Other BS

Being in China

After almost 10 years of flowing around the world like a tiny seed of dandelion, I have recently come back to the places where I was born: China.

China, as we all know, is an odd place. It’s a country that could easily polarize the crowd: either you like it or hate it. Talking about modern China of course. The first impression that came into my mind was how the hell a country with such magnitude could transform itself so much in so little time. It is simply insane. The city I am staying now, Changsha, used to have a cozy little population of 1 million people (including all the peasants around the actual city), where you could still find lots of wooden houses connected by the narrow streets of granite, where people would go to work on their bicycles, and the tallest building was the railway station. But now, it is a massive jungle of 6 million souls with big-ass roads radiating into every corner of the city with heavy congestion, and high-rise buildings spawning everywhere. What else but a sheer torrential creation of wealth! Such epic speed would simply make the the German efforts in the 19th century look laughable. Needless to mention the marcoeconomic data, everything emerged out of nothing in just one single generation. I used to sneer at average Chinese’s petty obsession with money, accusing them of short-sighted and impetuous. But now it all makes sense. Situating onto such a flooding tide in an unprecedented velocity and scale, it is too hard not to focus on the money, on the grabbing, on the stuff you could touch right in front of you. That is the zeitgeist of China.

It seems Deng got it alright after all. He well knew that by teasing the basic instinct of mankind with a relatively free market the progress would be must faster than one could imagine. With couple thousand years of agrarian-oriented drilling, few Chinese got what it takes to out-stand the mass for his own comprehension of what’s on earth under the heaven. 99% of the people are bothered by their petty little business of how to get gold and lead the glamorous materialistic life like my neighbor, leaving the rest 1% caring about how to fool the 99% gullible for more gold. In other words, modern Chinese are die-hard collectivists who are credulous and timid yet care a lot about signalling within the crowd. Everybody here would only think of what’s right visible in front of their eyes, while lacking the interest to seek the ideas and concepts behind the pragmatic actions. So once we got a kick-ass leader who happened also to be a not-so-shallow thinker, introducing some heretic idea like communism, capitalism, commercialism, everyone else would just wholeheartedly flock to follow without really understanding what that means and the consequences would be. All they could see is communism suck because we are poor and hungry, free market rocks because I see my neighbor got rich and so can I. Essentially, I have to admit we are a people with very high IQ but sucks at philosophizing and conceptualizing reality. The Confucian drilling must have contributed to this particular ethnic trait of the Chinese. But this is also the biggest advantage we got in keeping everything in one piece still after such drastic societal changes. Sometimes I wonder if Whites could get some sense of pragmatism from the Chinese and the Chinese get some sense of speculative thinking from the White people, things could have been much smoother for both sides. But I am no Romanticist, and I read Brave New World. Shit’s gonna hit the fan anyway.

The good thing about this country is that there is full of opportunity for the gold-rush, provided that you got the guts and the wits. Life could be super sweet like the 19th American west combined with smartphones and automatic-geared automobiles. But it’s never going to be a place for novel epiphany and philosophy. If you don’t have it yet, you are never going to get it in China. And that also means the chances that you would find someone who would not despise you because you do not care about signaling, signaling, and signaling with money and networking are quite hopelessly slim. This reminds me of my jungle days in Laos. Just get the damn data, then I’d tap some sleazy backpacking girls at the Mekong river border. For those who want to make a fortunate, either just for the sake of being rich or other higher objectives, China is your place.

Balkan Trip in June

I will be travelling to Greece, Macedonia, and Bulgaria for the whole June and early July. Though the decision was mainly driven by my genuine admiration of the mellow history that associates with the region, it would definitely be very interesting to observe what is going to happen to the country with the deepest financial trouble in Europe and how the Greek election would turn out in mid-June. Hopefully I will update the blog for some specious stories that occur in the next travelling month.

