Across Continents

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Being understood

August 6th, 2010

Being understood from Ken Roberts on Vimeo.

Ken describes language difficulties in the western Chinese frontier town of Khorgas, and how to get to grips with them.

[Ten Yuan – about a pound – for the Central Asian staple lagman – strips of beef and peppers served on a bed of noodles. And the same again for the laundry bill….]


Sights and sounds

August 5th, 2010

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing” – Helen Keller

Armena, it seemed, spoke only Uighur, one of the Turkic family of languages whose various forms are to be found right across Central Asia and parts of western China. Or, at least, she’d not be able to comprehend my attempts at Modern Standard Chinese. Based on the Beijing dialect of Mandarin, its written form in mainland China known as Simplified Chinese. And expressed in my phrase book using Pinyin, the official system of writing the language using the Roman, or Latin, alphabet. Plenty of scope for confusion.

Wide boulevard

I’d found a small cafe in the centre of Khorgas. Frontier town, far flung outpost perhaps, but sleepy, neglected backwater this was not. Wide new boulevards, housing complexes, offices, the sheer amount of construction, of investment, impressive. There was an order, a neatness, a sense of pride. But colourful. And friendly. Or at least very patient with my efforts at communication. I’d gestured towards the next table, Armena explaining that was lagman, a Central Asian staple of noodles, beef and peppers. I’d had it before, but not with chopsticks. Waiting for it to arrive, my phrase book and small notebook, filled pencilled jottings, the source of much fascination amongst fellow diners. Intrigued by the strange, largely unfamiliar Latin script.

Khorgas shops

Lunch over, I’d wandered along the main street’s neatly swept wide pavements, peering into relative gloom of the various shop interiors. The usual chemists, hairdressers, convenience stores, a few supermarkets, interspaced with cafes, and small establishments filled with electronic gambling consoles. One or two still retaining the old-fashioned slot machines. A covered market, tables laden with fruit and vegetables, hemp sacks filled with spices, dried fruits. And a few tanks of live fish.

In the market

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