It’s been awhile since I last complained about the Chinese language, and I’ve got a wonderful illustration of its craziness too. Here goes.
I just had a Chinese lesson today. While there, my teacher informed me that she was planning on getting me a nice gift for my birthday. It was to be a small piece of wood on which she would write some Chinese calligraphy. She asked me what I wanted written. Cogitation commenced.
Time for a tangent that I swear is totally connected to the story. For thousands of years, Chinese men (and even some women) have adopted what we call in English a “courtesy name.” When a man turned 20, he was either given or chose a new name. This would be the name by which he would be known to most people. Only very close friends and family members would call him by his given name. This practice has mostly died out in China, but was common into the 20th century. Anyway, the night before I had been reading about courtesy names. According to Wikipedia, the Chinese term for a courtesy name is 表字, or biǎo zì.
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There has recently been a bit of a brouhaha over the so-called “rare earth metals,” China’s control of them, and fears that they may restrict supplies to the rest of the world. Before I get to what I really want to talk about, I want to say that the name “rare earth metal” is a terrible one. These minerals are only rare in comparison to other minerals, like iron and the like. There are actually quite a large amount of them lying around. The real trouble with them is that they are somewhat more difficult to mine and refine than other minerals, requiring a large amount of technical know-how and specialized equipment. Currently China leads the world in this know-how and equipment, which is why they produce over 90% of the world’s supply. They certainly don’t have 90% of the world’s reserves, so panic over their current dominance of the market is unnecessary.
But this is not my main point. This mini-crisis has given me an excellent chance to show you guys what real propaganda looks like. This is an editorial from the China Daily, the major English-language newspaper here, and a notorious shill for the government. I want to guys to remember this when you are next thinking about complaining about bias/propaganda/encroaching fascism in America.
Today I had some time to kill after my Chinese class. I didn’t have to be at school to work for another hour and a half, so I went for a walk. Today was one of those perfect autumn days. Shockingly for Beijing, the sky was pure blue. The temperature was around 55 degrees. There was no wind. With my hoodie on I was as comfortable as I’ve ever been. Eventually I found a quiet little corner of the city and sat down on the concrete base of an informational placard. I took out my book* and started to read.
*The Road by Cormac McCarthy.
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I’m curious what any of you who cared enough to anticipate this entry thought the interlude would be. Anyway, I hope ya’ll will agree that Hook is an appropriate choice to follow up my Peter Pan write-up.
I remember seeing this movie in theaters when it first came out, and hating it. The reasons are lost to the mists of time now, but for years when the subject of the film came up*, I would always say something to the effect of: “Hook sucked ass!” Conversely, as the testimonials of Young Simon** attest, I loved Peter Pan. I bring this up because, damn if my positions haven’t flipped. I was underwhelmed by Pan, but I absolutely loved Hook.
*I run in weird circles, the kind of circles where opinions of Hook are a valid topic
**Link. Yes, I’m linking you to my own blog. Deal with it.
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Today I came across an article in Popular Mechanics*. The gist of the article is that we should switch from using uranium to power our current nuclear reactors to using thorium. Thorium is several times more common than uranium (and thus cheaper to mine for), produces 200 times as much energy, yields waste products that can be fed back into the reactor to produce even more power (and significantly reduce the eventual radioactivity and danger of the nuclear waste) and creates no plutonium as a waste product. This removes a key safety concern with current reactors, as there is always a risk that the high-grade plutonium waste can be stolen and then used to build a nuclear bomb**. Basically, if we switch to using thorium instead of uranium, nuclear power will become even cheaper, cleaner, and safer than ever before. The switch to thorium won’t even cost anything, as we can just stick the stuff into our current plants and flick the ON switch.
**In fact, this is the very reason we use uranium and not thorium currently. During the Cold War there was a high demand for plutonium due to the US’s insane desire to build thousands upon thousands of bombs. Thus nuclear reactors that produced plutonium as a byproduct were heavily favored
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Last Friday I assigned my kids a simple task: write a story with at least two characters and at least three plot points. Predictably only about half of my kids did it*, and most of them wrote the bare minimum. That’s fine, writing English sentences of any length is challenging for them, so even the bare minimum was an impressive feat. However there was one student who went eight levels beyond the call of duty. His (English) name is Jack, and Zeus bless him he wrote an incredibly awesome story. So without futher ado, I present to you his story, warts, misspellings, and malapropisms included. Enjoy!
*I have no authority over their grades! I can’t put the fear of F’s into them to make them do my homework.
I had plans for today. There were all sorts of things I was going to accomplish. I was going to run some errands. I was going to do some shopping. I was going to visit friends. I was going to sightsee. I was going to go jogging. I was going to conduct an impromptu jugband jamboree in the park. I was going to shoot a man in Reno, just to watch him die. But then I woke up this morning.
To say today was a shitty day is to do a disservice to it. It was overcast, like the sky during a hurricane. It was dark…at 10 A.M. And the light! Oh god, the light. The world out my window was full of this horrifying burnt yellow color. It made me sick just looking at it. Here, I took a picture of it:
Jokes aside, the world really looked like Mordor. The above picture is not as far off as you think. I’ve never seen a shittier-looking day. Oh wait, yes I have. A few months ago in Beijing the weather was just as shitty. The sky was just as yellow. Thanks, China! No one does hellish nightmare dreamscapes quite like you!
P.S. I want to say this again, because I fear the message got lost amid all the ranting: Ben and Sam, my Moon landing doubters from the other day, are my friends. They are good people, who, with a few gigantic exceptions, are quite intelligent. I call them friends. I don't want this fact to go overlooked.
I had one of those moments that make teaching worthwhile yesterday. I was teaching the kids in my best class some words pertaining to stories, specifically “character,” “setting, “and “plot.” To practice I went around the room a few times and had each student add a few sentences to a collective class story*. For homework I told the kids to write their own very short story. These only needed to have two characters, one setting, and three plot points. In my mind this was not a lot, but in every one of my other classes this week there was universal cries of “teacher, nooooo!” when I assigned it.
*Most of these stories ended up having me as a character, ended up taking place somewhere in outer space, and ended with my untimely death.
Thus, I was anticipating a lot of moaning and groaning when I wrote the assignment on the board. Instead, one kid named Sunny asked: “can we write more?” Yes Sunny, yes you can. Then another kid, David by name, said: “teacher, can I make mine a flash movie?” Yes David, oh God yes.
Usually the kids only grudgingly tolerate English class. But sometimes…ah, sometimes they get on board. Sometimes they forget themselves and have fun. Sometimes they are right there with you, riding the same wavelength, perfectly in phase. These moments are rare, but they make all the difference.