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Moving the stuffs …

I don’t know how many people follow this blog, but I have decided to create my own site and port everything over there.  You can find me now at www.gacorley.com, where I will have not only this blog, but hopefully in the future a bit more about myself put together over there.

XKCD’s latest comic caught my interest.  They decided to round up some random “Americans” and draw a map of the world as they saw it.  The map, it turns out, is not so bad:

World According to Americans

As a result, I decided I would test my own knowledge by looking for some obvious errors (looking beyond some of the gross simplifications, of course), without looking at Wikipedia or any other source outside my brain.  Here goes, feel free to join in;

1) China is the wrong shape, there should be another bit extending up beside the western border of Mongolia.

2) On a related issue, Tibet is actually much further south.  the area depicted looks to be a portion of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (aka Xinjiang), the other part being the missing bit I mentioned above.

3) OK, yes this is a simplification, but they pointed out Ireland without highlighting the region of Northern Ireland (which is actually part of the UK).

4) Hawai’i (and pretty much the entire Pacific Ocean) is omitted, probably because the artist failed to provide space on the paper for it.

5) I think Algeria has a coast, meaning that it would be wrong on this map.  Unfortunately, Africa is about as much a black hole for me as it is for these guys, so I can’t be sure on that one.

6) Russia seems a bit too large, maybe some of those borders reflect former Soviet territory that is not part of the Russian Federation.  Not entirely sure on this one, though.

… going further would get into nitpicking about regions I know fairly well and redrawing some of the vaguely hashed-out regions, and quibbling about some scale issues (I think Japan’s island chain is longer than that), and a couple nomenclature issues (Taiwan and the Republic of China “complications”, many scholars would have the “Middle East” include more of northern Africa).  On my own, I could probably fill in the South American map with a good degree of importance (and maybe a *little* finer detail on language by naming some major American Indian languages), and I would probably be able to hash in several more countries in the other regions, and probably work in several provinces, autonomous regions, and major cities of China.  If I blew up the map big I could roughly fill in the autonomous communities of Spain as well, but that’s just going too far for this excercise.

I think the big thing to take away from this would be: Unless you make world maps for a living, you probably can’t possibly draw a perfect map of the world with every country in place.  Most of the places I could improve here are regions or countries I have studied fairly in-depth and/or travelled to.   All told it seems that at least this group of Americans, as XKCD mentioned, is pretty good at world geography, coming right off the top of their heads.  That said, feel free to geek out explaining how they totally screwed up your favorite country/region :P

A Dream of a 婚姻

Every so often you have one of those dreams that you wish to share with people immediately.  Last night I had a dream that I was going to see an old friend from China.  Oddly, though within the dream this friend, a woman in her fifties or sixties who had endured several divorces and moves around China, was very familiar to me, when I woke up I realized that she and her family were entirely fictional.  Not that uncommon in a dream, I guess, but it was surprising.

Getting on with the story, when I arrived to meet her I found her standing outside a room where a wedding was going on.  Apparently her daughter was getting married and with her father unavailable, I was asked to escort her.  Everything proceeded as normal, with an appropriate nervousness on my part, until the question “Who gives away this bride?” (or however it was phrased) was asked (in English).  For some reason, I had three responses in mind, in Chinese: “她妈妈” (“Her mother.” Would’ve worked I guess), “她妈妈和我” (“Her mother and I.” Translation of a familiar usage, but awkward in context.), and finally “我” (“I/me.”  Extremely awkward under the circumstances.)  Only after I woke up did I realize that it would probably be best not to say anything in that situation, letting the mother take that particular formality.

Luckily, that was apparently not the actual wedding, just a rehersal, so I wasn’t entirely put on the spot.  I guess my subconscious was trying to save itself some embarrassment.  In any case, I had a conversation with a few people that I was feeling uncomfortable with the responsibility and wanted to bow out, but my own mother (my whole family was suddenly there) convinced me to go ahead with it, citing that one relative had already addressed the groom as “princess” and there’s no possibility that I could cause any more embarrassment than that.  I have no idea where such a “princess” comment would come from, by the way.  If it happened in real life, I’m sure Alzheimer’s would be involved.

I never saw the conclusion to the story, as I woke up before the actual wedding started.  Maybe it’s better that way, as although the pastor was one from my past church, I am sure that there would be some parts of the ceremony in Chinese, and since I’m not familiar with Chinese weddings, any lines my subconscious would generate would almost certainly be flawed or even entirely wrong.  I’m sure the story would have turned out alright, though.  In any case, that was my dream, and if you read all the way through, thank you for your indulgence… and your boredom.

