speaker.

I was young at the time and in my 'I don't have to study as hard as everyone else because I'm Half Korean' phase, so I will be the first to admit that I definitely could have done more to learn the language, but even still, I thought the course was poorly organized. I really felt that the teachers didn't communicate with each other so one class was getting criticized for not knowing words that only another class was taught.

Also, there was a considerable gap in our language. After graduation, we could say integrated circuit of electricity (회로선), to establish diplomatic relations (수교하다), and landmine (지뢰), but wouldn't be able to say 'the rabbit went up the mountain' or 'no ice, please'. I guess it is understandable considering the purpose of the course, but there have been many who went to Korea afterwards and couldn't hold a normal conversation.

The main problem was that the course was pretty unorganized overall in comparison to the way other languages were taught. Rather than improve the course to increase the number of qualified linguists (enrolling 10 soldiers to get 10 linguists), they dumped as many students as they could into the course and hoped for the best (enroll 500 soldiers to get 10 linguists). This is not to say that I did not learn anything. To the contrary, I learned a lot. But I wonder how much more I could have learned if the 63 weeks were put to EFFECTIVE use.

An Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese (Review)

I am a big fan of books published by the Japan Times and this is no exception. The cool thing about this book is not it's long yet manageable readings. It isn't the immense amount of useful vocab and grammar that is guaranteed to come up when conversing, reading, or listening to Japanese. What makes this book so great is that it helps students read Japanese without depending so much on the furigana. All the readings are written with furigana-less kanji so your brain learns to adapt, but the pronunciations are just a few pages later in the vocab list so that you can look things up quickly. By the end of the book, I got this warm fuzzy feeling knowing that I CAN read Japanese.

I should clarify that last statement; you won't learn to pronounce every kanji, but your eyes and brain will have been trained to read without depending on the furigana as a crutch. Kinda like having that first shot of hard whiskey without gagging on your way to becoming a full-blown alcoholic. This is important since you will eventually have to graduate to tougher materials that don't cater to the kanji illiterate. It is slow going sometimes, but well worth the effort. This is an excellent book to graduate to from the Genki series.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Integrated Korean: Advanced Intermediate 1 (Review)

There is a significant jump between the Intermediate books and the Advanced Intermediate books. Up until now, the previous books were pretty easy going, but this next one really upped the ante. The dialogues and readings are a lot longer, the vocab for each chapter is pretty extensive, and the grammar comes at you non-stop. This book covers a variety of topics that go beyond the usual beginner blather (The weather is really nice, isn't it?) and covers a lot of ground in terms of vocabulary and grammar. In other words, this book really starts getting into the nitty gritty. The English sections covering culture has also been removed. Probably in order to make room for all those pages of vocab and grammar.

Complaints are the same; random unintroduced words scattered here and there throughout the book. But then again, it could just be my lack of retention from the previous 4 books. Anyways, all in all, I really enjoyed this book; it really allowed me to begin sinking my teeth into the language.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Holy 시옷!

Last week, my Korean ability was kicked hard in the proverbial nuts. I've been told on more than a few occassions that I talk fast to the point of being unintelligible. I've been making a conscious effort to slow down and enunciate, but I still slip into warp speed on occassion. On one of those occassions, I was speaking with a native speaker who said I needed to slow down. I slowed down and said with a little sarcasm, 'is this slow enough?'. Imagine my shock and awe when she said my Korean still sounded wrong. 15 years of study vanished in an instant. The earth opened up beneath me spewing fire and brimstone. My world was caving in on itself. My ego smashed into a bloody pulp like That Yellow Bastard's last meeting with Hartigan, but red.

Hiding my sudden desire to kill cute and fluffy bunnies, I said, "Oh? What's wrong with it?". I came to find out there are two unique features of Korean that I had been completely unaware of.

The first one is that the first syllable of every word is drawn out just the tiniest bit more than the following syllables. If Korean was morse code, it would be dash dot dot dot. All this time, I had been speaking it dot dot dot dot. I guess that first elongated syllable gives the listener that extra beat to register the word.

The second point regarding my Korean inadequacy was a little harder to nail down. We were using the word 고맙다 as an example. No matter how I said it, she said it sounded like 꼬맙다. It was seriously driving me crazy because I couldn't hear a damn bit of difference between how she said it and how I said it. I asked her that if my 고맙다 sounded like 꼬맙다, then how does my 꼬맙다 sound. She said it sounded like it was a hard 꼬. What the hell? This is basic Korean 99 (even easier than 101). If I got even the differences of ㄱ, ㄲ, and ㅋ wrong, then my Hangeul house of cards was crashing down hard. Of course she couldn't tell me what I was doing wrong. As a native speaker, it just comes naturally to her so she never had to think about the why's and the how's. After some infuriating practice, I had an epiphany. In the beginning, I learned that ㄱ was like the english G, ㄲ was sharp and unaspirated, and ㅋ was aspirated. It turns out that in Korean, the regular ㄱ is mildly aspirated, almost as if you are sighing lightly while pronouncing the syllable, giving it a more 'fuller' sound.

I practiced with various words and syllables to make sure I had it correct until she gave every word I tried a 'perfect' or 'great' and that my American accent had considerably become less noticible. The skies cleared, the angels began singing, and all was right with the world again.

But thinking back to the 'American accent' comment, I can understand the first point since, in English, my natural reaction is to speak fast and it does seem that the syllables are spoken pretty quickly in the first place. But regarding the second point, I thought about it a lot and it does seem that my hard consonants tend to be clipped and unaspirated, but since I don't know any native English speakers in HK, I don't know if that is just me or consistent with all native English speakers. Oh well, I'll keep that in mind so that I can ask around during my next visit to the States.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Myth of Monolingual America

I often hear from people that only America doesn't treat second language learning seriously or they are too dumb to learn anything other than English. However, I don't see this as a matter of intelligence, but as a matter of enviornment, perception, and arrogance.

