Sunday, November 29, 2009
之前，在礼堂 里，老师们分享编写教案和试教的情况时，一位在邻里学校的老师热情洋溢地说，后来如果没有安排读报课，她的学生就会不断追问为什么不上读报课了。学生的反 应出乎她的意料之外，其实也可能出乎学生自己的意料之外。他们现在发现，自己原来读得懂《联合早报》上的国际新闻。
我在这套教案试教半 年快结束前，总算安排出时间去学校观课。那是邻里学校中一的学生，学生翻报纸玩老师设计的游戏，抢着举手回答问题。体育新闻版里学语文，篮球比赛用什么形 容词，请表演灌篮的动作。课上得热闹，站在课室前面的华文老师，活泼地用少年的语言和学生一来一往。有时柔声鼓励，有时用激将法。华文老师像个落力演出的 演员，没有威权，只有亲和力。
我们开始做这个读报计划时，很快意识到我们用的是报人的语言，老师们用的是教学的语言。我们要怎样用教学 的方法，把报纸的阅读方式传送到学生那里去？今年初，我和《逗号》副主编慧容讨论给老师们安排讲座、研讨时，左挑右选了好几个星期六。学校正事杂事已够 多，老师明年愿意再花这个时间和心思吗？刚刚开学的星期六好不好？农历新年前的星期六好不好？就这样，我们有点过意不去的占据了编写教案的华文老师好几个 星期六。
但那只是开始的阶段。真正进入编写教案，还有会议。而老师们几人一组，也要经常自己碰头。我在教学手册里看到培雅中学的谢陈琦 老师回忆美丽的合作过程时，叙述了这一段：“当初为了写教案，春娇老师和我‘山长水远’分别从金文泰和新民路下课后赶去科兰芝中学讨论。第一个教案讨论完 毕后才发觉晓玲老师的学校已经空无一人，附近组屋万家灯火。我开动车子欲离开科兰芝中学时，学校大门早被锁上，等了约莫20多分钟，晓玲和春娇才出现，真 是‘虚惊一场’。讨论第二个教案时，是5月1日！劳动节，地点还是科兰芝中学。没办法，老师平时事务繁忙，为了完成任务，只好连公共假日亦赔上。”
看起来付出的是时间，但是在付出时间的背后，展示的是华文老师的信念和理想。我再翻看参与的华文老师留下的感言，没有悲情，有的只是帮助教学、引起学生兴 趣，并且提高学生能力的殷切期望。他们当中，大部分来自邻里学校，几位老师来自历史悠久的传统英校。直接面对学生，他们比谁都清楚现实，却又比谁都努力地 依照现实，为华文课寻找新的有效的方法。引起兴趣的同时，让学生通过华文看到世界，在不知不觉中培养不同观念，了解华文不只属于教室、课本和考试。
我从他们想到了自己接触到的许多华文老师。这几年来，我在不同的培训、讲座场合里碰到他们，当中有我的老师辈，也有我的同代人。华文老师在岛国是一个特 殊的群体，一方面受到特别的尊重——其他科目也没有模范教师奖项，唯独华文老师有之；另一方面，他们承担比任何老师更大的压力，在社会上成为经常被单挑出 来议论的群体：学生学习华文的经验备受关注，学得不好，抱怨华文老师教学沉闷、方法古老，造成孩子恐惧，似乎都言之成理，并且在媒体里得到放大。我的同代 人中，一些选择当了华文老师。我们都是时代的产物，华文程度不高，大学中文系里同学抄笔记时用拼音，文字不通的为数不少。从某个角度而言，我们是时代的牺 牲者，但在他们决心继承华文老师衣钵的时候，时代在他们身上留下印记的责任，却也都由他们扛下。作为一个群体，无论是哪个年龄层，华文老师轻易就成为别人 公开指指点点的对象。
华文老师在众多科目老师当中，心理素质其实是最强的，这才能够经得起一波又一波的震荡。在岛国的教育史当中，最为 折腾的是华文，没有其他科目像华文一样，需要跟着内部和外部的环境过山车。而在这个过程当中，一代又一代的华文老师不断适应，在最迷惘的时刻坚持着，在最 清楚的时候困惑着，在最喧闹的时候沉默着。但是什么原因，让他们一代又一代人锲而不舍？
Sunday, November 08, 2009
By Julianna Kettlewell
BBC News Online science staff
Some language rules may be innate
The language follows many basic rules common to all tongues, even though the children were not taught them.
It indicates some language traits are not passed on by culture, but instead arise due to the innate way human beings process language, experts claim.
The US-led research is detailed in the latest issue of Science magazine.
The development of language has long been the focus of debate. Some people in the extreme "nature" camp believe that grammar is essentially hard-wired in the brain, while those in the extreme "nurture" camp think language has no innate basis and is just culturally transmitted.
