Friday, April 10, 2015

Leger malentendu

Aside from my dayjob as some sort of engineer, I also take up freelance interpreting jobs mainly for French to English and vice versa. Apparently the demand for French interpreters in Malaysia used to be quite high back in the 90's, but now it is somewhat dwindling due to the fact that most French expats who come to Malaysia today usually have a decent grasp of the English language.

When interpreting, translating is only one half of the job; the other half consists of conveying the correct emotion and state of mind of the speaker to the listener so both the message and the correct tone get properly delivered. The real challenge is that you don't have the luxury of time; messages  need to be churned out and shot back and forth in real time, leaving no room for double checking. A good interpreter is one who trains his language reflexes rigorously.

What kind of reflexes? Well, grammar is a given. Maintaining proper grammar and syntax is somewhat tricky when translating from English to French because of the differences in word arrangement. French adjectives are generally placed after nouns and, like most Romance languages, French has a particular subject-object-verb word order which in English would mean producing a sentence such as "I it him give", instead of "I give it to him". With due diligence, one should master the grammar rules relatively quickly as the French grammar is very consistently structured.

Now the hardest reflex to train is the false friend avoidance. English has had a long history of borrowing from French since the Norman conquest, meaning that while English is still a mainly Germanic language in structure and grammar, a great many French words have been abosrbed into its vocabulary. However, both languages having continued to evolve separately, most of the borrowed French words have taken completely new meanings in English due to changing cultural contexts. A lazy or inexperienced interpreter, upon hearing the English word engagement (in the context of getting married), would hastily use the same word in French because after all, engagement is also a French word. A good interpreter would translate it as fiançailles instead (and it's always plural in French!). The French word engagement has always retained its original meaning of "commitment", but never in the context of impending nuptials.

The French nevertheless have also borrowed many English words and taken the liberty to completely redefine them. The word footing, by the looks of it, supposedly comes from English and somehow means jogging in French. They also have le smoking which means the tuxedo. The word stop in the French phrase faire du stop means hitchhiking. And my personal favourite false friend is préservatif, which is French for condom. I still vividly remember the shock on my friends' faces when I told them the cake from our uni's vending machine was full of préservatifs. It's the kind of seemingly small mistake that takes you forever to live down.

And these are only some of the many, many examples of false cognates between English and French. Mastering them is an absolute art and I thoroughly enjoy it. If you think math is a great mental exercise, try language. Math has not radically progressed  in the past decade because we've pretty much solved or have postulates for most math problems. Pure math has minimal real world applications anyway.

Language on the other hand evolves crazy quickly. Today's noun can be tomorrow's verb. Catchphrases are invented every day. Grammar rules can suddenly be bent to oblivion and new norms are invented overnight. Through the Internet and social media, cross-pollination between languages are getting more common so interpreters need to keep up with all the new terms and the cultural baggage attached to them.

It's a demanding job, but oddly satisfying. And pays damn well too.

Friday, April 03, 2015

All The King's Horses

As you get older and wiser you start giving less shit about stuff. I found myself singing along to One Direction's Night Changes last week during my morning drive and it made me smirk. Five-years-ago me would have sniggered at how readily I embrace mainstream pop songs these days. What happened to that dude who only listened to British-invasion songs of the 60s and obscure 80s electropop?

From my observation, age doesn't necessarily change what you like. It just reduces the number of peers you have, and less peer pressure means less shit-giving. It's just like how everyone liked Britney Spears' Toxic when it came out, but no guy in my class would openly admit it so they pretended that the half-nude Britney in the music video was the only reason why they were watching it. Yeah okay.

The same thing is happening in my film choices. I used to have several terabytes worth of movies ranging from silent films of the 20s all the way to post-millenial new wave Iranian cinema. I had friends with whom I would passionately discuss Kubrick and Kurosawa, I could quote De Sica's Bicycle Thief from memory, and whenever people asked me about my favourite movie the answer would be a short sigh, followed by "Well there are just so many it's hard to just pick one. Are we talking ficion? Biography? Adapted screenplay? Which era? Which country?" Of course it was not just an act because I was really that into it, and I had new favourite movies every week. Every second of my waking hours outside of class would be spent watching movies, it's ridiculous. Who needs friends when you can have Audrey Hepburn serenade Moon River to you by the window sill?

