2003 Archives

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uh-oh. one last journal entry for 2003. quick, what have i learned this year?

timing is everything.

when cooking, order is important.
the warranty expired, and it's no use arguing.
the library closes early on New Year's Eve. Buffy Season Three must wait.
computers take longer than you think.
use up all three zillion minutes on your phone card.
to Caltrain: take the 30 or the 45, not the N. duh.

warning: days on calendar are closer than they appear.

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i am happiest when programming. really. last week i jumped back into programming the roots database. and it's about time. it's been what, almost two years? it makes me impatient to finish up my chinese degree.

when we were making 湯圓 last week, that was happy too. every year at winter solstice we make them. i don't know what to call them in english. david's dad favors "dumplings," but they're really just balls rolled from sweet rice flour, and i always think of dumplings as having things in them. i'm sure i've talked about this before: i have the biggest problem with food names. at david's house i was trying to explain what was in the soup that the 湯圓 go into, which includes 紹菜. "it's called siu choy," i faltered. then a revelation at the market today: siu choy is napa cabbage. and now the question is: why is napa cabbage called napa cabbage?

anyway, so here we were rolling the 湯圓, my mom, my grandma, and me. it was such a happy domestic scene. but alas, life is so much more complicated then rolling rice flour into balls.

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i took the final for my shaolin chuan class today. i was the first one. sometimes i think going first is a good thing, since you get to make that first impression. as long as you don't suck. anyway, she gave me an A-, since i was a bit stiff--didn't kick high enough, she said--but everything else was almost perfect, which i was pretty pleased about. then she said at the beginning of the term, she had me pegged for a B student (which i wasn't so pleased about), and i improved like 50%. and i thought, oh my gawd, was i that horrible at the beginning of the semester? i mean, i'm not known for winning prizes for my physical prowess, but doomed as a B student... that's harsh.

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- Hello, is this Dominic?
- Yes, speaking.
- I'm calling to thank you for supporting Susan Leal for mayor, and to remind you to vote tomorr...
- Um, yes, but I _don't_ support Susan Leal.
- You don't?
- Yes, so you shouldn't thank me for it.
- Oh... well, thank you very much. Good bye.
- Bye.

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新樂宮 has the cheapest rice plates. $3.50 includes a huge vat of free soup, the dish you ordered, and a large barrel of rice that you can't possibly finish. The portions, of course, are much more reasonable if you have two or more people, but this day I was by myself.
I was eating by myself because I'd walked out of the portable lecture hall that is my father's car. It's quite the torture device, really. We start on a long journey, and soon the lecture starts. Today is the lesson on change. You must be flexible in life. Always changing. That's how you can be a better person. Like now. Some people go all the way down Pine Street, all the way to the end, then turn down Masonic. But now, see, I'm turning at Gough, before we get to Masonic. Some people don't know, and they get stuck in traffic at Masonic, he explains, as we get backed up behind a red light. Today, fish. Tomorrow, we'll have chicken. Always changing. Today, bok choy. Tomorrow, spinach. Don't always eat the same thing every day. Always changing. People who don't change are backwards. Like you Chinese people. Not willing to change. Always stuck in the past. That's why Chinese people are stupid and backwards. You must change all the time...
The one mistake that I always make when dealing with my father is to attempt to have normal conversation with him. Everyone else has enough sense to shut-up-and-let-him-do-his-thing-and-then-we-won't-have-to-listen-to-him-anymore. If you try to argue with him, he'll argue right back at you until you agree with him, which usually happens after you've become too tired to disagree, tiredness increasing exponentially with time.
Today, he's using tactic number 1. You want to talk? he says. Let's talk. Talking is important. I want to listen to your opinion. Let's take some time to talk, right now... We approach, but have not quite yet reached, our destination. He finds a convenient place to park. Moving lecture hall is now stationary. This is the part where I walk out and tell them to go eat lunch without me. It's just my dad and my grandma in the car now. It's OK, he doesn't lecture her. He just yells at her.

