Learning hiragana and katakana

The basic syllabaries of Japanese are hiragana and katakana. It also seems to be one of the big stumbling blocks to learning Japanese. There are electronic and physical flashcards, workbooks, and apps for learning the characters from each.

The last time I started learning hiragana, I had flashcards and was doing rote memorization. It was hard, and I did not really retain much.

This time around, I’m focusing on remembering the characters through words. If I can learn and use them in vocabulary at the same time, I think I can remember them better.

dollhouse secrets has a great blog post on worksheets and posters from Japan. What I like about these is that there are examples of a word for each character. Nifty also has similar sheets for writing practice. I like these because the font is what the character would look like when written rather than printed. I’m relying on both these worksheets to learn hiragana and katakana. I think it’s sticking better this time around.

I’ll probably take few weeks to learn hiragana and katakana. Then I’m planning on working through NHK Easy Japanese before moving on to textbook work.

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Re-start learning Japanese

I’ve decided to start learning Japanese, again. The last time I learned Japanese, I didn’t get really far. I don’t think I even memorized all the hiragana. And maybe I only got through one chapter of a textbook?

I suppose it’s a bit like starting from scratch, but not really. I have some ideas of what did not work last time, so I’ll be finding new ways to learn so it sticks. Let’s see how far it get this time!

“The Search for General Tso”: expanding the Taiwan story

Recently, I watched the documentary “The Search for General Tso.” For those in the U.S., it is currently available on various digital mediums (such as Netflix, Amazon.com, iTunes, etc.) for streaming, rent, or purchase. The name of the documentary in Chinese is 尋找左宗棠, and was released in May in Taiwan, and can be seen at 高雄市電影館 (Kaohsiung Film Archive). The purpose of the documentary is to find the origins of the dish called General Tso’s chicken, or 左宗堂雞. The dish becomes a starting point to discuss Chinese food in America, and the history of Chinese immigration and Chinese people in America. The documentary includes interviews with prominent scholars on Chinese in America, which includes prominent scholars on Chinese cuisine and history from the U.S. and Europe.

The documentary takes an American focused view, so its target is probably American audiences. In one part of the documentary, we travel to 湖南 (Hunan), the home province of 左宗堂. We meet scholars who show us around his hometown, where there is an hotel and an elementary school named after him. We see his home, and a large statue dedicated to him. But when it’s time to explain his significance in Chinese history, those interviewed are in a studio or office, and are people in America and Europe.

It is not until the end of the documentary that we learn that one of the people we met in China is a descendent of 左宗堂, who is now a 左宗堂 scholar, and was basically showing us his family history. But this is already far after there was a humiliating scene where the filmmakers gave him a fortune cookie: not knowing what it was, he asked if it was edible; upon biting down, he found the piece of paper inside. I assume the filmmakers did not bother to explain to him what the cookie was, just so they could get the reaction of him eating a piece of paper.

I was starting to get annoyed at that point in the documentary. It’s a silly way of showing that people in the East do not know about something that was obviously concocted in the West. Since I’m sure the filmmakers knew that already, they should have had one of their historians point that out, rather than humiliating someone over the fact that he didn’t know how to eat a fortune cookie, or that people did not know the Americanized 左宗堂雞. Hint: if it has American broccoli, people in the East probably will not recognize the dish as a Chinese dish.

It is not until the end of the documentary that it is revealed that the true origin of 左宗堂雞 is from Taiwan, originated by chef 彭長貴. We are taken to Taiwan for a much too short interview with 彭長貴 (who is now in his 90s) and his son, 彭鐵誠. Footage of chefs at 彭園 was edited with other cooking scenes in a way that it is not until 彭鐵誠 holds the plate and says, “This is how we make General Tso’s chicken,” that we know the footage was of the original being made.

There is no introduction at all to 彭園, which began as a restaurant founded by 彭長貴. It is now a restaurant corporation run by 彭鐵誠. The restaurant corporation is famous for its banquet halls and fine dining. Chef 彭長貴 has been called 湘菜之神 (god of Hunan cuisine) and 國宴御廚 (chef of the state banquet) by the media.

