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Mitä aiot tehdä isona?

We're all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars

8/7/11 12:42 pm

This morning I was at the gym* and suddenly it dawned on me that I could learn written Chinese without actually learning any spoken Chinese. So far I have been hesitant about learning to write Chinese. Learning to speak Chinese is daunting enough already, and I thought it might just too ambitious to learn both. I didn’t really get the point of written Chinese anyway, I mean, 1000s of characters just to be able to write? How inefficient! Why not just use an alphabet? So much easier, if you ask me. You’d only need to learn about 25 symbols, plus some diacritics and voilá, you can write Chinese. Easy as pie (well, if you’re any good at baking pies, of course).

But this morning I had an epiphany. The main advantage of written Chinese is that you don’t actually have to learn the spoken language. There is no connection between the spoken and the written language, like there is with an alphabet. An alphabet symbolizes sounds or syllables, and uses those as building blocks for words. Chinese characters (as far as I’m aware anyway) have no relation to sounds, just to the meaning of the word. Which means you don’t need to know the actual word in Chinese, but you will understand the concept from the written character. This is one reason why the Chinese are not likely to give up their “complicated” way of writing, as it’s the only way that people from all over China, who speak many completely different languages, can communicate with each other. So if I would learn at least a couple of Chinese characters, I could actually communicate with Chinese people without speaking a word of Chinese. How awesome is that? And then I thought, what if the whole world would just learn Chinese characters, we could all communicate with each other in writing, without speaking each other’s language! It’s like a secret code, how exciting! According to what I’ve read, you only need to know about a 1000 characters to be able to understand 90% of written Chinese. I think that’s quite reasonable. You could learn two new characters every day for a year and a half, and you’d be able to understand pretty much everything. Not bad, eh? A lot less effort than learning to speak a new language. I daresay there are very few languages you can learn for 90% within a year and a half with only 15 minutes a day. This could totally work!

*I always get my best ideas at the gym. Maybe I should go more often?

cross-posted at www.rapturina.com.
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7/30/11 01:47 pm

Things have been hectic... Work is crazy right now and I'm also still doing my TEFL course. I'm well past the half way point now, so it's going well, but it's hard sometimes to find the energy to do it. It's not that difficult, but I want to do it well, so I need to really sit down and focus for a few hours to get it done, and that's hard when you're already tired from working all day!

Summer is supposed to be a quiet period at work, but because so many have been forced to leave because of the budget cuts we now need to do the same amount of work with about half of the people, and then Summer is suddenly not so quiet anymore. It's a little frustrating, especially as pretty much everyone is now stressed out and in a bad mood about it, which doesn't really help the general mood in the office. But, within a few weeks all the new students will have arrived, and then hopefully things will quiet down for a bit.

Anyway. It's weekend now, so I shouldn't really be talking about work. :D We have a guest cat at the moment, which has been quite fun. Our friends Arjen and Eleanora have a one year old cat, Puma, who is staying with us now for a few weeks while they're on holiday. She's about half the size of Wodan & Kissa, but neither of them really seem to realize that. Puma keeps running up to Wodan and Kissa without fear, trying to chase them away, and Wodan and Kissa keep freezing up in terror everytime she does that, resulting in a staring contest. It's quite entertaining. It's nice having a younger, more playful cat in the house! Wodan and Kissa aren't all that old (they'll be 4 soon), but they're lazy little monsters, so it might be good to have Puma running around the house for a few weeks to shake things up.

6/30/11 10:14 pm

Two amazing things I have to mention that happened to me recently.

A few weeks ago I attended "Lord of the Rings Live". The first movie of the trilogy was shown, but without the score. The score was simultaneously played live by the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, in cooperation with two choirs and an opera singer. It was so fantastic. I didn't even really watch that much of the movie, I was just completely fascinated by the orchestra and sometimes had to close my eyes because the music was so beautiful. When you watch a movie in the theatre or on DVD, you pay so much more attention to the images and the dialogue, the score usually takes a bit of a backseat. But when you have a rather large orchestra play it in front of you, there's no way around it anymore. It was simply amazing.

