moving about. learning Chinese, practicing Tai Ji Quan, doing Qi Gong, or simply going out running. resisting the monkey impulses.

Friday, May 22, 2009



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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Dear Diary and List Anxiety

So, last week, our long-suffering Mandarin teacher let us have an easy-to-do homework, since we were all so bad at producing anything like a regular series of essays for the last lot. So, "why not just do a diary?" Fine, that's easy then!

I did actually Think About It for a little bit, but nothing actually got done. Poor teacher! Worst class that she's ever had, I expect. This week, a new, hopefully easier to use, variant of the task.

Write whatever diary entry you want and send it to me.

I will interpret this rather liberally, and start plugging basic diary entries in this blog, in Mandarin. If I want to actually talk about something in more than a sedated toddler way then I may drop into English.



担心一点儿, 因为工作前进得不太流利。因为我有许多的设计,所以我慢慢进步。 今天下午有再一个会议,是e-learning的。太无聊了。我真忙,可能不去。

See, so many things to do. I have the usual trouble of being distracted by things off-stage, that is, projects other than the one I'm supposed to be working on. To-do list anxiety. Probably exacerbated by remembering the many times when tasks I'd forgotten about have suddenly become super-urgent.

At one time, I was using OmniOutliner to list everything, and to total the Number of Things. This got into the 300's quite easily, and was plainly ridiculous. It doesn't help that I've got about 5 jobs.

For the last month or two, I've switched to OmniFocus, and I'm trying to implement a Getting Things Done approach. This doesn't seem to be capable of adding up the number of open tasks, but I'm taking that as a Good Thing.

You can't drink the whole river, why should you know how many cups there are?

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Monday, December 01, 2008

To Monkey, the opera

so I finally saw Monkey the Opera!

Proper title Monkey: Journey to the West. The west here is India, to the west of the western desert, but it could also been construed as here in London. Based on the pillar of Chinese literature, the Monkey King whatever whatever. For those not familiar, think of a cross between Don Quixote, Buffy (only with more actual sex), the Young Ones and the Gospel according to Luke. The famous novel is thoroughly comi-serious. Mallory and Python in one sprawling package.

How could I not be a fan? This first came to my notice before its premiere in Manchester in 2007. Fascinated! Why? let's see : arrrt (Hewlitt), martial and otherwise, cheeky monkeys, Chinese culture, Blur-y musical wildness, Mandarin.

Organisational crapness, and not wanting to sit in a crowded Pendolino all the way to Manc, prevented me from joining in. If my monkey-brain is right, I was probably tragically over-involved in the usual tussles, so come the weekend, phuh!

The show has now productionised itself, and is in the middle of a stint at the do.. er O2. Well not quite, a shaky tent just outside. So think circus-style wobbly bleachers and slightly dodgy canvas walls. All black though, to set off Jamie Hewlitt's art and the red lanterns, emblazoned with the ever-present monkey glyph.

en passant, I quite liked the whole Brit-cit 2000 AD scenario of train, tube, dome. More or less what I had imagined aged 12, less any flying cars.

What we saw then, was quite brilliant, though not the totally immersive spectacle that I'd imagined. Each of the set-pieces was great, and there was music and action and emotion in each one. The various scenes followed the genesis of each character, drawing on various elements and forces as a result. The Dalian circus performers were marvellous, spinning and flipping and posing, either in specific characters or fighters or as part of a background fantastic world. Costumes and props were clever, witty and stunning.

The music was weird and jangly (Damon Albarn does this very well), just how I like it. We had a good view of the band, which was a nice bonus.

Sung, yelped, growled and shouted in Mandarin, the words were probably incomprehensible to most (though maybe not, lots of Chinese faces in the audience) but I managed to grasp the odd word, e.g. DA SI NI MEN !! Quite encouraging really.

