Anti-Taiwanese vandalism on International Mother Language Day

I’m not sure quite what was going on with this angry red spoldge of red spray paint on the 「拍謝」 on the construction site sign below:

「拍謝」 is the informal way to write the Taiwanese term 「歹勢」 or “phái-sè”, which is the Taiwanese equivalent of the Mandarin term 「不好意思」 (sorry).

I’m curious about the motivations of the vandalizer. Are they against the use of Taiwanese on a formal sign? Are they against the borrowing of Mandarin sounds to represent Taiwanese, rather than the 「歹勢」 that is used more commonly? Or are they against the use of Chinese characters to represent Taiwanese at all? Or was it just a random stain that got on the sign somehow?

Given the history of its suppression, language tends to be a sensitive issue in Taiwan. Writer Huang Chun-ming (黃春明) even took off his shirt during a lecture back in 2011 due to a disagreement with Associate Professor Wi-vun Chiung (蔣為文) in the audience over the necessity for Taiwanese-language instruction for primary schools and Huang’s unwillingness to adopt Latin script to represent the Taiwanese language (as implied by the sign below).

Taiwanese writers don’t use Taiwanese language, but use Chinese language to create, oh the shame!

Ironically you’ll see Professor Chiung uses the Simplified version of the character 「國」 in his sign. Linguistic hardliners are not really my cup of tea, and I much prefer the hodge-podge of English, Mandarin and Taiwanese that the construction site sign portrays.

Passive Aggressive Food Fights in the Workplace: Don’t f*ck with my biandang! + heart emoji

If you work in an Asian office, a biandang/lunchbox/bento warmer is a standard bit of kit. Lots of people have metallic lunchboxes which you can put inside to keep them warm until lunchtime.

There has been an escalating passive-aggressive argument lately in my office, as someone has been turning off the warmer as soon as they take their own lunch, leaving the remaining coworkers with lukewarm lunches, which is the eighth of the seven deadly sins (James 2:15-17).

I’m a microwave kind of guy, so haven’t been involved in the tussle, but the note was posted back in January without the highlighted text or scrawl down the side:

敬請最後一位使用者關掉即可,感謝!(想吃熱便當 heart emoji)
以上 2021.01.21
Please only turn off the machine if you are the final person to use it! (I want a hot lunch)
Yours Jan 21, 2021

Since then, while innocently waiting for the microwave to finish, I’ve noticed the door ajar and the machine off a few times with quickly cooling biandangs still inside.

This led to the escalation down the side and the addition of dots and highlighted text:

*不要再關啦!2021.2.8
Stop turning it off! Feb. 8, 2021

I’m sure the culprit is someone with good intentions but over-wrought anxiety about the biandang warmer never being turned off and consuming the whole building in flames, however, it does seem like a bit of a dick move to continue to turn it off.

Out and About with Variants in Taiwan

I’m always interested to see how variants of standard Chinese characters are still used in everyday life, whether it’s handwriting, signs or an author making a stylistic choice.

I spotted this beauty at a petrol station in Taitung. You can understand the reason for the simplification of the top of the character given the chunky font required by this kind of paint:

This character is 「嚴」(yán/strictly), but the top has been simplified along the same lines as the simplified version of the character 「严」. It retains the 「敢」 of the traditional character though:

You can look up these kinds of variants in the variant dictionary here.

Funnily enough there is a standard 「嚴」 on the sign to the left of the one circled.

Have you ever caught a p̶o̶k̶e̶m̶o̶n̶ Chinese character variant in the wild? Submissions welcome!

Year of the Ox: Door Dressing Guting

Walking around Guting, even though most buildings are apartment blocks, most were displaying couplets by their door. I’ve featured some of the more interesting ones below.

This doorway was funny because I imagined dueling households displaying couplets from President Tsai Ing-wen and Lai Ching-te vs. Ma Ying-jeou and his wife Chow Mei-ching respectively. President Tsai has gone with the classic idiom 「扭轉乾坤」(niǔzhuǎnqiánkūn) “to turn luck around” (literally, to upend heaven and earth). As 「扭」(niǔ to turn) and 「牛」(niú ox/cow) are near homonyms, the 「牛」 for the year of the ox stands in for it.

