Monthly Archives: July 2008

Does Leonard speak Japanese?

Hana and Chris keep asking me this question. They suspect that I secretly take Japanese classes for a long time and pretend not understand what they are talking about. The spy and undercover story. Although I reiterate that I learn only some phrases from Japanese TV shows and others, Hana and Chris just don’t believe me. ūüėõ

Compared with English speakers, it is definitely easier for Mandarin/Chinese-speaking people to travel around Tokyo. Lots of kanji, Japanese characters somewhat similar to Chinese, everywhere. We can often have a good guess of what it might mean. Although not necessarily accurate all the time, it still gives us some clues. Besides, I don’t look a foreigner to many Japanese. With an Asian face, shopkeepers, clerks and waiters all speak to me in Japanese. What should I do? Answer them in Japanese!

It’s always good to have a travel phrase book with you. Just open and point the words (or the menu), and they will understand you very well. To tell the truth, you don’t even need to learn Japanese to live in Tokyo for a long time. I have a friend just does that for more than two years. (Yes, Jason, I am talking about you!) Tokyo is really a big city, and is equipped with signs in English everywhere, especially in the subway. Some people say it looks complicated when you read the Tokyo subway map, but to tell the truth, it’s fairly easy. The subway company is really afraid that you will get lost inside, so they provides MANY MANY signs. Just remember the color and you’ll be just fine.

Back to Japanese language. I later find out that not only Hana is suspecting my Japanese comprehension is way beyond what I claim to be “jodo” (Japanese, means “a little”), but also our friend and GV translator Mariko seems to share the same doubt. I think it is a good proof that learning language, especially Japanese, from watching TV is effective in some ways. The grammar is still difficult for me, but it’s quick to have a sense of Japanese.

Anyway, I haven’t successfully persuade Hana and Chris that “Leonard doesn’t speak Japanese”, but I think it would be more difficult as we spend more time hanging out together.

What language should I learn next?


Not Lost in Tokyo

Because of iSummit 2008, I come to Tokyo to visit Hana and Chris (or the other way around) yesterday, which not only is my birthday, but also happens to be the “eel day” in Japan. The date changes every year according to the lunar calendar. Although we didn’t have eel last night (who says we have to follow the customs? ūüėõ ), we did have a great dinner.

Chris secretly arranges a birthday ice cream tower for me (see Hana’s Flickr). It is totally unexpected to both Hana and me. When the restaurant turns down the light and projects “Happy Birthday!” on the wall, Hana and I are both wondering: “Someone else shares the birthday with me…” That’s why we are very surprised when the ice cream tower is presented to me, while Chris is obviously enjoying his secret planning and results. Everyone in the restaurant sings the birthday song for me. I am really touched to receive this warm welcome. Chris is a good surprise planner, and we would need him in the next GV summit. hehe

Hana and Chris also lend me one of their bikes (pics later), so I can see around. I really wanted to try cycling in other cities. It didn’t happen in Budapest, but it comes true in Tokyo. This is so far a wonderful experience. I am not lost in Tokyo. Let’s see if this stays true after a couple of days.

Also, thanks to everyone who has left a message either on Flickr or our GV google group. I am so glad to be a part of this community.

Paparazzi Limited

Willingly or not, celebrity news become international headlines easily, be it¬†American pop star¬†Britney Spears¬†and her body shape, Crown Prince Naruhito of Japan and the succession/inheritance bebate, ex-Playboy girl Anna Nicole Smith and her death, or Angelina Jolie and her new-born twins.¬†Some people are definitely paparazzi’s favorites, with breaking news year-round.

For the past weeks, in Mandarin-speaking world, the most discussed celebrity news is Hong Kong actor Tony Leung and his marriage. [Check out his imdb profile. You should recognize him (or his ass) if you have seen Ang Lee‘s movie Lust, Caution.] After more than 10 years of relationship with his girlfriend/actress Carina Lau, they decide to tie the knot on July 21, 2008. To run away from super aggressive paparazzi, they choose to get married abroad and keep the site a top secret. The whole news is nothing speical at this point.

The unusual part is, they are going to get married in Bhutan, which turns out to be a great choice to them. Why haven’t any other celebrity thought of doing that before?

