Counting in Chinese

You learn the basics of counting numbers in Chinese. Also, there was a lot of wind. And my camera battery threatened to die on me, hence the hurried nature. I also counted from 1 to 10 in Cantonese, Hokkien and Japanese.

To those participating in VEDA, you made it! VEDA stands for “Vlog Every Day (in) April”. It appears to be a thing that happens on YouTube. There’s also VlogMAFIA, which stands for “Vlogs May Appear Frequently In April”. YouTube people are fun…

Li Bai’s Moonlight Cantata

I learnt a new word: Cantata. Originally, I wanted to use “moonlight sonata” as part of the name, as a contrast. You know, that music piece by Beethoven. Then I realised that “sonata” means instrumental music (of sorts). “Cantata” means voice (of sorts). Go check the dictionary for the exact meanings.

Anyway, I’ve had that tune for the poem for a long time. It’s only with video that I finally found an outlet to express it. I could’ve created it as an audio file, but it would lack the impact I created in the above video.

I learnt how to shoot footage so I could do a cloning of myself in the video, and also how to edit that effect. That’s near the end of the video.

Here’s the poem in Chinese:
Li Bai poem

Note the visual elegance of the poem when written. Since each Chinese word is one syllable, a poem is visually compact. If the language has this one-syllable-one-word property, it will have this visual elegance. For example, a haiku in Japanese.

Also, each Chinese word carries meaning by itself, which is why much can be said in Chinese with few words. For example Chinese idioms or “Cheng Yu”
Cheng Yu - Chinese idiom
are 4 words each.

I’m not trying to raise Chinese superiority on language. Just giving an observation. Just so you know, that compactness comes at a price. Have you tried to write Chinese characters? Especially the complicated ones? And do you know how to pronounce an unfamiliar word? At least with English words, you can still get by with guessing. Unless it’s “chauffeur”. I pronounced it as chor-fi-ur (gluing the “fi-ur” to almost “fur”) when I was 10 years old. The English tuition teacher asked me to pronounce it in front of a class. Oh stop laughing…

Here’s the meaning of the poem:

There’s bright moonlight before the bed
Looks like frost on the ground
I raise my head and look at the bright moon
I bow my head and think of home

How many languages can you sing in?

My taste in music is varied. Generally speaking, I like instrumental music because there are no words. The way you think is affected by the language you know.

During the days when I was studying in university, I would be doing my homework at home, on the floor (I didn’t have a proper table to write on. I still don’t). I would play Kevin Kern (soft piano music) on the CD player. You remember CD players? I’d also pop in Westlife. Hey their songs are nice to listen to. Don’t judge me.

I’ve listened to classical (I remember Handel) to pop rock (Utada Hikaru). So what do I have now? *checks music library* I’ve got a few music pieces from demoscene (look for fr-019 and fr-025 by Farbrausch, Lifeforce by ASD), Michael Buble, Maksim, Enya, RyanDan, Celine Dion, Utada Hikaru, Backstreet Boys and Westlife, to mention a few of them.

“Wait, you said music with words affect your thinking. How can you still do homework while listening to Westlife?”

Well, there’s an exception. You see, the reason why instrumental music works well as “homework music” (as I’ll call it), is that the music gets the brain moving without interfering (much) with the thought processes. At least for me. To have songs with recognisable and understandable words have the same effect, I must have listened to the song many many many times. So often that the words hardly register in my brain. I still can sing or hum along, but they typically don’t disrupt thoughts. Unless I deliberately stop and enjoy the music.

Because of this, I also listen to songs from other languages. Well, if I don’t understand the words, they effectively become instrumental music, with the human voice as an instrument. With that, I thought it will be interesting to make the above video.

Behind the scenes

I thought I’d make a tribute to the demoscene, by including a song from a demo as the English representative. It’s called “The Popular Demo”.

For the Chinese song, I chose Wei Ai Feng Kuang by Tracy Huang. I actually heard this song only once when I was, I don’t know, 10 years old? How could I have remembered that song all these years? I don’t know. Somehow, the chorus part stuck in my brain. I only happened to find out the name of the song, uh, 1 year ago?

For Spanish, I heard “Amigos Para Siempre” due to the 1992 Olympics.

For Italian, I knew of “The Prayer” because of the movie “Quest for Camelot” (I bought the soundtrack CD).