That is why the sign language invented by a small group of deaf children in Nicaragua is so unusual. It has given scientists the clearest insight yet into how humans learn language.
"When people study historical linguistics to try to figure out how languages are born they are usually looking at old historical data, like scratches on rocks," explained co-author Ann Senghas of Columbia University, New York.
"This is the first time we have had the opportunity to observe it in action because the originators are still alive."
Steven Pinker, a psychologist at Harvard University and author of a seminal book on the acquisition and evolution of language - The Language Instinct - is impressed by the findings.
"I think this research has made some of the most interesting discoveries in language acquisition in decades," he told BBC News Online.
"It shows that children have sophisticated mechanisms of language analysis which give language many of its distinctive qualities."
Before the 1970s, most deaf people in Nicaragua stayed at home and had little contact with one another, according to Dr Senghas.
Then, in 1981, a vocational school opened, and the children began to communicate with each other. No one actually taught them to sign, but they began to develop a system of gestures to get their messages across.
At first, these were rather crude and pantomime-like, similar to the gestures a hearing person might make if they had to describe something without speaking.
But as a new wave of children learned the gestures they turned them into a sophisticated sign language, Nicaraguan Sign Language (NSL), complete with traits seen in nearly all other languages - both spoken and sign.
One key trait that the children adopted is called "discreteness". This refers to the process of breaking down information into small manageable packages.
Expressions of motion are particularly useful for studying discreteness in spoken and sign languages. In developed languages, we break up the idea of continuous motion into separate words.
So, in the expression "rolling down the hill", one word (rolling) conveys the movement, while another (down) conveys the direction.
But if a hearing person were asked to convey this idea in gestures alone, they would almost certainly do it with a single continuous movement.
Dr Senghas and her colleagues showed the deaf people from each of the age groups a cartoon, in which a cat swallows a ball and then wobbles down a steep road. Then they asked the participants to tell the story.
The oldest group, who invented the initial "crude" form of NSL, told it with one continuous gesture as a hearing person might.
"If they were just clever at learning they would have learned to do it the way they had seen it being done," said Dr Senghas. "But that isn't what they did - they ended up acquiring something different. They ended up breaking down the gestures into something they could build a language out of."
This is compelling evidence that humans are predisposed to develop language in this way, say the researchers. In other words, children instinctively break information down into small chunks so they can have the flexibility to string them back together, to form sentences with a range of meanings.
Interestingly, adults lose this talent, which also suggests there is an innate element to the language learning process.
"We lose the ability to break information into discrete elements as we age," said Dr Senghas. "It is not just that children can do it, but adults can't do it."
Dr Senghas does not claim her findings support the extreme "nature" camp, but that they do suggest there is an instinctive component to the way we learn language.
"It doesn't prove that language is hard wired to the degree some people say it is, but it does prove the fundamentals of language are part of the innate endowment," she said. "So you don't have language or grammar in your head when you are born, but you do have certain learning abilities."
Professor Pinker said the results of the study showed something that had always been suspected by some psychologists.
But, he said: "Since children's language ordinarily ends up the same as their parents' language, one couldn't easily pinpoint what their minds added."It takes a case in which the language children end up with is more complex than the language they hear to identify the creative contribution of the child."
Tough love 'is good for children'
The report said parenting style was more influential than income
Children brought up according to "tough love" principles are more successful in life, according to a study.
The think tank Demos says a balance of warmth and discipline improved social skills more than an laissez-faire, authoritarian or disengaged upbringing.
It says children aged five with "tough love" parents were twice as likely to show good character capabilities.
Report author Jen Lexmond said: "It is confidence, warmth and consistent discipline that matter most."
According to the report, qualities such as application, self-regulation and empathy were more likely to be developed in children whose parents employed a "tough love" approach.
It found that these qualities made "a vital contribution to life chances, mobility and opportunity".
The report said these characteristics were profoundly shaped in pre-school years.
The most important influence is the quality of parenting
Building Character report
The Building Character report analysed data from more than 9,000 households in the UK.
It found that children from the richest backgrounds were more than twice as likely to develop the key characteristics compared to those with the poorest origins.
Additionally, children whose parents were married were twice as likely to show such traits than children from lone parent or step-parented families, the report said.
But it added that when parental style and confidence were factored in, the difference in child character development between richer and poorer families disappeared.
The report concluded that this indicated that parenting was the most important influence - and the same result occurred when the family structure factor was analysed.
The report said that other positive influences included the main carer's level of education, and breast-feeding.
Girls were more likely to develop character capabilities by age five, while no connection was found between paid employment of either parent and children's characteristics.
The authors urged more support and information for families, and for children with disengaged or low-income parents to be given particular focus.