Regarding environment, frankly speaking, America historically never had a need to learn a foreign language. We have two huge oceans on either side of us, Mexico to the South, and English speaking Canada (sans French Quebec) to the North. Is Bill Bumford from Kansas or John Smith from Delaware really going to need to learn to speak German, French, or Spanish to succeed in life? I don't think so. Besides, as English is currently the business language of the world, Americans can be rest assured that while we are not learning any languages, the rest of the world is trying to learn ours. That being said, if you look a little closer, you will see that there are a lot of bilingual folks along the Southern border with Mexico. Once again, it is because of the environment. People speak Spanish and English because of the close proximity with Mexico. Same thing as with Florida and its Cuban American population. So in my eyes, multilingual Europeans are not smarter than the average bear, but because most European countries are surrounded by other countries; it is the environment that they grew up in that made them multilingual. Not all that different from people who grew up in Souther California, Texas, Florida, New Mexico, Arizona, etc. A prime example of this is Hong Kong. The territory used to have a very high number of excellent English speakers due to British annexation, but ten years after the handover, it is easy to see that the number of English speakers has decreased considerably in favor of Mandarin Chinese. It is all about the environment.

Perception, on the other hand, is also a huge factor. People tend to see Americans as white, blue-eyed, and blonde. They fail to understand that Americans are not one ethnicity, but a hodge-podge of cultures from different countries. So Johnny Nguyen from San Jose who was born in America, lived his whole life here, and speaks perfect English is not considered a real American. What I'm trying to say here is that there is a HUGE population of people here with ties to Asia, Africa, Central and South America who are bilingual and are just as American as our brothers who's families immigrated from Europe. An ABC or a Kyopo is no less American because being American has no relation to the blood that flows in your veins. It is just a misconception caused by people who don't understand the differences between nationality, ethnicity, and upbringing.

There is also a lot of arrogance going around on both sides of the fence. People who claim to speak English because they took it in school and did some tests. I once knew a French guy who was teaching English; problem was that every time he spoke it, it sounded like he had a xxxx in his mouth (for any family members who might be reading this, xxxx means food). My experience is pretty limited to Asia, but it always seems to me that for every good English speaker, there are 50,000 who don't have the skills no matter how many years they spent in school. Knowing how to say hasta la vista and yo quiero taco bell does NOT make me a Spanish speaker. And for every great English speaker, there are 500,000 who are not. In short, I don't think that Americans are dumber than other people in terms of foreign languages, I just think that a lot of those other peoples are not as smart as they think they are.

However, arrogance runs both ways. America's problem is that we are under the false impression that we make the world go round and English will always be the language of top dogs. English may be the language the world runs on today, but I think that Chinese will soon take over the throne. Being rest assured that everyone in the world is trying to learn English is fine and all, but it is arrogant to think that it will always be like that. Americans need to see the advantages of learning a foreign language. We should take the initiative now and at least TRY to learn a second tongue. And the smart bet is to make sure that the second tongue is Mandarin.

I think it is irrational to think that America lacks the intellect to learn a foreign language. That is the knee jerk response of unintelligent people. It is simply the result of environment, perceptioin, and arrogance. However, I agree that America fails to see the importance of multilingualism and that ignorance, I believe, will hurt us in the future. As a wise man once said, a cunning linguist is skilled with his tongue.

Name Change?

I think I need to change the name of the blog. I am studying Cantonese and am making improvements, real or imagined, but I don't think I have enough experience with the language yet to be able to talk about it with any insight.

The Mattress

I moved into a new apartment a couple of weeks ago and one of my first purchases was a mattress. Since I didn't intend on spending an outrageous price for a new one, I decided I'd get one used. HK has a lot of foreigners coming and going so it is pretty easy to get something fairly new at a reasonable price. I went over to's classified section and found a promising ad. Less than a year old and needs to be moved quickly.

I went over and met this nice German lady who was moving in with her English boyfriend. In the end, I bought the mattress and a tv set. We arranged to have the movers they were using to also drop by my place to move my new purchases the next day. Anyways, I met up with them the next day and we took a taxi to the fellow's apartment to wait for the movers. While we waited, we chatted a bit. There is something about an English accent that makes even a Harvard graduate feel intellectually inferior (not that I know what it's like to go to Harvard). We could be talking about porn and I'd still feel like I didn't have the academic qualifications for the topic. I was the George W. Bush to his Tony Blair. This may be the first and last time I compare myself to Bush......

Anyways, the movers were late so the boyfriend called up the movers and told them off a bit in Cantonese. I was impressed.
The movers finally arrived and unloaded the couple's belongings. The deal was that I would ride with the two movers to my place so they could unload the mattress and tv. Despite my best efforts to get a window seat, I ended up in the middle seat between two hard-working (read BO) movers wearing nothing but shorts and shoes. It was a very quiet ride as we didn't have anything to say to each other. As I was breathing through my mouth and trying to think of something, anything to say, I became thankful that HK was so small and that it takes about 15 minutes to get to anywhere.

We arrived, they unloaded the mattress and tv, and I watched a movie on my brand new tv while lying on my brand new bed. Good stuff.


I'm back in the states for a bit and went to fill up the car with gas. $3 per gallon? I knew prices were high, but I guess it doesn't quite hit you until you have to spend your own money.

Saturday, June 09, 2007


I read a comment on a forum somewhere about whether or not it was beneficial to memorize vocab/grammar from your target language (TL) to your native language (NL) or from your NL to your TL. In other words, should I study that an elephant=象 or should I study that 象=elephant. Tough question.

A lot of people associate this problem with the differences of active learning and passive learning. Specifically, that by forcing our NL programmed brains to think of a word in a foreign language is far more active and therefore more efficient than doing it in the other direction. I disagree. The degree of activeness or passiveness in the learning process depends on the presentation. It takes just as much thought process to translate a word to your NL as it does from your NL to your TL. In addition, learning from your TL to your NL is far more practical (assuming you are living in an area that speaks your TL) in the sense that everything you read or hear will be in your TL. TL to NL best reflects the process your brain goes through when immersed in an environment that uses your TL.

