Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Punishing errant husbands (China / Hong Kong)

Came across a joke in a mainland Chinese magazine about a wife punishing a husband by making him kneel on the TV remote control.  Every time the channel changes, he gets whacked.

This reminds me of a Hong Kong Cantonese movie I saw in the ‘60s.

The first time the husband came home late at night from a drinking session with his mates, he found the lights blazing and his wife waiting on the sofa.  He got a telling-off.

The second time he came back late, the wife was sitting up in bed, feather duster in hand, thwacking it on the blanket as she ticked him off.

The third time, the wife had drawn a chalk circle on the floor, and he was made to kneel within the circle, while she slept on.  If she woke up in the middle of the night and found he’d dozed off in the circle, she’d thwack the feather duster and order him to get back to the kneeling position.

The fourth time, he had to kneel on an abacus within the circle.  This made it difficult for him to nod off.

The last time, he had to kneel on the abacus within the circle, and hold a full chamber pot on his head.

(China / Hong Kong)

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Machine translation: 01 (London)

A Slovakian ex-student’s mother had come to London to visit him for a week.  He had a full-time job, so I offered to spend time with her.  She teaches cooking back home in Slovakia, so I thought I could cook her some simple stir-fried dishes to demonstrate how simple and versatile stir-frying is, as practically any permutation is possible.  

In addition to the practical demonstration, I thought I’d also tell her about some basic principles: the different ways of cutting up the ingredients (e.g., cutting across the grain, apart from the obvious slicing, dicing, etc.), when to add which ingredients to the wok (e.g., crunchy bits first to cook longer, leafy bits at the end for a short blast), the food therapy properties of the ingredients (e.g., wood ear for cholesterol).

Since I only know three words of Slovak (“hello”, “yes”, and “thank you”) and Emilia’s English is lower beginner level, communication was not easy.  It then struck me that I could use my laptop and call up googletranslate in two windows: one for English to Slovak, and one for Slovak to English.  It’s not ideal, but would get a lot more across.

As Central Europeans are known for their foraging, I thought I’d teach her some dishes involving dried mushrooms and dried wood ear*, which are two common ingredients in Chinese cooking.  Surprisingly, she’d never heard of wood ear (which is a tree fungus), and did not recognise it when I showed her some.  So, I thought I’d start by telling her what it’s called: 木耳 mù’ěr (“wood ear”) in Chinese, Jew’s ear** in English.

The googletranslate conversation continued with Emilia asking questions: how long to soak the dried Jew’s ear for, how to cook it, what other ingredients to use with it, etc..  At one point, googletranslate showed up “dried synagogue” in English!

*木耳 mù’ěr, Auricularia auricula, family Auriculariaceae
**[from my Apple Mac built-in dictionary] Auricularia auricula-judae, family Auriculariaceae, class Hymenomycetes.  ORIGIN: mid 16th cent.: a mistranslation of medieval Latin auricula Judae ‘Judas's ear’, from its shape, and because it grows on the elder, which was said to be the tree from which Judas Iscariot hanged himself.

(London 2012)

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Problematic surname (London)

A new student turned up one day to join the evening classes.  As he was not a beginner, I had to assess him so that he could be placed in the appropriate grade, so I went through the usual list of questions, starting with personal information.

I asked him:  nǐ xìng shénme / “you surnamed what” / What is your surname?
(“shénme" is often pronounced “shěme” as a shortcut.)

I heard him say: wǒ xìng shěme / “I surnamed what” / What is my surname?

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of his answer: was he trying to check that he’d heard me correctly?  There was no other explanation for his reply.  

So, I decided to confirm my question: nǐ xìng shénme.

Back came the same answer from him.

This went on for a few more times, and I was starting to think he’d gone mad, not knowing his own surname.

It then emerged that his surname was Shama’a.

 (London 1990s)