And then, last night I went to The Hague to see one of my literary heroes. Stephen Fry was in the Netherlands to promote his latest book, "The Fry Chronicles". He did a talk and there was an interview and it was supercool. I adore that man so much, he has such a lovely manner of speaking and he's so intelligent. It was funny, because he just talked and talked, and the interviewer couldn't really get a word in edgewise, Stephen Fry just did his own thing and babbled on. He's really quite good at that, and he did have some really interesting things to say about writing and self loathing and language, and other assorted topics. I love him even more now, if that was even possible.

I just wanted to mention these two events as thinking about it makes me all warm and fuzzy inside. And I like that feeling.

What else? I've started my TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) course two weeks ago and so far it's going well. It's all online and it's quite a good course. You have to go through slides and watch videos, and do quizzes to move on to the next chapter. There are also a couple of written assignments that you have to send in to a tutor and that get marked. So far I'm pretty impressed. I especially like the grammar bits, as I have never really thought about the English language like that. It's fascinating to figure out how it actually works. You get three months to finish the whole course, but I think I might be a bit quicker. Still, it's quite an investment when it comes to time. I really should be finishing my assignment right now, for example. Feels like I'm back in university, being all distracted when I actually need to finish something important. :D

6/18/11 09:48 pm

Alright. Time to tell you my news.

This is the short version: I am leaving my job at the end of this year, and I am moving to China in January, to teach English for a year or so.

This is the long versionCollapse )

6/3/11 01:02 pm

It's June, finally! I don't know what was going on, but May seemed like a really long month this year. Time was going by so slowly, I thought it was never going to end... But now it's over. I don't know why it was going so slow, it's not like there's anything special happening in June or something, June is just another uneventful month, really, but somehow May was just not moving along very fast. Anyway. It's done now, we can move on with June and get started on Summer. :D

So what am I doing this Summer? Nothing much. Just working, like usual. I'm not taking any holidays as I'm saving up all my days off (to use at the end of the year), so I suspect it's going to be a long and boring Summer. But I suppose that's nothing out of the ordinary, as I've always hated Summer for exactly that reason. Too long, too boring and too hot! I wish it was September already.

Yesterday was my sister's due date, but nothing has happened so far. Her first child was a few days late as well, so maybe this one will follow suit. I'm really excited about becoming an auntie again, it must be double the fun, eh?

5/17/11 08:11 pm

Today I gave the last of a series of three workshops I have set up for incoming exchange students. It's probably the coolest thing I've done in my whole working life, and I'm really pleased with how it turned out. I set up a workshop about intercultural communication, which means I prepared and gave the three sessions. Not a lot of students signed up as it was voluntary and they didn't get any credit for it (I mostly had about 6, 7 people in class), but the same ones kept coming back and they seemed to really enjoy it. Today was the last session and I made them fill out a short evaluation form at the end. They were all very positive and two of them even said they wished there had been more sessions. I was glowing with pride when I read that!

It was really great to teach these workshops as I love to talk about the topic and I think it's really important people get educated about it. And I just love teaching, especially if the students are really enthusiastic about it as well. Plus it was so much fun to put the sessions together, thinking about which theories I would teach them and coming up with fun exercises for them to do to make it more lively. I've always tried to deny it but I think there might actually be a proper teacher somewhere inside me. :D

5/4/11 01:00 pm - Het regent zonnestralen

The first songCollapse )

The lyrics and translationCollapse )

The second songCollapse )

Lyrics and translationCollapse )

Why these songs? Acda en de Munnik have been one of my favourite bands for a long, long time. They are very popular in the Netherlands and their shows are always sold out. They write rather simple tunes, with Paul de Munnik usually on piano, and Thomas Acda usually on guitar. Their lyrics are brilliant. They're very clever with words. Their songs usually revolve around several different themes, of which one is escapism. Escaping your life and looking for the solution anywhere but where you are right now. It's a topic I have dealt with all my life, and probably one of the reasons I love them so much. :D I've never seen them live. I don't know if I ever will, as the songs I know are mostly the old ones. I don't really know any of their new material. But the old songs, especially these two right here, mean the world to me. These are the songs that inspire me.

