New Old Things

I’m just doing an article for the sake of doing an article. It’s already been 10 days since my last entry. This paragraph’s from, and it’s about the Great Wall. (It’s not the entire article.)


Over 100 Kilometers of New Great Wall Discoveries
The survey of the Beijing section is half-finished.

Yesterday the fourth stage of the on-site inspection of the Beijing section of the Great Wall began in Matiwan village of the Yongning township in Yanqing County. Before this, the survey work on the Beijing section was already half completed, and during the first period the surveyors and city specialists in cultural relics discovered much new information about the Great Wall. For instance, the actual measurement of existent wall is greater than previous estimates, different structures of the Great Wall from different dynasties and multiple kiln sites were also discovered. None of the above are mentioned in documents and records about the Great Wall. This phase plans to complete on-site surveys of the Huairou, Pinggu, and Mentou Gully areas; the entire survey is estimated to conclude next year. At that time specific and accurate data about the Great Wall will be made clear for the first time.


It’s funny to think that, walking around China you will sometimes see a slew of workers doing something that would normally be done in a more mechanized way in the States. Like an army of gardeners weeding a park lawn by hand, or a team using a donkey-powered drill to bore into the ground. You don’t see that so much back home.

See, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a new article about how China has for the first time been able to put advanced survey satellites to use in gathering data about the Great Wall or some such. But an on-site survey that will make clear information available about the Great Wall is just going to be completed in 2008? To be fair, it probably requires specialists, rather than sheer manpower, but still, for some reason I feel like China would have done this way sooner.

Maybe China’s bigger than I think, and the Great Wall’s greater than it seems.

Read More

Don't Worry, It's Completely Normal

In an article from about the official use of the term “soft power” during the Congressional meeting and reports (soft power as in cultural influence, versus hard military/economic/technological power), there was this little blurb about media openness in the PRC. It’s good for a few chuckles.
<blockquote>In the news and media world, China has shown positive changes in its degree of openness and transparency, and has received the approval of international public opinion. During the 17th National Congress, there were foreign journalists who expressed to China News Agency reporters that they hoped China would be able to maintain this positive trend. They also believed that China did not need to be excessively sensitive to criticism in overseas news reports because this is completely normal for every rising superpower.</blockquote>
I feel like some of the stuff I read here would make for good fiction. Like a report I read in a recent Chinese edition of Popular Science about “creating a green Beijing” for the Olympics. From the data in the article it would seem that I’ve apparently been walking around the Garden of Eden and I didn’t even realize it.

Probably because the Great Firewall has blocked the ISP for the Tree of Knowledge.


And from the same site here’s a picture of Tian’anmen Square all dressed up for the occasion.

Banner Left says, “Congratulations to the Chinese Communist Party for Convening the 17th National Representative Congress”. My translation is a little Hallmark-y, I admit. Perhaps there’s a more formal way it’s normally translated, but hey, that’s what it says literally. They’re congratulating themselves for holding Congress, can’t argue with that.

Banner Right says, “Unswervingly Walk the Great Path of Socialism With Chinese Characteristics”.

I’m sorry, but I think that gigantic political slogan banners creep me out more than aliens used to. They’re so kitschy they make me feel slimy. On the other hand, I’ve been slowly turning my viewpoint around about China’s political development. I mean, the banner doesn’t say “Resolutely Walk the Great Path of Marxism-Leninism” as it might have decades ago. Or even “Steadfastly Walk the Great Path of Mao Thought”. I think of it this way, they’re now not trying to change their system to fit a rigid political philosophy, rather they’re slowly (damn slowly) redefining their political philosophy to fit the realities of their system as it interacts with the rest of the world.

I still wish they’d get rid of all the canned statements though, it just smacks of 1984 to me.

Read More

Never Send a Human to Do a Machine's Job.

I used the Google translator function for kicks yesterday, this is the little link that Google puts next to search results that aren’t English language websites, which automatically translates the page for you using whatever machine translation algorithm Google uses.

So yesterday there was a hit that had an excerpt from a novel, the first paragraph of which I translate as such:
It’s said that Lu Bu went from being a hired hand to being the boss, quickly recovering the status of his past. But not two days after these good times came about, Lu Bu felt an inexplicable agitation arise. Even though he was already in complete control of the Xuzhou company, he always felt as if there was something amiss. His mind inwardly strange, he said to Diao Chan, “How can a business and its owner not have the same affection as that between a man and his first wife?”

Also of note, Lu Bu and Diao Chan are, respectively, the names of a general and his wife from the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, one of the most famous novels in China. I think this story might have been placing the characters in a modern setting, I didn’t read any of it aside from what I’ve translated.

That being said, here’s the Google translation:
Wage earners from the house saying to the boss, quickly restored the scenery of the past. But no two days days, the house was a baffling irritable up. Although he has full control of the company in Xuzhou, but always feel that what wrong. His heart secretly strange, Chan said: “Is this the boss and between enterprises, but also pay attention to the former black fragmentation?”

I love reading this stuff. I bet you if someone would just bother to look they’d find a goldmine of little Shakespearean gems justs sitting there ready for use. “It was a baffling irritable up.” That’s my favorite line from that one.