For Russian, I knew of “Nas Ne Dogonyat” due to, surprisingly, a demo. Yes, the demoscene kind. I saw this physics simulation demo (which I can’t remember where to get it now… dang…), and the author used this song.

“Liberi Fatali” is a song written by Nobuo Uematsu for the video game, Final Fantasy VIII. And it’s in Latin. Awesome.

For Simlish (the language of the Sims, a video game), I used the title intro to my videos that I composed (that sounds strange. I “composed”. Hmm…). The original intro was too long, so I cut it short (using the last part). So for this video, I thought I’d sing the whole thing. The words don’t mean anything. Here are the lyrics in case you’re interested:

Vadomeh comahlosimei comahdorei
Comahlosimei boreidonei
Vadomeh comahlosimei comahdorei
Bundarah vehmidonei

And the cough during the singing of “The Diva Dance” was planned. I wanted the video to be both entertaining and educational, and hopefully injected a little humour into the mix. That song was from the movie “The 5th Element”.

So, how many languages can you sing in? Let me know.

On cultivating self-resilience

There was this Wall Street Journal article about Chinese parenting that made some waves. And I’m telling you not all Chinese are like that. I can say that because I’m Chinese, and I didn’t get straight A’s, and my dad didn’t force me to study, and I turn out ok. My dad did wallop me, but not because I got a B. More on that later.

One point I want to highlight in the article:

Western parents are concerned about their children’s psyches. Chinese parents aren’t. They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently.

[Emphasis mine]

When I was young, my dad used to call me lazy.

“The weather is hot. Remember to drink more water.” said my dad.
“I’ll do it later.” I said.
“Don’t be lazy.”

“Clean up your room.” said my dad.
“Rrrrgghh” I said.
“Don’t be lazy.”

I don’t remember being told to do homework. I just do it on my own. So being told “lazy” must be about other stuff. It hurt being called lazy, since I wasn’t really lazy. As time went on, I realised my dad didn’t really think I was lazy. It was just an expression to say I should be doing stuff that should be done.

Best yourself. (Straight A’s optional)

I think I told you before about my English tuition score. When I was young, I scored a 76 out of 100 in an English test. It’s not exceptional, but I scored the highest in the class. I went home happy and told my dad. He just said “Why so low?”

Now that might be seen as a classic “Chinese Straight A” syndrome, but I don’t see it that way. The lesson I learnt wasn’t to triumph over everyone else, but to triumph over myself.

I was 10 at that time.

And it’s not like my dad will jump for joy if I get straight A’s you know…

[Skip to 1:50 mark if you’re impatient]

Not bad. Now I don’t have to kill you.

On excessive meaningless praise

Disclaimer: The following isn’t a racist comment. It’s just an observation.

So a while ago, my aunt told me something about American game shows. In particular, “Jeopardy”. The contestants, when asked to tell the audience something about themselves, would say what they do for a living and their hobbies maybe, and then:

“I have a lovely wife and 2 beautiful daughters.”

My aunt found that funny, because we Chinese would hesitate to say that our wives are lovely and our daughters are beautiful. At least not on national television. The statement just doesn’t come naturally to us. And my aunt is in a position to say that, because she has 4 beautiful daughters.

I give you another quote from the article:

The fact is that Chinese parents can do things that would seem unimaginable—even legally actionable—to Westerners. Chinese mothers can say to their daughters, “Hey fatty—lose some weight.” By contrast, Western parents have to tiptoe around the issue, talking in terms of “health” and never ever mentioning the f-word, and their kids still end up in therapy for eating disorders and negative self-image. (I also once heard a Western father toast his adult daughter by calling her “beautiful and incredibly competent.” She later told me that made her feel like garbage.)

I repeat:

Western parents are concerned about their children’s psyches. Chinese parents aren’t. They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently.

Those adjectives (“lovely” and “beautiful”), is it for the benefit of the father, the mother, the audience, or the daughters? Think about that.

Tell the truth. It hurts, but we have to assume that our children can take it. If they can’t, well, they’re going to suffer more when they grow up.

I was caned

I was caned for being irresponsible

I’ve been caned by my father before. Not for getting B’s, but for irresponsibility.

At a young age, I was given a lot of freedom. My friends had curfews, such as being home by 7pm. I didn’t. Well, not exactly. As long as it’s not too late (the unspoken limit was midnight), I was ok.