The main linking device between scenes was a closing of the screens and a chance to drool over a Hewlitt animation. These were often delightfully linked to the live-action through lighting effects. Maybe the links were a bit long, there was obviously quite a bit of scene shifting and re-costuming to be done, but somehow it felt like 9 lumps (of course, 9! the final scene being in heaven) and not a single great story all wound together as one, like.

Why was that? Limits of the medium? Not being in the front? Monkey's numb bum?

Still, there was so much to look at and think about, that the normally rip-off program was a bargain, stuffed as it was it gorgeous illustrations and nerdy details. Even a proper bibliography.

The soundtrack, which I've had for a few months now without making sense of, linguistically or otherwise, is now going to get a good rummage.

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Sunday, July 13, 2008

Glimmers of understanding

Hey groovy, someone just sent me an email in Mandarin that didn't take me more than a day to understand.

不知道你是否还记得我。我是你以前在UCL语言中心的汉语老师, X XX。你现在还在UCL学习汉语吗?还是你转道SOAS学习去了?。


你还在UCL工作吗?你有个好消息, 我要回来ucl工作了!!我8月初开始工作。希望能在跟你见面。我想你现在中文一定很棒!

I only had to look up about 5 words, but I got the gist straight away. I just spent half an hour re-typing it (this means I have to know what the pinyin is for each character) and I'm well on my way to composing a reply (我当然记得你, 我汉语水平还可以 。。。) turn-around time a fortnight. I'm starting to feel borderline literate.


Saturday, April 26, 2008

Back to it

Quick report on last week. Lots of gym, a run OUTSIDE, bit of swimming.

James' saturday tai chi. Great to be back in class. Bumbled through the lao jia (manageable with others. totally impossible on my tod). Bit of push hands. No I don't remember any of the two-hand push hands patterns. Got introduced to Chen style sword (jian). Interesting!

Mandarin classes started up again. The momentum seems to be building there, more conversations. I think our teacher should force us to speak autonomously a bit more, we can handle it. I've tried to be systematic in the week, in terms of pushing the vocab and han zi (i.e. characters). Lost track of cpod though.

This week wasn't so great. Missed lots of gym "slots" due to random social gatherings and late working. I should just have a Rule. Six o clock, down tools, phones, pens, mice.

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Monday, February 04, 2008

Trying to keep up

I've got this sensation of falling off the back of the treadmill. Metaphorically of course, my running is comparatively fine.

Troublesome day at work (not enough time!! MSc administrators panicking!! Both of them!!) then felt exhausted, so planned to drift back to the sofa. Mrs Monkey rang up, with troubling developments on the Felix front. A card from the RSPCA (danmn, they're out, must call first thing tomorrow) and explanatory voicemail from the (helpful, understanding) vets. Message to irritatingly anonymous worried neighbours : No, we. are. not. neglecting. our. cat. OK??

She was going to the gym anyway, so I grabbed a Jaffa cake and joined in. Felt ok actually, despite initial lethargy. 15 mins running, various weights and floor contortions, 15 mins x-trainer. Lots of punters (though not as many as in Bloomsbury, which is constantly packed).

Back home to find Felix out somewhere. I update my twitter, in case M wants to follow the plot, and then he chooses that moment to wander back in. Has the panicky old lady fed him, or not? Anyway, he gets another dinner. And another wash.

Because of the wonderful new Pet Porte (photo) , we can do clever things like keep everybody in at night.

Missed Chinese tonight obviously. Read the book, highlighting new words. Pleasantly surprised at the level of comprehension, though I'm making no regular effort to update my vocab. Resolve to try and catch up with Chinesepod. Though not tonight. And so to bed.

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Sunday, February 03, 2008

Oh Hi, how's it going?

As I was about to start another Monday night Chinese class, I bumped into a (very) erstwhile classmate, who was about to teach her Hebrew class. She's awfully clever, and fantastically good at picking up languages, so is probably is at my level with about a tenth of the instruction. Both agreed that present UCL offerings probably not immersive enough. She also recommended Chinesepod (hang on, didn't I recommend that to her ages ago?) and I learnt her name there. Thought I recognised it, but the new hairdo had prevented me from making the connection.