Somehow life got in the way. I graduated, I started having commitments and real responsibilities, and my free time started depleting. These days I go to the movies purely for the momentary escapism it provides. I expect to get entertained or at least to feel detached from reality even for a little while. It got me thinking, have I changed that much?

The answer is no. I haven't changed. Of course I've seen all the films that "mattered", but only once. I mean Citizen Kane is great and all but I wouldn't watch it again if you paid me. My real favourite movies have always been the same ones: Demolition Man, The Terminator series, Almost Famous, Jaws 4: The Deep Blue Sea, any P. Ramlee movies, and Shaun of The Dead. Simple and straightforward  movies that I really enjoy. Gone are the days where I would pretend to like Run Lola Run. These days I just stick to movies I could just enjoy with my brain checked at the door.

Which is why I loved Kingsman. I actually found it even more entertaining than all the Oscar movies of the past 5 years, combined. No, really. It's outlandish to the point where it almost becomes a parody of itself but not quite, the premise is simple and the execution is efficient and really satisfying. You want a spy movie without the overly complicated plot and several layers of villains from ten different intelligence agencies? Kingsman's conflict is all about Samuel L. Jackson wanting to wipe out most of humanity using satellite signals, that's it. And his side kick has blades for feet, so you know it's going to be good. You want to see an underprivileged kid succeed in life? Kingsman's got it. You want to see spoiled brats fall flat on their faces? Checked. You want to see religious extremists kill each other in a safe, confined environment without bothering the rest of the world? Oh it's got it, and it's glorious. In fact, the church scene alone is worth watching it for. I'd never have thought Colin Firth would be good in fighting scenes but Kingsman proved otherwise. It was uncannily similar to the bar fight scene that I'm very fond of in Shaun of The Dead.

And the most satisfying part of Kingsman is when all the who's who of the world have their heads burst into colourful flames and drop dead. Wouldn't it be nice to see all of the world's cunning politicians just explode and die like that?

I'm becoming a simple man. And I like it.

I'm planning to go watch Kingsman again next week. 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Crawling In My Skin

I used to work with a guy who would proudly and repeatedly tell me he didn't have a Facebook account, like it is some kind of a badge of honour. He also boasted about not knowing what hashtags did and was adamant on not figuring it out because he didn't care about Twitter either, or any other social networks for that matter. "I am old school," he exclaimed.

It was a personal choice, and I completely respected it because I couldn't care less. But after a while he started to annoy me with his constant harping on how people need to mind their virtual footsteps more, how social media is the bane of our generation, and of course, on how perfectly happy and well-adjusted he is as a person since he doesn't have "The Facebook", because he didn't need to worry about his online trails.

I would be lying if I said I didn't freak out a little when Google started doing targeted ads on me based on my search history but on a couple of occasions it actually turned out to be really helpful. My current favourite pair of shoes have travelled with me all the way from South America to Japan, and they are not showing any signs of slowing down. Google was the one who suggested them to me, and I am eternally thankful. 

"But they're siphoning crucial info about you! You should be concerned!"

Well unless you're a troglodyte who lives on shrubs and cave moss, I'm pretty sure you have at least an e-mail address, a telephone number and a bank account (if you don't own any of these you most likely are not that important to spy on anyway). Those contain  enough details about you and no matter how strict they claim their Data Protection policy to be, data theft will always be a risk for you regardless of how much you restrict your online presence. So I say be it. I use Facebook for fun and I don't take social media seriously, so the "crucial" pieces of information I keep on there are ones I am comfortable being leaked. Besides, people who brag about not using Facebook still use Google or other search engines. Your search history is a far better way to spy on you, don't you think? So why the hate on social media when the interwebs itself is peppered with your inane searches of the best latex fetish smut videos or articles on why you're seeing signs of male pattern baldness eventhough you're only 27. Why do you judge Facebook users when your search engine knows every bit about you, you balding perv?

All I am saying is we live in the age where humans are products. We are no longer mere consumers, we are goods. Every one of us, and there is nothing much we can do about it unless we all grow the same pair of humongous steel balls as Edward Snowden's. 

