A restaurant that’s also a pun

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I thought this wordplay on 「非常態」(abnormal state of affairs) was quite cute. Here they swapped the 「態」tai4 (state) for 泰 tai4 meaning Thailand or Thai, resulting in “extremely Thai” or “VeryThai”. Hope you’re all enjoying the long weekend.

For those of you interested in the story behind the National Holiday commemorating the February 28th Incident, there’s a neat summary in the video below (gleaned from a friend’s Facebook wall).

Click the subtitles icon for English subtitles.

Like the font of this 「行」; 你會喜歡我這一「行」嗎?

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I’ve seen this form of the character 「行」quite a lot, but not sure which fonts give you it. Sorry for the blurry photograph, I was taking it while people were staring at me wondering why I was taking a photo of such an uninteresting sign.

If you’ve seen any weird or pretty fonts out and about, let me know! Enjoy the long weekend!

Why write a note when you can write a treatise…還有…

It’s now well-documented how voracious my neighbours are in their appetite for note-writing, but they’ve outdone themselves once again with this in-depth study on the consequences of not closing the door and the art of door-closing itself:

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Residents beware,

Recently con artists have been running rampant. They pretend to be express delivery men and come to your door with fake cigarettes and fake alcohol. As soon as you sign in receipt for the goods, later [sic.] people will come to collect money, asking for several tens of thousand of NT. If you don’t agree to give it to them, debt collectors or the mafia will come to your door and stick an axe in your face. Please be sure to close the door.

Don’t worry, this literary masterpiece is not complete yet, the author, having exhausted their veiled threats of mafia men and axe-chucking debt collectors, is fetching a new page to instruct us mere mortals on the true art of door closing:

Also,

Please close the door more lightly. Don’t do it so forcefully. Given that you don’t have anything against the door personally, you don’t need to bring the entire building down.

What I don’t understand is why would having the door closed fend off these roving hordes of axe-wielding con-artist delivery men. In case you are wondering… I do close the door, and try to close it lightly (even though it’s a natural slammer).  I wonder when the English version will come out.

Is your building being peppered with notes? Have you been attacked by axe-wielding con-men and lived to tell the tale? Comment below or contact me!

 

我笑了:英國雙面政治

這段子現在在北愛爾蘭、蘇格蘭和威爾斯很紅。哈哈!2014年蘇格蘭公投前英格蘭用「在一起,雙方比較好」(Better Together)來說服蘇格蘭不要離開英國聯合王國,現在是所謂的「Brexit」(英國離開歐盟)公投,調子就變了:

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「Brexit」這個詞是由「British」和「exit」組成的,是針對這次公投而特別發明出來的一個詞。

Fake it ’til you make it: Inappropriate wordplay using characters from Jin Yong’s martial arts novels

1280px-Gay_Pride_Taiwan_2009If you’ve been in Taiwan for a substantial period of time but didn’t grow up here, chances are you’ve sat on the outskirts of an hilarious conversation involving characters from the books of martial arts novelist Jin Yong (also known as Louis Cha) during which you’ve had completely no idea what was going on, or what the jokes were about. This has been my fate on several occasions, as, although I’ve bought several volumes of Jin Yong’s novels, I’ve never mustered up the courage to commit to reading a whole one and they’re currently rotting on my shelves. Given that generations of teenagers in Taiwan have read most of the Jin Yong canon, there are a lot of mainstream cultural references that revolve around these books.
When listening to this rather racy podcast on four Taiwanese guys’ experience of “romantic” dalliances with gay foreigners in Taiwan (click here to download it directly or click on 「台灣及其他國家」 under the 「收聽下載點」 section after following the link), I was perplexed when everyone started laughing at one point in the podcast over the nickname that one of the hosts had adopted for the show: 「獨孤求幹」. “Lonely, asking to be fucked” is the literal reading of the nickname, but this in itself was too crude to inspire so much mirth. The wit (well, you can call it wit), comes because the phrase is a corruption of the name of a Jin Yong character, 「獨孤求敗」”Lonely in search of defeat”. He has this name because he is so expert at swordplay that he wants to be defeated just to find someone who is on par with his skill.
Now the joke is starting to become a lot clearer – swordplay, seeking someone equally skilled at… There we go.
For those still none the wiser: The 「幹」 meaning “fucking” suggesting that he is a master at it, but is looking for someone that can beat him in terms of skill and, here, suggests that he could be turned from a “top” to a “bottom” if he found someone more skilled at it.
I’ve found that in Chinese tones being the same, ie 敗bai4 and 幹gan4 both being fourth tones, tends to be more important in wordplay than rhyme or off-rhyme as in English.
Let me know if you’ve had a similar experience in finding a Jin Yong reference that you just didn’t get.
Quick note that the podcast contains some very adult content.
Lead photo credit: Liu Wen-cheng