A bit of background: Acda en de Munnik are not just a band, they do a specific kind of theater that is known as cabaret in Dutch. It's nothing like the associations you might have with the word in English (though I do think it evolved from that), it's a bit more serious. It's similar to stand-up comedy, except there are also songs and often there's a sad part to it as well. It can be funny, but it can also be very sad, all together in one show. Anyway, so during the show there's this whole story about a guy called Herman, who nobody really knows and everyone is always forgetting his name. He doesn't stand out at all. When he dies people come to his funeral and make a lot of jokes at his expense and it's really just a very sad story. The song, "Als het vuur gedoofd is", is sung after the story of Herman is told, and makes it even sadder. Here is a man who wanted so much, and got so little out of life. Always afraid to do what he wanted, and now he's dead, after he had only just decided to make some big changes. The song, "Als het vuur gedoofd is", has always been a sort of warning to me, a reminder of what happens when you lose the spark, the guts to do the things you want to do.

On the next tour, Acda en de Munnik talked about how people always wanted to know what happened to Herman, and they came up with a sequel, "Het regent zonnestralen". In this song it becomes clear that Herman is not dead, that he actually went to live his dream, and by sheer coincidence gets a complete new start, a clean slate. He gets a new life, as everyone thinks he's dead, and he isn't. In the song, at first he's afraid, but then he decides to grab the chance with both hands and he goes on to live the life he's always wanted, or so I assume. This turns Herman into a hero, and an inspiration. Someone who has taken his life into his own hands and has broken free. The story of Herman and these two songs have always touched me deeply, and they are a significant part of who I am and who I try to be.

Lately I've been playing these songs a lot, because right now I am a little bit like Herman. I'm sitting on that bench in the park, thinking about my life as it is. I'm about to make a decision that will change my life, possibly forever. And I'm terrified. I've made and executed this decision several times before and it has made me who I am, no regrets. But this time, a lot is at stake. A lot more than there used to be and somehow the decision has gotten a lot more difficult to make. So I find myself, once again, turning to Acda en de Munnik and these two songs, to find inspiration and to find the courage to make that decision.

Stay tuned. A storm is coming.

4/27/11 08:55 pm

Ugh, I'm tired... The four day weekend was lovely and I got a lot of much needed rest, but now I feel so tired again... I didn't sleep well last night, for no particular reason, so today was a bit difficult. I guess it's an early night for me tonight! I'm downloading the new episode of "Glee", but if it doesn't hurry up a bit it'll have to wait until tomorrow night.

Work has been a bit difficult lately in that I'm tired of students asking stupid questions. For some reason it has turned into a real drag these days. At least soon we'll receive new applications for incoming students, which is always fun, but I'm mostly just annoyed at work. Not just because of the annoying students, but because a lot of crap is going on. In upcoming years the government will significantly decrease its spending on higher education, so the universities are forced to cut costs. Their first measure is to immediately stop handing out permanent contracts, which means that everyone with a temporary contract is out as soon as the contract ends. It's not directly a problem for me, as I have a permanent contract, but quite a few colleagues will leave soon (about 200 people have to leave, out of about 1700 working at the university). Not only sad because some are really nice and I'll miss them and it sucks that this is happening to them, but also because those jobs will not be filled by new people and there will probably be a lot of restructuring going on. But no one really knows yet what will happen as the people in charge are being rather vague about it all. So this has lead to quite a bit of tension and bitching at work, which sucks. It doesn't help that soon it will be Summer, which means there will be nothing to do at work. I hate the Summer at work, all the students are gone and nothing happens, the campus is empty. There's of course always a lot of work to be done, but nothing too exciting. I will finally have time for all the things I've been postponing since last Summer. :D

And Saturday it will be Queen's Day. I bloody hate Queen's Day. ARGH.