Thursday, January 24, 2008

Bound up with the technology

I was bravely adding high Frequency characters to my Treo, using PlecoDict. Will I ever learn these things?

It's good to find helfpul tools and resources, and better to combine them. I experimented for a while with an online flashcard sharing tool (I bet their number has grown now, so I won't even bother linking). It tied me the the machine, and doesn't give me that waiting-for-the-train learning opportunity that the handheld does.

I really like PlecoDict though, with its embedded Oxford dictionary (I now use the paper version as a paperweight), and it's one of the reasons I'm sticking with the greasy old Palm, rather than lusting after the lovely iPhone. I'm definitely iCurious though, and would gladly flash my gadget cash that way if Pleco was there.

Dictionary of the 500 Most Frequently Used Words Yong Ho, Hippocrene Books, 2001
PlecoDict Chinese dictionary and study aid for handheld computers and smartphones

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Low point

Back to Mandarin class. Level "5" now. Due to the low number of students knocking around UCL language centre, the levels are a bit mixed up. We had at least four people who were basically fluent as far as I could tell, and were rattling on with the new teacher and breezing through the text. Us lot from the old level 4+ were pretty stumped. Wo. um. Jiao. Matt. OK I've had a bit of a long break, but this might not be good. Or it could be very good. But I doubt it. It's like climbing with office worker fingers, thinking 3b is hard, and with the partners running up grade 6 routes.

One problem is all the other work. If it's going to fly I'm going to need time for consistent study. At the moment there's no way. Sad to say, but I might want to knock it on the head for a term or two, just to stay sane.

The climbing analogy is an actual experience, which resulted in me giving up the sport, because I just suffered every week, I don't regret it whatsoever.


Saturday, June 09, 2007

Class update

Mandarin classes re-resumed in April, this time with only 5 participants. Hmm the lack of momentum at the so-called higher levels. I think there's only one level above in the UCL Language Centre system. And this is in London. Imagine the difficulty I would face in the provinces! Admittedly there are choices, e.g. the much more formal approach of SOAS. At the moment, we are still being quite conversational rather than textbook-bound. My h/w this week, for example, is to write out a recipe for egg fried rice. There are approximately 15 characters for various sorts of frottage in a wok, now, what were they... ?


Monday, May 28, 2007

Really don't know what's going on

It could be a sign of increasing awareness, or it could be a sign of stagnation or regression, but I get the feeling often that the meaning of a conversation, in Chinese that is, can slip by me completely. Despite the grammar and vocabulary being in theory known to me. The same could be said for many things other than Mandarin, truth be known. Could be me just rattling around the conscious/competent matrix.

So, in our class, I could be struggling to pick an "easy" word like 那 (nà, there) out of my head. I know I know it but what is it? Or in skype chat with a language partner (I've got a couple of those now), to fail to read a critical 就。 Or watching a movie in Mandarin for an hour and have no idea what's going on. It was Shuzhou River – a bit David Lynch-ey, so maybe no suprise.

I reckon words are leaving my vocabulary as quick as they enter.

Also, I thought I was confused with the new "v3" Chinesepod. They've suppressed the lesson numbering system for example. But I think I've worked it out now. They have provided personalised feeds, which can put the lesson transcript straight into my itunes. And I finally grokked the whole calendar business. Wheee!

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Saturday, March 31, 2007

March Progress

Chinese : classes over for another term. Waiting to hear what will happen next - the classes don't run unless there are a minimum number of students, and some of us (there were 6 left at the end) are dropping out for various reasons. Chinesepod is a great backup, and now that I've got a car adapter, I can crack through the podcasts. I don't listen to Newbie level now, and I keep running out of Elementaries. Intermediates are still slightly too hard.

