Tuesday, 14 September 2010

That direction sign? I could lick it.

We walked to Power Station Beach today. Yes, that's right. On Lamma Island there is a beach located right next to a power station! Called Power Station Beach! We humans are so imaginative!

The direction signs are in Chinese too. And I bet the Chinese call that beach something entirely different. I bet they use a tongue full of syllables so poetic it feels like you are rolling sugar coated pink rose petals on the insides of both your wet cheeks. Because that is how Chinese can be.

It's that symbol script thing they have. In English we just find a set of squiggles, call them the alphabet, and half-heartedly and chaotically hook them all up to some sounds. Let's call it phonics, and if your child failed to learn to read at age two months it is because they did not do the phonics thing properly.

This is entirely compatible with the other thing we do, because we are British, which is to say that only an English native speaker knows the rooles of the proper sounds; the rooles which we made up earlier. Permitting us to divide everyone into different classes, groups, types and johnny foreigners, then judge them conclusively; based on whether they say bath or barth, trouser or triser, pudding or desert.

Anyway, you know the Chinese use these delicate symbols which stand for the object or concept, right? So, as I understand it, a sentence can be composed of a series of separate images. That idea is what I've fallen in love with. I look at these beautiful written shapes and fall in love with them. I haven't a clue what they mean. Probably Public Toilets Out of Order. It doesn't matter. Love is blind. Those symbols are like a string of poetic ideas, pearls on a string, threaded together by context, made lustrous by the reading. Waters flow. Filling balloon. Rounded belly. Bear elsewhere.

So I bet the Chinese do not write this sandy beach in anything to suggest it is inhabited by a coal-firing, gas-turbined, synchronised multi-unit power station, and a three-legged dog called Terry. I bet they call this beach Wave spread. Circle round. Beast power. Earth rise. Mountains guard.

Which is why today we have set ourselves a goal. To read Chinese. OK, maybe just a few shapes. Well worth the effort, if it opens up a vision on a 3,736MW power station that I never had before.

4 comments:

Crystal Jigsaw said...

I think this country can be particularly prejudice as far as classes are concerned and it is often the case the an accent is judged on how well brought up a person is. I'm a northerner through and through yet I've been well brought up. But my northern accent wouldn't fit in too many circles. A shame really; for at the end of the day, we're all the same.

CJ xx

Rachel M. said...

Wow, good luck. The hardest part about Chinese is that it's only 400 symbols (which is only 1/10 the unique syllables in English) but each symbol can have multiple meanings which are pronounced with different tones so to our untrained ear it all sounds the same and with our untrained tongue it's difficult for them to understand us.

I heard a great story of an American who lived in China who learned the language. Her book is called "Dreaming in Chinese" and a summary of her story can be found here:

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=129552512

I think this book would help any English speaker understand the fundamentals of Chinese before learning the actual language.

I work with a girl who's speaks Cantonese fluently, born and raised in Venezuela, moved to Miami at 7 so she also speaks Spanish but she cannot write Cantonese because she was raised in English and Spanish schools. She says the written part is extremely hard to learn because it doesn't visualize the same way our letters and spoken words correspond.

MadameSmokinGun said...

It does sound so beautiful, the idea of poetic images. I had an Australian friend once who said that their naming of places and types of animal is super-basic-obvious ie that's a black snake, that's a brown snake - they'd appreciate Power Station Beach.

On to accents - old jobs:

1) Pub in Dartford - continually having piss extracted due to being 'posh'

2) Shop in Chelsea - regularly in receipt of horrified grimace and brushing away gestures with 'Isn't there anyone ELSE here to whom I may speak?' due to being 'common'


Jolly old England, innit?

sharon said...

Sorry, but I have to point this out - not knowing your dessert from your desert could be classed a complete social disaster. Who needs pretty Chinese characters when we have such a wide variety of spellings for words that sound exactly the same but have totally different meanings!

Glad you are feeling better, and contact with Dig has been resumed ;-)