Saturday, April 05, 2003

Against Romanizing Dialects

Malaysia's The Star produced an article with the following headline:

SARS prompts many Hong Kongers to avoid going to China for Cheng Beng

Confused, I clicked it just to figure out what it was talking about, two seconds before my brain kicked in and told me it was the Hokkien dialect spelling of "Ching Ming," on which we should return to clean our ancestor's graves. (To be honest, the first thing I thought of was Ah Beng).

A request: when you need to romanize anything except people's names, please use a spelling which refers to the Mandarin pronunciation, so that everyone can understand. Dialect romanizations are non-standard, not likely to be understood except for common terms even by speakers of the dialect in question, usually incomprehensible even for common terms by people who don't speak your dialect (e.g. 95% of all Chinese people in the world, and at least 50% of your local population) and often rely on spelling conventions of the language of the local country, which make them incomprehensible even to speakers of the same dialect from other countries (for example, English speakers spelling Cantonese pronunciation of "to point" as "gee," pronounced with a "j" sound, or Malay speakers spelling the same thing with a "c" at the beginning).

Some have suggested developing standard romanizations as a way of promoting various dialects, most notably, Hokkien as spoken in Taiwan. But, romanization which looks like this will scare off both English speakers and speakers of other Chinese dialects. Without clicking that link, I doubt even any Hokkien speaker tell me what this is talking about:

1951-nii ycieen, Liim Keahioong Kaosiu si eng MLT siar Taioaan bunge-zokphirn ee zokkaf. Y ee zokphirn lorng eng phofthofng ee Engbuun-phahjxiky laai tuozog, mxkuo hiah'ee ee zerngseg irnsoad-zhutparn khiok in'ui tngsii syn-panpox ee Taioaan-Serng-Zernghuo ee hengzexng-bengleng, siutioh zoftoxng; hit'ee bexngleng zoadtuix kirmcie ti Taioaan-kerng-lai zhutparn Taioaan-oe kab Jidpurn-oe ee jixmhoo zokphirn.

Most English speakers will react with either laughter or irritation to something which is spelled like that (don't worry you all, spoken Hokkien doesn't contain any sound even remotely close to "phajxiky" or "mxkuo"). Worse, it's equally disadvantageous to speakers of other Chinese dialects who want to learn Hokkien, since they won't even be able to start to guess at the meaning of something like that until they're already fluent in Hokkien, unlike what would be the case if you just wrote in Chinese characters. Many mainland Chinese students who have studied in Hong Kong pointed out that to me that, when their Cantonese was still not at a conversational level, their man method of their main method of picking up new Cantonese expressions wasn't speaking with Hong Kongers or watching movies, which in both cases were too difficult for them, but rather, to read entertainment magazines, which are usually written in Cantonese dialect, but using Chinese characters. They're able to guess at the meaning of most expressions based on the surrounding text, which is in Chinese. I doubt they'd be able to pull the same thing off if faced with Cantonese written in Romanization.

The Hong Kong government got Cantonese dialect characters added to BIG-5 and Unicode, you can get Hokkien characters added too if you get together a proposal.

Political Correctness Triumphs Over Disease Prevention

Yesterday I wrote that Asian countries (outside of China, anyway) will probably be more successful at controlling SARS than Western countries. As if by magic, a Toronto lawyer has decided to provide me with an example of why. Canada's CBC News reports:

TORONTO - A Toronto lawyer says some members of Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board are discriminating against Chinese refugee claimants by wearing masks to hearings ... Some refugee board members, and Toronto lawyers began wearing masks this week in response to the SARS outbreak in the city, but public health authorities say it is unnecessary and alarmist.
Go believes board officials who wear masks are being discriminatory, unfair and the action may possibly be illegal.
Ontario public health officials chastized people for wearing masks in public saying it promotes fear and hysteria.

So now Mr. Go believes it is discriminatory, unfair, and illegal to take a simple and legal health precaution when dealing with a person who is more likely than the average member of the general population to have been in close contact with someone from regions of the world where SARS is a serious problem. In Japan, people put on masks when sick out of common courtesy. In Canada, people who put on masks are browbeaten by the Defenders of Political Correctness.

Thursday, April 03, 2003

Asians in Sports

AsianSportsNet.com --- profiles, including statistics, of various Asian and Asian-American athletes in the US. I meant to post this link a while ago, but my spring break vacation in California made me blissfully lazy and happy, unable to summon the annoyance with the world necessary to blog. Best wishes and good luck to the moderator, Bill.

