Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Yellow Card Question, Episode 3

Well, seeing as how it has been two weeks since the last yellow card question, it must be time for a new one. But I'm kinda tired, so I'm not feeling up to putting on my clown suit and magician's hat. All right fine, I'll put on my yellow raincoat and rollerblade onto stage. Okay? Are you happy now?

Now, it's time for the yellow card. (Applause) Here, from my amazing stack of questions, special for today, exclusively for this audience, we have a question! (I try a bit too hard to look excited, and almost lose my balance. Audience applauds.) A special question that you've all been waiting for, chosen randomly and without the possibility of a rigged card draw! (Applause)

"If you were given one million dollars, what would you buy?"

Well, I think I would buy two things.

One is Liner's system of mail tubes, so we could climb into little capsules and be sucked to another continent in a few seconds. I think that wouldn't cost very much if I drove a hard bargain and had it made in China.

With the money left over, I would assemble a linguistics (or cogsci) department that pays attention to neuroscience and cognitive psychology and explores language in its cognitive and social context, that neither ignores linguistic theory nor takes any of it too seriously, that does take real languages and linguistic diversity seriously, that has plenty of quantitative experimental research (both corpus-based and psycholinguistic) but still has room for more exploratory (but still empirical) research, and that has people working on the whole spectrum of phenomena from phonetics to discourse structure and pragmatics. Oh, and they should let me study there.

Is that too much to ask?

Friday, February 09, 2007

The Yellow Card Question, Episode 2

And now, what you've all been waiting for -- this week's episode of:

The Yellow Card Question!

Pretend now that I actually didn't leave my deck of yellow card questions in Jinhua and planned ahead by queuing up a few here, but rather am pulling the question now live, before your very eyes! Feel the suspense! Gaze in anticipation at the beautiful bright yellow rectangles! Read a few extra exclamation marks!!!

And a few more: !!!!

And now, the question:
"You have been captured by cannibals. How would you like to be cooked?"

Well, if I'm going to be eaten, I would like to be eaten good, slow cooked in a deep pit barbecue or roasted over an open fire with lots of tasty spices. I've heard cannibals often know how to make a mean barbecue sauce and are pretty good at cooking with open fires. So really, I trust them to cook me right. Just so long as they don't leave any as microwaved leftovers I'll be fine.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

N views of West Lake, and other stuff

Before I go gallivanting across the globe and visiting such exotic locales as Visalia and University City, I should say something about Hangzhou, since I previously said I wanted to say something about it, but was waiting until I uploaded some pictures. Well, I've uploaded some pictures, but can't think of much to say about it, although I did already say a few things on the photo pages. Anyway, go take a look. It's a nice place.

Trees planted in an old house

Today was a nice sunny day, and I rode my bike (a bright red folding bicycle) much of the way to Double Dragon Caves, which is a pretty famous tourist attraction, not far away, that I managed to not visit all this semester. I've just put up some of the pictures I took today.

Language Requirements

My two most likely options for school next year have radically different language requirements. First, take a look at the one for UCSB linguistics:

The foreign language requirement. Students must demonstrate knowledge of one research language before receiving an M.A. and a second research language before advancement to candidacy for the Ph.D. A research language is a language with substantial relevant literature on linguistics. Knowledge can be demonstrated by one of the following methods of examination within the student's area of interest: (1) English translation of a 500-word passage, chosen by the examiner, to be produced within one and a half hours with the aid of a dictionary and with no more than 8 points of erroneous comprehension (2 points for each major error significantly affecting meaning; 1 point for each minor error). (2) A 1,000-1,500 word English summary, written over a single weekend, of a substantial linguistic article chosen by the examiner. The faculty member in charge of exams for a particular language will specify a sample of material comparable to what can be expected on the exam. Translation and summary exams may be taken in May or October on a date to be set by the examiner. (3) A research paper that not only independently fulfills a course or degree requirement but also contains copious references to linguistic literature in the foreign language of interest, with the understanding that the works referred to shall be lent to the examiner for verification.
In other words, you have to be able to understand academic articles written in two languages other than English. I don't meet that requirement yet. Now look at the one for UCSD cogsci:
Language Requirement. The main goal of the language requirement is to give all students firsthand experience with some of the differences in structure and usage of languages and the several issues involved in the learning of second languages. This requirement can be satisfied by demonstrating satisfactory proficiency, by prior study in a language (e.g., two years of high school study), or by satisfactory completion of one quarter of study in a language course approved by the department.
"Two years of high school study" or "one quarter of study"! All UC undergraduates have to have more language courses than that! The theoretical bent of the two departments is fairly similar, and they have a high emphasis on empirical work, but UCSB being a linguistics department and the UCSD program being a cogsci department makes a lot of difference.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Change of Plans

I have decided to make an emergency run home during my one month winter break. I need to meet with the professors at next year's school options, get out of the country, and see my people. I need a hug and, most importantly, a burrito!

I hope the following isn't misunderstood, and doesn't offend. Much of it is generalizations that should perhaps be more carefully qualified. I have a corresponding list in progress of things I like about living in China, but I'm pretty sure I will have an easier time thinking of those things when I'm in California. (The grass is always greener.) You can expect to see that list in a month or so. What is more relevant at the moment is my list of things I don't like about living in China:

  • I have no peer group. I have only weak social groups. I have no roommates. I miss human contact.
  • I have had very little time to practice Chinese. Relatively little context to speak, and for much of the semester I was too busy to study.
  • I also managed to not do any other things I had hoped to explore here, like classical painting, martial arts, ancient Buddhism or Daoism.
  • There are very few natural areas to visit. The roads are paved, the fields are plowed under (though mostly by hand), the lakes are artificial, and the rivers are polluted.
  • The historical sites are reconstructions, with almost nothing remaining more than 20 years old.
  • The assumption that dating Chinese women is a high priority for me, even a major reason for coming here. I can understand why this stereotype exists, since there are a lot of single men who come here as teachers or on business, and many of them do have Chinese girlfriends. And some of them, even one I know, have dislikable attitudes towards Chinese women. The effect is that I, as a representative white male American, am assumed to have similar intentions. The combination of that and being an exotic species makes me the object of some somewhat annoying attention, and some dislike.
  • The media control is real, with pretty limited variety on TV. The news seems to be even less trustworthy than Fox or BBC Science. (And much less sensational/interesting).
  • The nationalism and patriotism turn up in surprising places. It's sometimes just quaint, but other times like fingernails on a chalkboard. As far as I can tell, there is no stigma against nationalism. (Contrast this to Mexico City, where the relevant question being discussed was "Is nationalism ever a good thing?" if I remember correctly.)
  • People assume that I like Bush and his policies, and that I'm nationalistic too.
  • The Great Firewall blocks a lot of content: wikipedia, many blog and website hosts, many news sources, and many random pages. And it dramatically slows down international traffic too. It makes it harder to connect with friends and family in the States, read different perspectives on the news, and read academic articles. The internet connection is pretty poor when school is in session, and really bad in the evening.
I'm hoping I will be able to make some changes on some of these points next semester, and getting out of the country will help refresh my memory of what I do like about being here.