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I feel so old. I know that I, being 25, don't exactly have the right to say that, but it's true. I have all sorts of ailments--wrist, knee, foot, eye--and it all adds up. But it's really the wrist thing that bothers me all the time, reminds me how frail our bodies are.

My organist friend Chris wears gloves around all the time to protect that part of his body crucial to his work: his hands. I remember thinking at the time, does it really make a difference? Now I know better. I wear gloves when I bike now, every time.

It's so easy to take our hands for granted. You don't realize how often you use them until you can't, or it hurts every time you do. But then I think, what part of your body _isn't_ important? You kind of need everything to be there. Your knees, your eyes, your teeth, your lungs, your kidneys... we need them all. But how often do we do take the steps necessary to ensure that they keep working as long as we need them? Or, put another way, how often to we abuse and damage our own bodies without even knowing it?

To readers of my blog: Sorry I haven't posted recently. My blog was threatening to have time zone issues, plus the pain, yadda yadda. More regular service should be resuming. Thank you for your support and cooperation. Gam-sia li e ji-chi gap pwe-hap.

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what a difference a year makes. i get back to san francisco and it seems like nothing's changed. except... those countdown traffic lights are everywhere now! it's so exciting. so yesterday i went out and crossed some streets.

it's also ridiculously cold. my travel clock says it's 18 celsius, but we think it's lying, it's got to be colder than that.

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so here i was in guangzhou, keeping all these plastic bottles to throw away at the train station, only when i got to the train station, i didn't see any recycling bins. no problem, i thought, i'll get rid of them in hong kong. fast forward to cosmic guesthouse. i discover from the woman behind the counter that, no, hong kong doesn't recycle its plastic bottles (or anything else, for that matter). all the trash just goes together in the same bin. whaat? hong kong, of all places. so the next morning i'm struggling to fit seven plastic bottles into my backpack, and Monkey was not pleased. i ended up sacrificing one of the bottles.

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here i am in hong kong, once again using the free internet access at the convention center. i mean, centre. i hate to admit it, but as i was riding the bus from the airport to tsim sha tsui (at hkd33, a much better deal than the hkd90 airport express train. you can ride on the upper deck of the bus, right up front (shotgun?) so you can see everything), i thought, hong kong is so much better than taipei. the highways are all new and modern, and the streets and sidewalks are nice and wide, and the air and everything just seems so much cleaner. and today i'm walking around and reading all the ads in cantonese, and i felt so happy.

of course, it's not without its downsides. seems like everyone smokes here, and it's also relatively expensive, and people drive on the wrong side of the road. and i'm sure it's not comfortable living under the claws of mainland china.

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So it turns out that essay, which I thought was due last Friday, is actually due this Friday. So here I was this morning, waking up at 12:30pm, going oh f*ck, i was supposed to go try and turn it in this morning, then i called my classmate who gave me the lowdown. That's OK, at least I have the bulk of it done. I'll add a semblance of structure to it tomorrow, it'll make me feel better.

It turns out--now that I've used it more extensively--this keyboard I bought is actually harder on wrists. I mean, the keys give more resistance. But the keyboard on my laptop is a bit too high, though it's softer. Moral of the story--you want a soft keyboard that's at the right height.

But the mouse was such a good investment. Even Yoshida, who came in and stole it one day, said he really liked it.

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「找你七百八十,謝謝。」 I collected the change and the receipt and placed them on top of the copy of the 廣韻 that i just bought. I lowered this system that I had just created, intending to slide the change into my hand and transfer it to my pocket. The coins slid. A 10-NT coin flew off, obeying the laws of projectile motion, diving into the gap behind the bookshelf. Crap. The woman looked up, saw nothing of interest, and looked back down again.

I never did get that coin back.

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I never noticed before, but there's a 蓮霧 (rose apple) tree that grows behind our dorm, near the end of the low wall that everyone steps over to get to the rest of the campus. 蓮霧s, I learned last Thursday, grow in groups of three. The reason why the ones you buy at the market are all big is because they pluck out two of the fruits when they first start growing. That way, the one that's left grows bigger.