There are also many who argue that studying from your TL to your NL inhibits your speaking ability. To some extent, I do agree with this since the process runs reverse when we translate what we want to say before we speak. However, the words we use in conversation is only a small percentage of the total words we know. In addition, that small amount we know can cover a lot. In other words, since my NL is English, I would like to know the meaning of scarlet, crimson, ruby, flushed, ruddy, etc. when I read or hear it. But for all intents and purposes, just saying red when speaking is good enough. The same applies to foreign languages.

So far, the only exception I've come across is the Heisig process. For the purpose of learning to write Chinese characters, he makes valid points. I mean how can you learn to write Chinese characters from memory if it is write there in front of you to copy? I know first hand that this works because if given the keyword, I can write from memory 2042 characters. But AFTER learning to write, I found myself having trouble recalling the keyword when I come across the character. Of course I could work out the story, but that takes a little too much time when I'm trying to get through some reading. I just prefer not to think about rabbits jumping out of holes and running around trees when I'm reading a news article. I'd rather have my brain recognize the character as fast as possible. I really do think that in the case of characters, it is better to start off with NL to TL but then finish with TL to NL.

In any case, whatever the direction, any study is better than no study. If you do it often enough, retention will happen. However, when the dust settles, I believe you get more out of studying from your target language to your native language to better train your mind for the environment you are in.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Sticks and Knives

Last week, I joined a kali/arnis/eskrima club in HK. For those who don't know, it is a Filipino martial arts where beginners start with sticks, advance to knives, and then graduate to bare hands. I've been interested in this for a long time and have been trying to find a place to learn for quite some time. No luck in Korea and Japan where Filipinos are not exactly very high on the totem pole. I finally found a place in Quarry Bay. Filipinos in HK are not exactly treated well here either and most (including Thais) are hired as domestic helpers or laborers. But during the weekends, when they have their day off, they all gather and you might as well be walking in Manila (or Bangkok) no matter where you are in HK. So it wasn't surprising that out of all those thousands, at least one guy was teaching Arnis.

Anyways, I went down there with a buddy of mine to check it out. It was a HOT day and I just came off of a business lunch so my clothes were way to heavy to be practicing in and I was soaked in sweat in no time. Anyways, he introduced us to several weapons, my favorite being the wiked little kerambit. Afterwards, he taught us a few locks and drills with the baston and for some reason I was the guy he was demonstrating on. I'm guessing it is because I was relatively taller than everyone else so it offered more of a challenge from a technical point of view. Anyways, it wasn't easy being on the receiving end of a bitch-be-good stick. Hits were hits, choke holds choked, and joint locks extended those joints a few degrees more than they should in the opposite direction. But I guess that means this club is not watered down which is cool. After all is said and done, I had a hell of a good time and will keep going with this.

Monday, June 04, 2007


I pride myself on being able to eat everything. I've tried live squid, lung, grilled intestines, chicken feet (the little ones AND the big claws; you can also pick your teeth with the nail), snails, alligator, etc. Nothing gets you closer to a people then being able sit down and share a beer over bowls of whatever the local flavor is. Except for insects, I have never backed down from a meal.....until I came to Hong Kong.

At first, I wasn't all that daunted. I had the obligatory dinner where the locals try to get you to try stuff. Noodles with octopus ink? Give me seconds. Chicken feet? A good swig of beer will help that down. While I am admittedly not a fan of chicken feet, I can still handle it and I wasn't fazed.

After living here for awhile, I start noticing things. At the supermarket, they were selling live turtles. That in itself didn't bother me as turtle soup and turtle shell are considered pretty good. I've even had jelly made from turtle shells. What bugged me was the live toads I saw in the next bin. Now some of you will probably say that eating frogs is quite common and is a delicacy in France. However, if, like me, you think frogs and toads are pretty similar, one look of these nasty critters and you will see that they are worlds apart. While frogs are small, cute, (usually) green, and give you warm nostalgic feelings from when you were young playing along with Kermit on TV, toads are big, ugly, warty creatures who's appearance justifies their place among the ten plagues of Egypt. Looking at these things, I couldn't help but think of Chet's demise in "Weird Science". Anyways, looking at these slimy gobs of nastiness jumping and climbing over each other and imagining them stewed on someones plate, I felt a new sensation. My stomache was churning.

However, it was only a couple of weeks ago that I met my biggest challenge. Some friends invited me out for some hot pot. Among the ingredients, chicken testicles. I'm not one to back down from a fight, but there was no way I could handle chicken nuts. I've had chicken hearts before and these nuts were easily two or three times bigger. I'm not a chicken expert or anyting, but the chicken could be the one animal in the world who's nuts are bigger than their hearts. Those things were almost as big as mine and, not to brag, I'm the proud owner of pretty impressive pair.

Anyways, any delusions of grandeur I may have had about my ability to stomache anything have been shattered. Hong Kong has humbled me.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Getting Lucky

A friend of mine is really big into astrology. Funny since she is in university to study forensics. Anyways, having my year, month, day, and hour of birth, here is my fortune:

I will be successful in either entertainment or coffee or other fire-based businesses (whatever that means). I will be pretty rich and I will most likely get married when I'm 40. My wife will be from the year of the dog which would make her either 23 or 35. You can guess which one I'm shooting for. I'm also going to be a very nice boss and that I should be careful not to let people take advantage of my goodwill. And I'll be living for a long time.

All in all, pretty good news. I'm not a very superstitious person, but every little bit of luck helps. Yay me.

Can You Hear Me Now?

A few weeks ago, I went to Pacific Coffee down by the Avenue of the Stars. It's a touristy area, but for some reason, the coffee shop isn't packed like everywhere else in HK so I go there pretty often to study. After a while, I got up to use the free internet they had over there to check my mail. I took my cell phone with me because I was expecting a call and because petty theft is pretty rampant, especially in these tourist traps. Anyways, I placed my phone next to the keyboard and was checking my mail when I heard a huge crash. I peaked around a corner and saw an old lady lying on her back in front of the ladies' room with her arms, legs, and cain flailing like a beetle turned on its back. As LifeAlert's "Help, I've fallen and I can't get up" ran through my mind, I rushed over there to help her. For your reference, little old ladies are very difficult to pick up from the ground. They are fragile enough so that you can't pull them up by their arms for fear they will tear off like wings on a fly. And you can't pick them up from the back because they are heavier than they appear. Anyways, some others who I am guessing are family members rushed over and in a blur of Chinese said thank you and they'd handle least I'm pretty sure that is what they said. In any case, it's obvious they have more experience picking up fallen little old ladies.