They recommended that the Government's Sure Start programme should be refocused as a tool for early intervention, with less emphasis on childcare and more on development; improved pilots for the Family Nurse Partnership; and for health visitors to be given an early years role to help with parenting.
"There is some evidence that lower-income households face more difficulty in incubating these character capabilities," the report said.
"But the most important influence is the quality of parenting.
"Confident, skilful parents adopting a 'tough love' approach to parenting, balancing warmth with discipline, seem to be most effective in terms of generating these key character capabilities.
"An ambitious agenda for equality of opportunity will need to take the development of these capabilities seriously."
Ms Lexmond added: "Far from a 'soft' skill, character is integral to our future success and wellbeing."
Parentline Plus chief executive Jeremy Todd said the charity also supported the call for increased help for families.
But he said different children reacted differently to parenting styles.
"If we are to reduce the strangle hold of cycles of deprivation, the issue of how we support families to raise children must be grasped," Mr Todd added.
"We welcome this report and hope that it stimulates debate among policy makers around how best to support families to transform our society into one where we top the league tables for outcomes for children and well-being."
Saturday, November 07, 2009
Babies 'cry in mother's tongue'
Babies' cries imitate their mother tongue as early as three days old
German researchers say babies begin to pick up the nuances of their parents' accents while still in the womb.
The researchers studied the cries of 60 healthy babies born to families speaking French and German.
The French newborns cried with a rising "accent" while the German babies' cries had a falling inflection.
Writing in the journal Current Biology, they say the babies are probably trying to form a bond with their mothers by imitating them.
FROM THE TODAY PROGRAMME
The findings suggest that unborn babies are influenced by the sound of the first language that penetrates the womb.
It was already known that foetuses could memorise sounds from the outside world in the last three months of pregnancy and were particularly sensitive to the contour of the melody in both music and human voices.
Earlier studies had shown that infants could match vowel sounds presented to them by adult speakers, but only from 12 weeks of age.
Kathleen Wermke from the University of Wurzburg, who led the research, said: "The dramatic finding of this study is that not only are human neonates capable of producing different cry melodies, but they prefer to produce those melody patterns that are typical for the ambient language they have heard during their foetal life.
Newborns are highly motivated to imitate their mother's behaviour in order to attract her and hence to foster bonding
Kathleen Wermke, Unversity of Wurzburg
"Contrary to orthodox interpretations, these data support the importance of human infants' crying for seeding language development."
Dr Wermke's team recorded and analysed the cries of 60 healthy newborns when they were three to five days old.
Their analysis revealed clear differences in the shape of the infants' cry melodies that corresponded to their mother tongue.
They say the babies need only well-co-ordinated respiratory-laryngeal systems to imitate melody contours and not the vocal control that develops later.
Dr Wermke said: "Newborns are highly motivated to imitate their mother's behaviour in order to attract her and hence to foster bonding.
"Because melody contour may be the only aspect of their mother's speech that newborns are able to imitate, this might explain why we found melody contour imitation at that early age."
Debbie Mills, a reader in developmental cognitive neuroscience at Bangor University, said: "This is really interesting because it suggests that they are producing sounds they have heard in the womb and that means learning and that it is not an innate behaviour.
"Many of the early infant behaviours are almost like reflexes that go away after the first month and then come back later in a different form.
"It would be interesting to look at these babies after a month and see if their ability to follow the melodic contours of their language is still there."
Monday, September 21, 2009
'Artificial trees' to cut carbon
By Judith Burns
Science and environment reporter, BBC News
Artificial trees could be used in areas where carbon emissions are high
Engineers say a forest of 100,000 "artificial trees" could be deployed within 10 to 20 years to help soak up the world's carbon emissions.
The trees are among three geo-engineering ideas highlighted as practical in a new report.
The authors from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers say that without geo-engineering it will be impossible to avoid dangerous climate change.
The report includes a 100-year roadmap to "decarbonise" the global economy.
No silver bullet
Launching the report, lead author Dr Tim Fox said geo-engineering should not be viewed as a "silver bullet" that could combat climate change in isolation.
He told BBC News it should be used in conjunction with efforts to reduce carbon emissions and to adapt to the effects of climate change.
Many climate scientists calculate that the world has only a few decades to reduce emissions before there is so much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that a dangerous rise in global temperature is inevitable.
FROM THE TODAY PROGRAMME
The authors of this report say that geo-engineering of the type they propose should be used on a short-term basis to buy the world time, but in the long term it is vital to reduce emissions.
They define two types of geo-engineering. Nem Vaughan of University of East Anglia said: "The first category attempts to cool the planet by reflecting some of the sunlight away. The problem with this is that it just masks the problem."
"The other type of geo-engineering is to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it."
Hundreds of options
The team studied hundreds of different options but have put forward just three as being practical and feasible using current technology.