So either you pull a Kate & Leopold and move back to the 16th century, or you can deal with this and stop being so Linkin Park paranoid because that is so 2001.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Victim Complex

I started this post by writing the title first. I'd never done that before. Usually I'd just let my writing roam around and go any which way it desired, and at the very end I'd swoop in, identify the core issue in my incoherent train of thoughts, and come up with a more or less appropriate title.

But not this time around. I thought I wanted to write about something super serious and that I needed to follow through and not get derailed off topic.

So what about The Victim Complex? As much as I love Wikipedia for a straight-forward, (mostly) unbiased overview of a topic, for this particular issue I very much prefer the Encyclopedia Dramatica's definition of The Victim Complex, and I quote:
The possessor of a victim complex needs some outside authority to blame for their own failures. They can never compensate for their personal challenges in order to do the basic competition necessary to be even minimally successful at life. Those with the most institutional of complexes have created not only an outside persecutor but feel an innate and deep endowment for entitlement, even privilege.
A bit of backstory for context:

I was out with a couple of friends at a new hotspot in town, when suddenly a decent looking young lady with a body sculpted by the Gods walked past us before cozying up to a heavyset, middle-aged Chinese guy at the next table. I jokingly quipped, "That dude must be loaded." Small chuckles were heard, and a friend decided that it was the perfect backdrop for a segue into his dramatic recounting of Bustamam's Woes : How The Whole Universe Is Conspiring To Pulverise The Malays. It's a tale of how the Malays are bullied and humiliated to the point where they become mere shells of their previous selves, all because of the money-hungry villains that are the Chinese. And the Jews. But mostly the Chinese.

Wait how the hell did he manage to segue into that story, you might ask.

Don't you see? We were talking, no, speculating about the wealth of a certain Chinese dude next to us. Whenever the word Chinese and money are said in the same sentence, it is almost illegal not to finish that sentence with "...and the Malays are being oppressed by these greedy Ah Bengs." In fact, the mere mention of the word Cina could spark a lengthy debate on how the Malays should stand up for themselves and give these slanty eyed people a good kick in the ass.

I hate it. I hate it every time someone brings up the issue of the Malay privilege. I hate the word supremacy. I hate the word oppression. I hate the word greedy. I hate the phrase "protecting the Malays". I hate the idea of my perfectly able-bodied and able-minded people needing special attention from the government. I hate the bigoted remarks on my Facebook newsfeed about what would happen if the Chinese ruled Malaysia ("We'd all be eating pork and Allah would punish Malaysia with more floods!"). I hate the fact that every time a race issue is brought up, a dimwit would be quick to play the 13th May card, the Malaysian Godwin's rule.

And above all, I hate how readily the Malays see themselves as stupid, lazy and mentally incapacitated, and are proud of it.

The Chinese stole your land? You don't have any land. You don't have so much as a doormat to your name. No one is stealing from you, but you rob yourself... of opportunities. The opportunity to get education, because when the Chinese were in school, you were playing honky. The opportunity to appreciate how our land is abundant with resources, because you'd rather wait for money to grow on trees than work a menial job. The opportunity to be fascinated by different cultures rather than be repulsed by them, because you choose not to care about others who are of different faiths because they might sneak bacon into your beehoon. The opportunity to travel the world and across the universe on a shoelace, through reading. Because reading is boring, reading is nerdy, reading is for the pussies and the sissies and the losers. The opportunity to see the glass half full, because you expect the glass to magically fill itself to the brim and when it doesn't, it's because of the Chinese.

How is it the fault of the Chinese that when I go to a government's office, the person behind the counter is on his coffee break at 10.30 a.m? How is it the fault of the Chinese that you are jobless when it is crystal clear you are a lazy bumfuck with a shitty personality and absolutely no redeeming values whatsoever? How is it the fault of the Chinese that you have this crippling fear of competition that the mere idea of a public university without a race quota sends shivers down your spine? "But what about our comfort zone? Down with those kiasu Chinamen!"