If you’re going to say anything bad about someone… Say it in Taiwanese 「輸尬ㄊㄧㄢㄊㄧㄢ」 和 「小確幸」

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「輸尬ㄊㄧㄢㄊㄧㄢ」 (Su kah thiám-thiám) which can also be written 「輸到添添」 means “to have been defeated by a large margin” or 「被打敗了」 or 「輸得很慘」 in Mandarin. You can leave out the 到 (kah) which is equivalent to the Mandarin 「得」, leaving you with Su thiám-thiám .

I thought this was an amusing use of Taiwanese, as it came at the end of an article which is pretty critical of the ability of Taiwanese students to compete with the drive of Chinese students. The author has to assert her identity as a Taiwanese person to show that she’s not an outsider making criticism, but rather an insider pushing for reform. You’ve no doubt seen this before with the awkward Taiwanese stumbling of waisheng (families which came from China with the KMT around 1949) politicians or foreigners trying to criticize Taiwanese culture without putting people’s backs up too much. Of course, you can put this to your own advantage by blunting any criticism you make of your friends by saying it in Taiwanese. Here’s the phrase in the context of the original article:

「說個小故事,我在台大原本只收五十位學生,但有一位來自北京清華大學的交換生,因為錯過我在清華的課程,因此要求加入,他是典型的成就動機很強、求知若渴的清大人。他在台灣時,台大這群學生,沒人討論他;他離開後,大家面面相覷。是的,大家都有一個相同的感覺,我們,輸尬ㄊㄧㄢㄊㄧㄢ(台語,輸很慘)!」

I’ll tell you a story. At first when I was at National Taiwan University (NTU) I only taught 50 students, but one of them was an exchange student from Tsinghua University in Beijing, because he’d missed the classes I gave there, he requested to join the class. He was a classic example of a Tsinghua student, with a real drive for achievement and a thirst for knowledge. When he was in Taiwan, the students from NTU didn’t really talk about him; when he left, they looked at each other uneasily. That’s right, everyone had the same feeling: “We can’t even compete!”

The education system in Taiwan has been the topic of a ream of articles recently, most of it criticism that it has not produced enough qualified professionals for industry here. In similar articles on Taiwanese students, I’ve seen a lot of criticism of the Taiwanese hipster concept of 「小確幸」 – which translates roughly to “little things in life that make it worth living”. The term originates from a collection of essays by writer Haruki Murakami entitled ‘Ways of Looking for A Vortex Cat’ or 「うずまき猫のみつけかた」 in Japanese.

According to a blog entry I read, the term in Japanese is an abbreviation of 「小さいけれども、確かな幸福」, which means “small but concrete feeling of happiness” and comes from a collection of essays entitled ‘Ways of Looking for A Vortex Cat’ or 「うずまき猫のみつけかた」, as follows:

生活の中に個人的な「小確幸」(小さいけれども、確かな幸福)を見出すためには、多かれ少なかれ自己規制みたいなものが必要とされる。(P.126)

If you want to find small but concrete feelings of happiness in everyday life, you at least need some personal rules to respect.

He then cites the following example:

たとえば我慢して激しく運動した後に飲むきりきり冷えたビールみたいなもので

Like the sensation of having an ice cold beer, after biding your time through a vigorous bout of exercise.