A key factor in choosing the three was that they should be low-carbon technologies rather than adding to the problem.
Dr Fox told BBC News: "Artificial trees are already at the prototype stage and are very advanced in their design in terms of their automation and in the components that would be used.
"They could, within a relatively short duration, be moved forward into mass production and deployment."
The trees would work on the principle of capturing carbon dioxide from the air through a filter.
The CO2 would then be removed from the filter and stored. The report calls for the technology to be developed in conjunction with carbon storage infrastructure.
The captured carbon dioxide could be stored in empty north sea oil wells
Dr Fox said the prototype artificial tree was about the same size as a shipping container and could remove thousands of times more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than an equivalent sized real tree.
Another of the team's preferred methods of capturing carbon is to install what they term "algae based photobioreactors" on buildings. These would be transparent containers containing algae which would remove carbon dioxide from the air during photosynthesis.
Algae units could be designed into new buildings or retrofitted to old ones
The third option focuses on the reduction of incoming solar radiation by reflecting sunlight back into space. The report says the simplest way of doing this is for buildings to have reflective roofs.
The authors stress that all of these options will require more research and have called for the UK government to invest 10 million pounds in analysis of the effectiveness, risks and costs of geo-engineering.
Dr Fox said: "We very much believe that the practical geo-engineering that we are proposing should be implemented and could be very much part of our landscape within the next 10 to 20 years."
Pupils receiving help 'do worse'
There are more than 180,000 teaching assistants in England's schools
Pupils who receive help from teaching assistants make less progress than classmates of similar ability, a government-funded study suggests.
The Institute of Education assessed the impact of the huge expansion in support staff in England and Wales since 2005 by studying 153 schools.
It said such staff tended to look after the pupils most in need, reducing their contact with the qualified teacher.
The government said teacher workloads and class behaviour had improved.
The expansion of the school support workforce, which began in 2003, was also intended to raise quality, giving extra support to children with special educational needs.
The more time pupils had with support staff the less time they had with the teacher
Professor Peter Blatchford
The Deployment and Impact of Support Staff (DISS) project surveyed 20,000 teachers and analysed the help received by more than 8,000 pupils in 153 schools in 2005-6.
The researchers were so surprised by the results of their study, that they repeated it for 2007-8 and came to the same conclusion.
Lead researcher Professor Peter Blatchford said the results could not be explained by the lower attainment, special educational needs, family backgrounds and behavioural problems of those pupils who had help from teaching assistants as those factors had been accounted for.
He added: "This is not something that we should blame on teaching assistants - we are not saying they are a bad influence.
"It seems to be about the way in which they are deployed and the way in which they are managed.
"The main explanation seems to be that support staff tend to look after the children in most need. They can then become rather separate from the main curriculum.
"The more time pupils had with support staff, the less time they had with the teacher."
Support staff tend to have less training and a lower level of education than teachers.
About two-thirds of the support staff in this study had not been educated beyond GCSE level.
A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families, which funded the study along with the Welsh Assembly, said support staff were the backbone of the teaching workforce.
"There is clear evidence that there is a positive effect on pupil's progress where teaching assistants are trained and effectively trained to deliver specific support programmes, alongside well-planned lessons - as this research acknowledges.
"And the DISS study found that 14-year-olds who worked closely with teaching assistants were less distracted... followed instructions, were more independent, confident, motivated and likely to complete work."
He added that the research made no allowance for teaching assistants' experience, training or qualifications nor whether the school was high- or low-performing, the extent it had been remodelled or whether the teacher or teaching assistant were teaching as a team or separately.
Head of education at the public service union Unison Christina McAnea said: "Unison has been calling for better pay, training and more paid time for teaching assistants to do their jobs, for many years.
"Teaching assistants are not substitutes for teachers, but what they can do, given the right training and support, is help children with special needs to get the most out of school."
The findings of the study are being presented at the British Educational Research Association conference in Manchester on Friday.
Girls 'born with fear of spiders'
A new study in the US suggests that women have a genetic aversion to dangerous animals, such as spiders.
The research, published in the New Scientist, says women are born with character traits that were ingrained in our hunter-gatherer ancestors.
As child protectors, they have to shun animals that threaten them or their young off-spring, researchers said.
Previous research suggested women were actually up to four times more likely to be afraid of creatures like spiders.
The new research was headed up by developmental psychologist, Dr David Rakison, from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, 10 baby girls, and 10 baby boys were subjected to a number of pictures of spiders to gauge their reactions.
First the babies were shown a picture of a spider with a fearful human face, followed by images of a spider paired with a happy face - alongside an image of a flower twinned with a fearful face.
The results showed that the girls - some as young as 11 months old - looked longer at the picture of the happy face with a spider than the boys, who looked at both images for an equal time.