{In retrospect, it may not have been smart of me to post this.  I was acting on impulse after reading the Shanghai Shiok article.  I will leave it up, as it has already been linked from there, but in the future if I import this blog onto another site (something I have been wanting to do), I may leave this post out.}

Recently I read an excellent post at Shanghai Shiok talking about an Asian girl’s discomfort when she is in public with her white boyfriend, and it inspired me to talk about something personal.

Basically, to state it bluntly, I am attracted to Asian girls, especially Chinese girls.

Now, there are a variety of possible reader reactions.  Some will be totally supportive in a “Hell yeah” sort of way.  Others will say “So what?  Lots of young white American guys like Asians.”  Still others will have a negative reaction.  A few will say “you only like asians because they are obedient/easy/<insert ignorant stereotype here>”, while others will accuse me of being a “loser” who “can only get Asians”.  A few extreme Chinese nationalists might accuse me of trying to “steal our women” or somesuch.

Thankfully, I have not experienced much in the way of extreme negative reactions.  But nonetheless, I am not totally comfortable stating this preference (and of course there are plenty of cases where I shouldn’t).  I fear that people will hear it and automatically assume that I am a creepy loser who will never accomplish anything.  On the other end, saying it in certain circumstances I worry I might attract those few girls that fit the stereotypes — which I really don’t want — though on a higher level I know that they aren’t so common, and easy to avoid when they do come around.

My attraction is based on a mixture of physical traits common in East Asian populations (epicanthic folds, facial bone structure, skin tone, etc) and cultural fascination.  I have been learning Chinese for over three years, and studied abroad in China for a semester (and greatly enjoyed it — not only for the girls).  And yes, I did persue a few girls while in China, as well as back home.  Reactions varied, from cultural dissonance (“I’m to old for you” from someone only a year older) to the expected flat rejections.  A few girls that seemed somewhat interested rejected me for racially motivated reasons — not because they didn’t like white people, but because they were not sure if their parents would approve, or they feared the cultural differences would make it too difficult.  And of course, plenty of rejections had nothing to do with anything racial or ethnic at all, simply problems of distance, or “I just don’t like you” … stuff that a guy comfortable in relationships expects anyway.

While it does affect me when rejection comes from racial or ethnic reasons, really I get more uncomfortable with things totally outside the courtship issues.  Most friends are supportive, but I hear in media and through friends countless stories about white guys going after Asians because they are supposedly easy or submissive or have some dubious sexual quality.  I have seen other guys who are “into Asians” and compared myself to them, on a lower level maybe fearing that I was a little like some of the idiots and jerks among them.  There have also been times when I have made jokes about my own little preferences, to be shot down by a friend who worried I would offend people.

When it comes down to it, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with my preferences.  I feel I have a healthy attitude.  I will not date an Asian girl simply because she is Asian.  I have to get to know her first, find some other connection before I really pursue.  And there are plenty of other things that attract me: geeky interests, ability to speak different languages, some physical traits that aren’t specific to East Asian populations.  If “Asian” were my only criterion, I would be simultaneously limiting myself and also opening myself up to trying to pursue an insane number of girls.  No, it’s something that makes me notice, but I do not completely exclude non-Asians from my interest, nor do I pursue every Asian girl I see romantically.  If merely having more interest in girls from one part of the world makes me racist or shallow, then it is what it is.  I can’t really change what attracts me.

When you’re not able to practice a foreign language, it gets rusty. The best way to practice, of course, is to surround yourself with native speakers. I have always spent a good amount of time doing this, and it always takes some effort. Even when I was studying in China, it took a little push to get out of the foreign student bubble at the university, and now that I’ve been back in the States a while, I’ve had to put in even more effort.

Those efforts led me to discover the Morgantown Chinese C&MA Church (摩根城華人宣道會). Let me preface by saying that although I was raised in a traditional Methodist church, I am not a religious person. A friend of mine needed a ride to church, and I was curious about the place and how it might differ from other churches I have attended.  What I walked into was a very traditional service that could have occurred in the church I attended as a child, save for the fact that it was bilingual.

Most of the hymns I readily recognized, though I was not confident enough reading the Chinese lyrics (projected on a screen up front in traditional characters) to attempt to sing with the congregation.  The sermon itself wasn’t necessarily my kind, it was heavily reliant on an analysis of a fairly long scripture passage, meaning that the Chinese was somewhat difficult and the English translations felt a little boring.  Other than the formality of the affair, the only particularly “Chinese” thing I heard in it involved a part at the beginning where a Chinese emperor was quoted — unfortunately I have forgotten the quote.