The story of 彭長貴 is glossed over and not given the recognition he deserves in the documentary. However, his story is not lost in Taiwan. The following videos are in Mandarin. This Taipei Times restaurant review of 彭園 includes a good summary of the story of 彭長貴 and his restaurants, in English.

The following is a documentary on the life of 彭長貴.

This news clip has footage of 彭長貴 (at age 96!) recreating his 左宗堂雞.

This news clip introduces the dish and includes interview with 彭長貴. Notice in the beginning the host says to the audience, “左宗堂雞 is a famous dish that you thought may have come from China, but it really is from Taiwan.”

The 左宗堂雞 that 彭長貴 made famous is a banquet-style, high-end dish. The following clips are cooking shows where chefs show home cooks how to recreate the dish (there’s a mix of Mandarin and Taiwanese in these clips).

This first clip has a funny alternate 左宗堂雞 origin story. This show focuses on making a dish for less than 59元 (roughly $2 USD).

This cooking show focuses on health, so the recipe has been slightly altered.

The following was produced by 新光三越 (Shin Kong Mitsukoshi department store) to teach viewers how to make 左宗堂雞 for Mother’s Day.

Overall, I found “The Search for General Tso” to be a good documentary. As a documentary about the history of Chinese people in America, the history of Chinese cuisine in America, and the history of Chinese restaurants in America, it does an exceptional job. It touches on all the important aspects of the greater culture that the dish represents. I recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about the history of Chinese culture and Chinese cuisine in America. It is a documentary that needed to be made, to recount the origins and evolution of American Chinese cuisine, as well as the experience of Chinese immigrants in America. I especially enjoyed the clips with Cecilia Chiang, and it reminded me that I still need to watch the documentary about her, “Soul of a Banquet.”

林冠華母親的話

他不是可以被政黨左右的孩子,他完全不盲目,他忠於自己意志,並且有追尋者。

冠華,原諒媽媽,我誤解你,讓你過去承受壓力,把珍寶當蠢材,現在我才知道你對理念的堅持和行動力。

有病的是這個社會,是大人,是我這種被洗腦過的家長,你就是個小王子永遠有純真的思考,你的使命完成了,讓輿論去沸騰吧,讓我們這些被洗腦過的成人去從新思考吧。

林冠華的母親

Update to protests against high school curriculum changes

The latest round of news started with the Ministry of Education announcing it would seek charges against students arrested on July 24 for breaking and entering. Among those that would be charged were journalists, who also protested against arresting journalists and defended their rights as members of the press. In response to the unprecedented news of the MoE suing students, an English translation of the news was published on 新頭殼.

Sad news broke the afternoon of July 30, when it was reported that 林冠華, a member of a student group protesting against the curriculum changes, was found dead from an apparent suicide. The Taipei Times articles “Student protester commits suicide” and “Curriculum Protests: Interview: Lin gave interview three days before death” are good reports in English.

Students broke into the MoE at roughly 1:30 in the morning on July 31. As of 11am, they were still there, calling for the resignation of the current head of the MoE. Note that the head of the MoE has never had direct discussions with students regarding the curriculum change. The response to the students is that the minister has events away from the office and will be unavailable.

The latest news is that 立法院 (the Legislative Yen) will hold a discussion at 3pm on July 31 to determine if an emergency session will be called to deal with the issue of the curriculum change.

For those following the news, 新頭殼 has organized all their articles on the issue. 苦勞網 has also been updating their facebook page. And of course, there is the facebook page of 北區反課綱高校聯盟.

“Outlier Dictionary of Chinese Characters” Kickstarter

For those who are interested, there are less than three days left to pledge!

