Archive for October, 2009

ICANN, the international organization that maintains Internet domain names has announced that they are going to begin allowing domain names using scripts other than the Latin script to be used for top-level domains (that is, the extensions such as .com, .org, etc). Up until now, domains have been restricted mostly to the 26 letters of the English alphabet plus the 10 numeral glyphs of the Hindu-Arabic number system. CNET has a good write-up on all this:

IDNs will allow domain names to be to be written in native character sets, such as Chinese, Arabic, and Greek. In charge of managing domain names, ICANN has argued that IDNs are necessary to expand use of the Web in regions where people don’t understand English. Since its inception, the Internet has been limited to the Latin character set used by the U.S. and many other nations.

To expedite the new plan, ICANN will launch a Fast Track process on November 16. At that time, the organization will begin accepting applications from countries for new top level domains, or Internet extensions, based on each nation’s character set.

Initially, the change will apply only to local country codes, such as .kr for Korea and .ru for Russia. Major top level domains (TLDs) such as .com, .net., and .org won’t see non-Latin editions just yet. But ICANN is pushing to make progress on these major TLDs and hopes to include them in the IDN system before long.

This is definitely an important event in the history of the Internet. Evan Osnos of the New Yorker predicts a new .中国 domain (zhong1 guo2 = China), though I hope for simplicity’s sake they keep it .中. According to Wikipedia the effort to allow more character sets other than the basic ASCII set began with a proposal in 1996, and started bearing fruit in 1998. However, though they list several domains as accepting Chinese characters, I have yet to ever see a second-level domain (the main part of the URL) using them, usually I see them with domain names and pinyin. If Chinese-character top-level domains, that may cause them to be more used, as Chinese users won’t need to switch out of their IME’s to finish the address.

Still, I wonder how many of these new domains we’ll see used, other than companies grabbing their own brand names to make sure they have them. Many Chinese speakers do not use a "Chinese keyboard" to use a phrase used by a Tom Merrit on Buzz Out Loud‘s commentary, but instead a pinyin-based IME, most of which have an "English" setting for typing Latin characters (the default Windows IME works this way), and you still have to switch the punctuation type, unless ICANN finds a way to map 。 to the Western-style period (.) they use as the "dot" in "dot-com". Still, convenient or not, I think Osnos has a point that nationalism and cultural significance will drive Chinese sites to use and advertise their Chinese-character domain names.

Final note: I am by no means an expert on any of this. If I’m off base in saying there aren’t so many character-domain names, or if I have misunderstood something about the availability of Chinese character domains, please call me out. I’m still a little confused about the history here, so I might be off on some things.

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Quantum Matter

Originally uploaded by gacorley

One of the things that interests me about Chinese is translations of science and technology terms. Before starting with Chinese I had learned Spanish, where Greek- and Latin-derived science terms are fairly easy to deal with — you simply have to alter the spelling and pronunciation of the English term appropriately. (Mind you, this is not fool-proof, but it works most of the time.)

Of course, this sort of thing will not work with Chinese, which is very resistant simple borrowing. So, most science and technology terms that come from other countries are calqued, or appoximately calqued, by using a Chinese term or character that comes close to the meaning of the Latin root or English word it stands for.

For example, here in this sign 量子 (liangzi) is derived from 量, meaning “quantity, amount, capacity”as well as “to measure” (I know it mainly from the grammatical term 量次 — liangci — meaning “measure word”). “Matter”, is 物质 (wuzhi) which also means “substance, material”.

Of course, there are plenty of simple coinages, especially for things that developed in China independantly. Mathematics, for example, is 数学 “counting study” (whereas the English word seems a little more complicated).

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Hong Kong Wrapup

Sorry for the delay in updating. Last few days have been pretty busy. My last full day in Hong Kong was probably the best. Cherry very kindly took the day off to hang around. We went to the history and science museums and then to the Sun Yat-sen (孙中山) museum during the day, and then after dinner she and I and Summer and Lok Yan went to the Peak to take some pictures of the "night scenery" (夜景). Unfortunately my camera ran out and I had to use Cherry’s for that day, so no pics until I can get them from her (or if you’re following this on Facebook, she may have posted them).

The next day I took a bus to the Shenzhen airport and flew back to Hangzhou, and am now back safely in my dorm (and behind the GFW, unfortunately). I loved Hong Kong, but on the bus to Shenzhen I somehow felt much more comfortable once I was consistently seeing signs written in simplified characters.

General impressions of Hong Kong:

1) Big city. Hong Kong is definitely a large, international city. English is incredibly prevalent, and I saw many non-Chinese on the streets, not just Westerners but Filipinos and others. It also has the culture of a metropolis, as opposed to Hangzhou, which around the university at least feels very similar to Morgantown in some ways. Traffic patterns, both pedestrian and automotive, reflect this. (ex. I had to get used to actually caring a bit more about walk lights.)

2) Language. Mandarin wasn’t very useful or necessary. In Hong Kong there are enough English speakers that a foreigner can almost expect to be greeted by restaurant wait staff, various service personel, and even people on the street in English. That isn’t to say that everyone speaks English, but usually non-English speaking service workers will default to Cantonese, and won’t think of speaking Mandarin to a foreigner, at least not unless it is specifically requested. Announcements are all trilingual, Cantonese, Mandarin, English, in that order — though signs generally use Mandarin (written in traditional characters) usually paired with English or with romanized Cantonese pronunciations.