To protect its environment and people, Bhutanese government places numerous restrictions and rules to tourists, including:

1. People must apply for a visa at least 30 days in advance. The visa only lasts 14 days (extendable once).

2. Tourists must have prepaid bookings for a tour at least US$200 a day.

3. Bhutan doesn’t welcome backpackers,¬†as they have to pay even more if they want to travel alone.

4. Only two legal entry points into Bhutan: the airport and land border with India.

These restrictions, turns out to be the best protection to the celebrity couple from paparazzi, because the marriage site is only leaked to the media seven days ago. It leaves not enough¬†time for paparazzi to obtain a visa, and the media seems to be totally unexpected.¬†Unless hotel staff or guests invited are willing to be paparazzi instead, which is highly unlikely, there is virtually no other ways for the media to get related information except from “official” one.

It’s, therefore, so funny to watch all the media gather at Hong Kong or Bangkok (where they transfer) airport, desperately eager to get a little something from their guests in vain.

Bhutan government can buy a billboard in Hollywood says: “Bhutan, the celebrity protector!”. It will work better than any kinds of advertisement.¬† Their travel income will definitely boost because of it.¬† Stars are rich, after all.

still amazed

Not a totally internet generation person, I’d still want to meet someone in person after chatting with him/her for a period of time. Not a totally internet generation, I am often surprised¬†by the connection and immediacy of internet even until now, especially after joining Global Voices.¬†¬†Just have a typical instance to share, so people not in the community will have an idea of what I am talking about.

This morning, 5am in Taiwan, I was translating a short roundup by GV by the author Paula G√≥es, residing in Britain. I am curious about the “numerous reasons” she mentions in the text. The original post she links to is in Portuguese, so I won’t have the access to solve my question.¬† Paula happens to be on the google talk list at the moment (10pm in Britain), so I refer this to her. In less than 20 seconds, after refreshing the page, she has added the Wikipedia link to answer my inquiry. LESS THAN 20 SECONDS, people from two parts of the world cooperate and overcome time differences and language barriers. This is virtually impossible 15 years ago. It¬†may be common for some users, but to me, internet is still amazing.

Of course, less than five minutes later, this roundup is translated into Chinese. To have a experience like this, thanks to Paula and many others worldwide, this is sufficient for me to keep working with GV and renew my amazement on a daily basis.

Throwing away my past

I don’t have many friends in my life.

I have no idea where my high school friends are now, I don’t have contacts with classmates in college, and emails with acquaintances in graduate school are declining lately.¬† A friend says I keep “throwing away my past.”

Sounds pathetic?

But I feel really good about this.¬† Every once in a while, I’ll look through my MSN list. If I cannot remember who he or she is after staring at their email address for ten seconds, I’ll block or delete them.¬† I just don’t like a long, long list with a large number of people I barely know.

Every time entering a new phase of my life, I meet more people with similar or specific interests. With new and better friendships at hand, those childhood memories seem to be trivial, to say the least. When lives of two people become a parallel structure, where there is no more chemistry within the friendship, conversations are boring.¬† Meeting with old friends in high¬†school or in college, topics are always in search of lost time, or remembrance of things past.¬† People pretend to be interested in each other’s careers or jobs, but they’ll have to start all over again in the next meeting.¬†

I leave early in this kind of parties every time. I feel bored during repetitions and exchanging shallow¬†greetings. It’s like a never-ending story. The worst thing is, it really never ends.

During the past year, however, the situation started to change.

I met some people who really have very similar preferences. We¬†share similar principles and interests. They have some characteristics that I will always look up to. They have wonderful jobs, not necessarily in monetary terms, but intelligent and truly helpful to the world and others. These people are opinionated, and they stick to their beliefs.¬† These friends spread around the world. I know we won’t be able to meet every often, but we will get along with at anytime.

This time, I don’t want to leave. I want to stay with¬†all friends¬†I met in the past year¬†as long as possible.

Only online?

The south Asian country Bhutan is always different. While almost every country,¬†including communist/socialist/capitalist China and Vietnam (don’t know which tag is correct for them now) are pursuing Gross National Product (GNP), Bhutan is upholding Gross National Happiness (GNH).

Compard with many leaders trying to increase their reign in all legal ways, such as former Russian President Vladimir Putin inaugurated immediately after handing down the power to his appointed successor Dmitry Medvedev, former King of Bhutan Jigme Singye Wangchuck (after 24 years of governance) voluntarily passed the throne to his son in 2006. This constitutional monarchy held its very first general election in March 2008.

Bhutan is different again.

I read this piece of news on paper the other day.¬† The parliament of¬†Bhutan decided to ban members from bringing laptops to sessions.¬† Their Speaker says “members can be distracted playing games and view pictures” because of computers and internet access.

Several thoughts popped out after this article. 

