Monday, April 30, 2012

Same Same But Different... Lah

The first thing you notice. It's not the stifling heat--I mean, yeah, it's bad, and sure, it's the worst humidity I've ever experienced in my life. It's not the smells--whether it's jasmine in Little India, or that distinct Chinatown aroma of roasted pig parts and duck fat. It's not even the cleanliness, which is, by all means, kinda creepy in a Disneyland sort of way.

Clarke Quay... confused.

Nope, it's the English.

Actually, to call it English is sort of a misnomer. It's 'Singlish.'

What exactly is Singlish? Short for 'Singapore English,' it's technically still considered an accent of English. I'd argue it's more of a dialect. The first conversations I had with my friend were... interesting to say the least. Interesting in that I could understand about 80% of what she said. When we met of up with friends and they started speaking at their normal speed, that number dropped to about 40.

But what exactly makes it different? I'm not sure. There is a clear set of rules that proper English uses. Verb tenses, pluralizations, and enunciations that must be uttered to be considered "proper." Take a lot of those and remove them. Drop S's, swallow consonants, add inflections and intonations, and skip verb tenses--and that's a start. Word order? Matters only if you feel like it. Then throw in words borrowed from Malay, Mandarin, Tamil, and you get Singlish.

That is not to say it's "bad" or "improper" English. This, I want to be clear. You can't just go and make a stereotypical "bad Asian" accent and call it "Singlish" because it's not that. There are defined rules to breaking the rules of proper grammar. There is a distinct way of pronouncing words differently.

But as a native speaker of English from California listening in to a group conversation, I can't help but wonder if it's me who's broken. I considered myself a fluent speaker of English. And yet, I can't understand someone else's daily speech.

Take this conversation as an example.

"Eh, you wan' oh nah'?"

"I dunwan. No good lah. But dis one, is good, izit?"

"Yah, I oso like dat one."

("Hey, do you want it?"
"No I don't. It's not any good. But this one's good, right?"
"Yeah, I also like that one.")

And this is an easy example. It's English... but not. I mean, what the heck is, "lah?" And there are more of these phrases like "leh" and "meh." What do they mean? And when do you use them? I was told and I looked it up and I still don't really know.

I guess this is one of those times when you can't beat them, you might as well join them. And I do like learning about languages, especially when it comes to slang. It's still English.

Even if, as they say in Singapore, same same but different... lah.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Learning Tagalog?

I have been studying Japanese off and on throughout my time here in Japan. I am by no means fluent, but I feel as I have hit a plateau. I've read it's common among intermediate level speakers.  It's good enough for basic, everyday conversations and I can communicate my general thoughts and feelings. Anything more substantial, though, and I'm lost.

It's not for lack of grammar--it's just vocabulary. I simply don't know enough words.

How does this relate to Tagalog?

Well, frankly, I need a break.

I've been trying to master so much kanji that learning Japanese has lost its fun. I no longer get the simple joys that come from speaking Japanese. There's no more reward from ordering food without embarrassing myself. I no longer feel good about being able to work a ticket machine and subway in a city I've never been to. It's now solely building vocabulary, and it gets tiring.

With Tagalog, it's a fresh start.

I get the simple pleasure from asking a basic question and understanding the response. There is immediate and noticeable improvement. Who cares if I know words relating to Japanese government if I don't use them on a daily basis? There's no clear threshold on whether I've learned them or not.

I miss that.

I mean, I 've been in UCLA's Samahang Pilipino Cultral Night... and all I can say is"Ako si Justin"? For shame.

Being friends with people who use Tagalog as a first language, or grew up using it at home, means that I have a clear way of seeing improvement. I am going from zero language ability, to something. And that difference is substantial. Having native speakers as friends not only means I have a means to learn, but they provide a chance to test what I've learned. Traditional methods such as books and CDs may be difficult to come by for Tagalog, but I can always test a new grammar point by running a sentence by a friend.

Perhaps more importantly, though, I have the motivation. Unlike, say, Korean (which I've been trying to bring myself to study for a while now), I can use it daily. It's useful right away, versus other languages that I can't practice or use. It's an access to a hidden world. Being able to talk without people listening in (unlike English, where there's always that chance) is kind of like being in on an inside joke. Learning even the basics gives me ability to speak "Taglish" or Tagalog-English.