3) British influence. I saw bits and pieces of British influence throughout. Cars drive on the left side of the road, the coins some similarities to British coinage (I even saved an old one with a picture of the Queen on it), and I saw several signs referring to "King’s XXX" such as King’s Road (translations made this even more clear, using the term 英皇 — literally "English emperor"). But I think at it’s core Hong Kong really is a Chinese city, albeit with a unique colonial history and a measure of independence that set it apart.

In any case, I hope to be able to go back to Hong Kong some day and see some of the things I missed both through personal stupidity and lack of time.

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So, as if I needed any more proof that I don’t know what I’m doing by myself in Hong Kong, I had another very interesting and confusing day.  My intention was to go to Ocean Park and have some fun.  Unfortunately, despite getting on a bus that had a stop specifically labeled “Ocean Park”, I was surprised when the bus suddenly reached the end of its route.  The best that two bus drivers could do is point in a certain direction, presumably suggesting that I walk.  (Note:  Despite what you will be told, do not assume that all service personnel in Hong Kong can speak English, a couple times I have run into people who spoke neither English nor Mandarin.)

Anyway, walking in that direction didn’t take me to Ocean Park (I’m sure there was some way to get to it, as the drivers both repeated “Ocean Park” to me.), instead, I ended up in Victoria Park.  Ah, well, it was alright, and I did manage to get some nice pictures before my camera died.   I hung out for a couple hours there and then explored around until I came upon a subway station and decided it was best to go back to the hostel and rest a bit.

EDIT:  Friend of mine told me what I did wrong.  Apparently I went to the wrong MTR station.

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OK, so first of all, my story of getting to Hong Kong.

Traveling alone probably wasn’t the best idea.  Neither was flying into Shenzhen (深圳) to save money.  Yes, I saved about US$150 but between my flight being delayed over an hour and not knowing what to do when I got there, I could have easily gotten stuck.  Luckily I got out of it.  Here’s how things worked out:

I got to Shenzhen airport much later than I expected, and when I tried to take a bus into Hong Kong, the map I got was not helpful — again, travelling alone to a place you’ve never been can be an issue.  I tried to call Hong Kong only to discover that my Chinese cell phone can’t call Hong Kong, and though I specifically asked the woman I bought a phone card from if it could call HK (the pay phones in the Shenzhen airport do not take coins), it did not.  I did manage to roust up one HK friend on MSN via airport WiFi, but he couldn’t help besides tell me to take a train.  So what did I do?  First, I got a taxi:

Me: 地铁站 (Subway station)
Driver: 什么地铁? (Which one?) <list of place names I didn’t understand>
Me: 最近的地铁。(The closest subway.)

That got me to the Shenzhen subway system.  From there I was able to find the route to 罗湖 (Luohu) station which is one of the entrance points into Hong Kong, go through customs and immigration (which were apparently in the middle of a big shopping center, was lucky in that I could follow the signs saying “to Hong Kong”) and eventually got onto a train and navigated to Fortress Hill (炮台山) station, which I remembered was close to the hostel I had reserved.

All in all it took me about five hours longer to get into Hong Kong than I had planned, and I missed meeting one of my friends, but now I’m here for a few days, may as well enjoy things.  I’ll do another post later on my impressions of the city.

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Before I leave for Hong Kong I thought I would share a couple stories of Chinese people that I met since the start of my break. I felt it was important because, as I have mentioned before, our living situation at Zheda doesn’t really encourage international students to meet Chinese friends (though it doesn’t really inhibit it, it’s just that the effort has to come from you). Both of these are situations where I sort of “stumbled upon” some potential friendships.

First, I met a couple of girls at the No. 4 cafeteria. I had bought a food card and been eating at the cafeterias for a while specifically hoping that I would “bump into” some Chinese people, and it apparently worked. I’ll hold back on names just for now … well OK, their English names are King and Cherubin. We had a long conversation after dinner that covered a wide range of topics from Chinese food to Chinese and American perceptions of Mao Zedong, and today I had a long walk with Cherubin around West Lake and another long chat.

Second is a bit funnier. After I had got back from dinner that day, there was an older gentleman in the little shop inside our dorm who wanted someone to help him practice his English. At first I wasn’t so interested, but it is difficult to say no to old people in China. We talked for a while over coffee and then he invited me to dinner the next day (at a fairly fancy place, with dishes including duck tongue, hundred year old egg, and New Zealand beef). I found out that he was 53, has a son and a daughter, and that he will be retiring when he hits 60 and wants to travel to America after retirement. He also called his son-in-law, who works for local government, so I could talk to him and judge his English abilities. I didn’t spend much time with the man (who I know as Mr. Wu), but that little bit of practice did seem to do some good for his English.

Finally, I have been having conversations with the staff off and on. Some of the staff at the international dorm really like to talk to foreigners, and ask me about where I am from, etc. Of course, I will always hold that a big part of the experience of studying in Chinese in a Chinese university is communicating with non-English speaking staff. It’s essentially a certain amount of language practice that you cannot hope to avoid, even if it amounts to the laundry lady berating you for having too many clothes (more on that later, probably after Hong Kong).

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