From Adorable Alphabets to Poorly Considered Karaoke Fantasies
As I am working towards my goals of reading a French and a Chinese book this year, I read a few articles on how to
study languages. (I hoped some reader would share their study tips in my last post but I guess this blog has so few readers no one answered. So I had to look for study ideas elsewhere.)
One article pointed out the difference between having a vague idea of studying some language and having more measurable goals as to what one wants to do with that language. I gave this a lot of thought.
Turns out I have definite ideas of what I want to do with the languages I am studying or want to study. Maybe I did need to write them out. Thus, for my future reference, here are the reasons for learning my target languages:
Romanian: to read one Romanian book every year, for ease in travelling and for less laborious reading. Basically, Romanian is a jokey and warm language that boosts my self-esteem; I just want to have more of it in my life.
Chinese: to read at least one Chinese book every year, for ease when travelling in Taiwan. I also want to read more comic books from Taiwan and Hong Kong. As well, I want to write more beautifully in Chinese, maybe hiring a tutor to help me with Chinese calligraphy. I want to write a lot of letters in Chinese to my friends in Taiwan.
Japanese: to read the occasional Japanese book or article on cultural topics that interest me (mostly onsens, food, games, arts, crafts and literature). To be able to understand my favourite Japanese tv shows and movies without subtitles. To be able to research new onsens for subsequent trips.
French: to read one French book every year and to read a few nineteenth and twentieth century novels or other books in the original. I also found French very useful when travelling in Tunisia, so I want to be able to use it in other Francophone African countries like Senegal and Rwanda. I want to read more French and Belgian comics. Of course there’s also the extensive travelling in France I want to do and possibly living there.
Spanish: so much great Spanish literature to read in the world! Plus, Spanish is just a fun language to speak. One of my goals is to spend the Mexican Days of the Dead in Oaxaca with a family there. Then there is a personal research project I want to do in South America.
Italian: for reading more Italian comic books, some literature and mostly for ease of travelling and of travel research. I also want to rent apartments there for month-long trips. It would be nice to have long conversations about Italy with my future neighbours.
German: because I want to live and work in Austria. I also want to read some German literature in the original language and I want to play boardgames in the original languages.
Russian: for speaking and some reading. I suspect there’s a whole world of cool, wacky children’s literature I need to read in Russian. I want to watch Cheburashka without making up my own dialogue (my Cheburashka DVD set only has Japanese subtitles).
Swedish: I want to read all of Tove Jansson’s books in the original language, as well as any biographies. Also, I want to travel to Sweden. Hopefully I’ll find more reasons to study Swedish once I start learning about the culture.
Inuktitut: mostly I want to learn to write in their cool alphabet. I don’t know any Inuit people, but it would be cool to try some out when I visit Iqaluit. Plus, I believe that one should speak the language of the country one is in. Canada has a lot of aboriginal languages yet all the annoying white people here snarl “Speak English!” to poor immigrants trying their best to speak English, when really English is not the original local language. Ideally, Halq’eméylem would be better for my needs but I like the Inuktitut alphabet so much.
Taiwanese: for speaking when I visit Taiwan. I also want to learn at least one Chinese dialect to see if it’s really a dialect or if it is a separate language. Plus, Taiwanese sounds so bad-ass.
Cantonese: to order dim sum in Richmond for starters. Also, to watch Hong Kong movies in the original, to chat more when I visit Hong Kong or when I meet grandmothers at friends’ houses here in Vancouver. Chinese grandparent types have lived through an amazing and dramatic century – they must have incredible stories.
Hungarian: like with Swedish, I hope that I’ll find more reasons to study when I start studying Hungarian. Mostly, I want to be able to have conversations when I travel to Romania and Hungary (Hungarians are such nice people), and especially to be able to do research on Romanian history.
Kinyarwanda: for travel when I go to Rwanda. I want to ask questions and be a good enough listener so I can understand the stories about life in Rwanda and the genocide. I bet too that there are some great etiquette lessons the Rwandans have, which, once I learn what they are, I’ll write about.
Amharic: also for travel. Plus, I want to learn the Ge’ez alphabet. Again, I want to be able to listen better to conversations and to meet the people who don’t just speak English. We’re also lucky in this part of Canada because we have a lot of Ethiopians. It would be nice to understand Ethiopian songs too. I can’t sing but I have a secret fantasy of going into an Ethiopian karaoke bar and wowing everyone. If there are karaoke bars for Ethiopians.
Arabic: mostly I want to conduct some history research in Syria. Maybe once I know a little Arabic, I would find some good literature to read in the original language.
Finnish: for ease of travelling and it is the language of the country where Tove Jansson was born and where she lived. Now that I have started studying it, it turns out Finnish is incredibly beautiful and melodic. No wonder they and their Baltic neighbours are such good singers. I want to trill like those Finns. There are also more and more Finnish comic books I am discovering that I want to read. Another reason I want to study it is because, like Hungarian and Estonian, it is not in the Indo-European language group.