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i hate watching movies downstairs. it's always this constant fight against mosquitoes, so you can't properly enjoy the movie. unless you go in with full body armor. they'll hunt out whatever exposed skin you have: forehead... neck... fingers...

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so I finally figured out why my EasyCard (for metro, bus, etc.) beeps angrily at me every time I use it. apparently, it does that when your remaining balance is less than 100.

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i don't think i've ever seen a mango seed before, i thought as i cut it open. it was one of the mangos that Jaakko left today, since he's going back to Finland. he left a whole bunch of stuff for the second floor, including tea, oatmeal, and four mangos placed in the yellow doggie dish he ate his oatmeal in. (i guess he didn't want the dish, either.) jaakko is one of the most thoughtful people i know.

all the food i got when i was little was all prepared for me. i didn't understand the cooking process, nor was i terribly interested in it. it took me years to figure out that the 菠菜 that I ate at home was the same as the spinach that Popeye had on TV, and probably several more years before I knew what spinach looked like before it was cooked. The first time I cooked spinach, I was amazed at how it shrunk into that familiar spinach shape i was used to. I suppose I still am.

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is it true that you talk more when you're in a good mood?

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i had to go to the library today to find some austronesian grammars, and to my chagrin discovered that they were enforcing a mask-wearing rule. all library patrons must put on a face mask, so as to prevent the spread of SARS. i must admit, this seems rather excessive to me. i mean, whoever heard of getting SARS at the library? so i had to run over to familymart (right next to the library--i suppose they're in cahoots) and get a mask. i chose a sensibly plain-looking mask, and discovered after opening the package that the mask, far from being plain, sported the bottom half of the likeness of a teddy bear. oh well. there goes 27 cents. i mean, nt dollars.

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i don't think i had a satisfactory introduction to syntax. in other words, in an introductory phonology class, you pretty much learn the basics of what you need to know to analyze a language's sound system. basically, this involves finding out what the sounds are, and the constraints and/or rules that govern how these sounds are put together (into syllables, etc.).

syntax, on the other hand, seems so much more complex. let's say that syntax involves finding out what the units that make up a sentence are, and the constraints and/or rules that govern how these units are put together. with phonology, there's, say, a couple dozen vowels and consonants (leaving aside sign language phonology for now); with syntax, you get into words, which fall into word classes like noun and verb and preposition, and then semantic roles like agent and patient, and then case marking like nom and acc and instrumental and ablative and what-have-you. And then what of tense and aspect, and subjects and predicates and objects, and basic word order SVO or SOV, and what about subjects of intransitive verbs, and ergativity? in short, what does one need to know in order to describe the syntax of a language? and, shouldn't the basics of this be taught in an intro to syntax course? and why, in the intro to syntax course that i took, did i not learn these basics? all i got was lots of hpsg propaganda.

oh well. must stop typing. but you syntax folks out there (you[singular] know who you are), what do you think? is syntax really that complex? shouldn't i be able to flip open any intro-to-syntax book, look up "aspect", and find a list of all possible aspects? just like, i should expect to be able to find a list of velar consonants, phonation types, etc. in an intro-to-phonology book.

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this morning i went to the 水煎包 place for breakfast. it’s hot—very hot—the calm before the storm, Typhoon Kujira which is taking its time to get here. the lady next to me comments on the weather. “今天很 lè,” she says. the 老闆娘 (the woman who runs the place) replies. “not ‘lè,’” she says, correcting her. “it’s ‘rè’!” we laugh.

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"There are 10 kinds of people in the world, those who understand binary and those who do not."

