Verinbrunalis

Winter blooming plant that smells good.Not very clever: it is Latin for “spring in winter”. It’s happening right now in Seattle. The news is full of blizzards, and for some that is marvelous (see post by Karyn here), but here the air is full of the scent of daphne odora  and “that plant that starts with an ‘s’, smells divine and blooms in January”.

two snowdrop flowers blooming in the moss.
Snowdrops in the moss.

The leaves and buds of bulbs are thrusting vigorously up through the mulch of partially decayed leaves…but winter is not necessarily over. This little party will end with a shift of the wind. In some ways that makes it all the more precious. For that reason it is also accompanied by a sense of urgency to get outside.

This differs from what we call the “pineapple express” which is warm but comes with a lot of rain.

Got to go and enjoy!

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Play Lexicographer.”

 

Modern Communications-Is it QQ* Translate…or Chinese itself?

Being a mama means being there, even if you aren’t there. This morning I received this QQ* message from Emily, my son’s girl friend:

“mama,James, didn’t you call today, he felt a little worried. I told him, something the mama. If you have time, give him the phone number tomorrow.”

I am sure she typed it in cogent Chinese. It is the middle of the night in China right now so I have to cool my heels for several hours before I can get clarification.

This is not my first somewhat obscure message, I no longer panic that I cannot call right away. Instead I amuse myself during the waiting time by guessing what the message might mean.

The first message that comes through was unintentional on her part. When I tried to QQ and call James last night I didn’t get through. This message tells me clearly that James is fine (one time when I couldn’t get through he had been mugged and had his phone stolen).

The essence is that James was worried that I didn’t call yesterday.  However, since he could have QQ’d me himself, Emily may be more worried than he is.

“I told him, something the mama” is a bit puzzling. Was she worried that something is wrong or comforting him that I was busy doing something?

When I tried to learn some Chinese I noticed that they put an emphasis on different aspects of language than we do in English: for example, they do not pluralize nouns or use verb tenses. So a sentence can have both ambiguity about what the subject is (is it a generalization about dogs, or a statement about a particular dog or group of dogs) and when in time the action occurred (is the dog running now, did it run in the past, or will it run in the future?). However, the Chinese seem to have more precision when they talk about emotions than we do. For example, they have about 20 words for happy, discerning between a general state of contentment, delight in the moment, and a feeling of being fortunate.

The words Emily typed in Chinese that came out as “something the mama” and “he was a little worried”, could have had much more precise meanings than what came though in translation. For example, the Chinese word she used that got translated as “something” could have been a word with either calming or alarming overtones. In English we would perhaps have used more words: “something came up”, like an invitation to have coffee with an old friend, or “something happened”, like the car broke down.

I wonder how much our language affects our thinking. Do we who speak English care more about whether it is a generalization about dogs or the behavior of a specific one because our language teaches us to do so?

I am pretty sure that “give him the phone number tomorrow” means give him a call.

A few more hours to kill.

*QQ is a Chinese Facebook-like communications program. It is by far the largest one used in the world. It is used by almost all Chinese people with cell phones and by people who want to communicate with them easily. I can  send a QQ IM and will usually get a response in a few seconds.

A Moment In Time-Goodbye Sweet Ginger

It’s not my fault you have to go. You are not my dog; I don’t have a dog; I don’t even want a dog…but I will miss you. It has been fun having you with me: taking walks and chasing squirrels and wagging our tails together (it’s good for our waistlines).
It is hard to say goodbye.

Knowing that you, in your youthful exuberance, are a danger to her doesn’t help. Aging is hard, and watching it happen is just as hard.

I wish you weren’t going back to that. To someone who keeps a cane on the door to threaten you, because you get so excited and happy when she comes in that it scares her, who threatens you with a fly swatter when you want to play, and who yells at you for barking at things she can no longer hear. It makes me sad to see her that way.

And the sorrow about her makes it that much harder to say goodbye to you.

You are not my dog; I don’t have a dog; I don’t even want a dog. No, I don’t want to take you away from anyone…but I will miss you.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “A Moment in Time.”

What is Serenity?

This was harder than I thought. I didn’t know what the word really meant and had to look it up. Going through my pictures I realized that I have some serene baggage.

Dawn looking out over Masai Mara, an infinity pool in the foreground reflects the clouds and a hot air balloon is flaring.

My five elements of serenity:

  •  It needs light, but also an edge of darkness.
  •  It needs to have sky in it, but not perfectly clear.
  •  It needs water in it, unruffled water.
  •  It needs to have land in it.
  •  It needs life in it.

 

A courtyard of the Forbidden City in China, It has stone paving, a basin holding water, a couple of trees and tile roofs.
Forbidden courtyard

I am not sure why I like my sky cloudy and my water smooth. But for every rule there is an exception:

Agapanthus Flowers with a backdrop of the  harbor of Crescent City on the California coast.