The researchers concluded that the young girls were confused as to why someone would be happy to be twinned with a spider, and were quick to associate pictures of arachnids with fear.
The boys, it seems, remained totally indifferent emotionally.
Mr Rakison attributes this genetic predisposition to behavioural traits inherent in our hunter-gatherer ancestors.
Men, he purports, were the greater natural risk takers, the ones who took greater risks were more successful when going out to hunt for food.
With women, in their role as natural child protectors, it made sense for them to be more cautious of animals such as snakes or spiders, Mr Rakison adds.
By contrast, the research concludes that modern phobias such as the fear of hospitals - or that of flying - show no differences between the sexes.
Previous research has shown that almost 6% of people have a phobia of snakes, with nearly 4% scared of spiders.
However, of that percentage, four times are likely to be women than men.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
LONDON - WOULD you Adam and Eve it? Cash machines in east London are offering customers the option of using the local Cockney rhyming slang to get their hands on their sausage, so to speak.
Five automated teller machines (ATMs) in the East End are going Cockney for three months from Monday.
While cash machines with several language options are commonplace in some countries, the chance to use rhyming slang could leave those unfamiliar with the east London lingo in a right load of Barney Rubble.
Anyone opting for Cockney rhyming slang will be asked to enter their Huckleberry Finn (PIN) before chosing how much sausage and mash (cash) they want.
Those wanting to withdraw 10 pounds will have to ask for a speckled hen, while the machine may inform users that it is contacting their rattle and tank, rather than bank.
'We wanted to introduce something fun and of local interest to our London machines,' said Ron Delnevo, managing director of operators Bank Machine.
'Whilst we expect some residents will visit the machine to just have a butcher's (hook, look), most will be genuinely pleased as this is the first time a financial services provider will have recognised the Cockney language in such a manner.'<
The ATMs displaying prompts in Cockney are all free to use, though most of the group's cash machines charge a fee.
Better-known Cockney rhyming slang includes dog and bone (phone), apples and pears (stairs), whistle and flute (suit), Adam and Eve (believe), Barnet Fair (hair), trouble and strife (wife), loaf of bread (head) and boat race (face). -- AFP
Stalin's bid for a new world order
In the fourth of a series of articles marking the outbreak of World War II 70 years ago, the BBC Russian Service's Artyom Krechetnikov assesses Soviet leader Joseph Stalin's motivations behind the 1939 Soviet-Nazi pact.
Stalin felt a German defeat would delay the global spread of Communism
Soviet government documents released since the USSR's collapse give us a clear idea of what drove Stalin's thinking in concluding the non-aggression treaty - the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact - with Nazi Germany.
On 19 August 1939, just days before the agreement was signed in Moscow, in a speech to a hastily-convened session of the Politburo, Stalin said the "question of war and peace is entering a decisive phase".
He predicted that the outcome would depend entirely on whichever strategic position the USSR decided to adopt.
Should the Soviet Union form an alliance with France and Britain, he opined, Germany would be forced to abandon its territorial demands on Poland.
This, Stalin suggested, would avoid the threat of imminent war, but it would make "the subsequent development of events dangerous for the Soviet Union".
Our aim is to ensure Germany can continue to fight for as long as possible, in order to exhaust and ruin England and France
Joseph Stalin in 1939
Should the USSR sign a treaty with Germany, Stalin suggested, Berlin would "undoubtedly attack Poland, leading to a war with the inevitable involvement of France and England".
Looking ahead, Stalin suggested that "under these circumstances, we, finding ourselves in a beneficial situation, can simply await our turn [to extract maximum advantage]".
What is clear is that Stalin not only appeared unconcerned about the prospect of an attack from Nazi Germany, he actually considered such an attack impossible.
"Our aim is to ensure Germany can continue to fight for as long as possible, in order to exhaust and ruin England and France," he said. "They must not be in a condition to rout Germany.
"Our position is thus clear… remaining neutral, we aid Germany economically, with raw materials and foodstuffs. It is important for us that the war continues as long as possible, in order that both sides exhaust their forces."
Many western historians believe that the Anglo-French security guarantees given to Poland effectively turned Stalin into the arbiter of Europe.
On 3 May 1939, Stalin replaced the pro-Western, Jewish Foreign Minister Litvinov, with Vyacheslav Molotov. It was a strong signal that he wanted to improve relations with the Nazis.
Official Russian history asserts that Stalin believed that Germany, even if it were to emerge from war as a victor, would be so exhausted that it would be unable to wage war with the USSR for at least a decade.
The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact drew unequivocal criticism from Communists outside the USSR.
Stalin invited the head of the Comintern, the international Communist organisation founded in Moscow, to explain his thinking.
"Hitler does not understand or want this, but he is undermining the capitalist system," he said. "What we can do is manoeuvre around the two sides, push one of the sides to attack the other."