Seeing that everything was good, I went to the computer to log off and then found a seat. I reached for my phone to see if anyone called and my hand found...nothing. My phone was gone. I checked my pockets, around the table and chairs, around the computer I was using. Nothing. I found a pay phone and called the number. The phone was disconnected. It all became clear. I got jacked. What I don't understand is why. It was honestly the cheapest and most insignificant phone you can find and could probably be bought from the change you find inside your couch. Anyways, I was still pissed about it. It's the principle of it all. It must've gotten jacked while I was helping the old lady. Anyways, the moral of the story is don't help little old ladies.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Mini Bus

Mini Buses are a Godsend. They go everywhere you need to go, but faster and cheaper. It took me awhile to get used to them, mostly because I had no idea where they went, but little by little, as I got used to the routes, I don't like to take anything but.

There are two types: The ones with the green color roof have fixed routes and stops. You can use an octopus card, but they don't give change if you pay by cash. The ones with the red don't have any fixed stops. You can pay by cash and get change, but you can't use your octopus card. My only beef is that seating is usually limited to 16, but the number of buses that pass by usually make this a non-issue.

History in a nutshell, courtesy of Wikipedia: During the '67 HK riots, public transportation workers went on strike and all bus and tram services were suspended. From the woodworks came regular money-minded citizens who decided to take out their mini-vans and provided rides to the people for a small fee. Thus, the mini-bus was born. They were even awarded public transportation status and licensing as thanks from the gov't. I'm guessing that a lot of mass transit officials are kicking themselves over this one.

To get an idea of what a mini bus is like, take Disneyland and strip it of all safety measures and equipment. Replace any costly materials with shoddy ones and have it built by a blind man using nothing but masking tape and nails. Yet somehow, these buses go FAST and traffic lights and signs become mere suggestions. With all the bobbing and weaving in traffic, the mini bus is the Ali of public transportation.

Korean Pride

I took a trip to Korea on business and on one of my off days I decided to catch a performance of some traditional music and dance. The place I went to was geared towards tourists, but it was close so I didn't mind. The stage was showing signs of wear and the LED translations on one of the backdrops was a bit distracting, but after all is said and done, it was a great show. Myself, as well as the riot of Japanese granny tourists had a fantastic time. Especially the 오고무, 농악, and 판굿 performances. Good stuff. I'm also a closet fan of 판소리. The only thing that kinda irked me was the choreography of the 소고춤 was a little too similar to the dance sequence in the Japanese film, 座頭市.

It really was refreshing to see this. It always seems to me that Korea is desperately seeking attention and recognition for everything, mostly undeservedly. There seems to be this ingrained and illogical need for Koreans to compare themselves to everyone else, their neighbors, their friends, other countries, etc. and to be seen superior. It is like a global game of king of the hill, but only the Koreans are playing it. I guess this in of itself could be considered part of the culture, but not one I would be particularly proud of. 파전 suddenly becomes Korean pizza, everything in Japan was invented by Koreans, and Hines Ward suddenly becomes the symbol of Korean superiority despite the fact that Koreans never gave a shit about biracial Koreans and looked down on us as dirty. Mixed Koreans were never seen as Korean until one wins the Superbowl (of course after the VT shootings, there was a deluge of articles distancing 조승희 from his Korean heritage by talking about how he lived in the states for a long time and he was part of the 1.46795 generation and was more American than Korean as if that kinda thing could be measured). But I digress.

After seeing the show, it was the first time in a long time that I felt proud of my Korean heritage. THIS is what Korean culture and tradition is all about. It was pure and unadulterated and, most of all, it was Korean with no regard for anyone else's opinions. It was like an unspoken message: "This is us. Take it or leave it." Good stuff and I was filled with pride and smiling all day and the next.

For a really great show, you should check out the 국립국악원. 김덕수 rocks it out.

Rough Waters

Wow. Lots of stuff going on. Let's see.....I came within about an inch of quitting my job. It was a salary dispute where the amount that was promised was not the same amount that was deposited. Something I definitely wasn't going to let slide since I transferred to HK for them. Anyways, I don't think anyone was out to shaft me, but I do think it was a matter of somebody not paying attention and not paying attention is just bad business. For some reason, after I brought this to everyone's attention, the general consensus was that I would just accept their refusal since I wouldn't dare risk my job. I think I surprised some people when I gave the ultimatum to keep their word or I would walk. I really enjoy the work I'm doing and I think the mission of the company is great, but there is no reason to stay with a company that doesn't keep its word, regardless of whether or not it was intentional. Anyways, no one wanted to take responsibility for this and kept pushing me to someone else until I was talking to the President. Honestly speaking, it should never have gotten that far. This was a simple issue that could have been handled by one of the mid-level managers. Unfortunately, I think one of the biggest problems with the company is everyone is afraid of taking responsibility and won't do anything unless someone higher up tells them to. Costly in a business where timing is everything. Anyways, I made a proposal with some conditions that I thought would work out for both me and the company. The president was cool with it and things are back to normal. Very quick, very simple. But again, this should have been taken care of at a lower level, but no one made any proposal or even an attempt to compromise. What was funny was that the initial negotiations regarding compensation before my transfer to HK were handled in English, but after I started making noise about the salary discrepancies, suddenly, it seemed that everyone forgot English. Funny since I do that all the time. Anyways, moral of the story is always get it in writing.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Remembering the Kanji: Vol. 1 + Reviewing the Kanji (Review)

I started this book in Oct of last year and finally got through it. But it was worth every second. The system introduced is a bit unorthodox in that it introduces a method that will allow you to write and know the meaning of 2042 Chinese characters ( Specifically, the Japanese government's list of regular use kanji and some change), but not the pronounciations. The nickel tour of the method is to introduce common elements found throughout the wide world of Kanji, assign some meaning, and use your imagination to create stories using those elements to get to the meaning. For example, the meaning of 器 is utensil. When you break it down, you see four 口's (element meaning mouth) and one 大 (element given the meaning of st. bernard). Put it all together and the story you might come up with is a st. bernard tied down to a dinner table with four hungry mouths at each corner holding their UTENSILs and getting ready to eat the poor st. bernard. Ridiculous story, isn't it? But that is exactly why you will remember it. The book will give you the stories in the beginning, but eventually, they will only give the elements and the stories will be up to you. It sure beats writing characters over and over and over again until you think you have it mastered. This really does cut down the time it takes to learn the characters.

