Saturday, November 13, 2004

Miscellany, plus Funny Language learnin’ errors

Smokin’ a bowl, downloadin’ bootlegs o’ Tom Waits for this hot little redhead I know on a wet Friday nite at 2:05 AM. Listenin’ to him singin’ “Chocolate Jesus” from a 1999 live show in Oregon. I love bootlegs.

I been away. I had a great night at the all-night Nightwatch event at the Western Front last weekend – the highlight being Ellen McIlwane playing slide guitar at 3 AM and tellin’ us stories about her childhood with missionary parents in Japan. (She told us she “always scats in Japanese because it sounds cooler than scoobie doobie.”) What a raconteur! Her stories are almost as cool as her guitar playing. (I like it when musicians tell stories, usually). She tells me via e-mail that she doesn't know Tomokawa Kazuki or Mikami Kan, outsider folkies from the '70's. Gonna mail her a package of CDRs. Tomokawa recently appeared in Miike Takashi's Izo, a sprawling, bizarrely philosophical samurai action film with surrealist moments -- Tomokawa sorta serves as a chorus, his bleakly passionate ballads commenting on the action, his screams lingering after he's off screen.

I got into trading language learning stories with one of the percussionists, I think he was, from Gamelan Alligator Joy (featuring two Javanese guests and Western Front curator D.B. Boyko). He told the audience earlier in the evening that he’d walked around Java telling people a phrase that transliterates from Javanese as “sweet dreams,” having learned the word for “sweet” and the word for “dreams,” and assuming they would, when smacked together, mean the same thing. He in fact was wishing people wet dreams, not sweet ones. Or just asserting “wet dreams” without it being clear it was an item of well-wishing, which, in a way, would be stranger. I approached him later while waiting for the sitar player to come on and told him that I had liked the story. I then explained that I spent weeks in Japan, mistaking “furo” (bath) for “fukuro” (bag), and thus telling shopkeepers that I didn’t need a bath, or, worse, asking them to give me one.

This led to a fun segue to a story about travelling in Vietnam, I think it was, where the tonal aspects of the language make it very easy to say, when you want to be sayin’ “Is this meal vegetarian?”, the far-more loaded phrase, “I intend to leave without paying.” Leading to such great conversations as:

“What would you like, sir?”
“This looks good, but I intend to leave without paying. Is that okay? I intend to leave without paying. There's no meat in this, right? Do you understand?”

I played the final card – my best, a possibly apocryphal tale off (a forum for expats-and-teachers-in-Japan) Big Daikon (where I ride again as Pemmican): A young man wanted to ask his coworker, “Shuumatsu ni, nani o shimashita ka,” which translates as “weekend on, what (object marker) did you do?” He approached his coworker’s desk and smiled and said instead "shuumatsu ni, onani shimashita ka?" -- becoming indignant when his coworker looked at him in shock and horror. The Japanese, you see, have this flexible little syllable “o,” which can move around in sentences – this is a very easily-made error. By putting the “o” in the wrong place, the young man had unconsciously stumbled into the Japanese borrowing from the English word, onanism, meaning he’d asked his coworker, in very polite tones, if he had masturbated on the weekend:

"Excuse me, did you masturbate this weekend?”


Even more unfortunate, the Japanese-learner got a little frustrated at his coworker’s inability to understand his simple, perfectly grammatical question: so he repeated it louder, so everyone could hear.

It’s easy enough to compile and chuckle at goofy phrases Japanese learners come up with when they attempt to speak English (the “we-play-for-MacArthur’s-erection” syndrome). I’d like to hear more from native English speakers who fuck up when trying to learn Japanese…

Anyhow, I haven’t abandoned the blog, just haven’t had anything I wanted to write here. Plus Big Daikon has been keeping me busy. I’ll have more to say presently – maybe after the Laurie Anderson show on Sunday night.

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