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I'm feeling off-kilter, so i decide to take an afternoon nap. Not that it helps much. I enter a gay bar and sit down, waiting for the waiter to ask me what i want to drink. i find that he seems to be categorically ignoring me (which is just as well, so now I don't have to pay), so i get up for what i came for in the first place: in a shelf behind me is some stuff that i've been storing here. I kneel down to pull out the calligraphy paper. I've been meaning to write since that calligraphy exhibit at the 故宮. I like bold, geometric, masculine strokes. Whatever that means. But i have to hurry up, the taxi outside is waiting for me. i hesitate. should i take the brush, or not? as i recall, the brush was a crappy one, so i might as well buy a new one. whatever. i stuff everything into my backpack and rush out. the taxi is still there, but the driver is talking on her cell phone. as we drive along, i look at the name on her cell phone. it turns out she's talking to Third Aunt--her daughter's name is there, Caller-ID'd for me to see. The driver's speaking Cantonese, but i don't think anything of it. Someone's very sick, apparently. They must be talking about Uncle. I realize that i haven't yet told the driver where i want to go yet. she continues blazing a path south down Roosevelt Road. At least it's the right direction. But I don't have my glasses on, so i have no idea where i am. maybe we've passed 台大 already. i don't want the main gate, i need to get back to my dorm. um, "siji?" I venture. she's talking away on her phone, not really paying attention to the road. she's actually kind of looking sideways. but here we are going 30km/hr and magically avoiding pedestrians and stationary objects. it is at once vaguely harrowing and at once not. as i struggle to pull out my glasses, she finally finishes her phone conversation.

"xinhai lu gen fuxing nan lu de lukou," i tell her. we're on our way. "你點樣識講廣東話嘅?" she asks me, in Cantonese. funny, i don't remember speaking Cantonese to her, but I guess I must have. I tell her. "Did you come to Taiwan to study?"

"Yes... Did you come here to... well, I guess you didn't come to drive a taxi."

"No."

"You know, you were just talking to my aunt," I tell her, still in Cantonese.

"Oh really? What a small world," she responds, though she doesn't act particularly surprised.

The ride back to my dorm is taking longer than expected. Now I'm at the hospital. i took a plane back to the states. why? something about my passport, although now that i'm here, i think they could just as easily have taken care of it in Taiwan. oh well. it's good to be back. i get to see my sister, and everyone. i'm sitting in a waiting room of some sort. I can see my uncle and aunt and all my relatives in the next room, but they don't see me yet. now i'm talking to him. he seems quite healthy, not really sick at all. you can't really tell there's been a sickness eating away at him for months, maybe years. i came here to see you, first thing, i tell him.

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it's been getting hotter lately. 台北 weather is so weird, it's freezing one day and hot the next.

in an unfortunate turn of events, the class i went to today, taiwanese lexicon, sucked. not to be unfair to the professor... but i wasn't really sure what the class was about, even after sitting there for over three hours (it seemed like a lot of dictionary looking-up), and on another front, i don't know enough taiwanese to appreciate it properly. now i have to hunt for 3 units so it adds up to 15...

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Went to the library to watch Chungking Express yesterday. I've been meaning to watch it. Ever since I watched it with Wills, I think of it as a birthday movie, of sorts. The guy in the movie is 24, turning 25. Just like me, this year. Running in the rain has always held a certain appeal to me. I was going to go today, but I ended up sleeping instead. Then it was too late. I don't run after 5pm, as a rule, out of respect for Taipei pollution. Plus it was cold.I also sort of wanted to see the anti-war protest, which was today at 6pm at the US "embassy". Just to see what it was like. But then the exchange office (in California) told us not to attend such events, for fear of possible danger to US people. Plus it was raining. I must reduce the frequency of blog updates, out of respect for my wrists. Email, mail, and calls from friends near and far are always welcome.

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i struggle to express myself all the time. it's hard enough in english; trying to do it in mandarin is super-tough. cantonese is almost as bad. gone are the simple days of spanish class when, if you didn't know what to say, you could just "lie," using a grammatically well-formed sentence. now people ask me questions, from why-can't-you-make-dinner-tonight, to do-you-think-you've-matured-in-the-last-semester, and i'm supposed to say what i actually mean.

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the mad rush of the beginning of the semester is over. i look back and am amazed that i've read 6 chapters on probability, 6 from 漢語音韻學 (by 董同龢--it's a classic)... and absolutely nothing from 莊子.

left wrist... pain. more like fatigue, weakness.