The book has its critics, mostly for not teaching in the same order as regular Japanese students need to learn and also for not teaching the pronounciation. According to the author, as adult non-Japanese learners, it would be a mistake to learn as Japanese children when it would be far more effective to learn in the order that best accommodates us. As far as the pronounciation, there is a second volume that attacks the Kanji with a whole other sequence. The author basically stipulates that breaking everything down and tackling it one at a time is far more effective than trying to learn everything about one character at the same time. While it is frustrating to know a character but not know how to write it, in the grand scheme of things, I'm thinking the author is correct.

Reviewing the Kanji is a website designed to help students using this book. It is a Godsend. It really burns the Kanji in the mind by using timed intervals that best help with memory retention. Just input the characters you have studied and you will be quizzed by having the meaning of the word up for you to write the corresponding Kanji. If you get it right, it goes to the next column for which you will be quizzed at a later date. If you get it wrong, you start from the beginning. The more you get it right, the less you are quizzed, etc. And the site is always updating its features. You can input and share your stories, there is a very friendly forum for help and support, you can track your progress, etc. All in all, good stuff. The book claims that a hardcore learner who spends the majority of the day studying and using its method can learn all 2042 kanji in a month. With this site, I believe it. So buy the book and check out the website here.

The Mathematics of Language

This was inspired by Tower of Confusion's article on Pi. In school, I was always very good at math and language classes; the only bad grades I got in these subjects was probably due to me not doing my homework. But while I was good at both, I hated math and enjoyed whatever language class I was taking. What I found interesting about this is that I think my skills in math is what allowed me to do so well with language since, for me, language and math follow the same principles. In other words, language is very mathematical. To illustrate, this is what usually goes through my mind: to get x meaning, I need to add y grammar to z word. Doesn't this look like a function or an algebraic formula? After a while, this becomes intuitive, much like the multiplication table in which you just know the right answer without having to give it much thought.

I think I enjoyed language more than mathematics for the simple reason that language just seems more practical and useful. Beyond basic math skills, there just doesn't seem to be a need for higher mathematics in daily life unless you are a rocket scientists. Luckily, or perhaps unluckily, building rockets is not on my list of things to do this week. Even stock traders, finance officers, accountants don't use as many formulas as one would think.

While I doubt the usefulness of higher mathematics in daily life, I firmly believe that math is not only the universal language, but also the framework of any and all languages.

For all of you who speak more than one language, how good is your math?

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Words of Encouragement

If 71 million people can speak Cantonese, it can't be that difficult.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Finding the Rhythm

My biggest hurdle with Korean is finding a speaking rhythm. My voice pitch and speed is just all over the place when speaking Korean. I think it is mostly because I tend to speak fast naturally. Normally, it seems most native speakers keep their voice at a pretty constant level and when I speak, a lot of people find it hard to follow sometimes. So my belated new year resolution will be to calm down, take a breath, and slow down when speaking Korean.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Talk Like You Got a Pair

There is a certain rule in language learning that is forever being ignored by the masses. When you are trying to improve your speaking, focus on the people who are the same sex as you. While I'm sure the degree of relevance will differ according to language, in the case of Korean and Japanese, it is the difference between sounding like a man and sounding like a woman in a man's body. It seriously weirds me out seeing a guy refer to himself as あたし like he and the girls went out trying on dresses and getting their nails done. The problem is most guys find some girl to tag along with and start parroting what she is saying. While I very much enjoy the company of the female persuasion, for the sake of language learning, I make sure I have enough guy friends who I can hang out and drink with. With this exposure, I learn to sound more natural. Not just more natural Japanese/Korean. I mean sounding like a man who speaks Japanese/Korean. Frankly speaking, if you are learning your Japanese/Korean from a woman, it is really easy to see and people will not take you seriously. To better illustrate, is there anyone in the western world not on a diet who takes Richard Simmons seriously? Besides, you'll probably get more play sounding like a man. It could be the difference between a great night and being a really nice friend.

The same thing goes for women. Learn your language from other women. Although, to be honest, there is something inherently cute about a girl who talks tough like a man unless the girl sports a butch haircut, has facial hair, and wears fatigues with army boots, in which case, it is kind of intimidating. No offense to any women out there sporting buth haircuts, has facial hair, and wears fatigues with army boots.

Is it sexist? Maybe. Do I care? Not really. Some languages, by nature, have some degree of segregation according to sex and this difference can't be ignored if you want to get good.

In the case of Cantonese, I'm not sure, but to me, it seems that both males and females equally excel at the art of swearing and can make a sailor blush.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Integrated Korean: Intermediate 2 (Review)

This book seems to change gears significantly from the previous volumes in that there is far less vocabulary, but definitely more reading. In the previous books, new vocab took about maybe six pages. The vocab in this volume takes no more than three. The dialogues are much longer but still short enough so as not to be overwhelming. In addition, at the back of each chapter there is more reading. Definitely a good thing. Overall, I'm liking how this is progressing as it is beginning to ease into longer compositions. The only annoyance for me is the sprinkling of words that haven't been introduced. I'm sure some pedagogists will insist that this will help learners extrapolate meaning through context. While that is true in real life, I'd prefer my textbooks to give it to me straight instead of having to guesstimate.



Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Language Thru Cinema

Movies are a key component in language acquisition as it helps learners progress from textbook dialogues to more real life situations, or as real life as movies can get. For your reference, here is a brief outline of what you can expect from the local cinema.


1. Boy meets Girl. They fall in love. Boy dies.
2. Boy meets Girl. They fall in love. Girl dies.
3. Boy meets Girl. They fall in love. Both die.
4. Boy meets Girl. They fall in love. They find out they are brother and sister. Then one or both die.
5. Bad Japanese horror remakes.


1. Boy/Girl joins group/club/band/sport/activity. They suck and everyone hates them. They practice hard and get to the championships. Everyone loves them and they find their true love.
2. Boy/Girl find haunted phone/dvd/tv/cd/ipod/md player/psp. Ghost with long hair comes of water/sink/well/toilet/puddle. Lots of people die.

Hong Kong/China-

1. Triad movie about honor and duty. Stars Andy Lau.
2. Police movie about honor and duty. Stars Andy Lau.
3. Epic Costume drama. Stars Andy Lau.
4. Bad Wire Fu. Stars Andy Lau.
5. Bad Japanese horror remakes. Stars one of the Twins. No Andy Lau.
6. Cheesy Romance. Stars one of the Twins and probably Andy Lau.


1. Bad remakes from old TV shows.
2. Bad remakes of movies not old enough to be remade.
3. Bad Japanese horror remakes.
4. Boy Meets Girl. Boy and Girl break up. Boy and Girl fall in love again.
5. Big Explosions. Hot Girls. No Story.

Tongue in cheek humor aside, for great cinema, check out these directors:

Bong Joon-Ho, Ryu Seung-Wan, Park Chan-Wook, Kim Ji-Oon, Lee Chang-Dong, Iwai Shunji, Inudo Isshin, Tsutsumi Takahiko, Takahata Isao, Mitani Kouki, Pang Ho-Cheung, Derek Yee, Fruit Chan, Johnnie To, Christopher Nolan, David Fincher, Michael Mann.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Getting Away with Stuff

I am Half-Korean (or sometimes Double as some Halfies like to say), but I realy don't look all that Asian so being able to speak another language while looking completely foreign offers all sorts of conveniences. The most useful? Definitely being able to feign ignorance. I jumped on a bus in Korea and was 500won short. I paid what I had and pretended not to understand the driver telling me I needed to put in more. He took a look at my face, assumed I didn't speak Korean, and gave up. All was good in the world.

Sometimes, in more serious matters like dealing with immigration, telephone services, banks, contracts, etc. I will purposely pretend not to speak the language and bring it all to English. It gives me the edge and the advantage. And if things go wrong, I can blame it on them not being able to clearly communicate with me. And if someone tries to pull something sneaky (it's happened), I can cut them off at the pass since they don't mind saying it right in front of me. It is kinda dirty, but I'm sure everyone who could, would.

It also provides for entertainment. Some friends of mine in Korea asked me to go with them on a group blind date since I was the only one who could speak Korean. I said sure, but the girls were definitely of the blind date variety, as in I would rather stick needles in my eyes than date them. So I did what anyone else would do; pretended not to speak Korean. It was actually pretty funny as they were trying to teach me the word for 'apple' and 'hello' in Korean. I do feel a little bad about it...but not too much.

There you have it, folks. Another benefit of learning a foreign language is being able to pretend you don't speak said language.

I'm Fine, Thank You. And You?

We've all come across them. Those men and women who insist on speaking English to you instead of their native language, the language you are trying to improve in. There are many complaints about someone trying to practice and the person they are speaking to refusing to respond in anything but English. Actually, this doesn't really annoy me. If their English is better than whatever I'm studying, I speak English. If my Korean or Japanese (definitely not Cantonese, yet) is better than their English, the conversation shifts to Korean or Japanese. If we both equally suck, we mix it up. In any case, having the conversation proceed in the language that can be communicated in best is far more important in the long run. The message is more important than the delivery.

Another thing to consider is that knowing a few phrases here and there doesn't warrant the expectation that people NOT speak English to you. To put it bluntly, if you still suck at it, people will speak English to you if they can. Honestly, while I try to be a nice guy and let other people practice English with me no matter how bad it is, it gets annoying quick and I will switch to Korean or Japanese. So in the case of Cantonese, I don't want to torture anyone with my bad Cantonese the way bad English annoys the hell out of me. My ability still has a long way to go before I have the right to expect people to speak Cantonese with me. In my experience, people will speak to you in whatever language you are studying if it is obvious you are good at it or if they have no English ability at all. So if they aren't especially interested in talking to you in anything but English, it might mean you are just not good enough yet.

Once in Korea, I ran into a 7-11 inside a shopping mall to get something to drink. Girl at the counter asked me in English if I wanted a bag. I didn't understand her the first few times until she showed the bag. I said sure. I then asked in English what time the shopping mall closed. She didn't understand so I asked again in Korean. She told me the time and asked me (a little angrily) why I just didn't speak Korean. I reminded her that she spoke English to me first.

Anyways, that is my usual MO. If I speak first, I use Korean/Japanese. If they speak English first, I'll speak English. Eventually, we figure out which is the best to use. In most cases, they are relieved that you speak their language. The only thing that really pisses me off is when my Korean/Japanese is far better than their English and they insist on speaking English because it takes five minutes to say what should only take 5 seconds.

So if we don't practice our language with native speakers (and consequently annoy them if their English is in working order), how can we improve? Besides the obvious of building your vocabulary, studying grammar, and watching tv/movies/etc, a good way to force yourself to improve is to put yourself in an environment where no one speaks English. Kinda difficult in HK, but if you are trying to make people speak to you in Cantonese in Central, you are under some serious misconceptions. Might be easier to move to Sha Tin or Tsuen Wan.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Genki II: An Integrated Course in Elementary Japanese (Review)

I finally finished this book. Actually, I went through it twice. Lots of good stuff in here making it my favorite Japanese text. The way the Kanji is thoroughly integrated into the book exposes the student without overwhelming him. The reading material in the back was also great. Full of kanji and gave you a taste (although admittedly not to complicated) of what it was like to read Japanese. But this text is worth its weight in gold by using the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) method to explain honorifics and humble form, as well as the passives and causitives (話される、話させる、話させられる). Can't recommend this book and this series enough. It is the most thought out and user friendly basic Japanese textbook series I've seen and doesn't shy away from Kanji.