New year trip

This new year I will be going on a road trip to Serbia. It is my great interest to get to see and experience the livelihood in the former Yugoslavia. I shall come up with some entertaining stories afterwards about this little trip of mine. Serbia has been constantly ravaged by the West, lost both people and territory to other little brothers. Its people are considered the most nationalistic (since the ignition of WWI) and also most orthodox (the attack of gay parade in Belgrade) in Europe. Their way of thinking and living must be quite different from that of the Western Europe, even other Eastern European countries like Czech Republic or Hungary.

Either way, happy holiday everyone and let’s hope the following new year fulfills our hopes.

Only in Chinese: Shī Shì Shí Shī Shǐ

Today something really interesting came out of my random internet browsing. I have found a story written in classic Chinese extremely amusing, not because of its content but the way it was delivered. As we know, the Chinese language is based on written characters. The same character might have different pronunciations in different dialects and likewise different characters with different meanings might sound the same, even with the same tone. This makes it impossible to recognize an isolated Chinese character in a conversation without an actual context to indicate which meaning the speaker refers to. This story consists of characters all in one pronunciation (some tones vary) and makes good sense on the paper but sounds absolutely insane if you try to read it…. Here goes the interesting story:

<施氏食獅史>

“石室詩士施氏,嗜獅,誓食十獅。施氏時時適市視獅。十時,適十獅適市。是時,適施氏適市。氏視是十獅,恃矢勢,使是十獅逝世。氏拾是十獅屍,適石室。石室濕,氏使侍拭石室。石室拭,氏始試食是十獅。食時,始識是十獅,實十石獅屍。試釋是事。”

It’s not that difficult to understand this story, even though it’s written in classic Chinese. The story goes like this:

<The story of Mr.Shi eating lions>

“There was a poet named Mr.Shi who lives in a stone den. He liked to eat lions, and vowed to eat ten lions. Therefore Mr. Shi would usually visit the market to look for lions. At 10 o’clock exactly ten lions just arrived at the market. At that very moment, Mr.Shi shot a few arrows from his bow and killed those ten lions. Mr. Shi then brought the ten dead lions back to his stone den. Because the den might be too wet to store the lions. So he ordered his servant to clean and dry the den. After the den was cleaned, Mr.Shi started to try to eat those ten lions. However, only until he was eating the lions he found out that those ten dead lions were actually ten stone lions. Would you try to explain what was happening?”

The story line might sound a bit absurd but it’s clear and most of all, comprehensible. But if you try to read it out loud in Mandarin, well, I suggest you not to, because it would just sound like a lunatic murmuring nonsense. Here is what it would sound like if you read the story out loud (indicated in Pinyin romanization for reading):

<Shī Shì Shí Shī Shǐ>

“Shí Shì Shī Shì Shī Shì, Shì Shī, Shì Shí Shí Shī.Shì Shí Shí Shì Shì Shì Shī. Shí Shí, Shì Shí Shī Shì Shì. Shì Shí, Shì Shī Shì Shì Shì. Shì Shì Shì Shí Shī, Shì Shǐ Shì, Shǐ Shì Shí Shī Shì Shì. Shì Shí Shì Shí Shī Shī, Shì Shí Shì. Shí Shì Shī, Shì Shǐ Shì Shì Shí Shì. Shí Shì Shì, Shì Shǐ Shì Shí Shì Shí Shī. Shí Shí, Shǐ Shí Shì Shí Shī, Shí Shí Shí Shī Shī. Shì Shì Shì Shì.”

Seriously, this is NOT the story you should read out loud to other people. It’s better to read them on the paper.

This story was written by the Chinese linguist Zhao Yuanren (趙元任) in early 20th century to demonstrate that Chinese characters are especially designated for the Chinese language, whose status is irreplaceable. This was an attempt to rebut the ridiculous call for the romanization of Mandarin Chinese in order to abandon the use of Chinese characters at that time. The story serves the purpose well. If someone is seriously considering about learning the language still (assume you don’t get intimidated by this post), please start with the written Chinese first.