Norwegian: I want to travel there. I also had a Norwegian penpal who sent me a book on his country and in the book it said that by law every library in the country must own a copy of every Norwegian book. With a government that supportive of Norwegian writers, they must have a few good ones. I want to read these authors in the original.
Dutch: I love travelling to the Netherlands and I loved Flanders. I want to chitchat more in Dutch/Flemish with the people there. I also want to research a WWI topic.
Estonian: because it’s another beautiful, trilling language. Mostly my goal is to learn from cover to cover the one Estonian textbook I started. I have no hope of speaking Estonian when I am not travelling there. But I can read and master this one book.
La Petite Venise
Remember my post about the other Venices? No? The one where I counted 58 places (besides Venice) that are called the Venice of something-or-other?
Turns out, there is a 60th Venice, Colmar, the Little Venice in Alsatian France.
Colmar is pretty cool. It’s where you can see the Isenheim Altarpiece (I blogged about it a long time ago but WordPress hates accent marks or foreign words so I don’t dare mangle the poor artist’s name again).
Colmar is also where you can see a replica of the Statue of Liberty. Unlike other cheesefests that sport their own copycat Liberty Enlightening the World, this one is more or less authentic, as Colmar is where Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi (don’t mangle his accents, WordPress) was born.
There’s more cool stuff about Colmar: the architecture in the very pretty animated version of Howl’s Moving Castle was based on Colmar’s and Colmar is the source of a mysterious treasure hidden by Jews during the Black Death pogroms.
That does it. Colmar goes onto the to-travel-to list.
How Many Venices Are There?
Has anyone else noticed the proliferation of Venices?
The Venice of the north could be Amsterdam, Saint Petersburg, Bruges or, as I just found out, Haapsalu in Estonia. There’s even a Wikipedia page on all the Venices of the North. I have been to three out of these seventeen Venices:
- Borås in Sweden
- Bornholm in Denmark
- Bourton-on-the-Water (also known as the Venice of the Cotswolds)
- Giethoorn (also known as the Venice of the Netherlands)
- Maryhill in Scotland
- Saint Petersburg
- Wroclaw (note to self: visit this place when you finally get to Poland)
Another page that inventoried the Venices adds Bydgoszcz from Poland to the list. Bydgoszcz’s Wikipedia page certainly has plenty of landscape photos with water to possibly merit its Venetian nickname. Dresden, the Florence of the Elbe, was also the Venice of the Elbe.
However, there are many other Venices around the world. In Africa, for example, there is Ganvie in Benin, called either the Venice of Africa or the Venice of West Africa. When I looked up Ganvie, I found references to other Venices of Africa: Zanzibar and, formerly, Cape Town. There’s also Mopti, the Venice of Mali, which has cleaned up some of its plastic bag choked waters with a recycling plant.
The Venices of the East also merit a Wikipedia page, with another seventeen contenders (so far I have been to Suzhou, Bangkok and Osaka). They are:
- Alapuzzha in Kerala
- Barisal City in Bangladesh (also called the Venice of Bengal)
- Basra (possibly the location of the Garden of Eden and sister cities with Venice)
- The Kampong Ayer neighbourhood of Brunei’s capital Bandar Seri Begawan, called the Venice of the East by a sixteenth century Venetian, Antonio Pigafetta
- Lijiang City in China
- Malacca in Malaysia
- Nan Madol
- Osaka (is sister cities with Hamburg and Saint Petersburg, two other Venices)
- Palembang in Indonesia (appropriately enough, Palembang’s sister cities are Den Haag and Venice – does Venice only ever sister city other Venices?)
- Srinagar in Kashmir (not sure if there are any sources that call it the Udaipur of Kashmir)
- Tongli in China
- Udaipur (also known as the City of the Lakes and the Kashmir of Rajasthan, among other films Octopussy and Darjeeling Limited were filmed here)
- Wuzhen (near Suzhou)
- Zhouzhang (also near Suzhou)
Missing from the Wikipedia list is the Venice of Hong Kong, Tai O, or Da’ao in pinyin, on Lantau Island. Lantau is one of the really calm, pretty areas of Hong Kong as these photos attest.
Also missing from the list are other Japanese Venices. Nicknaming places seems like such a Japanese thing, I couldn’t imagine why there would only be Osaka. A quick search revealed the other Japanese Venices:
Kagoshima,or the Naples of the Eastern World, is in fact sister cities with Naples
- Kurashiki in Okayama is not only gorgeous (check out its tourist site), it has its own specialty paper, peaches, a cotton industry, its local version of the pancake and now muscat wines!