來學正體字 Learn Traditional Chinese Characters

The Kickstarter deadline for Outlier Dictionary of Chinese Characters by Outlier Linguistic Solutions 久茂語林 is only a few days away! The dictionary aims to explain characters based on the latest research and academic knowledge of the Chinese language. It looks like a great project and is something to consider investing in. The dictionary looks suitable for everyone interested in the Chinese language.

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Translated books published in Taiwan, but not China

Previously I had heard a lot about books being censored in China – as in chapters and portions taken out before publication. I take that to be common knowledge about China. Two books published last year brought this situation back to light: Evan Osnos’ “Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China”, and Hillary Clinton’s memoir “Hard Choices”. Osnos’ book was published in the U.S. on May 13, 2014. Clinton’s book was published in the U.S. on June 10, 2014.

Before Osnos’ book was released, he wrote New York Times opinion piece regarding the difficulty of publishing his book in China. The last paragraph of the essay was:

In the end, I decided not to publish my book in mainland China. (It will be available to Chinese readers from a publisher in Taiwan.) To produce a “special version” that plays down dissent, trims the Great Leap Forward, and recites the official history of Bo Xilai’s corruption would not help Chinese readers. On the contrary, it would endorse a false image of the past and present. As a writer, my side of the bargain is to give the truest story I can.

Articles about the ban on Clinton’s book were citing this Buzzfeed article. Still4Hill blogged about an email from Simon & Schuster, verifying the ban and releasing a new excerpt, the chapter on China.

I believe Osnos’ situation is more unprecedented, where an author refuses to censor a book for the China audience, which I completely laud. Clinton’s situation is probably a bit more common, where the publisher who wanted to buy the rights figures that there’s no way the book will pass the censors and fulfill the requirements of the original publisher.

Perhaps one thing that has passed people’s attention was that both books would be published in Taiwan. Both books are worthy of being translated into Chinese and made available to Chinese readers. However, if an author writing about a sensitive subject, such as China, wants to publish in China, it will most likely be an incomplete version of the original book. The only way to preserve the original material is to publish the book in Chinese in Taiwan, where there are no censorship restrictions.

The Buzzfeed article mentions that Business Weekly in Taiwan had the rights to Clinton’s book. 商業周刊 (known in English as Business Weekly) is part of a larger media group, 商周集團. I like reading 商業周刊. While the main articles focus on business and finance, there are also articles about daily life and news. Clinton’s book was published on June 12, 2014 with the title 抉擇. The release in Taiwan coincided with the release in the United States. She was interviewed by 商業周刊 on June 19, 2014 in Los Angeles.

The questions are posed in Chinese, but Clinton responds in English (with Chinese subtitles), the questions and translations are:

1. 如果你是台灣總統,如何做到與中國交往,同時又保持政治上的自主?
If you were the president of Taiwan, how would you handle relations with China while maintaining political autonomy?

2. 所以你認為,經濟上的依賴,會降低政治上的獨立自主?
So you believe that economic dependence will lower political independence and autonomy?

3. 你是否覺得,當台灣與中國靠的越來越近,美國與台灣就越來越遠?
Do you feel that as Taiwan and China become closer, the United States and Taiwan become farther apart?

4. 你認為台灣政府的兩岸關係處理得好嗎?
Do you believe that the government of Taiwan has handled cross-strait relations well?

Osnos’ book was published in Taiwan on January 28, 2015 by 八旗文化 with the title 野心時代:在新中國追求財富、真相和信仰. The ad in the front of the book says 全球唯一指定中文版, meaning “the world’s only official Chinese version.”

Joseph Esherick describes his experience with censors in this foreign policy article. His book “Ancestral Leaves: A Family Journey through Chinese History” was published in the U.S. in February 2011, and came out in China (with the title 葉:百年動盪中的一個中國家庭) in July 2014. The book was released in China and only the simplified Chinese version can be found. I suppose the U.S. publishers are not concerned with making an uncensored traditional Chinese version available in Taiwan.

Louisa Lim’s “The People’s Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited” was published in the U.S. in June of 2014. I have not seen a Chinese version, but will keep an eye out for it.