Saturday, 15 April 2017

Oops 2

Metro [newspaper], 130417:

Donald trump said the US bombing of a Syrian airfield began as he and China’s president enjoyed a ‘beautiful chocolate cake’.  
He also branded Syria’s president Bashar Al-Assad an ‘animal’ — despite getting Iraq and Syria mixed up during a TV interview.  
The president told Maria Bartiromo, of Fox Business, that the US military confirmed they had begun the missile attack on the airfield while he was dining with visiting Chinese president Xi Jinping last week at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida.  He said: ‘We were having dessert.  We had the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake you’ve ever seen — President Xi was enjoying it — and I was given the message from the generals.
‘And I said, “Mr President, we’ve just launched 59 missiles heading to Iraq”.’

Oops, bombed the wrong country…

Friday, 14 April 2017


Those who have come into direct contact with the Chinese will have observed that they slurp their soups and drinks (as well as noodles [as do the Japanese]), which is generally considered bad manners — by the non-slurping cultures, anyway.  

I’d always thought that, logically, it was to cool the hot liquid a bit, so that it wouldn’t burn their tongues.  But surely they can blow on it instead, which is what grown-ups do when feeding very young children.  (In the case of noodles, it is more technical: it is not easy to suck up the long strings into the mouth quietly.)

Fifty years later (yes, I’m very slow thinking), it’s dawned on me there might be another reason.  Western wine tasters slurp the liquid, even though it is not hot.  (Tea tasters slurp, too.)  The reason is that this aerates the wine (and tea), which will help release the flavour and aroma.

I think, therefore, that even if the modern Chinese person slurps without consciously thinking of it as a means of improving the taste, it must be there in the culture that’s got built in over the years (thousands, maybe).  So, if I’m right, then once again it seems that the Chinese discovered something more profoundly scientific (than cooling down the liquid) a long, long time ago — an excerpt from my blog on The Chinese heart versus the Chinese brain said:

Another joke I used to apply to my teaching: in Chinese, one says 心里想 (xīn lǐ xiǎng / "heart inside think”)  for thinking something to oneself (“inside the heart”, without saying it aloud).  I'd say to the student, "The Chinese heart does all the emotional and intellectual processes.  The Chinese brain doesn't do any work.”  (I often say outrageous things because it’s more effective as a mnemonic, apart from making them laugh.)  A couple of years ago, I heard a programme on BBC’s Radio 4 saying scientists had discovered the human heart does more than just pumping blood around the body.  So, if it is true that language usage reflects thought/cultural processes, the Chinese must already have known long ago that the heart is in charge of all the intellectual and emotional processes as well.


Friday, 7 April 2017

Marking homework (London)

I had a reputation with my students for having a very active red pen.  

They’d get their homework back, covered in red: some were corrections, some were comments (on why a particular usage/translation was wrong), and some were my offerings of an alternative or a better version.  I often told them, by way of massaging their bruised ego, that if they made no mistakes, they were then in the wrong grade and should be in a higher grade, and that they were therefore not learning anything new.  This practically always worked.

They got so used to these red markings being an indication of how many mistakes they’d made that they’d occasionally cry out in surprise at a smiley face next to a correct or good sentence.

One of the evening students in my early days at the polytechnic, back in the 80s, was a lady in her 60s (70s??) who was very conscientious, handing in homework every week in spite of making loads of mistakes.  (Full marks for effort and attitude — it’s the trying that’s important.)  Every week, she had to leave ten minutes before the end of class to go and catch her train home (somewhere outside London).  She’d hand in her homework en route to the door, and say with a giggle and a shrug of her shoulders, “I’ll buy you a new red pen next week!”  Full marks, indeed, for attitude.

(London, 1986)