An interesting feature of Google’s system is that when you mouse-over a sentence, a bubble pops up showing the text in the original translation, and you can offer a better translation. I think Google might be working with a statistical method of translation here. The last time I studied abroad in China I met a postgraduate from Harvard (or MIT? I can’t remember) who’s specialty was linguistics and machine translation. He was American, and was just in town for a conference being held at Beijing University. But he was telling me about an MT project he was working on, and the philosophy behind it.

You can think of language as having a set of rules, a syntax, that a speaker must conform to in order to make sense. The syntax itself is meaning neutral, it’s just the grammar rules, word classes, the relation between them, etc. The words, largely, carry the meaning. So there’s the idea that one can take an English sentence, tag all the parts of the sentence with their proper grammatical function and meaning, then strip the English pronunciations off, rearrange what remains into the appropriate syntax of say, Chinese, and then slap the Chinese pronunciations onto the corresponding semantic tags. And you’ve got a Chinese sentence!

In reality, there are a lot of fundamental problems with this method, and so people who work on machine translation have been developing other translation systems. What the postgrad told me was that he was working on a statistical translation model, which largely relies on a huge database of English-Chinese equivalent sentences/phrases. The input sentence is entered, and the database is searched for the corresponding data; if it doesn’t find an exact match it makes a guess about how the sentence should come out based on statistical similarities. So it wouldn’t be as streamlined as the aforementioned system, which would just need the syntax and a dictionary, but it would arguably be more accurate. Or maybe have a greater probability of being accurate.

I don’t know how far this method has been developed since then. It’s been 2 years, and a lot can happen in that short a time, especially in the world of computing. But perhaps Google is now using user input to help build up its own language database. And seeing how poor the above translation was, I wonder if there aren’t roving bands of ‘translators-by-day, linguistic-e-saboteurs-by night’! I was tempted, but then I just let it be. What a folly honor is!

So it’s still Man-1:Machine-0. For now…

Read More


This is coming slightly late, but here’s an excerpt from a news article about September 11th. The article was from CCTV’s website (China Central Television, the national television broadcaster, technically an organ of the central government and Party), and was entitled the “Western Countries Have a New ‘Year’s End’”. It was about how America, Britain, and recently Germany, where a terrorist plot was foiled last week, step up their domestic anti-terror efforts when 9/11 rolls around. (Translator’s note: I don’t really understand the use of Year’s End here, it might be something colloquial I’m not getting.)


Every September 11, the United States maintains a high degree of wariness towards any sort of suspicious behavior, and now this type of “year’s end” pressure has already reached other western countries like England and Germany.

“9/11” has come again, and the Western nation’s anti-terrorist nerves have really begun to tense. One can say without any exaggeration, that in regard to these few countries, this arrival of this day brings the same suffering that a comes with passing a “year’s end”. On September 8, Al-Qaeda founder Osama Bin Laden made an appearance in a recording, giving a thicker flavor to the “year’s end”. On the same day, U.S. President Bush was present at the APEC meeting in Sydney, and upon hearing of this news, immediately reminded everyone at the meeting that “we live in a dangerous world.”
<p>America: The Grieving Mentality of Year’s End
</p><p>Every year for the past six years Americans have commemorated “9/11”. This year, even though many Americans express the wish to “remember by forgetting”, the harder they try to let it fade from memory, the more painful it becomes to recollect. Because for Americans, six years ago the terror and grief of that great catastrophe was etched into their bones and seared into their minds. And every day it is commemorated is a “psychological year’s end” that is difficult to move past.</p><p>In the past few days, Washington D.C. police have clearly increased their precautions, and more police cars can be seen on streets along Congress and other government buildings, as well as at every major intersection. The airports are even more strictly carrying out safety inspections, every person has to remove their shoes and is subjected to a body search. On the 6th, America’s Department of Homeland Security head also reminded the people that terrorist organizations “have note given up their desire to subjugate us”, and asked that everyone be on guard.
</p> <p>According to the government, nearly every disaster comes from “9/11”. If there hadn’t been a “9/11”, then there wouldn’t have been a Guantanamo, there wouldn’t be any CIA “black-sites”, and there wouldn’t have been the loud uproar over wiretapping policies. If there hadn’t been a “9/11” tragedy, then there probably would be no Iraq war, no war in Afghanistan. The government has done all of this in the name of preventing another reenactment of “9/11” (Translator: I feel like the poetic flavor of the last two sentences is more evident in Chinese, because the word for tragedy,悲剧,actually has the character for “play” in it. But that might just be me.)
</p> <p>The U.S. Government has used all its power to fight anti-terrorism, and especially since “9/11” its stare has been focused dead on in the direction of Al-Quaeda. This includes the plot in Germany from the 4th, which was discovered with America’s help. But after six years, 80% of Americans still believe that within the next decade, another terrorist attack on the scale of “9/11” may occur.</p>=-=-=-=-=-=