Running : I seem to be able to manage three sessions a week now, plus one gym. Or two gyms and two runs. Some good runs lately, around familiar loops.

Taiji : At the weekly class, we got to the end of Lao Jia Yi Lu. Admittedly in a very ragged way, but yeah! Off to Wang's class today to do it properly, where we are about 12 moves in. Although the level is more consistent there (only reasonably serious folk turn up), his method is to go over and over the moves rather than go through forms at a high rate of knots.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Chatty chat chat

Yesterday, spent most of my lunch break (wu xui) chatting with a Chinese person on Skype. I had posted a notice for language partners on the Chinesepod forum, and consequently this person got in touch.

Although my level of understanding is really terrible, I think, we were still able to keep a (typed) conversation going to and fro. I needed some help here and there. Sometimes I would recall the word or phrase, having been reminded. Mostly in pinyin (which can be confusing without the tonemarks) with occasional hanzi. When I know the characters, hanzi is more efficient, but if I don't then I am likely to be stumped.

I picked some (probably obvious) chat abbreviations. e.g. "hao d" instead of "hao de" and l for le. These words occur _a lot_ in Mandarin. Doubtless there are many more for hardcore chat heads.

Next time, we will try audio.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Bit of progress

It might be hubris to say that I might actually be getting the hang of things. This time last term I was getting the distinct feeling of slipping downwards, or at least not going up. This could well have been due to the chaos, or at least the intensity, of my term 1 schedule. I counted at least 6000 of the ten thousand things.

The new year's been a bit better. I've almost got a rhythm going with Chinese, helped I think by getting a gizmo to listen to ChinesePod in the car. The classes are being run a bit more steadily now, and I think the rest of the class is bit less panic-stricken.

As well as my regular taiji classes, the Wang Hai Jun monthly specials have started again. Two this year so far, both excellent. I got on the same tube train as him last weekend on the way to the class, and we kept up a 90%-in-Chinese conversation on the way to the class. It's hard to gauge, but I think that's way above the level of my O-level French. The taiji was good too, working through the lao jia yi lu, and concentrating a lot of figure of eight hip movements in the form and in silk reeling.

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Saturday, November 11, 2006


Chinese: 5 weeks into new cycle of classes at UCL. Our teacher left to go and do stuff in Aberdeen, so we have new one. The class is good, full of nice people. We are mostly practicing conversational stuff now.

Tai Chi: Occasional practice. No lessons since the summer break! Our trip to Morocco didn't help us get back into the routine, neither did a whole bunch of worky stuff at the start of term.

Running. M is travelling around madly as usual, so I'll blame my lack of dedication on my inability to persuade myself to go out alone in the cold. I've been down to gym a few times, just to demonstrate to my CV system that there is a plan. Don't know what it is yet.

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Saturday, September 09, 2006

Naah, there's no such thing as chee ... is there?

An account of a skeptic/hostile's encounter with reiki, when he was the young Luke Skywalker. As the slightly older version, he reflects:
about five minutes later, I felt really tired. Two minutes after that, I sort of slumped in my chair and the taiji teacher asked me what I was feeling. I said that I could still feel the pain but it’s like it was a thousand miles away. The throbbing was like hearing a drum in the distance. I also felt totally relaxed and calm, like after a total body massage.

He stopped and said that was the power of reiki, and I remember feeling a bit sheepish. Not only did the treatment work to alleviate the pain, but it worked DESPITE me thinking that it wouldn’t. That really surprised me. There was no hypnotic suggestion or chalking that experience up to the power of belief, etc.

I didn’t know what to do with that experience for many years, and, to some extent, I still don’t even today.
In the blogging tradition, I've stolen the punchline, right? If this sort of thing interests you (the boundary between what you know, and what works, and the fractal nature of that boundary) read the full post from Formosa Neijia.