1. The Speaker knows the existence of online games and (probably) flickr. Good. I am not making fun of this. Afterall, many people have no ideas about them at all. Some judges in Brazil cannot tell YouTube from U2, for example.

2. Mr. Speaker seems to forget that no matter playing games or viewing pictures, these can still happen without laptops. Once upon a time, when people used a thing called “films“… Once upon a time, when people played sudoku and crossword on paper…

3. Without transparency or accountability, voters or the public will never know parliamentarians are playing online games, sharing YouTube clips, viewing pictures, or…. sleeping.

A Week after GV Summit

Website for our Summit in Budapest

It’s¬†been almost a week since Global Voice Citizen Media Summit 2008 ended and I came back to Taiwan. Some people asked about how I feel about the whole experience. It’s hard for me to add more words, especially since many GV people have collected and written so many comprehensive and detailed stories, such as Rezwan, Rebecca, Ethan, David, Lova, just to name a few. We also have fantastic photographers like Neha, Luis Carlos, Paula, Yazan, and many more. Even if you missed the conference, or you were not able to be¬†with us¬†in Budapest, there are so many ways for recap, thanks to online technology. If you like written records, we have wonderful (with¬†fast typing skills!) people accomplish liveblogging. If you prefer videos, GV Advocacy Director Sami have uploaded quite a few clips and also here (more to come!).¬† (Update: Rebekah has a good collection of what online tools we used in GV Summit.)

Since it’s so completed, what else¬†can I say?

I clearly and strongly feel my ignorance during this meeting. Some of my friends think I am more aware of international/global issues, since I am interested and I participate in Global Voices. The truth is, every time when I read GV posts, I rediscover how less I know about the world. For instance, in the Rising Voices, another brilliant GV project, and in its trailer, I am surprised to know there is a very Western-style subway system. I also have to admit, when I heard Suriname in the conversation, my brain was blank for five seconds before a blurred picture appeared. I thought I know something about Iran or any other countries in the world, but I need to know more. After this summit, I am even more humble than before.

Besides the summit topics and themes, people is another important factor in Global Voices.

Because of this unprecedented opportunity, I got to meet so many passionate and intelligent people at one time. It’s a great experience to finally meet so many people with the same cause and the same passion in person. I have never met most of GV participants before, except for a few who have come to Taiwan last year for Wikimania.¬† To some of them, I¬†am a digital account which has exchanged emails or chatted with them once in a while. To¬†others, I am just their invisible translator.¬†Many¬†authors, to tell the truth, have no ideas that their posts have been translated into many languages and by me (in the Chinese cases).¬† That’s one of the reasons why in the GV community meeting, we have talked about bringing Lingua (the translation project) closer to Global Voices authors. As a Lingua co-manager, I am trying to enhance the relations in my own ways, such as¬†Lingua digest and monthly reports.¬†I hope¬†it will work out.¬†

Our mermaid Jillian     Yazan and Jillian

Photo on the¬†right taken by Razan Ghazzawi. Many GV people prefer to sit on the ground instead of on the chair, because it is not only comfortable (as you can see the photo taken by me on the left), but also¬†closer to the outlets, which are critical to bloggers, even more than food. ūüôā

After the summit, one member and I were talking about some possible solutions to existing issues. Another person with the previous summit experience told us, we often create a framework in the meeting. More will be done in the discussions and action plans aftermath.¬†¬†If that’s the case, Lingua will be very busy in the coming year.¬† Actually, there are already some results, such as Yazan’s (and GV’s) first post on West Sahara!¬†More collaborations will happen in the near future.

I am always so obsessed with internet access, especially in the past few years. In this conference, however, I am totally fine without computer or not online.¬† It is because being with GV people are so¬†fun.¬† Some members and I agree that in the normal conferences, there are always boring sessions that you can check emails or read your notes, but in this experience, every session and every presentation¬†is so¬†important that you want to pay full attention to it.¬† It’s a success.

In the end, I really regret I didn’t spend¬†a couple of days more after the summit. It’s not because I love Budapest that much, but because I want to have more time with GV people. Four days are too short. I am sure there are at least a dozen of people I haven’t talked to.¬† Some people are already whispering about where to go in the next summit. I am really looking forward to it, even if I have to take a longer flight (finger crossed).

Thanks to them. Without their efforts, this meeting won’t be possible.

Solana Larsen  georgia

Sami and his Karl Marx Podcast  David Sasaki

(Clockwise) Solana, Geogria, David, and Sami.
Photos taken by zozo2k3, nehavish, Luis Carlos Díaz and zozo2k3