Sunday, 24 November 2013

Polyglot swearer (England)

Just heard this a few days ago about an old lady in a home for sufferers of dementia.

This old lady used to be a high-flying interpreter (I think she might’ve worked for the UN).  In her senile dementia state, she got very bad-tempered, and would swear at the workers in the home, each time in a different language.  

The workers took it good-naturedly.  One day, one of them said to her, “Magda, we don’t understand what you’re saying.”

Magda said, “I’ve said f..k off to you in Italian, Spanish, German, French, Hungarian, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Russian...”

(England, 2013)

Friday, 22 November 2013

Alzheimer’s Disease

An old schoolmate sent me another one of these health emails recently, this time on how to avoid Alzheimer’s Disease.  One of the 25-point advice says: 

Know the early signs
Memory problems are not the first clue. You may notice a decline in depth perception, for example you reach to pick up a glass of water and miss it. Or you misjudge the distance in walking across a street.

I have always had problems with judging distances, ever since my early years (as early as age 8?), all the way to today in my sixth decade of life.  As a child and a mature adult, even a middle-aged—and now old-aged—adult, I’d (i) stub my second long toe on the vertical section of steps on my way up; (ii) miss a step on my way down, if I don’t consciously focus on the steps and practically count them mentally with every single step down, ending up stumbling or taking two steps instead of one; (iii) open wall cabinet doors into my own face; (iv) slam one of my shoulders into the door frame as I go through a door way; (v) miss my mouth as I lift a drinking vessel and spill the contents all over my front.

I have often asked, and still ask, myself: “Don’t you even know where your mouth/face is after all these years?  How can you mis-judge the width of the doorway when you’re not that big?”

As a child, I’d have “Clumsy!” levelled at me regularly.  As a grown-up, I’ve had to field expressions of sympathy like “Oh, poor you, what happened?” with embarrassing confessions to having been the perpetrator of my own injuries through such (incomprehensible to most people) clumsiness.

Now I have an explanation for it:  I was born with Alzheimer’s Disease!

Point 9 of the same advice list says:

The ApoE4 gene
One in four of you reading this has a specific genetic time bomb that makes you three to 10 times more susceptible to developing late-onset Alzheimer’s. The gene is called apolipoprotein E4. If you inherit a single variant of ApoE4 from one parent, your Alzheimer’s risk triples. If you inherit a double dose from both parents, your risk rises by 10 times. Ask your doctor about a DNA test to reveal your ApoE4 genotype.

So, perhaps I have ApoE4 gene in my blood.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

How to interpret responses from Chinese officials (Xiamen, China)

In 1996, my brother had suggested we go visit our father’s birthplace in S.E. China, so I threw in Xiamen as a second destination because ten days would be too long for my father’s birthplace alone.  A retired SOAS academic, Russell Jones, had been the inspiration behind this, by saying that if I wanted to see the Singapore of 50 years back, I should go to Xiamen.  We’d been talking about how most of Singapore’s old Chinatown had been torn down in the cause of advancement and development.

One evening, my brother came back from a few beers with a Singaporean friend of his working in Xiamen, with this story from the friend:

If one was applying for a permit to run some kind of business in China (or maybe only in Xiamen?), one would need to listen carefully to the official’s response to interpret what is expected of one in return in order to secure approval of one’s application for the permit.

Response 01:  
If they say:  我们去研究研究 / wǒmen qù yánjiū yánjiū / “we go study study”, it means on the surface, “We’ll go and ponder over it”.  

The subtext is:  they want cigarettes and alcohol (cigarettes = 烟 yān; alcohol = 酒 jiǔ).  

(The tones for “study” are different from those for “cigarettes alcohol” but this is not that important when it comes to punning — an approximation of the sounds will do.)

Response 02:  
If they say:  很有机会 / hěn yǒu jīhuì / “very have opportunity”, it means, “Your chances are good”.  

The subtext is:  they want a TV set — 电视机 / diànshìjī / “electric view machine”.  And presumably a 36” colour one at that too, no less.  

(机 in “opportunity” and “machine”.)

Response 03:  
If they say:  要看看你的表现 / yào kànkàn nǐ de biǎoxiàn / “have-to look look your performance”, it means, “It depends on how well you do”.  

The subtext is:  they want a watch, presumably a Rolex gold one, no less.  

(表 biǎo in “performance” is also “watch”.)

Response 04:  
If they say:  很有前途 / hěn yǒu qiántú / “very-much have front journey”, it means, “There’s a good future ahead [for your application/business]”.  

The subtext is:  they want money, which is infinite.  

(前 qián in 前途 / future sounds exactly like 钱 qián / money.)

(Xiamen, S.E. China, 1996)

The children are always greener on the other side of the fence (Singapore)

There are five children in my family (four girls with a boy in the middle), and six children next door (four girls and two boys), all of practically the same age respectively, except for Boy No.1 next door.  We’d pair up:  the older girls chatting across the fence, the youngest ones playing story-telling.

My siblings and I were a lively bunch.  The girls would go around in shorts, climb trees, sing and whistle.  We’d often invite the six children next door (and their dog) over to ours to play rounders (along with our dog).  The dogs practically always got to the ball first, so we’d end up chasing the dogs around the garden in one boisterous frenzy to retrieve the ball.

I’d play marbles and fly kites with my brother’s friends—none of these girlie activities like playing with dolls for me!  We’d grind up broken glass, dig a hole in the garden, light a fire with twigs and melt cow hide in a discarded tin can, add the ground-up glass to this gooey mixture, and then apply it to the kite string.  The reinforced kite string would cut other people’s kite strings in the sky when our paths crossed, leaving our kite the sole flyer in the air.

The four girls from next door were soft-spoken and ladylike.  They wore skirts / dresses, and were fair-skinned.

My mother was always saying to us girls, “Why can’t you girls be more like the Teo girls next door?  Feminine and quiet.”

One day, the Teo girls said to us, “Our parents are always saying to us, ‘Why can’t you be more like the  girls next door?  They’re so lively!  You lot creep around the house like mice.’”

(Singapore, 1960s)

Monday, 4 November 2013

A bus journey in London

Was on Bus 29 heading for Chinatown to a lunch appointment when, at Camden Town, the bus was held up a while by a middle-aged woman tottering along with a walking stick, getting to the bus after what seemed ages.  The driver had very kindly and patiently waited for her — quite a common occurrence in London.  

The woman got on, and below is the conversation between her and the driver:

W:  Does this bus go to Cantelowes Park? 
D:   No.

Woman paused and looked at the driver for about 10 seconds, as if not quite comprehending.

W:  It doesn’t go to Cantelowes Park?
D:   No.

Another pause as the woman looked at the driver for another 10 seconds, trying to process this information.

W:  Maybe it’s Bus 27 that goes to Cantelowes Park, then.
D:   Maybe.

(I don’t think the driver was being unhelpful here.  London being so big, a lot of people, even bus drivers, don’t know where lots of places are.)

Woman paused for another 10 seconds, wondering what to do.

W:  Shall I get off and wait for Bus 27?

Long pause as she eye-balled the driver, obviously waiting for him to decide.

Versus what?  Staying on Bus 29 to wait for Bus 27 to come??

(London, Oct 2013)