The Victim Complex provides solace. It puts the blame on everybody else but you. It is a teething cookie to your fragile gum, a pacifier to your erratic tantrums, a mouthful of Listerine on your putrid breath. It's a tudung on your bad hair day, it's ajinomoto on your tasteless wonton soup, a coat of fresh paint on your moldy walls.

It's what we use to escape the ugly face of reality.

The Victim Complex, embodied by an entire people, passed down through generations.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Shit only hits stupid fans

These days people find offense in most everything. I admit, my offense threshold is a little high, if not extremely, so not only is it almost impossible to offend me, it's also hard for me to even come close to understanding what goes through people's mind when they take offense on something.

So Jason Lo went under (mild) fire on Twitter for saying something supposedly sexist. It being a rainy Saturday afternoon, I had nothing better to do than to ransack the entire interwebs to find out what he said. Turns out, his controversial quip was something along the lines of "I also used to go out at night to look for pussies" when replying to someone who said "I used to go out looking for stray cats."

Um.. That's... it? That's it?? Someone got offended over a lame pussy joke? Oh come on. On one hand, I was delighted that feminist issues finally got the attention they highly deserve because Malaysia has been way behind in this regard. On the other hand, if feminists get all worked up over a stupid pussy joke, how are people going to take them seriously on other more pressing issues?

If there's anything I've learned during my 26 years of existence, it's that shit only get to you if you let it get to you. You can't control what people say or do, but you can definitely control how you react to it. I wish I could put it more succinctly so it could be a mantra printed out on a T-shirt that I will generously give out to all Malaysians, FOC.  Loosen the fuck up, people! (Now that's another mantra I cannot put on a shirt but for an entirely different reason.)

I am not a proponent of pussy jokes, mind you. However, I am also guilty of making them at inappropriate moments. In my defence, I also make dick jokes. I also make racial-stereotype jokes, humour noir, dad jokes, I'm-going-to-hell-for-this jokes, what have you.  I use humour as a defence mechanism and a tool to keep people at arm's length. Being funny allows people to feel at ease with you and enjoy your company, but at the end of the day they know nothing about you. 

 I used to just mindlessly crack jokes about anything with anyone, and it got me tonnes of friends and enemies alike. Whenever I offended people, I would be hard on myself for going too far or for crossing some lines. After a while I started tailoring my jokes to suit the different types of people I hung out with.  I studied their characters, I did research on the kinds of jokes they liked, I observed the things they had strong reactions to, and I ran with them. But just when I thought I had it all figured out, someone took offense at some  well-tailored joke I made, and I decided to give up and stop giving a fuck. Take offense, I no longer care.

These days I mostly keep my more controversial thoughts to myself unless provoked. I find people more bearable when they are not stupid, and stupid people are usually the most easily offended, so I try to keep the offense on the down low so I don't bring out the stupid in people. In return, people around me become tolerable human beings and it helps me forget their smaller brains.

So I guess my point was people need to loosen up so I can tolerate them.

The end.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

White and its goddamn spawns

I woke up Saturday with a burning desire to repaint the living room and stair walls. I had a thousand other more pressing issues to deal with, but apparently those could wait. The hand stains on the walls, now those needed to go, pronto.

So off I went to the hardware store. For a middle unit shop lot, it was amazing how it had everything you could ever imagine and more, and how helpful the employees were. All I had to say was, "I need all the equipment to repaint my living room and stairwell." Moments later, a paint roller, a small brush for the corners and angles, a roller extension, a paint tray, 2 rolls of masking tape, and a plastic floor cover magically appeared out of nowhere. 

"2 cans of 5L paint will do the job," said the Bangladeshi guy whose command of the Malay language would put most born and bred Malaysians to shame. In fact, the foreign workers I saw coming in and out of the store during the 20 minutes I was there all spoke decent to fluent Malay, it being the only unifying language between them. It is always heartwarming to see your mother tongue being spoken by foreigners while Malaysians themselves look down or straight out despise the language. The difference between the Bangladeshi dude who speaks excellent Malay after living here all of two years and a Malaysian Chinese apek who's lived here all his life but cannot even form one complete Malay sentence? Simple. The apek's livelihood doesn't depend on his Malay fluency. Something to ponder upon.