In a written note to foreign Communist parties, Stalin asserted: "The salvation of English-French imperialism would be a violation of Communist principles. These principles in no way exclude a temporary agreement with our common enemy, Fascism."
So was there an alternative?
In the spring and summer of 1939, Stalin could have forged an alliance with Western democracies. Such a move may have prevented a world war, with Europe's borders remaining unchanged.
The problem with this, for Stalin, was that it would have delayed what he viewed as the "final global victory of Communism" for an indeterminable period.
Stalin's actions and deeds made it clear that he could not conceive a protracted period of "peaceful co-existence", the notion that came to determine the Soviet Union's policy towards the capitalist world after Stalin's death.
Stalin and Hitler were united by their desire to destroy the old world order, and to rebuild it as they wanted.
Arguably, this made Soviet-Nazi friendship as inevitable as was its rapid, explosive end.
Shanghai seeks end to 'Chinglish'
By Chris Hogg
BBC News, Shanghai
Examples of often baffling Chinglish can be found across Shanghai
The authorities in the Chinese city of Shanghai are starting a campaign to try to spot and correct badly phrased English on signs in public places.
Chinglish, as the inaccurate use of the language is known, has long been a source of embarrassment for the authorities there.
It is also a source of amusement to foreign visitors.
But Shanghai wants to spruce up its image. It is expecting millions of visitors for the World Expo fair.
Student volunteers will check the English on signs throughout the city.
If they suspect the translation is less than accurate they will inform the government. Then the bureaucrats will request that whoever is responsible corrects the mistake.
You can find Chinglish all over the city. Often it can be blamed on software used to translate Chinese automatically.
Please bump your head carefully
Sign in hotel lift
Sometimes you can see what the author was getting at, such as the sign that warns people to "keep valuables snugly", and "beware the people press close to you designedly".
Then there are signs where they have mistranslated a crucial word.
One in a hotel lift advises people "please leave your values at the front desk".
Sometimes they have just got it the wrong way round, such as on the sign in the stairwell of a department store asking shoppers to "please bump your head carefully".
My favourites though, are those which get more surreal, like the one on the Shanghai metro from the public security bureau that reads: "If you are stolen, call the police at once."
Monday, August 24, 2009
UK tourist trapped in French hall
Dannemarie's hotel de ville is one if the town's most impressive buildings
A British tourist has spent a night trapped in a French town hall after mistakenly thinking she could book a room at the "hotel de ville".
The hapless female visitor arrived in the Alsace town of Dannemarie on Friday and tried to find a bed for the night.
Spotting the impressive-looking "hotel de ville", the tourist popped in to use the toilet before trying to check in.
But as she was in the convenience, officials finished a meeting, left the town hall and locked its door.
The solitary traveller, said to be in her 30s, ended up with the inconvenience of spending the night on chairs in the building's lobby.
'Je suis fermer ici'
The woman tried calling for help and switching the town hall lights on and off to attract attention, Dannemarie's mayor, Paul Mumbach, told the BBC.
But her plight went unnoticed until Saturday morning when a passer-by noticed a message she posted on the inside of one of the building's glass doors.
"The note said 'Je suis fermer ici. Est ce possible moi la porte ouvrir?' (I am to close here. Is it possible me the door to open?)" said Mr Mumbach.
"The woman did not speak very much French, but she did make it clear that the next night she would find a proper hotel to sleep in," he said.
Dannemarie is a small town of some 2,500 people near the Swiss and German borders, but the nearest open hotel is in the neighbouring town, said the mayor.
Sunday, August 09, 2009
Tuesday, August 04, 2009
Fri Apr 6, 2007 6:04am EDT
By Linda Sieg
TOKYO (Reuters) - Sumie Oshiro was 25 when she and her friends tried to kill themselves to avoid capture by U.S. soldiers at the start of the bloody Battle of Okinawa.
"We were told that if women were taken prisoner we would be raped and that we should not allow ourselves to be captured," Oshiro said on last month's anniversary of the March 26, 1945, invasion of the Japanese islet of Zamami.
"Four of us tried to commit suicide with one hand grenade, but it did not go off," Ryukyu Shimpo, a local Okinawa newspaper, quoted Oshiro as saying at a gathering of now elderly survivors.
The fighting on Zamami, south of the main Okinawan island, was the prelude to three months of carnage that took some 200,000 lives, about half of them Okinawan men, women and children.
Many civilians, often entire families, committed suicide rather than surrender to Americans, by some accounts on the orders of fanatical Japanese soldiers.
"The army ordered them to commit suicide," said Yoshikazu Miyazato, 58, who plans to publish testimony from survivors on Zamami, where he says suicides accounted for 180 of the 404 civilians -- about half of the islet's population -- who died.