The only thing I needed to do was tell my father where I was. There was this one time where I went to my friend’s place to play computer games, and I stayed a little too long. I think it was maybe 8pm when I got home.

My father was furious. I didn’t tell him where I was. I didn’t tell him if I would be back for dinner. I didn’t tell him anything. So he walloped me.

“Go get the cane.”
*sniff sniff*
“GO GET THE CANE!”
*whimper rush to get cane* “I won’t do it again!”
*hooot piack!*

Yeah, my dad made me get the instrument of my punishment. That’s how he rolled. But after he caned me, he would get ointment and apply on the areas where he caned me. He didn’t punish me for the sake of punishment. It was because I was irresponsible, and made him worry.

That said, he did cane me when I failed my Chinese spelling once. What, a Chinese failing Chinese spelling tests? It didn’t happen often.

On cultivating self-resilience

Build self-resilience

From what I’ve read, Western parents (mostly American) are too lax with disciplining their children. Or they go overboard and beat children without showing the children what it was they did and why they were beaten. I know it’s illegal to beat anyone, even if they’re your children. Just don’t go the other extreme and not discipline them at all.

That said, Chinese parents can be too strict. I should know, because I’ve heard that some Singaporean Chinese children don’t really have a life outside of school, tuition classes and extracurricular activities (that their parents had painstakingly chosen for them).

I didn’t have tuition classes after I was 11 years old. Mainly because my father couldn’t afford it. I grew up learning to be responsible and be self-reliant. After school, I went home by myself. I bought lunch and dinner by myself. I did my homework without being told. I chose the secondary school (high school) I went to, mainly because my father couldn’t read English and he didn’t know which school was good and so he couldn’t care less. I chose the junior college I went to because my father couldn’t read English and he didn’t know which school was good and so he couldn’t care less. I chose the topics I studied in university because my father couldn’t read English AND BECAUSE IT’S MY LIFE.

He let me choose the path I want to walk. Because he taught me to be responsible. To be self-reliant. To be self-resilient.

Ultimately, the children of our future needs to be able to weather the vicissitudes of life. Too lax a discipline, and at the first crack of pressure, a person might turn to drugs to escape. Too strict a discipline, and at the first crack of pressure, a person might go all out and let loose the pent up frustration.

The balance is to be resilient enough.

If you’re Chinese, don’t give your progeny full dialect names

I recently had a chat with a friend about baby names. She’s asking for opinions because, well, she’s carrying a baby girl (congratulations!) and she wanted to know what her/my friends and I thought of her choice.

The name’s not important to this story. The point is, her husband and her had decided to use only an English name and the surname (or last name if you come from those western countries). I’m using the term “English name” as opposed to “Christian name” because it’s more generic.

Now, the typical Chinese name has 2 “English” equivalents, phonetically speaking (other than a direct English name). One is the Hanyu Pinyin version. For example, my name in Hanyu Pinyin is Chen Weilie (or Wei Lie in 2 characters, but it’s sort of understood when they’re lumped together).

The other equivalent is the dialect name. My Chinese dialect group is Hokkien, which means my ancestors came from Fu Jian in China. And my dialect name is Tan Wai Lip.

Now, my preferred name is “Vincent”. Or “Vincent Tan”. “Vincent Chen” is fine too. I just think that last one sounds funny to me…

Which gives an interesting problem, because my full “English name” is Vincent Tan Wai Lip. “Tan” is my last name. It doesn’t look very “last” to me…

According to the western naming convention, I should be “Wai Lip Vincent Tan”, which means in my culture’s convention, I’m “Tan Wai Lip Vincent”. The “Wai Lip” part is not a middle name, it is my first name according to western culture, and my given name in Chinese culture.

I’m bringing this up because, many of the online transactions I’ve made requires a “first name” and “last name” field. What do I fill in for those? I usually use “Vincent” and “Tan” respectively.

This worked fine till I got to PayPal. For withdrawal purposes, they required my name, after fully resolving the “first name” and “last name” part, to be exactly the same as that in my Singapore bank account. I’ll leave you to imagine all the hassle this gave me…

I’m sure Chinese aren’t the only ones with this problem.

So, back to that pregnant friend of mine. Even though she and her husband are both Chinese, they’ve decided that their daughter shall only have the “English name” and the surname part. Their daughter will still have a full Chinese name, only that she won’t have a full dialect name.

Their main reason?

Because the nurse at the hospital is prone to giving terrible sounding dialect names…