Anyway. I'm just in a generally bad mood these days. At least tomorrow I will be teaching my second Dutch class, which I'm looking forward to!

4/22/11 09:29 am

Four day weekend, hurrah! I've had a tough week these past four days (too many activities, not enough sleep) and I am very happy I now get to do absolutely nothing for four days. Well, there's a concert tomorrow night and an Easter brunch at the in-laws on Sunday, but nothing else planned. Which is a big change from previous weekends!

Last night I taught my first Dutch class, which was a lot of fun. A few weeks ago I saw an advert from a student association at the University here in Rotterdam; they were looking for a Dutch teacher for two hours a week. I've always thought that would be something fun to do so I send them an e-mail and before I knew it I was hired. So now I teach Dutch on Thursday evenings to a group of about ten international students. Yesterday was the first class and it was simply awesome. The students sign up voluntarily, so they're really interested in learning things, which makes things easy for me. I started with teaching them about Dutch pronunciation, which I think is the most difficult thing about Dutch for people who already speak English. Anything else I throw at them will be relatively easy compared to pronunciation, if you ask me. And it was so much fun! I just cannot get over how much I enjoyed being a teacher. I'm already looking forward to next week!

4/16/11 05:43 pm

So I was in Finland for a few days this week. I had to go to Riga for work and decided to take a couple of extra days off and fly to Finland (which is really rather cheap from Riga!), just for the hell of it. It was lovely. First I hung out with emiliachi for an evening, eating great Asian food and watching "Lost in Translation", and just talking a lot. That was really great, it was so nice to see her again after all those years, and I've realized we have quite a lot in common. So I hope she'll come visit me soon and we can go to the all-you-can-eat sushi place. :D

After that I took the train to Helsinki and stayed there for a few days, on my own. It was great to just have some me time and walk around the city, just enjoying the atmosphere and the familiarity of everything. It still feels a little bit like coming home to come back to Helsinki and it was good for my soul to be there again for a few days.

Anyway. No further travel plans now. Well, I'll be going to Copenhagen in September for work (big conference), but that doesn't really count. I also wonder what will happen to me this time, as bad stuff always seems to happen to me in Denmark. I've had food poisoning in Denmark, and my wallet was stolen last time I was in Copenhagen; stuff that usually happens to people in exotic countries happens to me in Denmark! So I'm a little hesitant to go back there. :D

Oh, and speaking of bad stuff, our house got broken into last week, which I'm still furious about. We live on the fourth floor and they did it in broad daylight. I can't believe someone had the nerve to go that far into an apartment building during the day and just break through our front door. From what the door looks like now, they must've made quite some noise too, but it's quite possible that no one in the building was home at the time. Anyway, thankfully we don't have all that much to steal and the things they took aren't worth much. They took my old laptop, but that was a piece of shit anyway, and I had just taken off all my personal stuff (pictures, my Nanowrimo novel...) to transfer it to my new laptop, so nothing is lost. They also took Selmer's camera, but he seems rather pleased to have an excuse to buy a new one. They also took Selmer's shoes (WTF?), and my e-reader, but that's it. Not our tv, not Selmer's desktop, not the Nintendo, not the DVD player, nothing like that. So materially speaking I'm not that bothered about it, as our insurance will cover it anyway, but the idea that someone broke into my house is rather creepy. I was always convinced we were pretty safe as we have the main door downstairs and then two locks on our own front door, and we live on the fourth floor, who would take the risk of going all the way up to the fourth floor to break into a house? You'd think they would've targeted the first floor apartments, much easier to flee out of if necessary. So I think they must've been pretty desperate thieves, and probably a little stupid too. Especially as I only realized a day later that they could go into my e-mail and stuff like that on my old laptop, as all my passwords are automatically filled in. They could've gone shopping on Amazon with my creditcard without any trouble, and with a bit of trouble probably could've also broken into my online bank account and gotten my creditcard details. But they didn't do anything like that, and I've changed all the passwords now, so now they just have an old laptop that barely works. Well, at least it saves me the trouble of getting rid of it!
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