June 8, 2013

The Mark Roswell of Turkish?

How have I heard nothing of this man?

Maybe because I know almost nothing about China.

Apparently Mark Roswell, or "Dashan", is the most famous Canadian in China, famous for his incredible facility with Mandarin. He not only speaks it fluently to the point that native speakers can mistake him for Chinese, but he also speaks it comedically, even excelling in a comedy form called "crosstalk."

He was just a normal guy from Ontario, curious about a language.

In this documentary, you see his underlying love of the country and the language. Surely this love is crucial to stay on the road toward such fluency.

May 31, 2013

The Lost Heart of Asia

The author toured the 'stans (Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan...) a year after they were released from the Soviet Union. He asked many times about Islamic fundamentalism--would it come in the wake of communism?--but other than that, there was no strong focus. He wandered around, talked to people, and visited ruins. I ended up skimming the book for notable passages.

The Turcomans were wild and depraved, they said: a proud, ignorant and inhospitable people, robed outlandishly in scarlet gowns and topped off by monstrous sheepswool hats. They could ride for eighty miles a day and survive on nothing but bruised wheat and sour milk. They were at once gluttonous, austere, affable, thieving, immodest, anarchic and frank. For a pittance they would slip a knife into you.

He added in faint reproof: 'People should learn the holy languages. You can learn one in a few months if your will is strong enough, and if your heart is right.'

'Our whole world is committing suicide.' He sliced his hand across his throat in ghostly sacrifice. 'All these trains, aeroplanes and cars, when what we need is food! Our soil can give us three crops a year, but what do we usually get? One! All we plant is cotton, but you can't eat cotton. You just sell it for roubles. That's what our country's done. And you can't eat money either.'

On 3 July 1881, a colony of German Mennonites, who had settled on the lower Volga to escape conscription in Prussia, heaped their belongings on to wagons and lumbered eastwards on the orders of God. Descendents of Anabaptist dissenters in the sixteenth century, they were pacifist farmers of fanatic simplicity, and rufsed allegiance to any government.

Turabek, a Mongol princess

The desert was potentially fertile, he said, it only needed water. After the spring rain it came alive with mushrooms, snakes and orchids.

March 3, 2013

Our Town

This play keeps appearing in my life.

In middle school, my most influential teacher ever had us read it and compare it to The Diary of Anne Frank. Not bad for Grade 8.

The high school I went to in California--turns out it was attended by Thornton Wilder, the author of Our Town. Wikipedia says he began writing his plays there.

About a year ago, I moved to East Van in part to be closer to a café called Our Town. The owner recently confessed to me that he named the place for the play. He loaned me a documentary about a high school in Compton, in which the students and the entire community are transformed by the process of putting on a show of Our Town. I just watched it.

My favourite line is from Act 3. Emily is dead. She wants to visit her past life in Grover's Corners.

Another dead character says, "Choose the least important day in your life. It will be important enough."

It's true, no? So much happens every day.

February 27, 2013

When I'm feeling cynical about ESL...

I imagine that there were many operating systems, all functioning for people in their different contexts.

Then one company won.

Now everyone has to pay to switch, or to upgrade.

Except the employees of one company; they can sell the software.

February 11, 2013

Overheard at Main @ Keefer

Mohammed was NOT the last prophet!

John Lennon!

Bob Marley!

February 7, 2013

January 30, 2013

Jung: Travels: North Africa

Jung is quite the writer.

His 1920 account of North Africa will make you cringe

the spell of the primitive
"going black under the skin"

will make you laugh

My dragoman confirmed my impression of the prevalence of homosexuality, and of its being taken for granted, and promptly made me offers. The good fellow...

and will make you nod

Here was a man who certainly possessed no pocket watch, let alone a wrist watch; for he was obviously and unselfconsciously the person he had always been. 

Rooms I have known and loved

East Vancouver, April 2012-present
(with a 2-month break)

Tetouan, Morocco, October 2009-July 2010

San Cristobal, Galapagos, January-August 2009
(though some was on a different island)

Istanbul, Turkey, February 2008

I wish I had photos of all the rooms I've lived in.

These four have in common:

Good light and a lack of clutter.

January 19, 2013

January 18, 2013