Saturday, 26 September 2015

Es chino básico

First published 1 September 2015 @ sólo algunas palabras

When we hear or read something incomprehensible, we say “it’s all Greek to me”. Naturally, Greeks would use different expression. In Greek, German, Dutch, French, Portuguese and many other European languages, they say “it’s all Chinese to me”. Spanish go one step further: Es chino básico, “it’s basic Chinese” (implying that you probably should forget about mastering intermediate-level Chinese). But you know what? We all know a bit of Chinese. Here are ten or twelve Chinese words that you should be familiar already, even if you didn’t realise that until now.

  1. chá: tea. Turkish çay and Russian чай are the variation on this theme. In Min Nan, the same word is pronounced as ; thanks to the Dutch East India Company, this plant and drink is known in Europe as tea. 烏龍茶 / 乌龙茶, wūlóng chá, literally “black dragon tea”, is oolong tea.
  2. dào: a word of many meanings, among them “word”, “method”, “road”, “way”. Tao (or Dao), “The Way”, is a central concept of Taoism.
    The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.
    The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
    The nameless is the beginning of heaven and Earth.
    The named is the mother of the ten thousand things.
    Lao Tsu, Tao Te Ching, Chapter 1 (translated by Gia-fu Feng and Jane English)
  3. 點心

  4. 點心 / 点心 diǎnxīn (“to refresh one’s heart”, from / 点 “to light, to kindle” and “heart”): snack, light refreshment, better known in its Cantonese pronunciation, dim sum. It is customary to serve it with 茶.
  5. 風水

  6. 風水 / 风水 fēngshuǐ (from fēng “wind” and shuǐ “water”): feng shui, the art and philosophical system of harmonising everyone with the surrounding environment.
  7. 功夫

  8. 功夫 gōngfu: another word with a variety of meanings, such as “time”, “effort”, “achievement”, “art”, “skill”. In the West, kung fu is mainly used to refer to Chinese martial arts, also called 武術 / 武术 wǔshù.
  9. 荔枝

  10. 荔枝 lìzhī: lychee, Litchi chinensis. Once the delicacy at the Chinese Imperial Court, nowadays it is available in supermarkets all over the world.
  11. 麻將

  12. 麻將 / 麻将 májiàng (from 麻雀 máquè, “sparrow”): the game of mahjong, believed to be developed by nobody else but that bird lover, Confucius.
  13. 人參

  14. 人參 / 人参 rénshēn (from “man” and / 参 “root”): ginseng, so called thanks to the human-like shape of its root.
  15. 颱風

  16. 颱風 / 台风 táifēng (“big wind”): typhoon.
  17. 太極拳

  18. 太極拳 / 太极拳 tàijíquán (from 太極 / 太极 “Great Ultimate” and “fist”): the martial art and exercise system t’ai chi ch’uan. The symbol for 太極 / 太极 tàijí, , is called 太極圖 / 太极图 tàijítú.
  19. 陰陽

  20. 陰陽 / 阴阳 (from / 阴, yīn “dark” and / 阳, yáng “light”): yin and yang.
    The Tao begot one.
    One begot two.
    Two begot three.
    And three begot the ten thousand things.
    The ten thousand things carry yin and embrace yang.
    They achieve harmony by combining these forces.

More photos by Tamara @ Shutterstock.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Norwegian Wood

by Haruki Murakami, translated by Jay Rubin

Haruki Murakami might have denied that Norwegian Wood is an autobiographical novel, but I am pretty sure that it is exactly that. Toru Watanabe, aka “I”, is the same age as Murakami, studies drama (Euripides and stuff) at a private University in Shinjuku, and even works part-time in the record shop. What more evidence do you need?

How unhurried was life back then. Toru lives in a dormitory and doesn’t have a phone. His favourite communication mode is letter-writing. Now try that in Japan, or elsewhere.

If there is a moral to the story, it is that you shall not kill yourself grieving for a loved one. The two most tender and uplifting moments of the novel are a kind of memorial service for Midori’s father (after which Midori falls asleep in Toru’s arms) and an alternative “funeral” for Naoko organised by Reiko (followed by Reiko and Toru’s full night of proper sex). And the dialogues between Toru and Midori are simply great.