Back to my story. So the Bangladeshi dude was looking at me with his head cocked to the left, "Nak warna apa?" Such an innocent question. Or so I thought. "Putih," I replied. 

Yes, but what kind of white? He asked, handing me a colour catalogue. This is where things got confusing. I grew up with the basic Luna 12-colour pencil sets, so the only white I know is white, as in that colour pencil I never had to use because who the hell colours white drawing paper with white colour pencil?

"So as you can see here, in the warm white section we have all the off-whites: ivory, eggshell, magnolia etc. In the cool white we have sky white, iceberg, pearl etc." I scanned through the catalogue and saw Mediterranean sand white, Arctic white, waterfall white, smoke white, vanilla white and all other kinds of ridiculous appellations. As the most basic colour in the universe (some even argue it's not a colour, rather the absence of it), white sure did a good job coming up with cool fancy nicknames for itself.

It took me a while to differentiate between linen white and seashell white before I decided to stop giving a shit and just pick one.

"I'll go with this one," I pointed to the top left colour square in the catalogue, the one that actually looked white and not one of those whites that were actually yellow.

"Alright, wedding white it is," he said. 

Yes, the colour I chose was called freaking wedding white. There are so many different shades of white they ran out of objects to assign to them so now they resort to attributing them the name of events and ceremonies. What's next? Birthday blue? Bar mitzvah green? Fall of the Berlin Wall grey? 

Early this year I learned about the colour fuchsia and I thought I was hot shit for knowing such an exotic colour. Now after having been mindraped by a thousand shades of white, I walked out of the shop with painting supplies and disappointment. 

Plato had it right. When we think we know everything, we know nothing.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

The Cook and The House Hunter

Been back home in Malaysia since December. Surprisingly I don't miss France as much as I thought I would. One thing I do miss though, is cooking. I cooked a lot in France, and don't at all in Malaysia. I literally only helped in the kitchen once for the entire duration I have been back, and that was only because my mom bought home darnes of salmon and asked me specifically how to properly cook them on a skillet.

Back in France I would try out all kinds of recipes, from homemade chicken burger to the fattiest potato-free moussaka known to man. I also loved making fusion franco-thai cuisine. Granted, it was only "fusion" because half the ingredients in Thai food were hard to come by or too expensive, so I had to make lots of recipe-tweaking and concessions. After all, lemongrass and lemon juice do taste alike, ginger looks like galangal's estranged twin brother so they serve the same purpose, coconut milk is just milk from a fruit so it is totally possible to substitute it with full-cream milk, and kaffir lime leaves and bay leaves are basically the same thing...... right? 

Ok maybe not. But my fusion dishes didn't taste half bad. In fact they were pretty good. Except for that time when my tom yam goong tasted like sewage water (who adds milk into tom yam?), or that one time when my sambal tasted like dessert because I was going through a period of time where my mantra was "if it tastes funny, add sugar until the taste improves." Or even that one time when I used an old lemongrass in my bolognaise and it tasted bitter (otherwise lemongrass is a god-sent for bolognaise). Lesson learnt: if your lemongrass is 3 months old and has the texture of a twig, don't use it because it tastes like shit and I'm pretty sure it gives you cancer. You're probably thinking Why didn't you just go buy fresh lemongrass? Oh look at Bill Gates over here going around telling people to go buy fresh stuff like a true 1%-er. I bet you're also a vegan who snacks on macadamias and celery dipped in hummus, who throws away his yoghurt 4 days prior to the actual expiry date. I'll have you know that I once ate yoghurt three weeks after the so-called expiry date and it tasted fine, albeit with a funny tinge of tartness but I guess that's pretty normal for a mango yoghurt. And yes, I got severe diarrhea the next day but that was totally unrelated...


I'm currently looking for my own place and a big part of that is because I want to be able to cook my own meals. I love Malaysian food but I have come to a point where the sight of rice and noodles makes me want to strangle a newt.

So if you know a great condo with a balcony overlooking the city centre, preferably with an island kitchen and 3 bedrooms, and costs less than RM300k, then please call me.... so I can call you out on your blatant lie because these days even a shithole in Sungai Buloh costs you a liver.

And that's only the deposit.