Besides, who doesn't like having a new language to eavesdrop onto other people's conversations? At tapos, pwede naman ako magreturn to Japanese.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Travel List Challenge

Let me be the first to say that I never do these lists. However, after seeing them pop up on Facebook enough times, I figured I'd look it over. The food list seemed pretty extensive, so I figured I'd try out the travel one. 

"How well traveled are you?"

See if you notice anything weird with this list.

  1. Alamo San Antonio, Texas, USA
  2. Alhambra Granada, Spain
  3. Andros Island, Bahamas
  4. Angel Falls, Venezuela
  5. Angkor Wat, Angkor, Cambodia
  6. Atlantic City Boardwalk, Atlantic City, New Jersey, USA
  7. Ayers Rock, Australia
  8. Big Ben, London, England
  9. Bora Bora, Polynesia
  10. British Museum London, England
  11. Canals of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Netherlands
  12. Cathedral of Seville, Seville, Spain
  13. Cave of Crystals, Mexico
  14. Christ the Redeemer, Rio De Janeiro, Brazil
  15. Cinque Terre National Park, Italy
  16. Colloseum Rome, Italy
  17. Crater Lake National Park Oregon, USA
  18. Dead Sea, Israel/Jordan
  19. Death Valley National Park, California, USA
  20. Devil's Tower, Wyoming, USA
  21. Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem, Israel
  22. Easter Island Statues, Polynesia (Chilean)
  23. Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland
  24. Eiffel Tower, Paris, France
  25. Empire State Building, New York City, New York, USA
  26. Forbidden City, Beijing, China
  27. French Quarter, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
  28. Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
  29. Gateway Arch, St. Louis, Missouri, USA
  30. Gettysburg Battlefield, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, USA
  31. Glacier Bay Basin, Alaska, USA
  32. Glacier National Park, Montana, USA
  33. Glowworm Cave, New Zealand
  34. Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California, USA
  35. Grand Canal, Venice, Italy
  36. Grand Canyon, Arizona, USA
  37. Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia
  38. Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, Australia
  39. Great Mosque of Córdoba, Córdoba, Spain
  40. Great Wall of China, China
  41. Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey
  42. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii, USA
  43. Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood, Califonia, USA
  44. Iguazu Falls, Argentina and Brazil
  45. Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto, Japan
  46. Kremlin, Moscow, Russia
  47. Lake Titicaca, Peru
  48. Las Ramblas, Barcelona, Spain
  49. Las Vegas Strip, Las Vegas, Nevada
  50. Leaning Tower of Pisa, Pisa, Italy
  51. Louvre Museum, Paris, France
  52. Macchu Picchu, Peru
  53. Matterhorn, Switzerland
  54. Mayan Pyramids of Chichen, Itza Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico
  55. Metropolitan Museum of Art New York City, New York, USA
  56. Mount Everest, Nepal
  57. Mount Fuji, Japan
  58. Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
  59. Mount Rushmore Keystone, South Dakota, USA
  60. Napa Valley, California, USA
  61. Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania
  62. Niagara Falls, New York, USA
  63. Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, France
  64. Pacific Rim National Park, British Columbia, Canada
  65. Pebble Beaches of Nice, Nice, France
  66. Petra, Jordan
  67. Petronas Twin Towers, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
  68. Portland Head Lighthouse, Portland, Maine, USA
  69. Puerta Del Sol, Madrid, Spain
  70. Pyramids of Giza, Egypt
  71. Redwood National Park, California, USA
  72. Rock of Gibraltar, Gibraltar
  73. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, USA
  74. Ruins of Athens, Athens, Greece
  75. Ruins of Pompeii, Pompei, Italy
  76. Sagrada Famila, Barcelona, Spain
  77. Sears Tower Chicago, Illlinois, USA
  78. Sedlec Ossuary, Czech Republic
  79. Sistine Chapel, Vatican City, Italy
  80. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., USA
  81. Space Needle Seattle, Washington, USA
  82. St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City, Italy
  83. Statue of Liberty, New York City, New York, USA
  84. Stonehenge Wiltshire County, England
  85. Sydney Opera House, Sydney, Australia
  86. Taj Mahal, Agra, India
  87. Temple of the Golden Pavilion, Kyoto, Japan
  88. Teotihuacan, Mexico
  89. Tian Tan Buddha, Hong Kong, China
  90. Times Square New York City, New York, USA
  91. Varanasi Uttar, Pradesh, India
  92. Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
  93. Wailing Wall, Jerusalem, Israel
  94. Walt Disney World Resort, Orlando, Florida, USA
  95. Washington Monument, Washington, D.C., USA
  96. White Cliffs of Dover, Dover, England
  97. White House, Washington, D.C., USA
  98. Winchester Cathedral, Hampshire, England
  99. Yosemite National Park, California, USA
  100. Zion National Park, Utah, USA
Did you notice it? 33 are in the United States. 33! Really? Since when does well traveled mean traveling to the United States? 3 places in Washington D.C. alone? And places like Gettysburg? Or Mt. Rushmore? How is that relevant to anyone not into American History, the Civil War, or the defacement of a once sacred Native American mountain?