This term really caught on in Taiwan and has become synonymous with lowering your expectations of life, and enjoying the little moments of pleasure that consumerism can offer – ie Instagram pics with a coffee at Starbucks after a long day shopping and the phrase 「小確幸」. What kind of numpty would buy into that kind of thing?

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Presidential candidate, now president-elect Tsai Ing-wen used this term in one of the debates, attacking the Ma Ying-jeou administration and the KMT for encouraging young people to buy into 「小確幸」 as a replacement for real economic policy:

Here’s the sentence in which she uses it, (a larger section of the speech in Chinese can be found here):

政府沒有領導大方向的能力,只好搞一些對經濟低迷的時候起不了多少作用的「小確幸」。

在這裡,我也想請教朱主席,國民黨對台灣經濟的長期規畫到底在哪裡?人民可以追求小確幸,不過,當一個政府,每天想著「小確幸」,人民只會陷入不幸。

When the government doesn’t have the capability to lead in a clear direction in the face of an economic slump, they can only put in effect some opportunities for the people to experience small pleasures, which are really limited in their effect.

I want to ask [KMT] Chair [Eric] Chu, where the KMT’s long-term economic plan for Taiwan is? People can pursue small pleasures, but whenever a government is only thinking about these small pleasures, the people will fall into grave misfortune.

The translation doesn’t really do her wordplay with the term any justice – 「幸」 also goes to make up the second part of the word for “misfortune” – but you get the gist.

In other news, I found this Chinese-language blog on Taiwanese language for anyone who wants to check it out.

Lead photo credit: Jessie Yang

MRT Poetry: ‘Flower’ by Bi Guo 捷運詩句:碧果的〈花〉

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I found this poem entitled Flower (花) by Taiwanese poet Bi Guo (碧果) on the MRT:

僅差一步

就是

 

脫去衣裳可以走了

 

Flower

Just one more step

Is

 

The

Beyond

One can leave after shedding one’s garb

I also liked the stylized way the author’s name was written on the poster.

Bi Guo was born in 1932 and is the author of several poetry collections, including A Heartbeat AfternoonA Changing and Unchanging Canary, Corporeal Awareness and Poetry Belongs to Eve. He has also published a collection of essays, a novel and a play. You can hear him reading some of his poems in Chinese below in a video by the Culture Bureau of the Taipei City Government:

 

 

Another Cangjie Geek Post: 「節」Variant and the Taipei International Book Expo

The character 「節」 can mean ‘festival’, ‘a joint or node’ or it can also mean ‘to use restraint’ or ‘to economize’. The Cangjie code when looking at the character is pretty straightforward: 「竹日戈中」. For those of those unfamiliar with Cangjie, you can find more info at the Cangjie input Wikipedia page. Basically for a character with three elements like 「節」 we break it into three constituent parts: 竹, the abbreviated form of 艮 and 卩. We take the 1st and last element of the first part – here that would be 竹 (which serves as both the first and the last element of the first part of the character), then the first and last element of the second part of the character which are 日 and 戈 (the dot on the bottom) and the last element of the final part of the character, which is 中 (a vertical line. This leaves us with 「竹日戈中」(hail) , however, when presented in certain fonts, like the one I found below, the appearance of the character in variant form, suggests alternative ways to write the character that do not work:

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This rendering of the character 「031」 suggests the Cangjie code 「竹竹心中」(竹 is the first and last element of the first part; 竹 (the top stroke of 白) and 心 (which is used to represent 匕) are the first and last elements of the second part and 中 is still the final element of the final part, however, this obviously doesn’t work, as the standard form is the one the code is based on. If anyone knows which font throws up this variant of 「節」 please let me know. You can find more variants of 節 at the Ministry of Education variant dictionary.

Speaking of variant forms, after penning my last post on the variant forms of 「免」 I was amused to see the variant form 「001」 used in a poster advertising the upcoming  Taipei International Book Exhibition on the MRT:

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Incidentally, the book exhibition is well worth a visit – it’s going to held from February 16-21 at the Taipei World Trade Center Exhibition Halls 1 and 3. It’s open 10am-6pm, with late night sessions until 10pm on Friday the 19th and Saturday the 20th, as well as until 8pm on Sunday the 21st. The first day at Exhibition Hall 1 is just for professionals, so you can visit from the 17th to the 21st, whereas Exhibition Hall 3 is open the whole time to everyone. It’s also free for under-18s.