The accuracy of such accounts, however, has been questioned by conservative historians who argue the suicides were voluntary.
Late last month, the education ministry ordered publishers of high school textbooks to modify references to Japanese soldiers ordering civilians to kill themselves.
The textbook revisions echo other efforts by conservatives to revise descriptions of Japan's wartime actions, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's denial that the military or government hauled women away to serve as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers in Asia before and during World War Two.
Abe has sought to dampen overseas outrage over his remarks by repeating his backing for a 1993 apology to the "comfort women", as they are known in Japan, and offering his own brief apology.
"In every case, Abe's administration is saying there was no military involvement," Shoukichi Kina, an opposition lawmaker from Okinawa told Reuters in a phone interview.
"They are distorting history and it is unforgiveable."
"WORSE THAN DEVILS"
One reason cited for the revisions was a lawsuit by a former Japanese army officer and relatives of another charging the two men were was falsely described in works by publisher Iwanami Shoten as having ordered civilian suicides in Okinawa.
That prompted the publisher and Nobel Prize-winning author Kenzaburo Oe to send a letter of protest to the education ministry, criticizing the fact that only the views of the plaintiffs in the court case had been taken into account.
The Battle of Okinawa, which also took the lives of about 94,000 Japanese soldiers and more than 12,000 Americans, looms large in the collective memory of inhabitants of the island -- a separate kingdom until its monarch was exiled to Tokyo in 1879.
The battle, in which up to one-third of Okinawa's inhabitants died, has been described as a futile sacrifice ordered by Japan's military leaders to delay a U.S. invasion of the mainland.
Masahide Ota, a former governor of Okinawa who fought as a member of a "Blood and Iron Corps" of students mobilized to defend the island, says soldiers gave civilians two hand grenades -- "one to throw at the enemy and one to use on themselves".
Many historians and survivors blame military propaganda that sought to convince civilians they faced rape and torture if captured by Americans, as well as an education system that taught the virtue of dying for an emperor who was considered a living god.
"They were taught that Americans were fiends, worse than devils, and that if women were caught they would be raped and men would be killed," Miyazato said. "It was the same as ordering them to commit suicide. They were taught it was better to die.
Ota, a historian as well as a member of parliament, fears the lessons of Japan's wartime past are in danger of being lost.
"Education has the responsibility to convey history accurately to our children so that our country does not repeat the tragedy of the Pacific war," he said in a statement.
"Textbooks are one method of fulfilling that mission. I think that is being forgotten."
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Piecing together Guernica
Pablo Picasso's monochrome painting of the 1937 bombing of the town of Guernica remains one of his more famous works. The tapestry version just unveiled at London's Whitechapel Gallery usually sits at the UN, acting as a powerful visual statement against the horrors of war. But there is much meaning beneath this famous work, writes Picasso expert Gijs van Hensbergen.
THE WOUNDED HORSE
It is the horse that takes centre stage in this apocalyptic knacker's yard where nothing seems to make any sense. Are we in a bull ring, a village square or a plywood theatre set?
The horse's screaming dagger-shaped tongue and its death-head nostrils focus our attention directly on the terrible pain and suffering that pulls us repeatedly back to witness the horror. If this is a bullfight it has gone horribly wrong, defying all logic of the corrida.
No horse is ever run straight through with a spear in a plaza de toros, as the horse of Guernica has been. In an early version, hidden under layers of paint, Picasso had bent the horse's head down to the ground in submissive defeat.
Here, in the final version, even in its dying moments the horse remains defiant. It may be the last gasp but down to the right of its crooked knee a plant sprouts a few anaemic leaves as the only symbol of hope. Did the horse represent the Spanish people, Picasso was asked? He refused to answer.
Throughout the history of painting the horse has become the universal symbol of man's companion in war, understood by every culture. Guernica was a horrific example of saturation bombing - not the first, nor the last. From Coventry to Dresden, from Hiroshima to Baghdad, people have forged a powerful empathy with this fatally wounded horse.
The Bull, of all the protagonists in the painting is the only one that remains calm and dispassionate. Picasso was quizzed if the bull represented the Spanish dictator Franco but the truth appears far more complex. With its statuesque head, and lozenge eyes it watches the drama unfold.
In many depictions of artists in their studios, most notably Velazquez's Las Meninas and Goya's Family of Charles IV, both in the Prado, and known to Picasso from his early youth, the artist anchors the left border of the masterpiece.
Throughout the 1930s Picasso had increasingly depicted himself in the guise of the bull and the minotaur, half-man, half-bull. In his Vollard Suite of etchings, again and again the potent minotaur violates, rapes, caresses and treats with tenderness his beautiful, voluptuous, female victim.
