Weekend Adventures 5

July 31, 2009

One of the many interesting bits about a train journey is trying to guess what brand of Mineral Water you’re going to served this time. These seem to change almost weekly, even inspite of the Railways’ efforts to standardize ‘Rail Neer.’ I supposed that there were only so many synonyms of ‘pure’ and ‘fresh’ that you could use in combination, but these dubious water companies continue to surprise me. This is what I got this time:

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Also, now that I’m back in Delhi, and back at work, I can continue to chuckle politely at these lovely daily sights:

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and, my favourite:

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Still Alive

July 28, 2009

So, I’m back in Delhi.

It’s a long, only moderately funny story. Still not sure if I want to subject you lot to it here…maybe I’ll draw a comic or two.

After my brief hiatus in Chennai, which was mostly like this:

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I’m back with a sort-of job, a new apartment (close to the railway station!) and great pictures that I can’t get out of my phone because I’ve lost the data cable somewhere.

Soon. Promise.

Learning Mandarin

July 8, 2009

For reasons best unexplained, I’ve started learning Mandarin.

So far its been a steady progress towards sounding as ridiculous as possible, twisting my tongue around the difficult pronunciation, and thanks to the shadowy influence of western imperialism on the content of audio lessons, having to learn phrases like ‘I’m an American.’

I’m really enjoying it otherwise, but the difficult part is attempting to construct sentences while thinking in English. A basic conversational sentence like ‘where would you like to eat?’ is simple enough, but having to make the grammatical and cognitive leap to say that in Mandarin, literally  ‘You would like to go to where place to eat?’ is proving a bit challenging. On the other hand, the mysteries of Chinese-English subtitles are finally beginning to make sense.

The other major challenge with Mandarin is that initially,  the language revolves not so much around phonetics, but tones. More than half the words I’ve learnt are subtle variations of the ‘shuh’ sound in Hindi, but they vary distinctly in the tone used to deliver them. A short, curt ‘shuh‘ with a falling tone is ‘Yes‘ (in certain contexts) while a longer, stretched out ‘shuh‘ in an even tone is ‘To Eat‘. Getting the two mixed up, while hilarious, may lead to avoidable complications.

To help me out, I’ve devised a system of notes to remember pronunciation. I’ve not gotten started on the script, which I presume is discerning with these differences, so I’m writing them down phonetically (with a liberal mix of Tamil, Hindi and English) in a three tier system stolen from those old ‘three-line’ English notebooks they thrust down our throats for handwriting practice.

The problem with that, of course, is that it looks like mathematical formulae.

This is literally '...eat a little' or ...eat some'. This is never used in isolation, of course.

This is literally '...eat a little' or ...eat some'. This is never used in isolation, of course.

That’s a rising tone on the second word ending with a half-tone of  a rolling ‘r’ that leads into the next word.

mandarin3The ‘rry’ sound is unique to Mandarin, and takes a bit of practice to get properly. The first word is written almost like a superscript, and is delivered in a consistent high tone, like hitting a harmonic note on a guitar.

mandarin2This is the Mandarin word for Mandarin, or literally: ‘the common language.’ The H in the middle section is half swallowed, hence its in a lower tone.

Conversational Mandarin, in flow, sounds incredible: its very musical, and with the tones taking precedent over phonetics, the way words are accented and emphasized work differently.

I’m only a couple of lessons in at this point: havent even got started on conjugations or advanced sentence construction yet. I can, however, claim to be American and ask if anyone wants to eat anything. It’s a very Eddie Izzard start to multi-lingualism, yes, but a start nonetheless.

Departures

July 2, 2009

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Best movie I’ve seen all year. I’m not normally a fan of heavy-handed saccharine sentimentality, or the use of dramatic cello music to drive emotional points, but this movie got to me.

It has this…well, quiet dignity about it that I loved. It’s strange to say that a movie is ‘respectful’, but no other adjective fits, really. It’s almost obsessive in its carefulness: treads very lightly over its subject matter, and makes nothing more than gentle suggestions as to its intent. It just watches quietly  from a corner, bowing its head politely if you catch its eye.

Except for the dramatic cello bits, of course. Those were a tad unnecessary.

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Daigo explains the concept of 'stone-writing'. I hate to be pedantic, but the subtitles obviously got this part wrong, because it involves neither stones nor writing.

On a related note, this is probably the first live-action Japanese film I’ve seen since the Akira Kurosawas way back in college. (which bought back hilarious memories of Toshiro Mifune, and his uncanny ability to make even normal dialogue sound like a declaration of war)

While I’ve watched a steady number of Korean and Chinese films (and an unhealthy amount of Miyazaki and Japanese animation), contemporary Japanese films, I realize, I’ve hardly seen any.

Recommendations, anyone?