Now, I don't think my present feelings about 9/11 accurately reflect this article's description of every American's present day state of mind. Honestly I hadn't thought of 9/11 in the past couple weeks, and I woke up yesterday morning thinking "oh, it's Wednesday" and didn't even link the date to 2001 until I read this article that evening. Of course I find it terribly sad, thinking about what happened six years ago. I am sometimes surprised at how swiftly the recollection of it still brings tears to my eyes, this long afterwards. I imagine it might strum that same sad chord in me for the rest of my life. But it's just a particularly powerful memory and sorrow, that's all it is. It doesn't tear at me and I don't live in fright, and I can say that I largely have forgotten it, in the positive sense. I can't speak for everybody, but most of the Americans I know go about their regular lives without 9/11 registering the tiniest of blips on their radar. It really seems like we have moved past it, because that's how the majority of people react to traumatic events--there's suffering, and then eventually they get over it. And that "eventually" hardly ever lasts for years and years, especially when the tragedy doesn't affect a person directly.

But the emotional remnants left over can be powerful if they're evoked and developed. And that's what the government does when it wants people to react to them making policy, it reminds them about 9/11 and lets our personal feelings work on their behalf. This isn't always a bad thing. People forget fast, and that can be a problem when you're working on timescales longer than what's going on this weekend. As is the case with everything though, it sometimes is a bad thing, and it becomes nothing more than illicit manipulation. The best part is that you don't know when it's bad and when it isn't.

Nobody knows what's going on in the Middle East, in the sense of knowing the resources and plans of all the 10,000 different parties involved. People know even less than

Sorry, I don’t know at which point I lost track of my point and started the rant. It’s developed much farther in my head but I’ll spare my readers, because it’s nothing nobody hasn’t heard before (triple negative!).

I wanted to say just this:
- 9/11 sucked hard.
- We’re pretty much over it.
- American government: compel us with results, not emotional propaganda from the past.
- Chinese government: I understand your distaste for our Iraq war, but I am glad that you support our anti-terror efforts and I hope that everything goes well with your own Uighur separatists evil terrorists out west.

Sorry, I momentarily forgot about the Chinese Ministry of Propaganda’s post-9/11 naming conventions. I mean, I ungoodwise thinked that crimethink. I wonder if George Orwell would find it funny that 新华 (xin1hua2), which among other things refers to the national press agency in China, which reports directly to the the Public Information Department of the Communist Party, could be punned with 新话 (xin1hua4), literally “new speak”! Haha, who cares if he would, I think it’s funny!

Random note:
I’m going to start using member as a verb. It’s what you do when you make a memory that you can later remember. So if you’re paying attention to something you’re membering it. Member also means to put something together, as opposed to dismembering something. You could say things like “Give me a second, I want to member how to member this puzzle.”

Read More

The Input Method From Hell

Otherwise known as 五笔字型输入法 (wu3bi2zi4xing2shu1ru4fa2), which can be translated as “five stroke character model input method”. Most people call it 五笔.

Now, if you are in any way familiar with the Chinese language, and have used a computer to type characters, then you’ve probably met the pinyin input system. Type in the pinyin of the syllable/word/phrase you’re looking for, pick it out from a list of possibilities that pops up, and like magic it’s there on your computer.

In short, inputting characters in 五笔 is based on the structural components of characters (roots, they’re called), rather than the sound. There are several advantages to this, listed here and elsewhere, all of which I think far outweigh the following disadvantage.

Instead of getting to close my eyes and imagine this:

I must close my eyes and imagine this:

It’s slow going.

Now it’s actually a very rational, if at times quirky system, and it’s just a matter of repetition and gradually memorizing what goes where. There are some typing programs out which help you do this, but I don’t feel like spending any money or downloading any malware. I’m also lazy. So I am learning it with the basics from this website (very helpful) and from inputting every single Chinese character I must using this method.

At first this was extremely frustrating, but once the locations of the roots settle in your head it gets easier. The challenging part isn’t even that, it’s figuring out exactly how a character is pieced together. Sometimes it’s like beating your head against a wall trying to do a problem set, followed by the euphoric rush that comes after you figure it all out. I’m not using an unnecessary chain metaphor here, I really used to beat my head against the wall doing problem sets.

So my typing speed is at least 1 character per minute now. When I’m on fire.

Read More

Wii Ming

So I’ve moved on from buying my daily 10-cent newspaper, which I can never even put a dent in anyway, and I’ve gone and joined everyone else in the 21st century! I now make great use of Google Desktop’s newsreader, which provides me with all the random news I need. I get everything from picture series of bikini contests down in Hainan to chengyu-laden articles on obscure historical happenings.

So yesterday I saw this picture (I know my last blog had that bit about needing authors’ permissions, but I didn’t say I was going to stop doing it, I’m just not going to do it as much. Huge difference!) on Xinhua’s site. It’s Yao Ming in Taiwan, volunteering to help these children out with their PR work:

Best part was the caption:


September 8, Yao Ming (left) and a local elementary school student play computer games together. (Xinhua Press/Fa Xin)

Just in case you weren’t sure who was who!

On a more personal note, it bothers me that they captioned this as a “computer game” rather than a “video game”, and didn’t even bother to mention that it was a Wii! It’s probably because China didn’t want to draw notice to the embarrassing fact that Taiwan has one and the mainland still doesn’t.

Read More