“Know what I did the other day?” Midori asked. “I got all naked in front of my father’s picture. Took off every stitch of clothing and let him have a good, long look. Kind of in a yoga position. Like, ‘Here, Daddy, these are my tits, and this is my cunt’.”
“Why in the hell would you do something like that?” I asked.
“I don’t know, I just wanted to show him. I mean, half of me comes from his sperm, right? Why shouldn’t I show him? ‘Here’s the daughter you made.’ I was a little drunk at the time. I suppose that had something to do with it.”
“I suppose.”
“My sister walked in and almost fell over. There I was in front of my father’s memorial portrait all naked with my legs spread. I guess you would be kind of surprised.”
“I s’pose so.”
“I explained why I was doing it and said, ‘So take off your clothes too Momo (her name’s Momo), and sit down next to me and show him,’ but she wouldn’t do it. She went away shocked. She has this really conservative streak.”

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Chinese ceremonies for beginners

First published 15 August 2015 @ sólo algunas palabras

The Russian expression без китайских церемоний (literally, without Chinese ceremonies) can be translated as “without formalities”, “simply”, “casually”, or even “bluntly”. Chinese ceremonies in question can be expanded as “tedious and unnecessary conventions; excessive display of politeness; meaningless etiquette”. In his short story Китайская церемония (1924), Mikhail Zoshchenko humorously refers to the habit of shaking hands as a Chinese ceremony, even though Chinese have nothing to do with it.

Chinese, however, see nothing wrong in being excessively polite. The more excuse mes, can I asks and pleases, the better. Instead of rather blunt 你好吗 “How are you?” (literally “You good?”), you are more likely to hear 你吃饭了没, “Have you eaten rice yet?” — because if you did, things cannot be too bad. Interestingly, the polite response to 谢谢 🔊 “thank you” is 不客气 , literally “don’t be polite”. If you are at all interested in learning Chinese, you could do worse than start with a few polite expressions.

Han charactersPinyinMeaningEtymology
trad.請問qǐngwènExcuse me請 “please” + 問 “ask”
trad.抱歉bàoqiàn(I’m) sorry抱 “to carry” + 歉 “apology”
trad.謝謝xièxieThank you; thanks
trad.不客氣bù kèqiYou’re welcome不 “not” + 客氣 “polite”; literally “don’t be (so) polite”
trad.您好nín hǎoHello (formal, said to a single person)您 “you” (formal) + 好 “good”
trad.你好nǐ hǎoHello (informal, said to a single person)你 “you” (informal) + 好 “good”
trad.你們好nǐmen hǎoHello (said to a group of people)你們 / 你们 “you” (plural) + 好 “good”
trad.你好嗎?nǐ hǎo ma?How are you?你 “you” (informal) + 好 “good” + 嗎 / 吗 (question tag); literally “you good?”
trad.你吃飯了沒?nǐ chīfàn le méi?How are you?你 “you” (informal) + 吃 “to eat” + 飯 / 饭 “cooked rice” + 了 (perfective aspect tag) + 沒 / 沒 “have not”; literally “have you eaten cooked rice?”
trad.早安zǎo ānGood morning早 “early” + 安 “peace”
trad.晚安wǎn ānGood evening; good night晚 “late” + 安 “peace”
trad.再見zàijiànGoodbye; see you later再 “again” + 見 / 见 “to see / to meet”

Friday, 4 September 2015

El azul es un color cálido

by Julie Maroh

Until recent I didn’t know and didn’t care much about graphic novels, comics and suchlike. I remember all too well my own righteous indignation at the sight of young adults reading nothing but comics. What about real reading? For the record: that was in 1994, in Italy. Nowadays, I just marvel at teenagers who actually read paper books instead of staring at their mobile devices. (Now that sounds like a line from a 1960s sci-fi book.) The thing is, in my tender years I simply was not exposed to comics. So, not just cultural references, but an entire genre passed me by. Never mind that. It’s never late to start, well, anything, why not reading comics then. Ah, to be a teen again!

You may know by now that my “method” of choosing the reading material is to grab something from a stand of new books in the library. And there it was, a Spanish-language version of Le bleu est une couleur chaude.

From the start you know it’s gonna end bad. Mainly because the story starts in the end, when Emma learns about the death of Clémentine. (Yes, the death of the protagonist: the fundamental difference between the book and Palme d’Or-winning film adaptation.) But knowing its happy-end-less made me to appreciate more the happy moments in the lives of two lovers.

El amor no puede ser eterno, pero nos hace eternos