Across Continents

Ken's Blog


April 10th, 2011

"Had I seen many Asians in Sydney?" he enquired. No, not really, I’d replied. Cautiously. Explained it’d been just a brief stopover before flying north to Cairns. He thought Brisbane, Queensland’s Capital, to be full of err shall we say pretty despicable types. The sort you’d definitely want to keep away from your children.

I’d been warned by the van park manager that my fellow camper was a little strange. She was being polite. Downright weird. His tight shorts a lifestyle choice. Made me nervous. Wondered if he suspected. A firm believer in extra-sensory perception – ESP. With an encyclopedic knowledge of Australia’s wild camping rules and regulations.



Journalistic desires

March 9th, 2011

My recent piece – "Someone’s daughter" – about a woman I’d joined for a sociable coffee – has provoked some interesting responses. Intriguing stuff. Curious about why we’d met. What happened next. Presumption that the person I’d described was offering services of an adult nature.

Truth is I can’t say for sure what services she actually offers. The advertisement in the local paper implies those of a sexual nature. And its placement in the Adult Services section strengthens this inference. All perfect legal. Perhaps all she provides is a listening ear. Or a shoulder to cry on. Couldn’t say. Didn’t ask.

Actually, I don’t want to know. Never did. Not being prudish. Or moralistic. Instead, only ever interested in meeting the real person – someone’s daughter – rather than an object of carnal desire. Learning more about who she really was. I’d suggested a coffee for this reason alone. Careful not to cloud the issue by letting slip I’d uncovered her alter ego. Afterwards, as I’d always intended, going our separate ways.

And how was I first introduced to her? The real person. The one you might bump into as easily as I had. Quite unaware of her supposed profession. Which is my point. Challenging pre-conceived ideas. Prejudices. Presumptions as to the sort of person who offers services of an adult nature. And as to how I first met her? In very respectable circumstances. A shared interest. Alas, to be more specific might risk compromising her identity.



Someone’s daughter

March 7th, 2011

I’d suggested a sociable coffee. Invited her to choose a suitable place to enjoy a beverage. Where she’d feel comfortable. Safe. Under the circumstances possible I was being unduly protective. After all, just wanted to chat. With someone I’d met on my travels. Who’d struck me as a really quite interesting individual. A person. Found her warm, intelligent, engaging and generous.

A few brief interruptions to the flow of conversation. Couple of texts. The odd phone call. Work, she explained. Apologetically. Quite understood, I said. And I did. Probably rather more than she imagined. For, however plausible her account of what she did, couldn’t quite get past the fact that her mobile number was an exact match for one I’d found in the Classified Ads section of the local paper. Accompanying text tallied up pretty well.

A discovery the product of a suspicious mind and a little curiosity. Something she’d said earlier that just hadn’t stacked up. Checks and balances on the road. Instinctive. Not that I’d mentioned any of this. After all, wanted to meet the real person. Someone’s daughter.



On the Road to Danfeng

November 26th, 2010

There’d been a brief foray a few years ago into the hallowed halls of academia. Evensong and a college dinner. Oxford. Spent the night in Elizabeth Taylor’s bed. Admittedly about thirty years after she’d stayed there with Richard Burton. But I felt certain we’d both admired the same decor. Not sure if the college had a Chair in Linguistics, but if it did, I doubt my recent discovery would warrant a nomination.

Largely conceptual. How do English speaking Chinese switch between their largely pictorial symbology and the rather more phonetic Roman alphabet? Pondered it for a while. Then a revelation. Whilst stopped to read my own map. They’re different representations of the same thing. Both symbolic.

Simplified Chinese characters are ostensibly pictograms, each constructed of a series of pen strokes. One Chinese character equating to one English word. In English, or any language using the Roman alphabet, individual letters replace discrete strokes. Simple really.

And just as the Chinese see a word when looking at a character, English speakers do exactly the same with a series of letters. With sufficient vocabulary, and practice, individual letters are not sounded. Rather, it is just a shape, immediately and subconsciously recognisable as a word. Just like a pictogram.

An example. Look at the image below. "Popland". Instantly recognisable because it consists of two familiar word shapes – "pop" and "land".

Popland - web

But, faced with, in all probability, a less familiar word – or shape – like valetudinanan, good chance you’re a bit slower pronouncing it. Scrutinising individual letters, or small groups of them, to work out how to say it. Not exactly Road to Damascus I admit. It was Danfeng.


Free radicals

October 20th, 2010

Chinese characters, American student William explained, were originally pictograms. But that was five thousand years ago, and a lot of stylisation had since crept in. I’d wondered about their origins, noticed a pattern of sorts amongst the numbers.

Did some delving, confining myself to objects, expressions that might have existed many millennia ago. Like woman, possibly carrying firewood, child, tree, field and plough, the symbol of strength (below, left to right).

Chinese chars - first line - web

Some were compounds. Intangible concepts such as good, represented by a mother and child (below, left). Or man, a combination of field and plough (below, right). And some intriguing ones, both old and modern. A cat headed eagle equating to owl, split mind disease describing schizophrenia, electric brain a computer.

Chinese chars - second line - web

Today, the vast majority of individual characters have two parts. One that hints at meaning – the radical, and another that gives an indication as to pronunciation. But no more certainty than that. So still a lot to learn.

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