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Friday, July 14, 2006

SOAS group photo

SOAS group photo
SOAS group photo,
originally uploaded by Drift Words.
Here's some of our SOAS class. Last class before the summer, so farewell until next time. Thanks to our patient teacher, Wang Jin (centre).

It's not clear who's going to do what next term. Like I'm wanting to go back to UCL Language Centre as it's more likely to dovetail with work, and others are going off to do other things.

To round off the term, we did a nice little test paper. Reading comprehension and listening was straightforward enough, grammar not so good. Mostly multiple choice, pick the right word to insert in a sentence. All in Han zi, apart from the rubrics. We then a chance to go over the proper answers, so we know what we are good at. As well as what remains to be studied again.

I had a splitting headache after this for some reason.


Saturday, June 03, 2006

End of month report

Unlike most of my other blogs, this one's hosted on my own webspace. Which means I can read the log file. Therefore I've just noticed that another internal martial artist blog is linking this one. It's called Formosa Neijia, and it's pretty hardcore wushu-type stuff. Ni hao! This is what he says in his (presumably) About thingy:
I came to Taiwan six years ago to pursue my interest in IMA (internal martial arts). I am a continuing student of xingyiquan, baguazhang, and taijiquan. Lately, I have also started studying Han Qing-tang's long fist system.

Edit: he moved his blog in October 06 to another location.

I also noticed some search interest for "Mike Sigman". Amazing, these logfiles. I do know he's going to be in the UK, in Sussex, in July I think, doing another internal strength workshop. I've got the flyer somewhere, so I'll dig that out the pile of paper on the kitchen table and post details here. Otherwise there should be some floating around in Wang Hai Jun's taiji class tomorrow (looking forward to that).

On the Mandarin learning front, reading and comprehension is going pretty well. I'm actually enjoying the backwards difficulty step, as it's obvious that some of the basics didn't go in properly the first time. Right now we are doing some of the 了‘s and the 是...的 construction. Having the audio on the ipod really helps.

I found some great grid-paper on the web, with included diagaonals, ideal for practicing han zi. Scroll down to the Chinese section at the end, but wonder at the other varieties on the way. Oh the depth of human ingenuity! If you want just squares, I got squares. (Doc and PDF, A4 and Letter. 60 kB zip).

I like writing han zi, but I can barely remember more than a few dozen, or so it seems, and I am s-l-o-w. It takes at least half an hour to fill an A4 sheet.

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Sunday, May 21, 2006

Puffing and Panting

A big chunky week this week.

On the Mandarin front, the class's usual teacher returned from Shanghai, and we got stuck into the dialogs. As I've said before, the level is OK/a bit easy/ but it's going good. I got my iMac back from the menders, so the latest podcasts from ChinesePod are getting listened to on trains. The ChinesePod forum is lighting up a bit, and there's a few good tips coming out. One of which was a full dictionary for Palm (and other handhelds) called Pleco. I even spent real money on it! Good thing, this weak dollar!

I spent a good hour or so studying han zi yesterday, and I should be doing the same now, except ...

I'm feeling pretty wasted from this morning's run. We missed the rain that's been persisting down for the rest of the day, and didn't deliberately train that hard, but I feel like I've just done a Half. It was one the usual Munstead/Bramley loops. Would have taken the camera, being jealous of Running in Suffolk's splendid photo/running blog, except it was grey as a damp battleship.

I went down the gym on Friday (my sixty-quid a time visit!) and whizzed around the place on the bike yesterday, so I'm not suprised the batteries are low. I really can't study when I'm tired. Put the kettle on, love!

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Friday, April 28, 2006

Finding the right level

The SOAS class was fun, but rather too simple I think. Looking at the textbooks confirms the view. I should be able to swap up to the (rather daunting looking) Intermediate class. Whether I do so depends on whether I want to re-inforce what I've already covered, or plough into new territory.


Wednesday, April 26, 2006

New Course

Boo! My UCL Language Centre course didn't make the minimum number, so it ain't running.