Integrated Korean: Intermediate 1 (Review)

Volume three of the KLEAR series. The dialogues in this book are still focused on practical situations such as buying clothes finding an apartment or what not. These dialogues are longer than the first two volumes and based on spoken Korean. Don't be under the impression that this is enough to actually allow you to go out and do those things, the dialogues are not that long. But at least you will have an idea of what to expect. Anyways, the longer dialogue is simply a way to help the learner get used to reading. I'm sure later volumes will have more complicated readings based on written Korean. I can't quite put my finger on why, but I enjoyed going through this volume. Probably because it started going beyond the 'Hello. I'm fine, thank you. And you?' feeling of the beginning books of the series

Integrated Korean: Beginning 2 (Review)

This is the second volume of the Klear series. This really is a great series despite its flaws. While the problems of the first volume continue into this one, there is one underlying fact: this series expects you to learn Korean. This isn't some learn in 10 minutes type of book or that ridiculous Korean thru English series coming out of Seoul University. This is a Korean book for real learners. Supportive evidence: Each chapter has about 5 pages plus of vocab. Doesn't stick to the 'Gee whiz! Korea is so great.' dialogues found in a lot of other books and offers more focus for more practical situations. Don't get me wrong. There are plenty of cultural items and explanations that are very interesting and gives the reader more of an apprecation of the language and society, but doesn't leave the bad aftertaste of nationlist fervor in your mouth. Anyways, to put it simply, this book is trying to get the learner up to speed real quick and knows there are no shortcuts. Specific to this volume, the reading material is still very easy, but the amount of vocab and grammar makes even this volume probably better than most of the other books out there. Good stuff.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Confidence+Comfort=Better Speaking

I've noticed something these last few days. My Cantonese is FAR from being good, but what little that I know and have tried, no one has said that they couldn't understand me. I've heard so many stories about people struggling with Cantonese pronounciation and many Cantonese speakers not knowing what the gweilo is trying to say. But this hasn't happened to me (yet). I know I don't have great pronounciation. I hardly remember what tone goes with what syllable and I lack the patience to give it much thought when trying to say something.

I think this is the 'talk like you know what you are doing' effect. Basically, if you talk with confidence and comfort and barrel over any minor errors, you appear to be speaking well. To better illustrate, most esl students try to make their English perfect when they speak. Perfect grammar, perfect pronounciation, perfect use of expressions. But in their efforts, any mistakes become more pronounced since they are TRYING SO HARD to be perfect. The result is that the focus of the conversation is less on the message and more on the delivery. I liken this to driving on the freeway. If you try to follow the speed limits (grammar, pronounciation, etc.), your driving (speaking) becomes erratic because you are constantly trying to hit that 55mph mark by gassing and braking. Not smooth at all (I'm assuming you don't have cruise control). In addition, everyone else on the freeway (native speakers) are NOT following the speed limit and are shooting right past you or honking at you to get out of the way.

Anyways, long story short, perfect pronounciation is something we all strive for, but in the meantime, talk like you know how to talk, even if you have to fake it.

Monday, January 29, 2007


In my ongoing search for interesting blogs and resources, I ran into some interesting ones from other Cantonese learners.

I enjoy reading blogs from people who are interested in the same things as me. In this case, learning Cantonese. Please take a look.

Licking Cards

I took a biz trip to Japan last week. I needed to speak with one of the management employees about some schedule or another and stood off to the side while she was finishing up a phone call. While I was waiting, I let my eyes wander around her desk. Next to her computer, a slim book caught my eye. The title was "Name Card Holder". You might be wondering why on earth this would stick out at me. Somewhere in my brain, a switch was not turned to "English". What ended up happening was I was reading "Name" with Japanese pronounciation or "nah meh". なめる(or NAMEru) is the Japanese word for "to lick". So here I was wondering to myself what the hell was a licking card. I thought it could be an industrial sized stamp for large mailing parcels. Anyways, at this time, the girl finished her call and just when I was about to ask her what licking cards were, I luckily realized that it was a simple business card case. Public stupidity avoided.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Cantonese Romanization

I am really having a hard time with Cantonese romanization. Almost every book about Mandarin or Cantonese talk about the difficulty of tones and describe how one syllable can have different meanings depending on the tone used. Add to this the number of homonyms for each syllable for each tone and the number of similar syllables can reach up to the tens and twenties. Seeing it written down in English makes it extremely difficult to pinpoint exactly what the meaning is. That is why one of my criteria for choosing study materials is to make sure that Chinese characters are included to give me some sort of visual recognition to help me correlate meaning, sound, and tone. Without the characters, I can guess the meaning, but it can vary wildly if I don't have the Chinese character to let me know if mh means 'five' or 'not'.


About two weeks ago, I tried out sailing for the first time. It was much more easier than windsurfing and I began to better understand the concept of controlling the wind. Of course that doesn't mean that I didn't capsize more than a few times. I enjoyed this much more than windsurfin since I spent more time on the boat than in the water. It still wasn't easy and I have a lot to learn, but I think I'd like to stick with it. One of the problems I had was reversing the direction of the boat since it includes going directly into the wind or directly away from the wind. In either case, the sail will catch the wind and if you are not careful you can stall or find yourself in the water. When turning the boat downwind to reverse direction, it is especially dangerous since the sail will catch the wind hard and swing very quickly to the otherside. It was more than once that I got conked in the head. I thought I was doing something wrong, but the instructor said it wasn't a big deal. I was just too tall for the boat. This just means that I suck at sailing just a little less than I thought. Definitely want to try it again.