- Matsue in Shimane Prefecture has a medieval castle (other castles like Gyoda Castle, Osaka Castle and Shuri Castle in Naha were rebuilt after their destruction in WWII)
- Otaru (Japan’s Venice of the North or the Wall Street of Hokkaido gets extra points for not just recreating a Venetian canal but also for being really into Venetian glass)
- Sakai, which also has kofun burial mounds and was famous for its samurai swords, competes with Osaka for the title
- Yanagawa down in Fukuoka has a walking tour map (PDF) for nitwits like me who didn’t learn Japanese, which includes the monument at a hand washing area (?), and a 1980s Studio Ghibli documentary, The Story of Yanagawa’s Canals, that has English subtitles.
In addition to these places, there’s another Venice of the East or South, depending on where your point of reference is: Tawi-Tawi in the Philippines (which also has a seaweed festival, more info on this area just off Malaysia’s coast here).
There are not many other Venices of the South. Zakynthos in Greece used to be one. Sete in France is also the Venice of Languedoc.
One of the so-called Venices of the South is Tarpon Springs on the west coast of Florida. Built around a Greek immigrant sponge industry, I am not really clear if this is merely a coastal town and not a city with canals and bridges like the original Venice. However, there is at least one photo of accurate gondolas in Tarpon Springs dated to 1927. Even cooler is that this photo comes from a gondola blogger called Greg Mohr who lives in California. The internet is awesome for that. I love living in a world where some dude thousands of miles from Italy can be an expert on gondolas and is making an online archival resource for the rest of us researching niche topics.
A better contender for the Venice of the South would be Nan Madol, which is on the list as a Venice of the East (and is also sometimes called the Venice of the Pacific). Nan Madol was a city of islands in Micronesia; the kingdom collapsed about 500 years ago leaving some photogenic ruins. Locals are wary of the place and superstition has it that you will die if you try to spend the night there.
On its own is Recife, the Venice of Brazil (sister cities with another two Venices, Amsterdam and Nantes – see below).
When it comes to the Venice of the West, there is Galway (blame Yeats for this), Nantes and San Antonio (also the Venice of America, the Venice of the Plains, the Venice of the Texas Plains, the Venice of the Southwest, and the Venice of the Drylands). Interestingly, it could be that San Antonio pushed for the Venice of Texas nickname when Waco threatened to take it in the 1890s. Speaking of the Venice of America, Fort Lauderdale and Venice, California also market themselves as the US Venice.
The Venice which became part of Los Angeles in 1925 was founded in 1905 and modelled on the original Venice, with even its own lagoon. Unfortunately Los Angeles paved most of the canals in 1929. The Venice Historical Society’s website sells postcards with what looks like the Doge’s Palace and plenty of gondolas.
So how many Venices are there? I counted 58. Are there any other Venices that need to go on the list?
Update: Oops. I forgot the real Venice. Make that 59.
Shirley Eleanor Nash
Monday April 05th 2010, 10:47 am
Filed under: Lists
Someone posted Shirley Eleanor Nash’s obituary on Facebook. Born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada in 1916, she died on Thursday, March 11, 2010 at 93. I don’t want to forget who she is nor how well she lived her life, so here’s the link to this great lady. Just in case, too, I am adding her photo here:
(Besides, they had more style back then. The hippies probably ruined North Americans’ fashion sense for ever.)
In case they ever remove the obituary, I made a bulleted list of her life’s highlights to refer to when I need a little push towards the life I want to live:
- In 1940, yearning to see the world, she quit school, sold her car and bought a steamship ticket to China. As the only American, her fellow passengers were Japanese diplomats being ordered home and German army officers recalled to Berlin. Shirley told how the atmosphere was very tense with the two groups barely polite to one another. Arriving in Shanghai, she worked as a daily newspaper reporter in the city guarded by Japanese tanks and barbed wire barricades. In November 1941, she boarded the last ship out of China before the war. A sister ship, with all her belongings, was blown up in the Philippines.
- In the 1950s, Shirley attended Whittier College on the GI Bill received a Bachelors and Masters with highest honors and worked as a college professor at Chaffey College for 25 years where she founded and headed the Interior Design department and taught architectural history.
- Shirley was the first white woman to explore Dutch Guiana’s Suriname River, and she did it in a dugout canoe just 5 years after locals stopped practicing cannibalism. She taught school in St. Thomas and St. Croix during the 1960s and tromped through mosquito-infested jungles to photograph ruins in Uxmal, Chichen Itza, Merida and Palenque decades before they became popular tourist destinations.
- Shirley became a scholar specializing in California’s estancia and adobe architectural history of the 18th and 19th centuries. She was part of a team of historians that catalogued many of the 19th century homes in southern California. Noted as feisty and finding ways to get things done, she once applied to Hearst Castle for permission to do on-site research of its architecture and interiors, but was declined. She then applied for a job as a guide and was hired, which allowed her to do her research and get paid too.