But Hooray! I found another one at SOAS, just down the road from UCL, where they have loads of Chinese courses. I had a little assessment (conclusion: as predicted, I have forgotten the bloody lot) and we decided (lots of nice people at SOAS) that I should join the class "Beginner's Term 3" presently using Book 2 of Chinese in Steps ISBN 184570004-X.

SOAS ought to be among the top Chinese teaching departments in the country, and the facilities look good. By contrast UCL language centre is a bit too small for its own good, and certainly it's physically cramped.

Speaking of running, I shall probably bring my running-related posts here, across from drift:::words, and keep the latter focussed as a wider cultural journal. No I didn't run the London marathon this year. Done it enough times I think, and too busy.


Saturday, April 22, 2006

Two more learners, maybe me makes three

Just telling you that I've added two more Chinese learner to my Bloglines (over there on the side, if you're actually reading this as a blog rather than as a feed), both of whom mentioned just now by the aforementioned Chris.

So, next week could be the resumption of formal lessons at UCL Language Centre. That's if enough other people sign up. Meanwhile, desperately nervous about having forgotten the whole bloody lot since I last went to class (I missed a few due to work pressure), I've relocated the reading texts and my stockpile of downloaded podcasts from Chinesepod. Today I had Jenny and Liv in one of the advanced lessons, in my ear whilst doing the first lawn-mowing of the year. No idea what they were on about, but hey, it fired the Mandarin-related synapses.

Everybody seems to be using different flashcard systems, now why is that? Genuinely different needs or just a stupid net-bubble Cambrian explosion? I've been using Flashcard Exchange where you can see me as user "matt whyndham". I like this one because of: web service, social-ness, use of tags.


Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Hello Chris - Mandarin Student

Just a shout out to Chris who's in a similar position to me in learning Mandarin. 你好 Chris!

via the Chinesepod blog.


Sunday, April 02, 2006

Tai Chi class assembling

Tai Chi class assembling
Tai Chi class assembling,
originally uploaded by Drift Words.
Here's proof that I went along to Wang Hai Jun's class this Sunday. No great innovations to report, however, it was really great to stand and practice with this master. His style is at once fluid and powerful. Best thing he said? "AAAAAHHH!!" (A sound emphasising the development of power during silk-reeling and form).

Incidentally, because his English isn't great, I got a some Mandarin demonstration into the bargain. I could understand the odd word here and there, though nothing approaching a functional level.

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Saturday, December 10, 2005

Fresh wiki

I just noticed that ChinesePod have put up a wiki. Let's go!

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Friday, November 18, 2005

Chinese Pod

This is brilliant!

Daily Chinese lessons (99% Mandarin) on my ipod --

I try to keep it handy, play one or two now and again even when working on other text in English.

It's slightly below me content-wise (it might catch up with my level of intermediate incompetance in a few months) but it's really really helpful for tones, idiomatic expressions and life/culture insights.

xie xie ni men, Ken he Jenny!

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Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Chinese bookshelf

originally uploaded by Drift Words.
This is my little collection of Mandarin Chinese textbooks and dictionaries, which I make use during, and sometimes in between, evening classes at UCL.


Monday, May 17, 2004

Ni Hao ...

... or 你好 as it is written in Mandarin. Install Chinese language support (i.e. fonts) to see correctly.

Test yourself with these flashcards in Powerpoint: Words corrected! 19/05/04 11:08, Numbers. Install and use this add-in to randomise the slide order.

Update 13/07/04: more Chinese learning resources, especially a wonderful hyper-hierarchical Character dictionary at, including animated Han Zi stroke order (from this general resource, I think). I've also found this Pinyin site, which has audio clips of pronunciation.

I've noticed that this article is being referenced from a list of UCL language-learning resources. Welcome! I'll try and keep it up to date, but there's no guarantee of anything in this life ...