Friday, September 30, 2005

Where the former native speaker realizes answering an easy question isn't that easy...

My wife was watching a show where flight attendants were talking about their experiences doing job interviews. When they did the English job interview, one of the applicants--who had practiced a lot for this interview--was asked the simple question, "What's your favorite fruit?"

Not expecting this kind of question, she thought and thought. To help, the interviewer asked again: "What's your favorite fruit? You know, strawberries? Or bananas?"

"Oh yes!" said the interviewee. "I like to eat umbrellas!"

When she told me about this, I laughed and wondered aloud how anyone could say such a thing. My wife said maybe the applicant mixed the words "strawberries" and "bananas" to make "umbrellas". (They sort of sound similar. Sort of.) But I wasn't convinced. "I still don't see how anyone could do such a thing."

So she asked me, in Chinese what my favorite fruit was.

"香草!" (Oops...)

(Little extra credit: what did I mix up to get that result?)

Monday, September 26, 2005

Empires of the Mind: a new book in the former native speaker's library

The complete title is Empires of the Mind: I. A. Richards and Basic English in China, 1929-1979 by Rodney Koeneke. I just got it today.

It looks like it will shed some important light on an aspect of I. A. Richards's life that has not been deeply (or widely) discussed--his experiences in China. I don't remember how I first found out that Richards had traveled to China several times, mostly during the Republican era (1911-1949), but that, and mention of him in the preface to Anne Cochran's (the Tunghai FLLD chair in the '50s and '60s, not the singer) Modern Methods of Teaching English As A Foreign Language (a book I briefly mention here), motivated me to take a look at a biography of him by John Paul Russo. Russo discusses Richards's relationship with China in one chapter, and I'll be interested in reading how Koeneke expands on that discussion.

Two things I noticed while skimming the bibliography and index of Koeneke's book, though: 1) he doesn't seem to have used any Chinese-language sources. I wonder, then, if this book will cover more of Richards's perspective toward China than vice-versa. I'll have to see... and 2) a minor quibble--Tseng Yueh-nung (Beauson Tseng), first president of Tunghai, is mentioned (Tseng worked with Richards in China on a Subcommittee on Vocabulary Selection for Middle Schools), but his name is written "Tsing" for some reason. I wonder if that's how Richards wrote his name? (But I remember Tseng mentioned as "Tseng" in Russo's book.) Anyway, as I say, that's a minor criticism. Overall, I'm looking forward to reading this book and adding it to the background for my dissertation.

[Update, 1 Oct. 2005: Having read the first chapter of the book, I need to mention that Koeneke does acknowledge/comment upon his own lack of Chinese and this lack's relationship to his scholarship. He writes,
To a large extent, the decision to reconstruct the dramatic transformations which occurred in China and the West during the years of Richards's Basic enterprise from the evidence of his diaries, letters and published writings reflects the kinds of questions I asked about the way we narate the history of British imperialism. It also reflects my own limitations. British historians of the future will no doubt read a number of languages in addition to English (many already do) as the history of Britain is increasingly folded into that of the empire which for so long gave it its meaning. I read no Chinese, and speak about as much as my subject did. As a consequence, the enormously important story of Chinese reactions to Richards's efforts, as well as to those of the Rockefeller Foundation and other Western institutions in China during the tumultuous years between the Ching Dynasty and Mao's Revolution, can only be hinted at here. ... (17-18)
He also mentions that he has purposely "retained Richards's spelling of Chinese names." He says, "In doing so I hoped to convey something of the air of privileged aloofness which Richards enjoyed as an Englishman abroad" (19).

Friday, September 09, 2005

Another complication for those wanting to do research ethically

Tom Stafford at the University of Sheffield has been conducting an exchange with the people of Reed Elsevier about the academic publisher's involvement in hosting arms trade shows (though a subsidiary, Spearhead Exhibitions). If, like me, you hadn't heard about this before, you can read his exchange with the company here and here and here and here. He also has two other posts about the situation (here and here). Stafford's argument (quoted from his Sept. 8 post) is as follows:
I believe that the DSEi arms fairs are immoral, geopolitically reckless, sometimes illegal (e.g.) and improperly regulated (e.g.). Beyond this, I resent that a publisher which profits from the hard (and publicly funded) work of academics uses those profits to support the sale to undemocratic & repressive governments of such things as depleted uranium shells, cluster bombs, missile technology and small arms. The arms fairs Spearhead organises (yes, DSEi isn't the only one) are a measly amount of Elsevier's business, but it is a part that makes academics complicit in the deaths of civilians, in torture and in political repression around the world.
Reed Elsevier's response to his letters basically claimed that arms trade is "legitimate business" and that "it is your democratic right" to disagree with RE's involvement in arms trading (though it won't affect their business).

When teaching Research Methods, I talk a lot about research ethics in terms of using sources properly--accurating citing sources, not taking the source's ideas or arguments out of context, using sources that are reliable, ... But this is sure a new twist on research ethics: what do we do when our school's library subscribes to journals and databases whose publishers are involved in business that many of us would consider immoral? And what should we teach our students about this?

(via Crooked Timber)

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Two experiments

We're experimenting with keeping the air con off these days. We've got the windows open and some fans on, and there's sometimes a nice breeze that comes in through the balcony window. The view from that window looks like this:

OK, I'm a liar. That picture was from the Chiang Kai-shek Camping Area in Dakeng. Our balcony view actually looks more like this:

Except now we have some creepy vines on the balcony that I pulled off the walls because they were tearing the tiles off the wall of the balcony.

Anyway, that's our first experiment--no air con. It's OK, but it's a litle humid in here.

Second experiment: I was reading Academic Coach today--she has some suggestions regarding writing daily and keeping records of how long you write a day. So I'm going to try that out. Every week I'll report on how much time I spent on my diss. that week. (This will make for exciting reading, I'm sure...)

Wednesday, September 07, 2005


OK. Back to the diss. Classes start next Thursday, so...

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Typhoon holiday

We just got our power back after a morning without electricity. It's still raining prety hard outside and the wind is blowing the rain in all directions. We still have water, but I filled up the bathtub anyway last night.

According to one report I heard, Talim evidently split in two when it hit the central mountain range. This weakened it--the rain hasn't been as heavy as predicted, but it is still pretty heavy.

I don't have any pictures yet, but Michael Turton has some pics of his neighborhood that he took when he "went out for newspapers this morning in a driving rain and strong winds" this morning. (Guess he's going for the nutty foreigner award. On the other hand, I heard the garbage truck driving around our neighborhood this morning and we saw a someone on a motorcycle almost get blown over outside our window. So I guess he's in good company!)

After hearing reports that there may be "thousands dead" in New Orleans, it's hard to get too uptight about what's happening here.