A lot of people don't like kanji or at least find it to be the hardest part of Japanese. I also agree that it is a pain in terms of trying to figure out what pronounciation to use, but when it comes to reading, I need to see the kanji. Since Japanese doesn't use spaces when writing sentences, long strings of hiragana is just frustrating since I'm trying to figure out where one word starts and another begins. A lot of students are put off by the combination of hiragana, katakana, and kanji, but the way I see it, it seems to be a more aesthetic alternative to having spaces in the sentences. In any case, with kanji, it is much more easier to see the elements of a sentence if they are included than if they were replaced by their phonetic equivalent in hiragana. Moral of the lesson? Study kanji.


I lived in a bunch of different countries and each time I try to make an effort to learn the language. It doesn't always work, but at least I try. Anyways, in order to function properly in the least amount of time, it will take a lot more than textbooks. That is why I like to keep a phrasebook around in case I need to go to the post office or order at a restaurant or something. Personally, I like the Lonely Planet phrasebooks. It seems to be the only textbook that goes beyond hotel reservation phrases. They include sections like art or sports or any number of phrases to help anyone who will stay in the area longer than a one week trip. Anyways, I study the texts at home, but take the phrasebook when I go out to make sure I can refer to something quickly in case I get in over my head....which is almost everytime I leave the house in Hong Kong.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007




For Xmas Eve/Xmas, I went to a bar with some friends and learned two things: never drink the day before you go windsurfing and how to do numbers in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is definitely a place where drinking is commonplace and drinking games are the norm. One common game involves a guessing game with dice. This game is so popular that almost every bar or drinking establishment will have a full set of dice and cups for every table. The game is easy to pick up, but I don't think I could describe the rules clearly. Anyways, the short version is that you call out how many of a certain number there are until someone thinks it is impossible. For example, if I call out 14 sixes and someone disagrees, the dice are counted and if the number of dice showing six is less then 14, I take a drink. Anyways, a lot of the times, we use our fingers to count out the numbers. 1 to 5 is the same as the US, but 6 to 10 is a bit different.

six: fist out with thumb and pinky sticking out
seven: make and 'L' with thumb and index finger
eight: thumb, index, and middle finger out
nine: index finger hooked
10: crossing index fingers of both hands

I knew about these numbers awhile back but kept forgetting it, but a couple of rounds with the die really burned it in.


A buddy of mine is a real sports nut and he suggested I learn windsurfing. I took the two day course and it is definitely harder than it looks. Day one was a real pain. I probably spent more time in the water than on the board. I obviously have a balance problem. Day two was much better. Far from good, but leaps and bounds from where I was on day one, which, by the way, I was hungover and exhausted from only three hours of sleep from the Xmas party the night before. The water was also freezing which did provide incentive to try to stay on the board. In the end, I was pretty frustrated, but enjoyed it more and more as I started to figure out how to use the wind and stay afloat. I think I'd like to try it some more when the weather gets warmer. In the meantime, I have a sailing course next week.

No Sweat Cantonese (Review I)

I made it about halfway through this book before I decided to put it aside for awhile. Each chapter was broken down in sections: vocab, conversations, phrases, grammar. This is not so bad. I thought it was a nice layout. The problem is that there were obvious holes in the lesson plans. For example, only the vocab section included characters. Everything else was romanized. Despite my loathing of any book that looks down on its students by only using romanization, this wouldn't have been so bad had there been more explanations about how the elements of the sentences were put together to mean what they mean. Basically, you had a sentence or phrase phonetically written out and its colloquial meaning underneath. There was no way a student could break the sentence apart to see how it worked so that he/she could begin making his/her own sentences. To further complicate matters, almost all chapters used unintroduced grammar and vocab that were not explained until later chapters if at all. There were also plenty of editing errors like multiple tones on one word or typos. The CD also did not always follow the format of the book. The Chinese language font used was also pretty difficult to read; too bulky and unclear.

However, there was some good points. There are little nuggets of value sprinkled here and there such as the high falling tone was not that commonplace or that the 'ng' sound at the beginning of syllables could be dropped completely. Unfortunately, all in all, this is a glorified phrasebook and not a very good one at that. I titled this as Review I because I didn't finish the book. Maybe after I've gained more understanding of Cantonese, I will go back to it to finish it. But for now, it is at the bottom of my list of things to read.

It Gets Easier

A few weeks ago, I wrote about why learning two languages at the same time can cause problems. I thought about it a bit more and in the grand scheme of things, if one wants to be multilingual, it is INEVITABLE that simultaneous language learning will occur because it is a neverending process. Improving and maintaining one's language abilities is a lifetime effort. In other words, if you reach a certain level of language A, you can begin studying language B, but work still needs to be done to maintain language A. And while the problems I mentioned before are sometimes unavoidable, I have to admit there are benefits. For example, with Korean and Japanese, the grammar is so similar that if I am learning a new concept for Japanese, I can usually easily recognize it's Korean counterpart and figure out the function and uses of that particular grammar point. Not to brag, but I believe that my familiarity with Korean is what allowed me to pick up Japanese so quickly. Then there are the Chinese characters, the backbone of Japanese, Korean, and of course, Chinese. While Learning Chinese characters probably takes a good chunk of time, once it is learned, you significantly reduce the time needed to learn any other language which has Chinese roots. It is not always the case, but there are plenty of words that share the same combination of Chinese characters even if they are not always pronounced the same. And if you are not sure what a word is in one language, you can probably easily figure it out by looking at what that word is in other Chinese character based languages. Your odds of being correct will be pretty good.

Another benefit of learning multiple languages is you learn how to learn. While each language has its quirks and difficulties, you learn what works for you in terms of study methods since you learn from your mistakes when learning your new language. Borrowing from the movie, "About a Boy", if learning Korean, Japanese, and Chinese, each take 10 units of time to learn for the first time language learner, then learning them sequentially would mean Korean would be 10 units of time, Japanese would be 6 units, and Chinese would be 4 units. People who study languages consistantly find that it gets easier as we recognize shared concepts, ideal study methods, and similarities like Chinese characters that significantly reduce the confusion and consequently, the time it takes to learn a new language. Just make sure you don't neglect a language after you start learning a new one. Otherwise, all that work will have been for nothing.