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i don't understand mandarin english. see, cantonese english makes sense. lexical stress--primary, secondary, etc.--all map nicely onto the tone system of cantonese. like, primary stress maps to high tone. but mandarin doesn't seem to do anything of the sort. So the other day, i'm sitting in math class, and the teacher's talking about X E and X R. I'm like, what-the-F is X E? Don't you mean, E(X), the expectation of X? Then suddenly, it hits me: she's saying, X一跟X二, not XE 跟 XR. Further observation suggested that the phenomenon involves tones: when she wanted to say "r" or "l", she would use ér (sounds like 兒) and él, with mandarin second tone. i wonder if this is a common phenomenon, or if only people in math circles do this.

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It's late. Itchy is playing with my cell phone. I'm typing. Suddenly, my room phone rings. Almost out of reflex, I pick it up. It's your friend, my axons and dendrites tell me. You're expecting his call, they say. Itchy interrupts them, pulling my hand back, putting the handset back on the phone. My mind says, It was just Itchy playing with the phone. Don't waste your cell phone minutes. Of course it's not him. Nobody in their right mind would call at this hour. The whole interchange takes about two seconds.

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I was shocked when Grace told me that she didn't know that The Lord of the Rings was a classic. Or rather, I was surprised that she was surprised when I told her it was. It happened like this: she noticed a copy of The Two Towers on my bookshelf, and when she asked about it, I told her the story of how last December, we had gone on a wild goose chase in search of a movie that wasn't playing anymore, and everyone else ended up watching lord of the rings, but i refused, since i hadn't read the book yet, so i went home by myself instead. Hoang was for some reason fixated on this incident, and eventually ended up buying me a copy of the two towers, to "aid me in my adventure" through the lord of the rings. So Grace said, are you like this for every movie? and I said, no, but this book is a classic, at which point we had to go into what "classic" meant, and why I thought it was one (and why Jonathan didn't), and the fact that it was actually written decades ago was all new information to her. At any rate, I suppose it shouldn't be surprising that people here are less familiar with English-language literature. I guess I never thought about it before. But still, it's kind of sad that, for some people, the only exposure they'll get to lord of the rings is through hollywood.

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Wow... I really can't sleep. I must have seriously f*cked up my sleeping patterns. Either that, or my mind is preoccupied with too many things. People always tell me not to think so much... 唔好諗咁多野啦, they say... but how exactly am i supposed to do that? Can I just turn off my thoughts, like Data turning off his emotion chip? How I wish I could just relegate all these thoughts to my subconscious, and start fresh tomorrow!

Oh well, no rest for the weary, apparently. I think I'll post some blog entries I've been saving up.

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my biggest accomplishment today was finishing my statistics homework. i suppose it seems kind of insignificant to write about, but i feel like i ought to celebrate the little victories (or as the Pipe Organ voice of mac text-to-speech says, "we mu-u-ust rejoice in this mo-o-orbid voice"). like, last week, when i gave my oral report in chinese in the language typology/universals class. that was certainly an event. and today, i must say it felt rather novel, writing my name in chinese at the top of a math homework.

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I want a word processor that I can swear by. I used to swear by WriteNow, many many moons ago. Ah, the good old days of System 7. Back when applications were lean and mean and did what you needed them to do, without the fluff. I hear people used to swear by Word 6, but later incarnations of M$ Office sucked.

Well, the days of WriteNow were numbered, and eventually T/Maker got bought out and for some unexplainable reason, WriteNow was put into the old folks' home and was never seen again. So I had little to turn to but Nisus Writer. The plus was that Nisus Writer could handle Chinese. Plus, the discontiguous selection and otherworldly find/replace were way cool. But in the end, Nisus just felt like a text editor forced to be a word processor. Its implementation of paragraph styles just didn't make sense, and the formatting was awkward, and--well, it just felt like word processing features that were tacked on, and not very well thought out, at that.

I had a chance to revisit all of this writing my typology paper from hell the last few days. And I thought, wouldn't it be great if there were a word processor out there that made sense? I'm trying out Mellel right now, and it seems like it's a good candidate... but I thought I would write down some of my ideas on my ideal word processor. I always come up with these ideas, but unless I implement them right away, which is rather impossible, or write them down, I know I'll forget the little details.

