Archive for the 'books' Category


Learning Chinese

So the summer long ago that I spent studying Chinese at Cheng Da, I indulged my nerdiness by enjoying the benefits of my library card.  (The library had a lovely sculpture of a swooping flutist in front of it at the time, too, which I’m kicking myself for not photographing).  With strong A/C, the library was a lovely modern space with some neat spaces to lounge about in the company of books.  I also had my first exciting experience with sliding stacks, which were quite cool.

Anyway, in addition to reading up on film criticism and helping my cousin with his research on Psycho and Gaslight (neither of which, I’m sorry to say, I was brave enough to watch on my own in the typhoon storminess of that summer…  What can I say, I’m a film-wuss, and too highly impressionable for my own good…  Where was I?  Oh, yes, in addition…), I looked up all the how-to-learn Chinese books there.  I already had a bit of a collection that I was studying on my own before going to Cheng Da and studying from the Shida book that is standard university Chinese fare in Taiwan (in spite of being kind of ancient).  However, being a bit of a research nerd, I came across this book:

It is probably out of print, and its phonetics are not hanyu pin-yin.  However, being a bo-po-mo-fo learner myself (which I think tends to make pronunciation better, though it has its confusing bits too), this wasn’t an impediment for me.  This is more of a character-writing book, with nice charts of radicals and their meanings as endpapers.  Also, I was delighted to discover that the author had a sense of humor, as evidenced by the entry for the character of “ghost,” which as evidenced by the blue dot, I was not the first reader to note:

Seriously speaking, I’m a fan of studying character etymology, and I don’t think it’s just because I’m an etymology language nerd.  I think the contextualization of why/how characters came to be is helpful in remembering them.  At Cheng-Da, there was a class with pretty pictures that showed the evolution of characters.  Back in the US, on a few rare occasions, my mom used to teach me calligraphy, though all I really remembered was fairly basic.  I practiced my characters with calligraphy in Taiwan too, just to make it a bit more fun and involve more gross-motor movement to try to remember them better.  Haven’t touched my calligraphy set for a while, and am not very confident that I remember all my characters that well.  Spent many an afternoon at my grandfather’s house that summer, practicing characters, which unfortunately tended to make me nod off a bit with all the repetition.  My piano teacher could probably vouch that I’m not so good with repetition.

However, I did have a fun experience at Cheng-Da in Tainan that summer, and was a huge fan of my teacher and our class.  It was a friendly department, and I would recommend it for other prospective students.


On Poetry

It’s the end of April, and National Poetry Month. I’ve been reading from a number of books on Chinese poetry in translation– have to pick some up for Taiwanese poetry, too.

Here’s an opening excerpt from “Poetry Itself Is a Kind of Sunlight” by Yan Yi:

Believe me, poetry itself is a kind of sunlight
No substance has been found anywhere in the cosmos
That can break the wings of poetry.

The Red Azalea: Chinese Poetry Since the Cultural Revolution, p. 36

My paternal grandfather and great-grandfather would write poetry with their friends. My mother took out a scroll for me once, and showed me the brushed character for moon. I think there was moonlight through a window in the poem. I wish I could read their work.

Here’s a rough unfinished excerpt from mine:

I am the rice paddy, green with life,
shoots tender and sharp through the water.

I am the white crane flying
through a row’s reflection on a quest
for the fish slipping through muddy lines.

And on that note, though there is more to say, I’m going to sleep.


The antecedent of The Princeton Review and Kaplan… Or nerdiness then and now.



Wu-edition Punctuated and Annotated Edition of the Book of Documents with Repeated and Similar Phrases
Traditionally ascribed to K’ung An-kuo (Han Dynasty) with explanations by Lu Teh-ming (T’ang Dynasty)
Southern Sung imprint This is a reference book that was used for preparing for the civil service examinations. The small size of the imprint made it convenient for traveling and sometimes was snuck into the examination hall by less scrupulous examinees, evidently for cheating. Since it was a book prepared when the demand appeared, very few have survived, making this quite precious. has the photo

Does this mean that my old test prep books could someday be “quite precious”? I suppose Asia is something of the mothership for nerdiness… It’s glorious, there is a 24-hr bookstore (Eslite!!! — TIME article: ), at least one bookstore per 1 mile radius as far as I can tell, and stationery stores 3 stories high (9×9– one floor of pens, one of notebooks and cards and little magnetic bookmarks, and one of DIY/art papers, etc.).

Apparently, Eslite is quite the pick-up place after clubbing or bar hopping (I would assume the flagship branch at Ren-Ai Circle would be much more prone to post-clubbers due to proximity than the Xinyi branch by Taipei 101). That hasn’t been my experience there, but it’s lovely to be surrounded by books. There are at least the languages of Japanese and English and Chinese on the shelves there.

Page 101 is an easier foreign language browsing experience, as all the English books are mostly together– and the art collection there kind of blows my mind– it’s not just the collection, it’s the way it’s shelved — covers facing out for display.

I loved the bookstore in Seoul too by Gangnam in another huge mall, if I recall correctly, but Eslite and Page 101 actually have atmosphere– not just a supermarket for books per se. There’s more friendly lighting than cold fluorescence all over the place (though it is there, depends on the section, for some reason in my mind, fiction tends to be less cold than the languages section of Eslite).

I still miss the Strand in NYC, but Barnes and Noble could learn a bit from Taiwan.

This bookstore is around Ren-Ai, but not Eslite (forget the name of it, but I had to shoot these just for the shelving categories).



Note how the “Male Authors” and “Female Authors” shelves face each other?  I’m wondering if that means the rest of the authors on the shelves fall elsewhere on the spectrum…  Seriously though, if it’s a marketing decision to get men to by the “Male Authors” books and women to buy the “Female Authors” books, how are they different?  Better study more zhongwen!


Free Rice

June 2019
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