Picasso loved in-jokes, secrecy and the rituals of ancient Mediterranean cultures. Fascinated by the Roman cult of Mithraism and the ritual slaughter of the bull by the Sun God Mithras, Picasso places the bull's head between a jagged naked light bulb, a crowing cock and a screaming mother - the Virgin Dolorosa (paraded through every Spanish street during Holy Week).
What are we to make of Guernica's confusing compendium of images weighted so heavily with religious content? The Bull watches the sacrifice. If it is Picasso is it a mere impotent witness? Or, is it the cause of this tragedy?
Early on, in the first few days of painting Guernica, Picasso placed his own self-portrait - recognisable by his characteristic swept-over hairstyle - in the position of this decapitated bust. Turned over, with his gaping mouth to the sky, the final version becomes a kind of "everyman".
Some see in the smashed bust, severed arm and broken sword, which frame the base of the painting, distant echoes and memories of the horrific earthquake that rocked Malaga destroying 10,000 houses in Picasso's early childhood. It is possible. Picasso had an extraordinary memory and throughout his life kept all the gates to his deep and fertile subconscious wide open.
At his father's knee, in Malaga's Cafe de Chinitas, he would have heard the story of the Arab fakir Ibrahim al-Jarbi, sent to kill the Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella in the final desperate days of the Christian reconquest of Spain, after 750 years of rule by the Muslims. Al-Jarbi was caught, chopped into pieces and catapulted over the walls of Malaga's Arab fort.
It was an epic legend that was repeated in Malaga like a mantra and would have fired the imagination of any impressionable young boy. But the source is perhaps closer to hand.
Just months before painting Guernica, Picasso had been asked to create a series of prints to raise funds for the Republic. The Dream and Lie of Franco is a savage attack by Picasso on Franco's regime. Portrayed as a swollen monster, Franco proceeds through a series of scenes to desecrate and destroy all in his path, including a classical bust.
As director of Madrid's Prado gallery, in exile, Picasso felt a deep loathing for the military machine that was prepared to visit indiscriminate violence upon his people and bomb the Prado, while also peddling propaganda about the Republic's alleged war on culture.
THE MOTHER AND CHILD
The mother screams and screams, but nothing will bring her child back. No god and no amount of divine intervention can breathe life back into the limp rag doll. Her dress has fallen off her shoulder, the swaddling clothes of her child open up to reveal a range of stubby little toes.
Everywhere we look across the painting we see gesture - fingers like sausages, hands carved with lines and an array of clasping, grasping fists. Her grief has depersonalised her. Her eyes are tears. Her tongue a dagger pointing up to the Bull's steaming nostrils.
For Guernica, Picasso produced almost 70 preparatory works that included sketches and paintings, many in black and white but some in dramatic colour. An early sketch for Mother and Child - which travels the entire history of the image including Michelangelo's Pieta - showed the mother and child descending down a ladder.
Picasso, as the Prado's director in-exile, knew the collection inside out. No artist, or anyone with sensibility, could fail to be drawn to the museum's extraordinarily poignant Descent from the Cross by Rogier van der Weyden - arguably, the greatest Christian image ever created.
Picasso, as was his will, cannibalised it and gave us this pathetic timeless image of an inconsolable woman that we see repeated today in the newsreels transmitted from Gaza, Rwanda, Bosnia and Sudan.
THE THREE WOMEN
Picasso's life while painting Guernica represented the worst period in his life. His mother and sister still lived in Barcelona and it was impossible to know where Franco might bomb next.
Picasso's personal life in Paris had become immensely complicated. His wife Olga Khokhlova, a Russian ballet dancer, had become increasingly unhinged as she discovered the artist's infidelities, and wished to sue him for half his estate. This included his works of art - some unfinished, others his working archive.
His suppliant mistress, Marie-Therese Walter, a Grecian beauty less than half his age, had given birth to their daughter Maya and was farmed out to the country for weekends away. Into the empty space came Dora Maar - a dramatic dark-haired beauty, who was as exotic and erotic as an artist could ever ask for.
He first met her on the terrace of the Deux Magots cafe in Paris staring deep into his eyes as she stabbed her fingers through her gloves playing dare with a knife.
In many ways Dora was his intellectual equal. She took photographs of Guernica in progress and also, as it happened, painted many of the markings on the flank of the dying horse.
One day, unexpectedly, Marie-Therese came up from the country to see Picasso in his Paris studio. He was up the ladder painting and Dora was in the room. The fight between the two women was left to run its course by Picasso, who transferred it and distilled it into the image we see today.
Three women at war, three graces, three fates, three women mourning at the cross, all readings are viable. But we must also remember that the woman holding the torch we have seen before - she is Liberty leading the people and, of course, Bartholdi's Statue of Liberty - a copy of which Picasso passed every morning in Paris while walking the dog.