Man on the Street: Eurasian Opposes War

AP --- Marine Corps reservist Stephen Funk, center, walks with his mother, Gloria Pacis, left, and sister Caitlin Funk to turn himself in at his reserve unit in San Jose, Calif.
The notion that as a Marine he would be expected to kill people somehow escaped former Seattleite Stephen Funk when he left his job at a California pet food store and enlisted in the Reserves.
Yesterday, 47 days after he refused to report for active duty in Iraq, Funk declared himself a conscientious objector and surrendered to military authorities in San Jose.
The Marines declared him a deserter ... I refuse to kill," said Funk, who had excelled as a rifleman during boot camp. "I object to war because I believe that it is impossible to achieve peace through violence. I am a conscientious objector because there is no way for me to remain a Marine without sacrificing my entire sense of self-respect."
Funk said he would rather face the military's punishment than act against his beliefs.

From the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Guessing from the name, my first guess is that his mother might be Filipina, with Indonesian Chinese whose family changed their name in the 60s running a distance second. Or she might be an adoptee to a Portuguese or Spanish family, in which case all bets are off.

Funk himself has recently come out as gay, leading The Advocate to become interested in his story. Funk himself states:

Funk acknowledges his sexual orientation in his conscientious objector statement: "My moral development has also been largely effected by the fact that I'm homosexual. I believe that as a gay man, someone who is misunderstood by much of the general population, I have a great deal of experience with hatred and oppression. When someone is thrust into a situation of hate and oppression because of factors they have no control over, I believe they either react with hatred back, because they've experienced it, or they learn not to be that way towards others. I have adopted the latter reaction and stand with the oppressed people of the world who know that hate and oppression do not solve any problems. I was raised to respect, not hate, others who are different than me. I was appalled by the amount of hatred I found in the military. Of course I couldn't 'come out' in boot camp, but everyone pretty much knew that I was gay, and many hated me for it. The military cultivates antigay sentiment among its enlisted, but I also believe it perpetuates feelings of hatred against all that are different either culturally, ethnically, or otherwise. I think that is the way the military dehumanizes the enemy (whomever that may be) so that its members won't be averse to killing them. Coming to that realization about war disgusted me and made me completely opposed to military action."

It's not clear whether his coming out is genuine or is simply a further tactic to speed his discharge. Marc Miyake thinks it's the latter, but I'm not so sure. Not much else to say on this topic personally. Thanks to John Scalzi for the links --- click over there if you want further reading and a good discussion.

Man on the Street: Eurasian POW in Iraq

Here's hoping for the safe return of Spc. Joseph Hudson, a Eurasian of Filipino ancestry from New Mexico, and kudos to the Phillipine government to concerning themselves with a welfare of a Filipino descendent abroad, even a hapa --- something I highly doubt any other Asian government would bother to do. New California Media reports:

This after the Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed that one of five American soldiers captured by the Iraqis was 23-year-old Army Spc. Joseph Hudson, who is of Filipino descent. "We call on the parties to the conflict to observe the rights of both combatants and non-combatants. Prisoners of war should be treated humanely in accordance with the Geneva Convention," said Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas Ople. "We are aware there are Americans of Filipino ancestry in the war. While they are no longer Filipino citizens, their ties to our country and our people remain strong."
Ople also called on global humanitarian organizations to attend to the needs of those affected by the war, which has the backing of the Philippine government.
"I call on the international agencies, particularly the International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent to attend to the needs of all prisoners of war," Ople said. "I call on the parties to the hostilities to allow the appropriate humanitarian agencies access to all prisoners of war."

The Phillipine government officially supports the US in the war with Iraq.

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome in the US

VDARE puts up an interesting article about abnormal pneumonia (SARS) and immigration policy. The author first convincingly argues that China's infection statistics are complete and utter garbage:

At the outset of serious news coverage of this story about 17 days ago, the Chinese government fessed up to 305 cases with 5 deaths and claimed that the disease was contained. This number rapidly lost its credibility. About a week ago, the Chinese amended that to 800 or so cases and just 34 deaths¡Vwhile admitting new outbreaks in Beijing.
This number still defies belief. Since the first known carrier arrived sick in Hong Kong on February 21 2003, the number of cases in Hong Kong alone have bloomed to 685, including an entire apartment building. I have been following this story since March 13 and have watched the cases mount at about a 20% daily rate. And this is in a modern city with up-to-date health facilities.

My own back of the envelope calculations: a total of only 800 cases after 19 weeks would imply an exponential increase in infections of about 5-6% daily. The observed increase in HK is more like 10-15%, which would imply anywhere from 300,000 people to the entire southeastern seaboard actually being infected, which obviously isn't the case either. Even in cities, it isn't yet at epidemic proportions. Otherwise, regardless of Chinese government control of their media, we'd be hearing about it from every man on the street e-mailing his cousin in America.