 

Then of course there is his Serene Highness:

A profile of a lion in grassland facing the sun.
His Serene Highness.

Aren’t dictionaries great?

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Serenity.”

Writing Sticks

notes-sketches-outlines-doodles

I think differently with a pen or pencil in my hand. Even if I am not using it! There are synapses in my brain that only fire when my hand is holding a writing stick. I have been pondering how this came to be.

I learned to write, as most of us did, in primary school and, by the end, I wrote in a close to legible cursive. I liked to write in those days and turned out many pages of stories.

I learned to properly letter in drafting classes in middle school. I spent hours learning to print and make clear sketches. I think that is when the brain connections really started to form. From then on I always printed unless I was required to do otherwise.

When I was younger my printing was easier to read than type written. Now my hands are stiffer, especially when it is a bit chilly and my letters are more like italics, the letters tend to connect together and it takes effort to achieve a standard hand. This may be due to typing so much more, it takes different hand muscles.

I learned to type my freshman year of high school, 1976, on an IBM Selectric.The typing grade dragged down my GPA.  They made me take it because I was a girl. They said you had to be able to type to get a job as a secretary.  I passionately hated typing. I was the slowest in the class, the teacher gave me a pity grade of B for the second semester because I tried so hard.  The thought of having to do anything with typing for the rest of my life was depressing.

I was much happier in drafting class and always got good grades on my lettering. I was even happier in physics where my clear sketches and printing and, believe it or not,  thinking skills, were appreciated. I stopped writing stories.

In college an electric typewriter was a requirement, word processors were starting to peak over the horizon, but they were harder to use than some programming languages are today (does anyone remember Word Star?) and there was no computer access to speak of. I wrote everything out, turned it in printed  if I could get away with it and painstakingly typed out if I couldn’t. But I was glad I had learned to type: I took a computer programming course and it made inputting  programs much easier. Many of the guys hadn’t been forced to take typing and I had a bit of an advantage.

Slow forward to today: I still brainstorm, outline, sketch and doodle with a pen or pencil, even though I have a  blazing peak typing speed of about 20 words a minute. I think that having a holistic idea of what I want to say scribbled on some bit of paper helps me to compose. That said absolutely nothing beats a computer for ease of editing.

So here I sit at the computer with a writing stick and pad by my right hand. Even if I don’t use it it helps me think.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Pens and Pencils.”

Kuku Gifts

In this photo my son’s puzzled look about how to handle a gift chicken is amusing an African man.  The formal presentation of chickens was one of many new experiences for us.

On our first trip to Africa in 2012, as part of a very small NGO, we received many chickens.

At first it was puzzling, since we obviously were not going to take these souvenirs home with us. However, we eventually realized that the gifts were really a form of hospitality.

A Picture and a Phrase Book Saved My Day

This ATM ate my debit card…It lives inTerminal 3 of Beijing Capital Airport.

My heart stopped, then beat so hard I could hear it. I didn’t want to leave to get help: what if it gave my card to someone else? I tried to to ask for help (any Mandarin I might have been able to pull up in calmer circumstances had evaporated so this was harder than it sounds). I did have the presence of mind to take this picture.

One helpful soul pointed to a phone number on the screen. I called it, pressed the number to get an English speaker…and got a recording in Chinese. Finally, I got out of the way and watched. After two people successfully used their own ATM cards (and didn’t get mine back) I sought out the airport’s help desk.

I showed the woman at the help desk this picture and she called the number they had for that bank. Her reply was that  no one could help me until 9:00 a.m. I was told I could come back then and she would call for me, or I could go downstairs to the branch ofice that would open at 9:00 a.m.

I sat on the end of my luggage cart (I travel pretty light so there was room) right in front of the door to the branch office, by now it was around 8:00 a.m.  Since I had a little time, I got out my trusty Lonely Planet Phrasebook and found this phrase: “the ATM took my card” (qukuanji chile wode ka).

When the armed guards with the bank employee bringing in a suitcase walked around me I didn’t approach them, but didn’t budge either. The next emplyee that came I did approach: I just said “excuse me” (I tried to learn some Mandarin before the trip but it always evaporated when it would be useful) and pointed to the phrase in the book. She seemed concerned and went in and brought out another employee. I was able to show him this picture on my camera screen and zoom in to read the ATM identification number. He went off and was soon back with my card.

If I understood (a big if) the reason for the ATM’s appetite was a safety feature: I had tried too many times (I couldn’t get English instructions to come up on the screen and kept guessing wrong about what stuff meant).

All of this happened before 9:00 a.m.  I caught the first bus of the day to the south train station. I got where I was going as if nothing had happened!

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