Of course, there was also the inevitable reaction of the Chinese congregation to the only white person in the crowd.  I was immediately singled out to introduce myself as a new attendee, and did my best to introduce myself explain my reasons for being there in Mandarin.  Afterward quite a few of the congregation came to me specifically to compliment me on my Mandarin (“你的中文很好 / Your Chinese is very good” was heard a lot) and didn’t seem to mind that I was more interested in language practice than religion.  Of course, I couldn’t help showing off by trying to read the bulletin (mostly in Chinese), just as much as I couldn’t resist talking to the little kids in the congregation.

Will I be going back to that church?  I may.  Perhaps not every Sunday, but once in a while it may be fun.  The bottom line is that often you can find cultural experiences where you would never expect in — in little pockets near where you live.  Get out and try it.

EDIT: Video (I forgot that wordpress.com doesn’t like YouTube embeds.)

I was waiting a while to see if English-language press would pick this up.  Unfortunately, the only news I am finding on my searches from English langauge sources involves another robot in Mexico.

The robot in the video, however, was developed by Cinestav (Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Avanzados / Center for Advanced Research and Study) in Guadalajara Mexico, and here’s the kicker (via Once TV):

La ligereza de su estructura y el bajo costo de su construcción lo hacen uno de los desarrollos más competitivos en el mundo. En él se han invertido apenas 100 mil dólares comparado con el millón y medio de dólares que han costado otros androides similares.

It’s light structure and low cost of construction makes it one of the most competitive developments in the world.  Only 100,000 dollars have been invested in it, compared to the one and a half million dollars that similar androids have cost.

And if you’re wondering why it’s just a tourso, don’t worry, they’re building the legs in Boston.

Another interesting thing is that the robot has an advanced learning capability, and it seem that it can even dream (via La Cronica de Hoy):

Su cerebro son dos computadoras conectadas a un servidor inalámbrico que serán las procesadoras de información del robot incluso cuando “duerma”. Al desconectar el robot, este cerebro artificial podrá refinar el equivalente a miles de redes neuronales, optimizar parámetros usando algoritmos geométricos y encontrar reglas de inferencia que almacenen la información útil que acumuló durante su actividad, crearle memoria.

Its brain is two computers connected to a wireless server that will process information even when the robot “sleeps”.  When the robot is disconnected, this artificial brain wil refine the equivalent of thousands of neural nets, optimize parameters using geometric algorithms and find rules of inference that store the useful information that it accumulated during it’s activity, creating memories.

Ok, this android may not be seeing images of electric sheep, but this is something like what our brains do when we sleep, and that makes us just a bit closer to building intelligent robots.  The plan, according to reports, is to improve the robot through several successive versions to develop robots ever more intelligent.  The engineers are already thinking of applications such as household servants and education.

I listen to the Popup Chinese podcast feeds (for free, no I don’t have the money to pay for lessons) in order to get a little listening practice while I have no Chinese classes and don’t always have the time or persuasive power to get my Chinese friends to talk to me in Chinese.  The last elementary session brought up a vocabulary term that I have been wondering about for some time: 方便

方便 (fang4bian4) is a Chinese euphemism for using the toilet.  It’s literal meaning is “convenience”, and it is believed to be derived from translations of Sanskrit Buddhist scriptures, and that the use as a euphemism for our unpleasant excretions started among Buddhist monks.  What has confused me about this term is the way Chinese friends have reacted to it.  Here are the reactions I’ve gotten:

  1. pleasant surprise (the usual response when you use something Chinese don’t expect you to know about)
  2. saying it’s unnecessary (some prefer me to use the slightly cruder 上厕所)
  3. not nice enough (a few female friends have told me this, saying I shouldn’t even imply what I am doing)

As  I stated, #1 is pretty much expected.  Saying even a single word of Chinese will get praise from strangers, partly out of flattery and partly from surprise at seeing a white guy who speaks Chinese.  But #2 and #3 have always interested me.  It seems that in some cases, I’m being “too polite”, like someone who uses very bookish and sophisticated language while hanging at a friend’s house, while in other cases I end up feeling my friends seem a bit like uppity Victorians.  It seems a lot more complex than, say, when I decide to show off my vocabulary of curses (which almost invariably ends with people labeling certain terms as too vulgar or dangerous for a foreigner to use … EVER).  I wonder, if any Chinese are reading, how do you deal with 方便?  When is it appropriate, and when isn’t it?  When it’s not appropriate, what do you say instead?

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