First of all, styles that make sense. WriteNow's styles made sense. I don't know about Word's they seem sort of horrendous to me. Word just feels like a giant monster, in general.

Then it would be cool to have linguistic examples automatically formatted. And numbered. Like,

keoi5heoi3-zo2tou4syu1gun2
3sggo-PERFlibrary
'He went to the library.'

All you'd have to do is hit tab in between the items, and it'll automatically align the items in the first two rows, and then the last one will be the translation. And it'll automatically keep everything on one page.

We'd also need an IPA keyboard layout.

Ho hum. Now I'm tired and will go to sleep.

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Jonathan (my old roommate) and I decided that they should market a clock programmed with Didi's voice (if unfamiliar with said voice, imagine the voice of a largish, middle-aged, annoyed Austrian male speaking accented British English). When you press a button, Didi would tell you, "It is already... one thirty!" Gives you that extra push to do whatever you have to do.

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picture this: a bike is stationary at the side of the road. there is a rider and a passenger, thick jackets and scarves to keep out the cold. the passenger is standing on the axlebars, talking on her cell phone. she looms above her partner. now notice her partner. he is talking on a cell phone as well. i ride by, amazed.

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today, i was checking out books at the library, and as she gave me the books, i said out of reflex, "thanks." she replied, "不會", without missing a beat. i walked away, feeling very strange.

later i wonder, is "thanks" a common thing to say here? i guess i wouldn't know unless i was the one working at the checkout counter.

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i pick a path through the bicycle carcasses that is our dorm parking lot. i find mine, unlock it, and rush to class. it is my first day. we watch eat drink man woman. i see a fish slaughtered by chopsticks down its throat, unhappy family dinners, rigid father. i mount my bike again. now my life is 206 rhymes and 51 finals, arranged under 36 initials, 4 grades, 4 tones, and empty circles with countless footnotes. i wish i could stay longer in this world--much longer--but it's 12:15 and i have to go. flying through the cold again, heading back. i speak my mother tongue. now food. now equations that i can barely understand. now rest.

we have dinner at 小李水餃. it's fat tuesday, which means i eat more in spirit, if not in reality. tomorrow, fast. i wish i had people to fast with. the evening is filled with reading, and too little time.

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so, 楊老師 told me that her husband said that they weren't having the wednesday morning meetings at academia sinica. he doesn't have time, apparently. i admit i'm kind of disappointed. she seemed genuinely interested in my making linguistics friends here.

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rhyme tables (等韻圖) are haaard.

went to church today. there are so many things to pray for. do we only pray for things beyond our control? peace in the world. people's health.

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went to the 故宮 today, with Yoshida-san. we had quite a time at the calligraphy exhibit. they actually had writing by 王羲之. it's kind of neat that they've saved it from almost 2000 years ago.

actually, i was most impressed with this guide at the 17th-century Formosa special exhibition. he was all talking fast and getting excited at every exhibit and gesticulating all the while he was telling you (actually, it was quite a large crowd) all these interesting things. he was probably around my age, plus or minus a few years. and when we got to the end of the tour, he just started right up on the next one. I was sooo impressed.

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today, 2/28, was Peace Memorial Day in Taiwan.

updated my web page today. a much-needed, long overdue overhaul. added my logan essay, rearranged, etc. but it’s only half done. who knows when i will have the chance to do it again? lots of homework.

another movie, 見鬼. The Eye, I think. liked it, but perhaps not enough to watch it again. would have enjoyed it more if i didn’t get the dialogue in stereo—Cantonese on the right, Mandarin on the left. I need to watch more Cantonese movies.

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in stark contrast to the taiwanese lexicon class, the language typology and universals class is quite interesting. i'll have to brush up on things like ergativity, but prospects look good.

i saw 三更 (Three). it has three movies, the third one is called Going Home. it has 黎明 (Leon Lai) in it. it's very strange, but i liked it. the first one is Memories, a korean movie. i liked that one too. they're both kind of disturbing in a way that makes you think a bit afterwards. but all very well done.

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