Former president Ma Ying-jeou and his wife, meanwhile, have called for equanimity and optimism in what was largely been interpreted as a dig at President Tsai‘s popularity with the words of the Hongwu Emperor 「心天之心平常心、樂天之樂金牛樂」. Ma’s explanation is that the son of heaven (read president) must respect the wishes of the people to rule properly, and that people need to be optimistic despite the pandemic and the ractopamine pork imports (video here).

I was (perhaps naively) surprised to see a Baptist church joining in on the fun:

「合體字」 compound characters featured heavily in a lot of the door dressings. The one on the right below is the same as the Presidential one above: 「牛轉乾坤」 with a stylized 「牛」.

There were even some compound characters from phrases in Taiwanese, like the one below: 「好孔來阮家」 hó-khang lâi góan ka (good things come to our family). Right beside it is 「黃金萬兩」 (10,000 taels of gold).

The banner below shows five different compound characters:
Looks like 「大利大吉」 (profit and fortune)
「日進斗金」 (a dou of gold enters every day)
「日日見財」 (every day meet with fortune)
「黃金萬兩」(10,000 taels of gold) (repeat of above)
「招財進寶」 (attract fortune and enter treasures)

The door below doesn’t seem to have been updated despite the fresh-looking colours, but the compound version of 「吉祥如意」 was cute enough:

There are a whole load more below!

The one above features 「犇」 bēn, made up of three 「牛」s.

It’s a sign! Softening Construction Work Announcements with English and Taiwanese (and a duck)

Sorry啦! Another post about signs.

I liked the code mixing between English, Mandarin and Taiwanese in this sign announcing construction work by the Hydraulic Engineering Office in the riverside park:

The Taiwanese reads: 「咱ㄟ卡緊呢」 lán ē kín ne which means “We will speed up” or character for character:

咱 (我們) we
ㄟ (會) will
卡 (加以) more
緊 (快) quickly/hurriedly
呢 (呀) exclamatory particle

The code mixing (as well as the PowerPoint style 3D characters at the bottom) are clearly aimed at softening the message of the sign which is an inconvenience to park users. The Taiwanese sounds much more down to earth and colloquial than the more formal 「造成您的不便,敬請見諒」 at the bottom.

Jokes Around the Office: KTV Bragging 「有紅花也要有綠葉」

I heard the phrase 「有紅花也要有綠葉」 in a conversation between two colleagues in the tea room about a prospective KTV session. The guy was singing as he made his coffee, and the other colleague asked why he was so happy. He replied that it’s not that he’s super happy but that given the arrival of a new colleague, he’s looking forward to a KTV sesh. The colleague replied modestly that she is silent as the grave in KTV sessions. The guy then said in jest 「有紅花也要有綠葉」 (lit. You can be the green leaves that set off the red flower). This is used as a metaphor for how a great musician/great actor needs supporting musicians/actors for their performance to be carried off, which made me think of the microaggression that is Bette Middler’s song “The Wind Beneath My Wings”. Of course, he followed it up with a 「沒有啦」 to ensure his modesty was in tact, before blasting another view verses of the song he’d been rehearsing.

Trash in Taiwan

If you don’t live in a swanky apartment complex that does your garbage for you, then you might find yourself racing home from work/the bar/a date at the most awkward time just to throw your rubbish in the truck whilst being judged by and simultaneously judging all your neighbours for the small size of their recycling bag or their oversized and unsorted garbage (judge first, lest the first stone hit you in the eye (paraphrased)).

Well – there’s an app for that! For those of you in Taipei it’s the one below:

Link: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.admin.claire.garbag_truck&hl=zh_TW

Most other cities now have similar apps though.

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Using Characters to Detect Chinese Phishing Threats in Taiwan

Image by ShiiftyShift

OK, I swear I didn’t click anything… but had to sit through a cyber security lecture on phishing at work. The most interesting part of the largely common-sense lecture though was how you can spot social engineering emails through the accidental use of irregular hybrids of simplified and traditional characters and terms more commonly used in China and not in common use in Taiwan.

In the video they say some of these hybrids are “simplified characters” but many of them attempt to disguise themselves as traditional characters unsuccessfully.

I thought I’d point out some of the examples used below:

「大家可以登入健康信息統計系統提交……」

So in Taiwan you rarely here the term 「信息」 at all, and even less in the context of personal health data, whereas 「健康資料」or 「健康資訊」 are much more common. The term「健康訊息」 is also common but refers more to information about health, rather than one’ s own health data. One way to check this is to Google the terms in quote marks and check out the sources of the web pages and the context in which the terms are used.