The author goes on to make some further good points. Unfortunately, the one with which he leads off his list seems to be his least sound. Those of you who have been around for a while know I'm not exactly in the business of jumping all over people for minor violations of racial sensitivities, but:

Massive, unassimilated enclaves of ethnic Chinese in North America --- Vancouver, Toronto, San Francisco-Oakland, Los Angeles, New York --- often crowded, unhygienic --- a veritable human petri dish for the new virus to take hold, after introduction by Chinese travelers.

It seems that if Chinese were assimilated, they'd be living all over the country rather than crowding into those cities with Chinese broadcast television, decent dim sum places, and at least vague semblances of emergency procedures to deal with outbreaks of disease. Immigration results in Americans with relatives living overseas who come to visit and who get visits in return, regardless of whether those immigrant Americans and their kids continue to live a FOB lifestyle in Chinatown or start speaking English at home and buying American cars to show their national pride. Would you rather one Chinese family fill into every little town in the Midwest with absolutely no medical facilities to speak of, so that when their relatives come to visit, cases will be popping up in all those little towns? At least with the present situation of the Chinese population being heavily concentrated in certain areas, we know who's at risk.

The assimilated may even be at more risk than the unassimilated if SARS starts hitting hard over here. Why? We Chinese speakers have already been inundated with information about this thing. The rest of the country, including many ABCs, are weeks behind and they're probably not even gonna bother trying to catch up in their preparations until some deaths in a major city make the front page, by which point you can be sure many have already been infected.

As this Forbes article points out, Chinese language US media are the only ones which regularly report on SARS as a main topic in favor of the war. As a result, many assimilated ABCs don't even know how serious the problem is, because they're stuck with the English-language media which spend 95% of their time mangling the names of southern Iraqi towns we're never gonna hear from again and, when there's an ebb, tack on some coverage about this strange flu way over in Asia. In contrast, Sing Tao has been running front page stories about SARS for weeks.

Me? In the last week I've gotten at least 10 email forwards with extensive descriptions of the symptoms of SARS and detailed discussions of the benefits and drawbacks to various brands of masks. Only one of those emails was in English (posted here for everyone's benefit). When I went back to California last week, the Chinese video rental store I usually go to was selling packages of masks. So was the bookstore. They were the right brand, too. The only business in that plaza likely to get non-Chinese customers, the restaurant, didn't have them.

The package of masks is now sitting on my desk. I may never use it. But if and when I hear on the evening news that five guys died in some hospital in New York or Boston, near where I'm at now, next morning when I go to class I'll bust open that package and put on a mask. Unlike all y'all who don't actually know people with friends or relatives infected by this disease yet, I'm not gonna be sitting around for a day being confused about what to do, get lots of email forwards from my friends, then the next morning conclude that maybe doing something is a good idea and go queue up for half an hour at Walmart during lunch along with everyone else in the city, probably catching the disease while there.

Recent e-mail from a non-Chinese speaking ABC friend:

Yeah, I'm thinking of taking a trip to Hong Kong. It'll be cheap cuz now that there's the war, no one's flying, and no one's staying in hotels cuz of that virus thing.

I really hope this isn't typical, but similarly, white people --- even university students --- with whom I've brought up the subject usually don't know what I'm talking about until I say "the flu over in Asia which killed all those hotel guests."

Political Correctness --- The brutal truth is that SARS is, currently, a predominantly Chinese disease (the media disguises this by talking about, for example, "Canadians" --- ethnicity suppressed).

Or "Asians" --- at least from what I've seen the media haven't been too jumpy to point out SARS as an Asian phenomenon, but are reluctant to state the obvious fact that it's being spread along precisely the routes that southern Chinese people travel to go visit relatives --- Hong Kong, Singapore, Vietnam, and Canada --- for fear of offending the sensibilities of Chinese people. As a result, Americans will hear about a flu coming from "Asia," remember only this one bit of information, and start avoiding their local Cambodian donut shop or rethinking their trip to Korea. But they probably wouldn't blink twice at driving to Toronto, despite that they're at much higher risk of being infected there than in Seoul.

I personally doubt SARS will spread evenly throughout Asia. It might hit Japan because of the scale of the illegal immigration problem, but I doubt the Japanese government will show any of the concern with political correctness or sensitivity that the US government will --- they'll be aggressively inspecting every Chinese restaurant in the city, stopping random Chinese people on the street, etc. I'll be very surprised if it becomes a large-scale problem in Korea, given their Japanese-like attitude towards foreigners combined with a lack of any significant Chinese population. Singapore will probably be best at resisting the disease simply because of their population's acceptance of paternalistic violations of civil rights, combined with the government's immunity to charges of racism leading them to unfairly target Chinese people. (That's one reason why I worry about Malaysia. There's always enough angry and frightened people around to turn anything into a race issue).

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