There are 27 in Western Europe (being generous too, not using Europe as a whole by taking out The Czech Republic, Russia, Turkey, Gibraltar, Jordan, and Israel). So between the US and Western Europe, "How well traveled?" are you? 

60%. This challenge gives you 60% for just Western Europe and the US.

Let's break down this list even further. "Well-traveled" should mean places as well as objects, right? But is it well traveled if you went to Notre Dame, and then "traveled" all the way to the Eiffel Tower? It's a freaking metro away for crying out loud. And there's the Louvre on this list too? The Louvre? How is that well traveled? It should list, "Visited Paris."  You get 3 for Paris alone.

Want an easy 6? Visit Spain (2 for Barcelona). 1 more for Gibraltar but don't worry about Portugal. 7 for Italy! But Germany? Nothing of interest there.

How is Asia represented? Japan? There are 2 for Kyoto. Basically, you can visit Kiyomizu Temple, spend the morning there, take the bus across town to the Golden Pavilion. Done. 2 checks. Next door Nara or Osaka? Too far for this list. With Mt. Fuji, you get 3 for Japan. But nearby countries? Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand... you get the idea. Nothing there more important than the Washington Monument. Grand total for Asia (including Pacific Islands, and even Easter Island)--12.

Don't get me wrong--this challenge is a good start. For people who have never owned a passport or even left their home state or county, there are a lot of good trip ideas on here.

But you're not well-traveled if you've been to all 100 places on this this. Yes, you've seen a lot. You are not well-traveled if you have 14 from the East Coast (of the US), and 3 from your study abroad in Paris.

I know I'm not well-traveled. The thing is, the more places you visit, the less you've seen. You realize that the world is a much bigger place than you could have even imagined. Each time you meet a fellow traveler and hear new stories, places get added to your own, personal list, until your list gets out of control, and you realize: there is simply too much. Too many places, too many people, too many experiences to be had. Because you realize that traveling with different people, interacting with different locals, visiting at different times, everything factors into your trip. You can visit the same place 100 times and each experience will be different. It no longer matters to check off your bucket list because you know the best experiences and the best stories come from the times you didn't plan. The places you never heard of or read about in a book.

Maybe that's what it means to be well-traveled--well-lived.


Or maybe I'm just bitter that I've only been to 30.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

インターナショナル Power Hour

"Ok, round 2."
"Ready? This is 8."
"17 already? Are these minutes getting faster or something?"

What a mess. If you don't know, the main screen on G+ switches to whoever is speaking. However, considering one of the cities represented is having a party... it switches to one person speaking, and then jumps back to LA. Back and forth. Then to someone else. And then it's LA, again.

About 30 minutes in, and even after LA has been muted, conversations are still hard to follow. Between the one conversation on the surface, people talking over each other, and then the side conversation on chat, it's growing increasingly difficult to keep up.

Around minute 56, Las Vegas decides to make an appearance. Finally. Took long enough, and now he has to play the game of catch up.

At around 1 hour 15, it's pretty much game over. Chaos has taken over. LA has realized they can un-mute themselves, and has taken full advantage (i.e. abusing) their speaking privileges. The side chat is flowing freely with its own conversations. Too much is happening at once to follow.

Notice it was easier to keep the main scree on LA than whoever's speaking...

And yet... there is something simplistically surreal about it all. Though we are all in different cities, LA, SF, SD, Oaktown, Vegas, Sendai, KitaQ, we were, at this moment, all in the same room. It has reached that point in the night where a casual kickback has turned into a full blown party. One main conversation to follow. The side conversations on the chat. The whispering, private conversations off the screen, be it texting, instant messaging, or the like.

And maybe it's the drink speaking, but despite the hundreds, even thousands of miles separating us, it might as well be mere feet.