“健康信息” returns mostly articles from Chinese media, like Xinhua and the People’s Daily in a context very similar to that used in the Phishing email:

Whereas with “健康資料” the first results you’ll see are from Taiwanese government’s health app and Taiwanese universities. The first one is also a 系統 like we saw in the Phishing email:

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From 穿褲仔 to the 婆/T dichotomy Lesbians and putting on a spread in Taiwan

You have to respect a gay male podcast host for doing an entire episode on middle-aged and elderly lesbians! That’s exactly what the WetBoyRoom ( 「潤男的Room」) podcast host did this week, interviewing the contributors to a book about this subject called 《阿媽的女朋友》 (Grandma’s Girlfriends), lesbians from older generations in Taiwan.

If you’re not super familiar with the lesbian scene in Taiwan, many of them of about my generation (30s) tend to identify as either 「T」 (short for the English word “Tomboy”) or 「婆」 (lipstick lesbian). With time, the lines between these categories have blurred just as they have in the male gay community, and many people now consider these terms outdated and being a heteronormative way of perceiving gay relationships (i.e. trying to figure out who is “the man” and who is “the woman” in the relationship). It was interesting to hear in the podcast that this dichotomy was actually a more recent phenomenon in the lesbian community, but a Taiwanese term in the podcast really peaked my interest. At the 10:55 mark, one of the characters is described (in a Mandarin sentence) in Taiwanese as 「漂撇 ê 穿 仔」phiau-phiat ê chhēng khò͘ á (瀟灑的穿褲子/ dashing trouser-wearer). Although I think the host actually said 「穿褲ê」, 「穿褲仔」 or girls who wore trousers, could be identified more easily as lesbians (if they were in fact lesbians) back in the day. So, it can be considered as an older version of the concept of 「T」.

Another handy Taiwanese term in the podcast (which you could likely insert in a Mandarin sentence to compliment a dinner-party host, or, more likely, to mock your friend’s paltry offering of a packet of Lays as an hors d’oeuvre) is 「腥臊」 chhe-chhau (also pronounced chheⁿ-chhau or chhiⁿ-chhau), which is equivalent to the term 「豐盛」 in Mandarin, meaning “rich and sumptuous”:

那天同媽準備了很豐盛的食物,不只是麻油雞,我記得她準備了一整桌非常腥臊chhe-chhau click for audio) 的菜。

(That day, Aunty Tong prepared a bounty of food, not just sesame oil chicken, I remember she prepared an entire table of rich sumptuous food.)

Definitely looks like an interesting books to read, will have to add it to my list!

Word of the Day: Chinese ‘diplomats’ undiplomatic fuck up in Fiji「凸槌」 thut-chhôe / thut-chhê

There’s been a lot of media coverage in Taiwan and elsewhere over the past few days about the Chinese diplomats who allegedly put a Taiwanese official in Fiji in hospital after trying to take names and photos of guests at a Taiwanese reception in the country (seemingly to report to their superiors in Beijing and launch reprisals against said guests).

On my morning commute I was listening to Professor Su Hung-dah from National Taiwan University’s Department of Political Science (who also worked for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs early in his career) talk about the incident on New98 (a light blue leaning radio station). He’s mainly calling out China for its clumsy efforts, in that actual diplomats showed up to do the dirty work, when a more cunning approach would have been to send some Chinese hooligans with no ties to the embassy to stir things up. He also suggested Taiwan start hiring security guards for these kinds of events. The show is broadcast on YouTube too, and you can rewatch below (the segment on Fiji starts at 5:15):

The interesting part for me was the use of a Taiwanese term in the middle of a flow of Mandarin (from 12:09):

「大陸這個段數不高了,就說今天我用一個正式的外交官去收證。其實這就是……很容易,很容易 「凸槌」嘛!」

(This wasn’t very high-level stuff from Mainland China, in saying today we’re gonna send a diplomatic official to go collect evidence. This is actually… it could very easily turn into a scandal, no?)

The characters 「凸槌」 (thut-chhôe / thut-chhê) are just borrowings from Mandarin to represent the sounds. The two main dictionaries I use seem to indicate that original characters would have been「脫箠」and it can mean “to make a mistake”, “to blow one’s cover”, “to make a fool of oneself” or “to go off the rails”.

Interestingly enough, the Taiwanese translation of the Rowan Atkinson spy comedy Johnny English is 『凸搥特派員』, which really does add a bit of comedy to the word choice.