Visit the MOE Variant Dictionary here.

Taiwanese Phrase: ‘Washing your Trousers while You’re Picking Clams’ 摸蜊仔兼洗褲 bong lâ-á kiam sé khòo

1280px-Nuns_clamming_-_Toni_Frissell_LC-F9-04-5709-012-17I found the Taiwanese equivalent for the phrase ‘catching two birds with one stone’  in the book I’m reading at the minute:

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The phrase, which literally means ‘washing your trousers while you’re picking clams’ varies slightly from the written form in the Ministry of Education Taiwanese dictionary, which lists it as 「一兼二顧,摸蜊仔兼洗褲」 pronounced “It kiam jī kòo, bong lâ-á kiam sé khòo” (Click through link and press green button). You can see that the 「蜊」is rendered here with a 「蛤」, but this is just an attempt to find a stand in Mandarin character to render the Taiwanese word. The book also only uses the second half of the phrase as listed by the dictionary – bong lâ-á kiam sé khòo – this is as common in Chinese and Taiwanese as it is in English, in that you don’t have to state a whole phrase to get your point across.

I thought the image of people standing in the sea thinking they’re washing their trousers while they’re picking clams was quite amusing.

I also came across a Taiwanese word that is extremely common in Taiwanese Mandarin and is usually rendered using zhuyin (注音):

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The word 「ㄍㄧㄥ」 has a variety of uses – but it generally means to tense up, either emotionally or physically. Here it is physical  – “You have to tense up all the muscles in your body.” In emotional terms, it can be seen as an equivalent to “clamming up”, or can be used to describe someone’s personality to mean that they’re unable to express themselves or express emotion normally, like repressed.

If you’ve learned any new Taiwanese expressions that you’d like to share with me over the Lunar New Year break or have any questions you can comment below or contact me.

Photo of nuns picking clams by Toni Frissell

A Foreigner By Any Other Name: 阿凸仔/阿兜仔/阿啄仔

Zanni_maskI came across the (somewhat controversial) Taiwanese phrase for (non-Asian) foreigner 「阿凸仔」 in a book I’m reading at the minute:

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檢查過了一圈,這屋內看不出有什麼不尋常之處。總不會是照片中的人在說話吧?明明聽到的那句是中文,可這些都是阿凸仔啊!

He checked all around but couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary. It couldn’t have been the people in the photographs talking, surely? The words he’d heard had clearly been in Chinese, but they were all foreigners!

There are a lot of weird and wonderful stories about the origin of the term 「阿凸仔」, from the rather far-fetched concept that it was adopted from the Japanese pronunciation of the English “a dog” to the more common theory that it refers to the high-bridge noses of non-Asians compared to Asian people. I tend to put more stock in the latter theory.

The Taiwanese Ministry of Education dictionary uses the characters 阿啄仔 and the pronunciation as a-tok-á (alternative audio here), which translates to “Beaky” – as in “You’ve got a beak on your face, Beaky,” or as the MOE puts it:

因為洋人的鼻子高挺,所以用「啄」(tok)來代稱洋人。

Because Westerners’ noses protrude, so 「啄」(tok) “beak” is used to refer to Westerners.

There’s also a synonym 啄鼻仔 tok-phīnn-á (beak-nose-diminutive particle), which I’ve yet to hear mentioned in conversation or see written down (Alternative audio here).

Whether you like the term or hate it, it’s something you’ll hear a lot in Taiwan – generally no harm is meant by it, but if you hear a 「死阿啄仔」  a-tok-á (fucking foreigner/dead beaknose) followed by a list of other expletives, it might be time to start running.

The term has even been re-appropriated by a Spanish guy called Jesus living in Taiwan, on his Youtube channel  「阿兜仔不教美語」 (This foreigner doesn’t teach American English). I would advise you all not to troll him by leaving comments on his videos asking where he teaches English… (Mwahaha).

Mask image courtesy of Tom Banwell under a Creative Commons License.