In late summer 2008, I found myself in Mumbai living in a Hindu temple and doing about four and a half hours of yoga every day. It was a very solitary existence in the city balanced between yoga, eating, sleeping, and reading. With no Internet in my room (I had a little USB card but it worked extremely poorly), I was by and large cut off from the rest of the world when not in yoga class. Thus it was all the more strange that one week when I met the Spaniard.
I would typically wake up at 6.40am and rush down the stairs to make the 6.45am class start; living in the same building as the classroom had its advantages. After breakfast I would usually shower and nap for an hour to let the local breakfast restaurants clear out a little bit before I myself would venture out to get something to eat. Afternoons, being unbearably hot and thus best spent inside, would be spent reading books, programming, or otherwise snoozing. Three more hours of yoga in the evening, and then a quick dash to get some late dinner and then off to bed. It was a really pleasant and simple life.
After a couple of weeks of this, though, a new student appeared in some of my classes. A lanky, tall guy with a big bushy beard, with legs that just did not want to bend in the way he wanted them to. He struck me as German, or perhaps American, and I had little interaction with him. He would scoot out of class as soon as we were done, and I wouldn’t see him until the next day. But then one day, we bumped into each other in the elevator and struck up a conversation — we were neighbours. He was not from either of my guessed nations, but was indeed Spanish, from Gránada.
His English was as good as my Spanish; which is to say workable, but not great. We would speak in our respective languages, and have slow, painful conversations about motivations for coming to India, what we did, and what we imagined doing in the future. And then we discovered a remarkable thing:
He had lived in Nanjing studying Asian art history for four years. His Mandarin Chinese was really, really good. Much better than his English. Mine was, similarly, better than my Spanish.
And so it came back to pass that this tall hippie-ish looking Spaniard (full disclosure: I didn’t look much better. I didn’t bring a razor and was too lazy to go buy a new one) and a Canadian guy would hang out in restaurants in Matunga, Mumbai, chattering happily away in Mandarin Chinese. The looks from the locals ranged from “oh, that must be english or something” to “what the hell kind of language is that?”
It’s a long way away from being a lingua franca, but for one week in metropolitan India, Chinese helped bridge a cultural gap that might have otherwise gone unfilled.[Read Rest of Article]
How things have changed in a few short months since I wrote an article commenting on my lack of understanding of the Twitter phenomenon. I now use it daily, and even much more so than Adium or Skype for much of my chattering with Beijing locals (you should absolutely be following me, @marcwan). In some ways, writing little 140 character messages in twitter space is like farting in the wind – who knows who’s going to notice. But there is one surprising side-effect of these short messages that I’ve decided I really enjoy: It encourages better writing.
Of course, many people will smply strt wrtng lke ths 2 get thngs 2 fit, but for those people who use Twitter for more professional goals, and attempt to maintain a (reasonably) polished appearance there, the 140 character limit forces you to really think about what you’re going to say and how you want to say it.
As somebody who all too often uses words like actually, really, absolutely, reasonably, and softens many sentences to make them avoid seeming too concrete or prescriptive, Twitter has really forced me to cut these out and start writing more succinctly. This is a good thing™.
(Interesting side note: you can type a lot more Chinese in 140 characters you can Western languages. Those characters pack a lot of meaning, and you can basicaly write a paragraph or two per Tweet. Contrast that with the struggle to fit a single sentence in the same space).
So, here’s to hoping my blog posts become increasingly less long-winded. All thanks to Twitter. Who’da thunk it?[Read Rest of Article]
On Friday night I was at Nánlúogǔxiàng (南锣鼓巷), when the following conversation took place -
The scene: Me, standing around idly playing a game on my iPhone waiting for some friends to finish browsing in the jewelry store, watching the people strolling past.
Chinese guy (very drunk): Ha-looooooooo! Me (looking up): ? Chinese guy (getting closer): Ha-loooooooooo! Me: Ha-looo? Chinese guy (still drunk): Do... you ... uh ... speak ... Chi-neese? Me: Yes. Chinese guy (pointing): 啊太好啦！麻烦你告诉我那边是南边还是北边？ Me: 南边。那边是北边。 Chinese guy: 哈哈哈！我知道了，必须告诉我的女朋友！ Me (smiling) Chinese guy: Thaaaaannnnk .... you! (runs off)
Never a dull moment in this city.[Read Rest of Article]