- An art lover, Shirley was an award-winning photographer, a skilled carver, weaver, mosaic artist and a basket maker using traditional Native American materials.
For wel he wiste a womman hath no berd.
Friday February 01st 2008, 11:20 pm
Filed under: Lists
Google “100 things to do before you die” and the first page that comes up is this one. That’s where someone sent me a few days ago. I’m into crossing things off my 100 things list, so I started greedily checking off my achievements. I was pretty proud of myself, until I got to number 19: Grow a beard and leave it for at least a month.
In my case – as well as 52% of the population – number 19 isn’t a viable option! Well, not without ample steroids. But I ain’t going to burgle Stallone’s mansion anytime soon.
It all comes down to this: whoever penned that list isn’t female. He forgot women can’t just magically decide to be all Jesus-like on a whim. This list is sexist!
Top Ten Food-Related Celebrity Vaginal Descriptions
Tuesday January 02nd 2007, 9:37 pm
Filed under: Food
With all the recent flap about the combined crotches of Britney Spears, Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan, I am reminded of the words of Sheik Taj Aldin al-Hilali:
If you take uncovered meat and put it on the street, on the pavement, in a garden, in a park or in the backyard, without a cover and the cats eat it, is it the fault of the cat or the uncovered meat? The uncovered meat is the problem.
If the meat was covered, the cats wouldn’t roam around it. If the meat is inside the fridge, they won’t get it.
If the meat was in the fridge and it [the cat] smelled it, it can bang its head as much as it wants, but it’s no use.
As if proving the truth of the Australian cleric’s words, pervy types roam around seeking out celebrity upskirt photos.* They also tend to use similarly colourful and oddly hunger-inducing descriptions to explain the pink taco.
The Top Ten Food-Related Celebrity Vaginal Descriptions
- Weathered pastrami flaps
- Beef curtains
- Pork chops
- Vagigantic mufflepie
- Taffy crotch
- Saggy bat wings (possibly a food source in some cultures)
- Bacon lips
- Ham wallet
- Oyster ditch
- My neighbour’s mastiff (also a food source if your city is under siege)
Who knew a bunch of white middle-class kids with an internet connection have so much in common with an old Egyptian imam? Hurrah for globalization!
Collected from comments here, here, here, here and here.
Tuesday July 02nd 2002, 1:34 am
Filed under: Lists
Thoroughly enjoying Angela’s Ashes.
Meanwhile, here are my favourite proverbs:
All sunshine makes a desert. (Arab)
The ruins of a nation begins in the homes of its people. (Ashanti)
Grumbling & carping are the muscles of the weak. (Afghan)
Copying everyone else all the time, the monkey one day cut his throat. (African)
When the bee comes to your house, let her have beer; you may want to visit the bee’s house someday. (African)
If your mouth turns into a knife, it will cut off your lips. (African)
Better a handful of dry dates & be content therewith than to own the Gate of Peacocks and be kicked in the eye by a broody camel. (Arab)
The earth does not shake when the flea coughs. (Austrian)
After 3 days without reading, talk becomes flavourless. (Chinese)
A fire can’t be wrapped with paper. (Chinese)
If you don’t drive in sleet in the woods singing, you have to drive crying. (Czech)
He who is afraid of asking is ashamed of learning. (Danish)
It’s easier to cover our feet with sandals than to cover the earth with carpets. (India)
Only one who does nothing makes a mistake. (French)
When an elephant is in trouble even a frog will kick him. (Hindu)
Everyone is wise until he speaks. (Irish)
To a quick question, give a slow answer. (Italian)
A knife doesn’t recognize its owner. (Mongo)
Be diligent when there’s time. (Burmese)
Talk to your children while they’re eating; what you say will stay even after you are gone. (Nez Perce)
Children & fools tell the truth. (Romania)
The wolf will hire himself out very cheaply as a shepherd. (Russian)
Wisdom can be found travelling. (Sri Lanka)
Go often to the house of a friend; for weeds soon choke up the unused path. (Swedish)
Authority is in generosity. (Tumbuka)
A man should live if only to satisfy his curiosity. (Yiddish)
If you can’t bite, don’t show your teeth. (Yiddish)
Don’t be too sweet lest you be eaten up; don’t be too bitter lest you be spewed out. (Yiddish)
He who puts up with insult invites injury. (Yiddish)
If I keep a green bough in my heart, then the singing bird will come. (Chinese)
To be praised is to be lost. (Kikuyu, Kenya)
When an elephant combats, it is the grass that suffers. (Kikuyu)
It is better that) trials come to you in the beginning (and you find peace afterwards) than that they come to you at the end.(Luganda, Uganda)
A generous man must eat if he wants to continue being one. (Nilotic)